June 28, 2008

"As always with Obama, it's a question of who the rubes really are. It's the power of glamour."

Writes Glenn Reynolds, quoting me — and possibly implying that I'm one of the rubes. On "glamour," he links to this, from Virginia Postrel. Postrel makes a distinction between "charisma" —"a personal quality that inspires followers to embrace the charismatic leader's agenda" – and "glamour" — which "encourages the audience to project its own yearnings onto the glamorous figure."
When voters motivated by charisma disagree with the leader they've backed, they support him anyway and possibly even change their minds about the right policy course. When voters motivated by glamour disagree, they become disillusioned and angry.
But then why haven't Obama's supporters gotten mad?

I have to think psychological phenomena are far more complex. It can't be that there really is a substance "charisma" and a substance "glamour" that one can possess and that have specific, different effects on other people.

And does it really help to use those terms — with their weird roots in religion and witchcraft?

It might be better to think about the difference between a leader and a figurehead. (Obama's potential as a figurehead is much more apparent than his potential as a leader.) But I think you can get angry and disillusioned at either.

What does any of this have to do with who ought to be considered a "rube"?

I think Glenn is alluding to Obama's shot at those people in "small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest" who "get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The idea seems to be that what really makes you a rube is not where you live but whether your politics spring from unexamined emotions.

If that's what his gnomish concision is about, let me say that I didn't vote for Obama in the primary because I projected a dopey enthusiasm onto a glamorous blank screen. Forced to choose between Clinton and Obama, I voted for Obama — even though he stated positions that were farther from what I want than Clinton's — because I thought he had more mental flexibility and pragmatism, that he was more likely absorb and process evidence and advice and exercise sound judgment.

ADDED: Glenn, being less gnomishly concise, explicitly strikes my name from the list of possible rubes.


George M. Spencer said...

Glamourness is a characteristic of charismatic figures.

Just as a candle gives varying amounts of light and heat, it is something they emit that draws people to them. Some become hypnotized, like moths.

It's an imperfect analogy, because the charismatic personality, like a magnet, is as likely to repel people as he is to attract them. He polarizes.

Charismatics build castles in the sky, unattainable ideals either of beauty (Marilyn Monroe) or power (Hitler). In the end, however, they are typically self-destructive, and when they bring the walls down, other people get hurt.

Here is Peter Drucker on charisma.

Good leaders, like Truman and Eisenhower, are "unspectacular, undramatic, and dull," he says. JFK, by contrast was a poor leader.

rhhardin said...

Kenneth Burke _A Rhetoric of Motives_ p.210

``Glamour'' is now a term, in the world of publicity, for mystery.*

*It is worth dwelling on the meanings of this term, for they clearly indicate an instinctive popular recognition of a hierarchic motive that affects the very nature of perception, endowing objects with a radiance due to their place in the social order. According to Webster's, the word may be a corruption of ``gramarye,'' which means necromancy, magic. (The relation between grammar and magic doubtless goes back to the days when the knowledge of reading and writing was in itself a strong mark of status, because of the cleric's role in civil and religious administration.) The word is also thought to be connected with an Icelandic word for weakness of sight, while Icelandic ``glamyr'' is a name fo rthe moon, and of a ghost. Four meanings for ``glamour'' are given: a charm affecting the eye, making objects appear different from what they are; witchcraft, magic, a spell; a kind of haze in the air, causing things to appear different from what they really are; any artificial interest in, or association with, an object, through which it appears delusively magnified or glorified.


I'm going with the haze in the air. Probably it's his cigarette smoke.

rhhardin said...

Some become hypnotized, like moths.

Moths think flames are the moon, and hold it at a constant bearing as they fly, wending their way towards distant dew-covered mountain meadows.

If they hold a local light, instead, at a constant bearing ahead of abeam, then they spiral into the light, which are the moths you see. If behind abeam, then they spiral outwards and presumably resume their pilgrammage to the mountain meadows only slightly delayed.

AllenS said...

Moths? Moon? More like deer caught in headlights.

paul a'barge said...

what really makes you a rube is not where you live but whether your politics spring from unexamined emotions

unexamined emotions


As if those of us who choose to worship our G-d, who choose to stand up for our Second Amendment rights and who choose to love about our country all the positive things about our country are guilty of unexamined emotions.

Just who are you calling a rube?

And, before you call someone else a rube, shouldn't you have the courtesy to point out to everyone your own rubeness?

William said...

In Hollywood it is generally considered to be a greater achievement to portray a great general or Holocaust survivor than to actually be a general or Holocaust survivor. Thus George C. Scott and Adrien Brody received greater fame and adulation than the characters upon whom their portrayals were based. I personally think Obama is lip syncing, but he does give a convincing performance as a brave young man riding forth to battle the dark forces. McCain has a past history of heroism and adaptability, but it is enclosed within his stiff, battered body. It is easier to portray grace and flexibility if you have a graceful and flexible body. McCain is the real deal but he is Pavarotti to Obama's Milli Vanilli. There's no question who is going to win the vote of the squeelers and swooners.

Dad29 said...

he had more mental flexibility and pragmatism

No question about that.

We used to call that "flip-flop."

dick said...

I guess the point where I really part company with you on this is the bit about exercising sound judgment. I have thus far not seen any examples of where Obama has exercised any sound judgment nor have I seen where he has selected good people to advise him. He has thrown so many of his closest advisors under the bus that it is becoming very crowded there. The staff he has is kept busy explaining what he actually meant when he is quoted without a teleprompter. I certainly want a whole lot more from the president that that and I don't see those qualities in Obama. Looks good, sounds good but there is no there there.

Palladian said...

"McCain is the real deal but he is Pavarotti to Obama's Milli Vanilli."

I hate to break it to you, but Pavarotti lip-synced too.

EnigmatiCore said...

"and possibly implying that I'm one of the rubes."

I don't think he's possibly implying it. He's flat out saying that either you are the rubes, or the ones who 'should' be mad about his moves to the center are the rubes.

Frankly, that is what I took your original post as saying. Maybe, if you did not intend that to be the implications of what you were saying, it came across that way because one or the other (or both!) has to be true.

EnigmatiCore said...

"because I thought he had more mental flexibility and pragmatism, that he was more likely absorb and process evidence and advice and exercise sound judgment."

In other words, because you thought he would end up being more like what you would like.

That is generally how I vote, too. I vote for the candidate that is most likely to govern the way I would like them to govern.

The question is-- are you right, or are the very liberal (including the flat-out radical) who are extremely excited about Obama and are well-represented within his inner-circle?

Because some group of people here are very mistaken about him, and are the 'rubes' in this situation.

Anonymous said...

Althouse said: I thought he had more mental flexibility and pragmatism, that he was more likely absorb and process evidence and advice and exercise sound judgment.

Do you still feel that way, or is this another deliberately coy Althouse statement? And please stop abusing the verb "to think".

Zach said...

I think the meaning of "rube" is similar to a hustler's mark -- someone who believes things they shouldn't because of some externally generated desire to believe. There's an element of conscious deception, too -- a rube is lied to, not misled.

I think the rube factor with Obama comes into play on two issues in particular: NAFTA and the war. On both issues, you get the impression that he's making promises that he not only won't keep, but that he can't keep and shouldn't keep.

Joan said...

Because, Palladian, we all know it's exactly the same thing for a world-class tenor to lip-sync to a recording of his own voice for his final performance when he's dying of terminal cancer as it is for a couple of air-head pop singers to lip-sync every performance because they never sang a note on their own, and in fact had their Grammy award revoked when it was revealed they were frauds. Sheesh.

I'm just cracking up that Ann used the word "gnomish" wrt a Glenn Reynolds pronouncement. It sounds a bit defensive to me.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not saying that Obama was right in his assessment of the people who love guns and religion. I'm simply nailing that down as one view of who the "rubes" are. "Rubes" is Glenn's word. Glenn is saying the real rubes are probably someone else. I'm just trying to figure out who should count as the real rubes within the framework of Glenn's statement. I, personally, am not calling anyone a rube!

EnigmatiCore said...

I see Glenn has responded, and it is exactly as I had taken it:

"Either the people who believed the early-primary left-talk are the rubes, or the people who believe Obama now are the rubes . . . or anyone who thinks Obama has fixed principles at all is a rube. Your call."

UWS guy said...

...charisma, glamour, witchcraft, gnomish...

If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say Obama is a half-elf wizard with a charisma of 18.

PJ said...

The "rubes" are the people Obama is purportedly trying to fool and who are, in fact, fooled. The usage assumes that Obama is trying to fool someone about something. The inference is drawn from a perceived change of position unaccompanied by a satisfactory explanation.

Your defense against the accusation of rubeness -- that you were never fooled -- is a perfectly sound one, if true. But it does not negate the implied claim that the Obama campaign thinks there are a significant number of rubes out there and means to fool as many of them as it can. Politics as usual? To use a Reynoldsism: well, yeah. But then, one of the things Obama is trying to fool the rubes about is the idea that he's out to smash politics as usual.

Richard Dolan said...

Who's the real "rube," or is this just indecipherable "gnomish concision" for its own sake?

Life has many puzzles. I can't see the point in this one. It all seems to be an elaborately faux-polite exercise in the indirect put-down, a kind of academic tea ceremony for the cognoscenti of blog-speak. Or whatever.

George M. Spencer said...

Charismatic leaders are not consciously trying to fool or trick people. They're not con artists.

They believe in their goals.

The problem is that their goals are unrealistic. They are the political equivalent of economic bubbles. We all want our homes to increase in value at 10% a year every year just as we all wish we had a leader who could amicably resolve all problems with hostile nations.

The pie is not in the sky.

redneck hillbilly said...

"gnomish concision"
tee hee. Althouse called insty a Troll.

tim maguire said...

Zach is right. A rube is a hustler's mark and every person who votes for Obama is a rube.

Every one of them knows he's lying to get votes, but they hope he's lying to the other guy. That's what marks do. They believe a person they know is a liar because the hope that he's not lying to them overrides their common sense.

Chip Ahoy said...

Glamourous is a funny word.

I'm looking back at a time when a friend and I thought it was hilarious to exaggerate the word "glamourous" in a mangled European accent pronouncing "GLaaaM-ooor-US to anything shiny or falsely glamourous, so thick and unglamorously that we could have easily substituted the word "clamorous," then fell about the place laughing. We never failed to crack each other up. But now I'm wondering just what was so funny about that. It must have been annoying to everybody else.

I didn't get the sense from reading that, Reynolds was implying you were a rube, but rather that Obama tends to see as a rube whoever he's talking to, or speechifying at, if you like, at the moment of that particular speech, for that particular set of rubes. It's not a rube who thinks, "this is not the real Obama." What's odd, though, is Obama's willingness in his speeches to dis one set of rubes to another. He seems incapable of saying, "I'm for this and against that, and if I get elected you're really going to hate it." For a guy attempting to be all things to all people, surprisingly few of them get thrown under th ... oops ... almost said that horrible phrase ... surprising few rubes are soundly dismissed.

Rube. There's another word with great humor potential.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A rube is anyone that you can flim flam, pull the wool over their eyes and otherwise mislead willingly into doing something that you want that is strictly for your own benefit.

Think of the ShamWow guy on television. If you buy based on his practiced schtick rather than researching the product....you are a rube. The three card monty dealer on the corner. They will be anything you want them to be as long as they get your money/votes.

Chip Ahoy said...

You mean those ShamWow things don't work?

*cancels order*

reader_iam said...

Hmmm. "Rube's" etymology is not that old, and it's pretty darn easy to look up (and the references aren't even contradictory). The word inherently contains a specific, reference to "rural" people (as does its close cousin, hick).

That's not to say Glenn wasn't using it differently. It just means his use isn't true to the point of the word, and, in fact, guts it.

reader_iam said...

I'm not providing references because I didn't need to look them up. Anyone who thinks I'm wrong can do that for themselves.

kjbe said...

Ive been thinking about this subject, this week in particular, as it relates to my own support of Obama. He's made a few, for lack of a better term, “interesting” decisions, recently (not the 2nd Amendment, btw) and I’ve been wondering if I’m one of those ‘rubes.’

Now, I don’t see myself as a rube, but I suspect most people don’t see themselves as rubes, either. I do, also, like his flexibility and pragmatism, though am finding I am not that pure in those beliefs. I lean a little left and have projected some of that into his open and interpretive rhetoric. I’m not angry and jumping to any conclusions, here, because this flexibility and pragmatism, means he’s flexible and pragmatic. He doesn’t see things in black and white. He sees shadows and grays and middle ground. When I remember that that’s where the world really lives – in the gray areas – then it’s easier for me to give in a little, to compromise and to realize I’m not a rube.

Ann Althouse said...

"A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by its extremely small size and subterranean lifestyle.... Gnomes are traditionally thought of as being small, bearded and wearing pointed, colourful, conical hats. They live in natural areas close to the Earth and care for wildlife. They are more benevolent than other folkloric creatures such as goblins."


"A troll is a fearsome member of a mythical race from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England (also called Trolls at times, see Troller's Gill) – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds."



Beth said...

reader, you crack me up.

Ann, I love your use of "gnomish."

So, is Obama casting a glamour, Wiccan-style? Only later will we find out he's not nearly so tall, not so lean, once the glamour's worn off.

reader_iam said...

Now, when I was a kid, I thought gnomes were those dusty, sticky, creepy figurines that clogged the shelves and tabletops in the mothball-smelly house of a nasty old lady who sometimes watched us neighborhood kids while our parents attended Friday night cocktail hours.

It wasn't until years later that I came to appreciate the mythical, fantastical, even charming meaning of the word. Thank God for literature!

reader_iam said...

Beth, thank you. I think.

reader_iam said...


So, Althouse, are you ever going to vlog again? Or is that as dead a letter as your podcasting?

I miss 'em.


reader_iam said...

(I do appreciate that your appearances on Bloggingheads are picking up.)

Kirby Olson said...

Obama is a kind of Rubik's Cube. He may, however, have no solution. He may be as puzzled as we are.

Anonymous said...


Think of Obama as a walking-talking Rube Goldberg machine...

PJ said...

Kirby & madawaskan:

He certainly stirred up a rhubarb between the Professors.

EnigmatiCore said...

While it may be pragmatic to tailor what one says to the audience one is courting, that is not what I would consider to be an admirable kind of pragmatism, and I am not sure why those who value pragmatism as an attribute are finding that kind of pragmatism appealing.

In fact, I think it is one of the least admirable traits for politicians, and I do think it is accurate to say that those who do this are trying to do nothing more than exploit rubes.

The pragmatism I value is the kind where a politician adapts his positions to meld with reality. For example, were Obama to decide to go back on his pledge to bring the troops home in 16 months because the results on the ground had convinced him to change his mind, that would be the kind of pragmatism I would find very appealing (and please, to the anti-war types here, understand that I am making an example rather than saying it is that specific issue I want to see a flip-flop on).

Take McCain. He is for comprehensive immigration reform. Yet due to political considerations (it failed), he has said that he will support enforcement first, although he still wants immigration reform. That is pragmatic (unless he is flat out lying about supporting enforcement first).

Lying to get votes may have pragmatic facets in that one is trading off ticking off true-believers to gain swing votes, but if it does not represent a true change of beliefs, then it is far from admirable.

I suspect Obama is more Machiavellian than pragmatic, since he is claiming to hate recent SCOTUS decisions while pledging to nominate people like those who took the other side on those matters.

reader_iam said...

He certainly stirred up a rhubarb between the Professors.

Ah, but all is "Harmony" now!

EnigmatiCore said...

"but if it does not represent a true change of beliefs"

Should have said "if it does not represent a true change of beliefs, or a true compromise..."

Sloanasaurus said...

EnigmaticCore is exactly right. Many of Obama's flip flops are not "pragmatic" they are flip flops of principles, such as his flip on public funding or his decision to abandon his church. In those two cases there were no new facts such as a study that showed public financing was bad. He merely just abandoned his prior principle because it helped him currently.

Kirby Olson said...

Niko Tinbergen studied automatic response systems in primitive animals. Among the sticklebacks (a kind of fish) he noticed that they attacked anything red (their rivals were red). They'd even attack a British postal vehicle (they're red) from inside their aquarium, if one drove past their windows.

This same kind of thing might be the case in human interactions such as sporting contests.

Or, if we generalize it, to the elections.

Down deep we may be just like sticklebacks to some enormous degree.

Obama isn't just a Rubik's cube, or a goof-up, because he's clearly conscious of how to instigate his corps troops to vote. He can just say, "No war," or "Change," and everyone under 25 rants and raves and votes for him. It's harder to get that crowd to the polls, though, when it counts. How is he going to get the under-25 crew to the voting booth?

The Democrats are numerically superior to the Republicans, but their demographic base is also more split. To win, Obama has to get the superhip of San Francisco to come out for him, and so he can wave the poltroons of western Pennsylvania in front of them as being obsessed with Gods and guns, since he is relatively certain that no one in his San Francisco will believe in either.

However, he now has to go to western Pennsylvania, to the blue collar workers, and say, "The gays of San Francisco are all crazy about getting married and being surrender monkeys."

I doubt if Obama has any sense at all what he himself believes, and to that extent he IS a Rubik's Cube. He is just trying to get the voters to react in the manner of sticklebacks. how can he get all his various constituent "colors" to line up, as with a Rubik's cube. I don't think any Democrat can do this.

Obama has a huge mosaic of sticklers to tickle, and they each require a different stimulus.

On the other side, McCain just has to say, God, guns, and grit, and most Republicans will rush to the voting booth in favor of the red, white and blue. Numerically inferior, they are also easier to get to the polling booths. The elderly, especially, have nothing else to do, and aren't off to college in the fall, away from their voting districts... McCain's Rubik cube is already in line, and they aren't disunited.

Also, it's pretty clear that McCain isn't just eliciting behavior from his voters. He is what he says he is.

Obama would be anything to anybody in order to get a vote. I think his sticklebacks are going to defect to McCain, as his color field is a lot simpler and a lot more basic, and really unifying.

No one on earth can unify the Rubik's cube of the Democrats. They're a huge conflicting mess, and it's only a matter of time before Obama sends out the wrong stimulus again. The more he's on stage with McCain, the more this will be the case.

reader_iam said...

Off point, I know, but: Wouldn't "Just Like Sticklebacks" be a great name for a blog? Or a band?

OK, it's Saturday, the family's away for a week, and I'm punchy.

Don't mind me.

Anonymous said...


He certainly stirred up a rhubarb between the Professors.

Damn...that's good.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"How is he going to get the under-25 crew to the voting booth?"

Free beer?

Bissage said...

Free beer . . . and maybe a little squeeze.

Did someone say stickleback navy?

(Still a great band.)

reader_iam said...

Love 'em! Always did. Didn't even pitch the vinyl, even though it was long ago repurchased in CD, and now has all been converted to digital.

Now I know what I'll be listening to for the rest of the evening.

Jim C. said...

It can't be that there really is a substance "charisma" and a substance "glamour" that one can possess and that have specific, different effects on other people.

There's definitely SOMETHING in the top people. I felt Obama's charisma (or glamor or whatever) at the very beginning. I wrote him off after I realized his rhetoric had little substance, and I disagreed with that little. But I STILL feel his charisma or glamor or whatever. Of course, perhaps you don't because as a full professor you have plenty of power and glory (as Severn Darden said) of your own. :)

And does it really help to use those terms -- with their weird roots in religion and witchcraft?

You can't be serious. They've just become words for extreme personal magnetism, persuasiveness and popularity. I'm just old enough to remember everyone saying how President Kennedy had charisma. I think you and I are close to the same age, so I'm surprised you don't remember that.

As far as what the words mean specifically, Postrel was just shading their already somewhat vague meanings to make her point. You know, like lawyers do. :)

Moose said...

Ann is not a rube - no, by no means - she is anything but.


Ann is being seduced bye Obama's lawyerly massaging of the truth and obstufication of common language.

Obama is hiding the truth like raisins in a bowl of cream o' wheat under a thick layer of whipped cream (how about those mangled metaphors?). You search and search, but rarely find anything other than bland tasting starch.

She is, I think, less in love with Obama as she is with his magnificently obscure statements - seemingly saying something profound, however in reality merely saying *lots of things* about a question, not anything *specific*. Nothing he can be pinned down on later.

She is merely one law professor being seduced by another.

Tatter said...

I agree with Glenn's definitions of glamour and charisma. They are actually two separate things, but linked by the nature of human psychology. Charismatic people can't avoid projecting some sort of glamour, because the people they sway will naturally try to rationalize their attraction to the charismatic figure by projecting something they want to believe onto said figure, even when he or she tries to avoid it. This is particularly true of the more emotionally or mentally ill in their audience; for instance, it's very unlikely that Jodie Foster actually wanted John Hinckley Jr. to assassinate Ronald Reagan, but this didn't stop the assassination attempt from taking place anyhow.

Most charismatic people, however, recognize the power of playing upon other peoples' expectations, and go out of their way to dupe others for their own profit. The political class has evolved, by the nature of the electoral process, to be frighteningly effective (and specialized) at playing entire cities, states, and even nations for rubes, so much so that not only have we come to expect it, but we actually vote for whoever we think can decieve the most of our fellow citizens into doing what we want them to do, and have started to violently suppress anyone who suggests that it may be our own voting bloc that's getting played for a rube.