Stanley Fish has an enjoyable op-ed in today’s New York Times, ruminating on Senator Obama’s remarkably calm temperament in the midst of blazing political conflict at the highest level. Fish likens Obama’s equanimity in absorbing blistering insults to that of the “preternaturally still Jesus” enduring the attacks of Satan as portrayed in John Milton’s Paradise Regained. It makes for a jolly read, especially as a possible response to the religious lunatics who have tried to demonize Obama. It’s an apt metaphor as Fish explains it:
The power Jesus generates is the power of not moving from the still center of his being and refusing to step into an arena of action defined by his opponent. So it is with Obama, who barely exerts himself and absorbs attack after attack, each of which, rather than wounding him, leaves him stronger…
And McCain knows it. Last Wednesday, campaigning in New Hampshire, he spoke sneeringly about Obama’s campaign being “disciplined and careful.” That’s exactly right, and so far the combination of discipline and care — care not to get out too far in front of anything — along with a boatload of money is working just fine. Jesus is usually the political model for Republicans, but this time his brand of passive, patient leadership is being channeled by a Democrat.
Sure, it’s a grandiose comparison, although he makes a good point about Obama’s strategy in dealing with conflict. One could just as easily liken Obama’s temperament to that of the Buddha under the Bo Tree. Even better, Obama’s strategy in addressing conflict has a Taoist aspect: “The water that flows around the rock reaches the destination faster than the water that fights the rock.” Obama doesn’t waste a lot of time whining about personal attacks; he graceful glides around them and moves on to the next obstacle, while McCain is left behind, preaching to the choir or yammering about some non-issue ( Rev. Wright, Ayers, ‘socialism’ etc.) of little interest to most voters.
Obama has an impressive ability to convey both a passionate spirit and a cool temperament at the same time, in the tradition of JFK and FDR. Hard to say how much of it is a gift and how much is studied. But clearly Democratic candidates can learn from it.