Be Logical, Captain!

cover 5 Be Logical, Captain!Leonard Nimoy approves of Barack Obama’s emotional detachment and logical approach to campaigning.

“He is measured and stable,” said Mr. Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on Star Trek, and who has supported Mr. Obama since they first met about a year and a half ago at a small Los Angeles fund-raiser. “It’s true that he has an intellect that works for him, he handles difficult problems with aplomb. Reliability and stability are very important assets in this race, in these particularly volatile times.”

Mr. Obama, as far as anybody knows, does not greet strangers with a cloven V salute, practice debilitating neck pinches, bleed green or have a constitutional incapacity to fib. But his methodical, unflappable style and otherworldly resistance to overt displays of emotion—not to mention his temperamental inability, or refusal, to connect on a visceral level with working-class voters—makes him, by contemporary candidate standards, downright alien.

That’s usually not a good thing. Yet, with less than a month until Election Day 2008, the Vulcan is winning.

Mr. Obama now holds statistically significant leads in the national polls, and once out-of-reach states like Indiana and Missouri are floating into his orbit. More significantly, battleground states like Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Michigan are drifting out of the reach of the McCain campaign.

Extraordinarily, Mr. Obama has gotten to his current position, for the most part, by refusing to budge. Stylistically, since the beginning of the primaries, he has consistently delivered his “change” message in a cool, measured and almost emotionally detached manner that stands in stark contrast with his 4-year-old reputation for soaring oratory.

“Normally voters do prefer a candidate who is more emotionally engaged,” said Dan Schnur, a Republican strategist who served as Mr. McCain’s communications director in the 2000 race. “Obama has had the good sense to recognize the larger political tides and stay out of their way.”

Mr. Schnur said he couldn’t remember the last time a candidate with such a dispassionate presentation did well in a presidential election, but said, “The question for voters is whether they want a fighter or a soother. In these tumultuous times, the soothing approach might be working better. John McCain is best at rallying people to a cause, but it is important for that cause to have a very specific target. When it is Al Qaeda or special interests, that’s one thing, but it’s harder to rally people against a recession.”

Mr. McCain, of course, is the passionate, emotional and all-too-human candidate who strikes a chord with voters but can often be seen to be doing battle in real time, Kirk-like, with the enemy within.

During the first presidential debate in Mississippi, he persistently avoided eye contact with Mr. Obama despite the moderator’s entreaties for the candidates to engage directly with one another. Mr. McCain’s advisers said afterward that he had done so deliberately in order to avoid becoming enraged.

And then, last week, Mr. McCain met with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, a paper that endorsed him during the primary.

When asked whether he worried about the criticisms of Sarah Palin coming from some conservative Republicans, Mr. McCain seemed to dedicate every ounce of his being to not tearing out the throat of his interlocutor as he answered: “Really? I haven’t detected that. And I haven’t detected that in the polls. I haven’t detected that amongst the base. We get 20,000 people that come to our rallies. So, again, I fundamentally disagree. Now if there’s a Georgetown cocktail party person who, quote, calls himself a conservative and doesn’t like her, good luck. Good luck. Fine.”

 

THE MCCAIN CAMPAIGN has accurately reflected the candidate’s own impulsive nature, focusing on narrative-shifting tactics—the high-impact, high-risk selection of Ms. Palin as his running mate, say, or the decision to “suspend” his campaign in order to take “action to address this crisis”—to seize control of individual news cycles, at the cost of any appearance of steadiness.