McCain/Obama-Who has “It”?

Members of the chattering class, bloggers, and prognosticators of all types put a lot of weight on fundraising, campaign organization, endorsements, and such in trying to figure out who will win an election.

While I don’t underestimate all that, I wonder how much folks fail to recognize that often the candidate who wins has “it”.  I think there are two kinds of its folks respond to, and by happy coincidence we have both on stage this year.

The first type is that of trust, tried, and tested.  Think about that delegate or mayor or city councilman who keeps getting reelected simply because everyone trusts him-and they trust him because they have proven themselves by walking through the fires of life and of politics and coming out on the other side tempered and ready, like steel. They are people you instinctively like and trust.

My example of a man like that-and like so many of the Greatest Generation-is the late Harry Parrish.  He was a solid and competent man who had been to war, served with distinction, and came home with a desire to make his corner of the world a little better.  He served in the world of Virginia municipal and state politics, and in that time you can find nary a person who did not like Harry or respect him.

John McCain comes into the race with that.  He has made mistakes, and fought back from them.  He served his country, and weathered an extended season in hell in the Hanoi Hilton.  This is a man who turned down a chance to be released because he knew it was extended only because his father was a ranking US Navy officer.

I will call this type 1 It…

But there is another “it” quality, or Type 2 It.  I saw it best described in Garrett Epp’s The Shad Treatment. In the book a character talks about political philosophy and talks about a South American jefe he met who constantly rewarded those who he liked and fined those he did not like. He was armed with only a Colt six-shooter to back up these pronouncements. His territory was rocky and treacherous and full of bushwhack spots. He perpetrated his near thievery with only marginal color of law. When asked how he could get away with all his acts, he said it was because the people considered him a force of nature who could not be opposed.

I think to some degree that is where Obama falls. He has come from no where to be his party’s nominee. He is the nominee despite having less experience in high office (which I will define as statewide or above, or commensurate work) than anyone in my lifetime (with the exception of Gerry Ford or Jimmy Carter, depending on how you calculate these things).

Where does it come from? It is more than charisma, it is just a thing that cannot be identified…adn if you have it, it is a blessing. Some folks are scared of forces of nature, and hold them to higher standards of conduct…or adopt really violent tactics to stop them.


Ronald Reagan was Type 1. So was Eisenhower. For some people, Truman was a Type 1.
FDR, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King were Type 2’s.
Winston Churchill was a little of both.
Nixon, Carter, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Dole…neither.

So, what will it take to win in November? Type I or Type II? What is America looking for?

Only time will tell!


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