OBAMA BUBBLE. I think Malcolm Gladwell's next book should explain the phenomenon of political speculation bubbles. Iit happens every couple months: a spectrum of the major middle- to high-brow magazines and newspapers run major features on the same topic all at once. There was the June 2005 "how do we deal with the emergence of China?" bandwagon, which featured covers from The Atlantic, The Economist, and Time. Earlier this year there was the "why are boys falling behind in school?" hand-wringing session (Esquire, The New York Times, The New Republic, Newsweek, National Review, and a column in US News claiming the media wasn't covering this urgent issue enough.)
And now it's time for the Barack Obubble. Everyone is using the release of his new book (much to his shock and dismay, I'm sure) as an excuse to play the "Is he running? Should he run?" game. In the cover story in Time, Joe Klein does his meaningless characterological shtick, while pundits across the ideological spectrum, from David Brooks to The Nation's Sam Graham-Felsen laud the potential of an Obama presidential campaign. And something tells me this is only the beginning.
Not to throw cold water on this flame of hope, but the Obama obsession strikes me as a classic media sensation. One awesome convention speech, and all of a sudden he's the next JFK, when he realistically might be more like the next Mario Cuomo. As Ezra points out, all this talk about Obama as a leader seems to miss the point that he hasn't actually led a fight on any major issue. This doesn't mean that Obama shouldn't run or that the Democrats wouldn't be shrewd to nominate him. If a conservative like David Brooks thinks highly of Obama as a leader/thinker and would consider voting for him, it suggests he may be the only Dem with the crossover appeal of John McCain. But even that, in itself, is a product of the media bubble.