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Joan Vennochi

The audacity of ego

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / July 20, 2008

JUST LIKE the Obama girl, Obama has a crush on Obama.

Barack Obama always was a larger-than-life candidate with a healthy ego. Now he's turning into the A-Rod of politics. It's all about him.

He's giving his opponent something other than issues to attack him on: narcissism.

A convention hall isn't good enough for the presumptive Democratic nominee. He plans to deliver his acceptance speech in the 75,000 seat stadium where the Denver Broncos play. Before a vote is cast, he's embarking on a foreign policy tour that will use cheering Europeans - and America's top news anchors - as extras in his campaign. What do you expect from a candidate who already auditioned a quasi-presidential seal with the Latin inscription, "Vero possumus" - "Yes, we can"?

Obama finds criticism of his wife "infuriating" and doesn't want either of them to be the target of satire. Tell that to the Carters, the Reagans, the Clintons, and the Bushes, father and son.

There's no such thing as a humble politician. But when Obama looks into the mirror, he doesn't just see a president; he sees JFK.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy accepted his party's nomination with an outdoor speech at the Los Angeles Coliseum. But he waited until he was elected before going to Germany to declare "Ich bin ein Berliner."

The fashionistas have already noted Michelle Obama's affinity for chanelling Jackie. And it's hard to watch the Obama daughters "Access Hollywood" interview and not think about Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. back in the days of Camelot.

So far, Dad is only promising to get the kids a dog, not a pony named Macaroni.

Republican John McCain has the opposite challenge. As a candidate, he's shrinking, thanks to a series of gaffes, stumbles, and generally uninspiring speeches.

But McCain has one thing going for him: the appearance of modesty.

Part of it is physical. McCain is stiff and awkward, the result of age and injuries from his years as a prisoner of war. That, too, is a contrast to Obama's sleek physique, the consequence of youth and a George W. Bush-like passion for working out.

But with McCain, there's also the sense of a man who made mistakes in life and acknowledges them.

McCain's humility comes through in his book, "Faith of my Fathers," which he wrote at age 63, after completing a career in the US Navy and moving onto politics. Obama wrote the more self-reverential "Dreams from My Father," after he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review.

The McCain campaign is beginning to jump on the ego issue. "I don't know that people in Missouri are going to like seeing tens of thousands of Europeans screaming for The One," a McCain aide quipped in response to Obama's upcoming visit abroad.

The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh regularly ridicules "The Messiah also known as Obama." And "The Audacity of Obama" is turning into a ready-made take-off on the title of the Democrat's second book, "The Audacity of Hope."

The downside for Obama is how much his ego stands to resonate beyond the political right.

Last January, the online Slate Magazine debuted "The Obama Messiah Watch."

In February, a blogger for the left-embracing Mother Jones commented on his uneasiness over the candidate's messianic complex: "Does this post play unhelpfully into the pernicious and growing Obamaism-as-cult . . . that we'll likely see repeated over and over by the right wing if Obama gets the nomination?" blogged Jonathan Stein.

"It does. Sorry. But Obama's rhetoric makes an undeniable suggestion: that his election, not an eight-year administration that successfully implements his vision for America, would represent a moment in America of the grandest, most transformative kind. And that's a bit much," Stein wrote.

When the Obama Girl video first surfaced, Obama told the Associated Press, "You do wish people would think about what impact their actions have on kids and families."

That's good advice. He should think more about the impact of his ego on voters.

A presidential candidate is supposed to get bigger on the national stage. That doesn't mean his head should, too.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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