National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Is the

Would it have any impact whatsoever on the incredibly shallow mania currently driving Barack Obama’s campaign if it became better known that he’s the preferred candidate of Wall Street?

In the early morning hours following Obama’s Chesapeake primaries sweep over Hillary Clinton Tuesday, Wall Street cronies on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange made poignant remarks in front of CNBC cameras, hailing the outcome.

They agreed that Tuesday’s electoral outcome was very good news to them and that it suggested that “the Hillary cloud has lifted” off the pharmaceutical and health care industries. Those interests are breathing easier how, they said.

So while the general public, including the band wagon Democrats now propelling Obama toward their party’s nomination, knows of or cares little for the difference between Obama’s and Clinton’s respective health care proposals, the distinction is obviously not lost on Wall Street.

As Tuesday morning’s comments suggested, for one reason or another, the “pharma” (in investor shorthand) and health care industries don’t view Obama’s plan as a threat to them, unlike Clinton’s.

We’re talking about some very powerful forces at work here. Do they feel that Obama would not hurt their interests if elected, or do they feel he’d be easier than Clinton to defeat in November? Either way, stopping Clinton appears to be their priority.

Tuesday night, we got the first clue of how John McCain intends to run against Obama. In his victory speech in Virginia, he elaborated on the theme of “nice words about hope and change are one thing, years of experience and accomplishments are another.”

The stampede mentality driving Obama’s momentum currently is feeding off superficial appeals to “change” and “hope,” increasingly frustrating Clinton’s efforts at defining and defending detailed policy differences.

Such “idealism” is the perfect obfuscator. All skepticism is met with “You’ve got to believe!” Been there, done that. If I’m going to support Obama, it will only be when I am convinced his policies are the most sound and that he can fight effectively for them in the trenches, both as a candidate and a president.

Appealing to the young with the trappings of a rock star, generating frenzy at rallies akin to a Hannah Montana concert, getting all sorts of folks caught up in emotion, these are all excellent weapons against the articulation of policies that could otherwise really hurt powers that be.

That’s why Michael Gerson, for example, loves “idealism” and loves Obama. Gerson, whose column appears in the Washington Post, is a former Bush speech writer who continues to insist Bush’s Iraq policy has been the right way to go. He’s a rock-ribbed Republican who, as a religious fundamentalist, prefers “faith” over “skepticism” as a self-professed “idealist,” as he says in his book, “Heroic Conservatism.”

In his column Jan. 9, just after the start of the primaries, entitled “Can Obama Build a Movement?,” Gerson wrote favorably of Obama’s effort to build more of a movement than a campaign. “What’s the movement about? It is, above all, the return of idealism,” he wrote last month, counterposing Obama’s focus on “hope” to Clinton’s charge he’s appealing to “false hope.”

To his own Republican base, Gerson noted, “He (Obama-ed.) has left room open for future outreach to middle-ground voters. His stump speech, in the version I heard, made no mention of abortion…His consistent emphasis on fighting HIV-AIDS globally and promoting development could appeal broadly to religious voters.”

“In terms of raw talent and personal appeal, Obama beats Clinton hands down,” he concluded. “And now we’ll see if Democrats agree.”

Increasingly, as if on cue, they’re appearing to. But since when has personal appeal mattered to being a good president? Wasn’t it personal appeal that gave George W. Bush the edge over Al Gore?