For a short period after the November elections, President Obama was beset with political problems—trying to get legislation through a sometimes hostile, lame-duck Congress, parrying attacks from the Tea Party right, and even having to fend off sharp criticism from some fellow Democrats. Pundits ascribed these troubles to the loss of his “mojo.” The powers of persuasion, the irresistible charisma, the eloquent oratory that were so prominent in his campaign were failing him as President, said the analysts.
But with such successes as the passage of the tax-cut/stimulus package, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” approval by the Senate of the New START Treaty, enactment of the 9/11 compensation bill, and improved voter ratings, President Obama hit the comeback trail and seemed to have his mojo back.
So what is this thing called “mojo”? Who has it? What’s it good for? How do you get it? Patience, and all will become clear.
I used to think “mojo” was some kind of compound word, constructed from “mocha” and “joe”—meaning a kind of coffee. After that I got it mixed up with “Moho,” the nickname of the Mohorovičić Discontinuity, which is the boundary separating the earth’s crust from its mantle. Project Mohole was a failed attempt in the 1950s and 1960s to drill through the earth’s surface to reach the Moho.
The truth is “mojo” is a word of African and Creole descent that means “magical power.” The name was applied to a hoodoo amulet made of herbs and animal and mineral fragments wrapped in a red flannel cloth. It probably derives from the Fulani word moco’o (“medicine man”) and was first noted in American English usage in the 1920s. In its broader usage, it means “self-confidence, sex appeal, dynamic personality.”
As it happens, there are lots of Mojos out there. A Marvel Comics villain goes by that name, as do a video game, a British rock music magazine, a British black comedy by Jez Butterworth, a monkey helper on an episode of The Simpsons, and a Southwestern U. S. yogurt restaurant chain.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou lost his mojo some while ago, but he has never given up looking for it. He thinks he may have accidentally left it in one of the shady establishments that he frequents while writing louche verses on the backs of napkins, to wit:
When I met V. P. Biden,
I said to him, “You know, Joe,
I think perhaps the Prez
Has lost some of his mojo.”
“His mojo’s fine,” said Biden,
“Rest assured of that—
“Rest assured of that—
Except when it is tried on
A fellow Democrat.”