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March 19, 2008

Obama: The Artful Dodger

With the candidacy of Barack Obama, presidential politics has taken on a sort of carnival atmosphere. When was the last time we saw women faint, or grown men reveal untoward thrills in their pants? When was the last time George Will gushed like a schoolgirl? Though undoubtedly amusing, the unfolding spectacle can't help but make seasoned political observers wonder if the voting public isn't being sold a bill of goods?

Certainly, there is no doubt Barack Obama excels at selling. His campaign has generated more memorable slogans than Carter has little blue pills:

1. "Yes, We Can!"

Quickly! Close your eyes and make a wish. Now open them.

It's magic! Just like that, Obama has united us into a single, hopeful entity, all wishing for different things.

"We are the change that we seek."

The 60's generation must be thrilled at having, after 40 years laboring in the wilderness of American politics, finally found itself. But there's something here for Gen Xers and the Me Generation too. It really is all about you.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for."

All this time, we were waiting for ourselves? Or does he mean we're strong enough to change the world so it can be more like what we already were? What, then, will have changed? According to axiom #2, we are the change. Just concentrate on Obama: yes, you can learn to ignore the cognitive dissonance.

Obama is a master salesman; his product, the idea that if we just focus on making the journey towards hope and change together, the destination will cease to matter. But there's a problem with his patter, and it's one even lofty rhetoric and pitch perfect delivery can't wipe away. We do, in fact, have vastly different destinations in mind.

The real weakness with Obama's candidacy is that it demands we ignore the evidence of our own eyes. It is based on the demonstrably false idea that there is no "us vs. them"; that there are no honest (let alone substantive) disagreements between people of good will on political issues; that Americans ever did, or ever will speak with one voice unless they are forced to:

By nature, I’m not prone to embrace the “bleeding-heart” language lacing the excerpted portion of Obama’s speech. But I do agree with the underlying sentiment: that for too long and far too often we have conducted our national discourse in terms of division, in terms of “us vs. them” — whomever the “us” and “them” might be.

I further agree the time is ripe to toss aside said divisions and embrace a more inclusive meme. “Just words?” Perhaps. But words are still the currency of discourse, and discourse is still the starting point for action. And if the words of our discourse continue to focus on what divides rather than what unites us, I fear our national spirit and character will continue to flop and flounder and fail.

Obama keeps promising we can have it all, even if the choices are mutually exclusive. We can come together, even if we deeply disagree. He can realize his dreams for America without depriving others of theirs:

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how well show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

But what happens to those in Barack Obama's America who don't agree that this war should never have been waged? Many of them are in the military. How does bringing them home against their will further their interests? Is the defeat of everything they have fought and died for for five years the kind of change they long for?

Somehow, I doubt it.

But the most compelling evidence of Obama's misdirection was, much to his consternation, revealed by the sermons of Rev. Wright. The worst thing about his sermons was not his words. They can easily be dismissed, as Obama did so well yesterday, as the rantings of a cranky elder uncle. What cannot so easily be dismissed was the reaction of his parishioners to his racially charged message. In their faces, we saw neither shock, nor dismay, nor disapproval.

What we saw was enthusiastic acceptance. And the Black Value System of Trinity United, a church he freely chose among all the churches in Chicago, embraces not unity, but division. But Obama has an answer even for that:

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.

The word segregation was deliberately chosen yesterday. It conjures up visions of hatred, violence, and repression. But who chose the segregation that took place at Trinity United? This is the underlying contradiction that goes to the heart of everything Obama preaches.

If you claim the right to use race as the most important determinant of your identity, how you dress, how you talk, who you do business with, of your loyalties and your vote; by what right do you complain when those of different races employ that same standard?

If you rail against and reject the values and mores of the community you claim to want to join, by what right do you complain of not feeling accepted? Should society assimilate you against your will, forcing you to give up your cherished separateness?

If you say, "Don't treat me differently because I'm black", by what right do you then say, "You have to treat me differently, because I'm black."

If you constantly demand special preferences and race-based exceptions by what right do you complain that you aren't treated equally under law? By what right can you object to "white privilege" or "Hispanic privilege"? Do not other racial and ethnic groups possess the same rights to promote their race-based interests over the general welfare of their communities, states, or country?

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with a White Value System that "measure(s) the worth and validity of all activity in terms of positive contributions to the general welfare of the White Community...?"

Obama's rhetoric argues we can each have what we want without affecting the ability of others to get what they want, but this is obviously not true. All resources are finite; this is why people squabble over how their tax dollars will be spent. But if you insist on bringing up the real world, you are stubbornly focusing on the wrong thing; resisting hope, if you will:

Obama suggested that if Wright is occasionally angry, he has a right to be, as does the community he serves. And if white Americans are startled to witness that anger, they haven't been paying attention.

That was a risky message, but one that counted on a reliable well of white guilt. Then Obama took another pre-emptive gamble and implored Americans to look at Wright's anger, rather than avert their gaze, and to embrace that anger as a prompt to change.

In other words, he artfully shifted focus from his still-perplexing relationship with Wright to our own dark hearts. The choice is ours, he said:

We can focus on one ol' crazy uncle who sometimes gets a little carried away -- and in so doing, destroy the audacity of hope. Or, we can keep our nation's date with destiny, fulfill the dream imagined 221 years ago to form a more perfect union.

And elect Barack Obama.

Anyone who fails to embrace the only appealing option -- eschewing cheap spectacle for a dance with destiny to the tune of hope -- begins to feel a little woozy and, oddly, un-American.


You say you have anger too? Oddly there wasn't much mention, even with all the references to Martin Luther King, of the idea behind that "I Have A Dream" speech: the vision of a color-bind society. This is not surprising, for King's message was utterly incompatible with the values on offer at Trinity United. There was no mention of a uniform rule of law that treats all Americans the same.

Strangely, the concept sounds vaguely hopeful.

Unifying, even.

Update: Grim sees something different, entirely. I read this, this morning, and liked it.

Posted by Cassandra at March 19, 2008 07:16 AM

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Well said.

Posted by: Curtis at March 19, 2008 10:41 AM

Thank you, Curtis.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2008 12:53 PM

I would agree to a minor degree with Obama that people are used to having social / political differences with their priest/ministers etc. I know many folks who have differences with their Catholic priest about abortion, capital punishment and the Iraq war. But these differences are very different from the hateful rhetoric of the right loony Rev. Wright. Obama having him as his personal spiritual adviser is as repugnant to me as someone having the despicable Rev Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church as their spiritual adviser.

Posted by: Frodo at March 19, 2008 01:28 PM

I don't have much of a problem with him having "minor differences" with Wright.

The problem, to me, is the application of a double standard. The flack over what Geraldine Ferrarro said is a great example. Scores of commentators have noticed that Barack Obama's Senate record is neither long, nor distinguished.

They have noticed that when you strip away his admittedly good delivery, the content of what he's saying is little different from the standard progressyve party line.

So what explains his success? I think part of the dialog on race that Barack Obama refuses to face is that just as there are many situations where being black hurts black Americans, there are also situations where it can be turned to advantage. I don't think it is racist to note that for many Obama supporters, the color of his skin is *part* (I would not say all by any means) of his appeal as a candidate. He's a smart, articulate, charming, handsome black candidate.

That is part of the total package, and for many Americans I think Shelby Steele wasn't too far off in observing that supporting Obama offers the chance to earn Racial Offsets (hey, I can riff on Al Gore if I want to). Also, subconsciously many of us want to see a black candidate succeed. Remove the multiracial aspect, and part of the appeal absolutely does go away.

If he wants America to talk about race (and I wholeheartedly agree that we should in a *respectful* and polite manner) then he, as well as white Americans, may have to listen to some viewpoints that make for difficult hearing.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2008 01:41 PM

Well, Geraldine Ferrarro is another story. What she said has much truth to it ... people need to remember that 6 years ago Obama was a Illinois state legislator, he won a freebe race for US Senate when Jack Ryan's campaign collapsed when a judge decided to release (against both parties wishes) sordid details from his divorce case. Since in office he has not one bit of legislation he can point to that he initiated or was a major contributor to.

But I still think his affiliation with the loony Rev Wright is serious. This man is his spiritual adviser, and openly advises a racist and anti-American attitude. I, and most sane folks would never attend a service performed by someone like that.

Posted by: Frodo at March 19, 2008 01:52 PM

Actually I've been waiting for Godot.

Senator Obama has pulled off a neat trick. When he says change, what does he mean? We all know, we just don't really verbalize it. So let me. Regardless of how you tart it up it's a change towards Marxism.

What he has essentially said is that only Marxism can bridge the racial divide. Only Marxism, can heal our wounds. Only Marxism will lead us to salvation.

I remember what Marxist nations did and do to their dissidents, and it's not healing wounds.

Unity is Conformity.

Posted by: Allen at March 19, 2008 02:11 PM

Ignorance is Strength

And Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.


I muddied a post at some other poor soul's blog about this, and my basic take on Rev. Wright is that he wants...revenge. And he's not alone in that.
Like many, MANY, black Americans, he wants to "get even" with whitey for every real and imagined wrong and slight ever visited upon balck people, alive or dead. Unfortunately for Rev. Wright, Barack Obama, you, me, and the half-vast masses of VC readers, and well beyond all this, we all have the Mark of Cain on us. We are all pretty much fallen creatures. This may never end, unless we just decide to let go of every hate that we nurse.

The cult of envy and revenge fits neatly into the class warfare struggle of Marxist theory. Always has, in the real world. And that's what all the hostility toward "rich white people" is all about, from Barack's speech yesterday. He tries to link every grievance, for white, black, anybody, to "rich white people". You remember, those "top 1%, Chinese toy-buying, plutocrats"?

So get poor, get brown, get down. Judgement day is a comin'!

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 19, 2008 03:19 PM

> When he says change, what does he mean?

Let me translate:

"Money goes from your pocket, into the coffers of the Federal government, thence into the pockets of victims of all stripes."

Oh, and in between (or in lieu of) it also pays the salaries of a new legion of bureaucrats to make your life miserable by demanding still more of your time filling out forms and paperwork at home and at work.

But, at its heart, it's mainly about changing whose pocket the money is in, capisce?

Posted by: obloodyhell at March 19, 2008 04:36 PM

Don :)

I had to laugh. Earlier today I saw a video of some preacher just laying into Obama. Man, oh man. My favorite line of his was, "I got a Word in me!"... and Lord A-mighty, that Word was coming *out* come hell or high water... :p

I thought the man was going to explode.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2008 04:39 PM

Who's he callin' rich?

Posted by: Chinese-toy loving minion of the richest 1% at March 19, 2008 04:40 PM

Notice that when Sen. Obama refers to military personnel, he always couches those references in victim terms. They are people to be brought home, away from a conflict that has damaged them, and cared for. Note that there's no space in that narrative for an understanding that a great many people in Iraq volunteered to join the military with full cognizance of what could happen, and that a great many of them fully support the mission. Nope - they're all damaged people and victims.

Posted by: RonF at March 19, 2008 05:02 PM

Nope - they're all damaged people and victims.

Well of course! Conservatism is (after all) a personality disorder Ron! :p These people need professional help, and in an Obama administration they will finally get the medical treatment they so desperately need from Uncle Sam, because unlike the ruthlessly authoritarian BushReich, The Obamessiah cares about military folks. And if you all weren't such self-loathers, you'd see that he's just trying to help you.

Posted by: John Dean at March 20, 2008 06:38 AM

"...Conservatism is (after all) a personality disorder Ron! :p These people need professional help..."

I have noticed that one of the self-descriptive terms the Left has started to use is "sane." For example, Kevin Drum on this very speech:

"It was, as usual for him, a helluva good address: intelligent, sane, sympathetic, and broadly appealing."

Normally, stating that you think your opponent's position is "sane" would be damning with faint praise; but they really do seem to mean that they think that their political opposition is not sane.

That's a much more dangerous line of thinking than is immediately apparent, because we have ceeded as a culture the ownership of that question to psychology. It's not for no reason I occasionally direct a searching light at the, ah, "discipline" of psychology. There's really nothing that would prevent "conservatism" from being included in the DSM-IV -- they just need to get enough psychologists to vote it in, as voting things in and out is the way that they create and define "illness" in psychology.

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 07:14 AM

Fool! Since you are a soulless, authoritarian, unquestioning conservathug, you obviously do not see that the great Kevin Drum is not margininalizing (much less demonizing) his intellectual opponents when he uses such clinical terms to limn their pathology.

Oh no. Because paying lip service to Progressyve Ideals means that you are, by nature, no matter what you do or say, tolerant, open minded, and a fosterer of diversity.

Knowing you're on the side of the angels has marvelous restorative powers against all suspicions that one might have betrayed one's own ideals.

Posted by: John Dean at March 20, 2008 07:39 AM

Heh. Authoritarian am I, as far as I can reach with both arms. Which puts me at odds with anyone else who wants to assert authority over that same space, as Cassandra will tell you. :)

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 07:42 AM

Zing!!! :p

Posted by: John Dean at March 20, 2008 07:57 AM

There's really nothing that would prevent "conservatism" from being included in the DSM-IV -- they just need to get enough psychologists to vote it in, as voting things in and out is the way that they create and define "illness" in psychology.

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 07:14 AM

Which simply means that we must cultivate local allies in the field of psychology. Those psychotherapists or general therapists like Dr. Sanity, Neo-Neocon, Shrinkwrapped, Sigmund, etc.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 24, 2008 07:07 PM