Friday, March 28, 2008

Audacity of Dumb, Redux

In the comments section to my post on the Jeremiah Wright scandal, Andy points to something that I think says more about Barack Obama than anything having to do with Rev. Wright (link goes to Chicago Sun-Times, but it's an AP story):
White House hopeful Barack Obama suggests he would have left his Chicago church had his longtime pastor, whose fiery anti-American comments about U.S. foreign policy and race relations threatened Obama's campaign, not stepped down.

''Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying at the church,'' Obama said Thursday during a taping of the ABC talk show, ''The View.'' The interview will be broadcast Friday.

Most of you by now know what I think of the Wright flap - i.e. that it's a bullshit moral panic and not worth the wasted ink. Obama initially used it as an opportunity to discuss racial issues on a different level, encouraging us to understand black frustrations (and encouraging black people to understand white frustrations too). That was ballsy.

This is not. This is a pander, pure and simple. As I mentioned in the comments, I simply don't buy the notion that someone would leave a church they otherwise enjoy over a political disagreement. Obviously Obama, or someone on his campaign, realized that a plea to understand Wright and comprehend that his relationship with the pastor went beyond a couple controversial statements went over the heads of most Americans. So he decided to tell people what they wanted to hear.

And when you think about it, isn't that basically what the Obama campaign exists upon? Telling people what they want to hear - stuff about hope and change and all that - and avoiding hard truths? Come to think about it, isn't that what all political campaigns in recent years have done? The last hard truth I think anyone heard out of a presidential candidate's mouth was Walter Mondale's promise to raise taxes in 1984... and we know how well that turned out.

I still prefer Obama to McCain by a long shot, and I still don't know whether I'll vote for him or Hillary Clinton in May. But so much for Obama being a new kind of politician.

Related question that America needs to ask itself: we whine all the time about how politicians should have the courage of their convictions. But if a politican actually had the courage of their convictions, would he/she have the vaguest chance in hell of winning a national race? I'll answer that now - absolutely not. So shouldn't we be honest with ourselves and say that we want a candidate who agrees with us rather than one who takes principled stands with which we don't agree? Couldn't we just quit asking candidates to appear principled while they're pandering to us?

29 comments:

Kenny said...

This has a lot to do with why I'm less and less enchanted with Obama. He says 'he'll tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear,' but I can't actually think of too many instances of this, let alone important ones.

Andy said...

Jeff, thanks for making more clear what I was aiming at. You can debate how applicable the Wright sermons are to Obama-as-the-candidate; that's another post. But the point of this argument was that all Obama had to do was let this go, let it die out (well at least until the GOP runs with it in November). But he couldn't -- he feels the incessant need to explain Wright to us for whatever reason and, in doing so, creates verbal land mines for himself.

As a response to something you said: "And when you think about it, isn't that basically what the Obama campaign exists upon?" That gets back to my growing dislike of Obama-as-a-candidate. I get the feeling that he looked at his resume in 2006, saw essentially a blank page, hardly any time in the Senate, no bills, alot of non-committals, little bipartisan work and someone said, "Obama, you better pick a platform other than 'Experience' (HRC) or 'Patriot' (JMc); how about 'Hope' and 'Change', it's our only shot."

Matthew B. Novak said...

I don't believe that it is impossible for someone to take principled stands and win and national election. Highly improbable, yes, but not impossible. There are a number of highly principled people who present themselves elected in state contests, even for national office. That says something. It's more product of our system them of the voters; our system (including the media) encourages sound bytes and that discourages principles. Plus, there are so many non-principled politicians, and they are more than happy to lie through their teeth to the voters, sabotaging the principled candidates. So if we had multiple principled candidates, yeah, you could have them win a national election. I'd offer the McCain nomination as a "kind of" example, though he isn't entirely a principled candidate.

Andy said...

"So shouldn't we be honest with ourselves and say that we want a candidate who agrees with us rather than one who takes principled stands with which we don't agree?"

Ahhh, South Carolina politics at its finest. I recall the story of former governor David Beasley, nice average not-bad governor but on the wrong side of the Lottery debate in the 1990s. The people of SC wanted a lottery so they voted out Beasley (R) and brought in Hodges (D) whose first and seemingly ONLY order of business was to institute the lottery [because we can't have our money going across state lines to Georgia, instead we want to toss it in our own pipe dream]. Anyway, long story short, Hodges serves one term and we oust him for current Conservative icon Mark Sanford. Look back at the past 20 years of SC governorship, all Republicans but one, Hodges -- proof that the people at the end of the day just want to be pandered and they will cross party lines to get what they want.

Ben said...

So Obama's a politician. Huge massive news-flash! Stop the presses!

I've been saying this for months now: No shit he's a politician. Of course he panders and makes political alliances and compromises.

BUT (1) He's good at inspiring people to get involved with politics who previously had given up on it, (2) as President he would move policies in a much-needed leftward direction after 8 years of the Bush hellhole, (3) even as a politician, he's far less prone than many politicians to demonize his opponents and treat all issues as (pardon the termoniology) black-and-white.

So he isn't a political messiah. So he hasn't reinvented politics. Nobody has in the history of politics. That doesn't change the reasons I like him.

Matthew B. Novak said...

But doesn't it concern you that he's running on the reinventing politics/political messiah message? Doesn't it concern you that he's so disingenious?

Andy said...

Ben said: "So Obama's a politician. No shit he's a politician. Of course he panders and makes political alliances and compromises."

If the media had scrutinized him last year as much as they do now, would the Democratic primary be in the shape it is now? No way. Hillary would have sewn this up months ago. Instead, "buyer's remorse" is clearly beginning to show up. Although I'm sure you'll debate that.

Ben said: "BUT (1) He's good at inspiring people to get involved with politics who previously had given up on it." So? Hitler inspires millions too but he was clearly not qualified to lead a country. Inspiration means jack-shit.

Ben said: "(2) as President he would move policies in a much-needed leftward direction after 8 years of the Bush hellhole," Much needed? Conservatives would tell you BUSH took them leftward.

Ben said: "(3) even as a politician, he's far less prone than many politicians to demonize his opponents and treat all issues as (pardon the termoniology) black-and-white." BS. You have no idea what he would do. His voting record suggests exactly the opposite. Why would he defy a Democratically-controlled Senate and Congress to treat issues as grey? His Presidency would be a blank check to Congress.

Ben said...

(1) Andy says "So? Hitler inspires millions too but he was clearly not qualified to lead a country. Inspiration means jack-shit."

I'm sorry. I thought, in a democracy, it was a GOOD thing that more people got involved in politics. I thought the idea of citizen participation is part of the goal. But it turns out that Obama's skill at inspiring people to get involved equates him with Hitler. I stand corrected.

(2) "Conservatives would tell you BUSH took them leftward."

They would tell me that. And I would laugh in their face and point out

- The gutting of environmental regulations
- The massive tax cuts, mostly the benefit of the wealthy
- The destruction of civil liberties
- The contempt for the rule of law
- The war in Iraq
- The complete disregard for the science of global warming
- The appointment of management attorneys to head the National Labor Relations Board (talk about the fox watching the hen-house)
- The appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court

Now, as a conservative, perhaps you approve of some of those policies. (I won't say all. That would be presuming too much.) But you can't say they are moving the country in a liberal direction. One prescription drug Medicare program does not a liberal country make. (I will admit that one program is liberal, but that Bush took the country leftward is a laughable assertion.)

(3) Andy says, "BS". I wish people would quit repeating my initials for no discernible reason.

You suggest that he wouldn't treat issues as grey. I think you're confusing two separate concepts, which, admittedly are kind of mixed up in the use of the terms "black and white" and "grey." If I haven't gotten your blood boiling too much with the sarcasm of my last two responses, let me see if I can explain what I mean.

I'm not saying he is a centrist. No, I'd say he's pretty much as far to the left as a mainstream presidential candidate (read: not Kucinich or Nader) can get. What I am saying is that, in his public discussion of the issues, he's shown a willingness to grapple with all sides of an issue. His analysis has generally not been simplistic. That's better than can be said of Bush or of most politicians in this sound-bite culture. I am confident that he would think about the issues and not simply take a knee-jerk response. Does he come at this with a liberal bias? Yes, but everybody on earth has a bias, one which is most clear to people on the other side. But his analysis of issues is quite nuanced. (There's that word again.)

And, as I said, his quotient of cheap personal attacks is much less than your average presidential campaign. As are McCain's. Same can't be said for Clinton.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben -

I don't mean to be jumping on Andy's side (I'm horribly afraid of agreeing with a libertarian), but I've got a lot of trouble with your assertion that Obama is a nuanced politician who will grapple with all sides of an issue. With only the race issue as an exception, where has he shown us this nuance and grappling? I've been following this campaign for some time, but I haven't seen what you're claiming he's delivering. With Clinton, I've heard her take nuanced stances on abortion, health care, and the war. Where's Obama's nuance? What issues? You've got to at least admit that he certainly hasn't been nuanced on the war, arguably the most important issue in this election.

Andy said...

Matthew B. Novak said: "(I'm horribly afraid of agreeing with a libertarian)"

I've heard if you agree with a libertarian, they'll follow you home like a stray puppy.

(Psst, what's for dinner?)

Mike said...

Just as a quick aside to Ben's comment about Obama being a liberal: he's never denied it. In fact, in "The Audacity of Hope" (wherein, by the way, he demonstrates more nuance than Hillary is probably even capable of) he unabashedly describes himself as such, but adds that he strives to see the other point of view, which is pretty much what Ben's saying.

Andy said...

So he strives to see the other point of view? Does that mean he'll actually consider or enact it? No way. And his record, what little there is, proves this. When he actually does take a position on a issue, he doesn't cross party lines; on the contrary, his voting record say he's least-likely to.

Compare that to McCain who, despite the gnashing of GOP teeth, is not only willing to consider the other point of view, sometime actually sponsors it. Does this make him popular with the conservatives of his base? Hell no. I think this is what Lieberman is feeling when he compares Obama and McCain -- when Joe looks at the party he dedicated his life to, he sees it slowly being taken over by fringe candidates like Edwards and Obama, meanwhile turning it's back on Billary or Gore. Joe supports McCain because McCain is closer to what Joe believes is a good Democrat.

This is also why if the contest is Hillary vs McCain, I'm fine with it (although I wouldn't necessarily vote Hagel). But if the Dems nominate Obama, I will gladly vote McCain because I fear Obama-as-the-blank-page candidate.

Andy said...

A site for this, so you can see the reference to Lieberman.

Ben said...

Andy,

I'm glad to see that, in an election between Hilary Clinton and John McCain, that you wouldn't vote Chuck Hagel.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Andy -

It's Opening Day. If you aren't having hotdogs/brats for dinner, then you aren't really an American.

Trish said...

Jeff,
You may need to start another "personal" family blog now that you've had a baby. Although your conservative family out west(okay except for Destry)finds this blog completely entertaining, and fascinating, we would love to see more pictures and stories of you, your charming wife and beautiful daughter. Destry would like you to commit to only bike riding once again and focus on those stories for awhile. Just a thought.

Andy said...

I had hotdogs with homemade coleslaw and three-bean salad. Would've loved to have grilled outside but it was raining. Independent of that, I love America. I've been proud of it my entire adult life.

Ben said...

Entire ADULT life? Andy, are you saying that you WEREN'T proud of America in your childhood? Were you an unpatriotic child?

That tears it. I'm not voting for your wife (if you have one) for President!

Andy said...

Cue the typically Obama-backer response: He can't be held responsible for what his [wife, pastor, surrogates] says. And you know, Ben, you're absolutely 100% correct.

So, let me check Obama's record. In Illinois, "Present" 100+ times except for the times when he changed his mind. His state senate records are either missing or purposefully not archived. In the US Senate, he misses over 1/3rd of the votes and doesn't convene his subcommittee. His voting record on Iraq is exactly the same as Hillary's. And 37% of the money supporting Obama (which includes lawyers, corporations and investment firms that he faux-rails against) -- for a total of $40 million -- is from corporations whose industry or sector can not be coded.

But this is the guy you would support? A guy who is essentially a one-speech-pony.

Andy said...

Let's see, what else: Obama doesn't take money from oil companies, except the $200,000+ that he does. He asked for $300 million in earmarks. And $50,000 from Rezko. I mean, $160,000. Ooops, no, it's $250,000. He's endorsed and advised by lobbyists. And despite promising "unity", Obama's the most liberal senator and on bipartisan bills, he skips out. In fairness, he has had two bills signed into law.

What a record. Yet despite this, over 13 million voters looked at that resume and saw a candidate who was President-worthy. Because of a speech? Because of an issue he didn't have to vote on?

Ben said...

1) Dude. Calm down, take a deep breath. It was a joke. The proper response is laughter, not opposition research.

2) I'm not exactly sure how I became the Obama apologist on this page. I don't worship the guy. I voted for him, but I'd hardly call myself an Obamaniac. It started with Jeff's commentary on the whole Rev. Wright controversy which - I'm glad you now agree - is not something Obama should be held responsible for and which, I argue, has nothing to do with his qualifications to be President. Then somewhere along the line it morphed into you wondering how anybody with half a brain could vote for Obama, given all his flaws. I then gave my reasons why I voted for him among the various (inevitably) flawed candidates. (Note: John McCain apparently missed over half of his votes. Don't think he'll be able to play that card in the general election. Hilary missed over a quarter. Suppose we should either vote for Sheldon Whitehouse or Mitch McConnell.)

And I'll give them again.....First, the fact that Obama's the most liberal Senator is a plus for me. I'm a liberal and so of course I want someone like-minded in office. Second, I simply don't see myself voting Republican in the near future...not with issues like Iraq, security/civil liberties balance, and global warming on the table. Perhaps when the issues change, I could consider voting Republican (for instance, I am pro-life). Third, Hillary is far more likely to bring out the Republican vote than Obama.....conservatives have a long history of vituperative hate against her. Fourth, Obama is refreshingly reluctant to engage in the cheap personal attacks that have come to typify the Era of Rove. Fifth, Obama has inspired millions of people who had given up on politics to get involved once again. Sixth, while being liberal, the way he approaches issues (or, perhaps it's just the way he portrays himself approaching issues) seems quite open-minded. This point is more about how he approaches issues than the ultimate outcome. And, yes, there's a difference.

All in all, I think these are intelligent reasons for voting for Obama over Clinton or McCain. And none of them have to do with swooning over "Change" and "Hope" or with the fact that he's black/biracial/whatever. Are they compelling to everybody? Of course not. Especially not to someone like Andy who approaches things from a decidedly conservative point of view. For Andy, Obama's being liberal is clearly a negative.

Let's look at what Andy sees as Obama's flaws. First, his "present" and missed votes. Andy's correct to see those as a concern. They indicate someone who is trying to avoid looking bad in order to not piss anybody off. (Or they might indicate someone who hasn't made up his mind on a particular issue and doesn't want to cast an irresponsible vote. Not knowing more about each vote, I can't say.) Second, his voting record on Iraq is the same as Hillary's. Well, again, one's response to that depends on whether one agrees with Hillary's voting record. This just goes back to what I said before - their stands on the issues are nearly identical and they must be distinguished in some other way. But it does mean something to me that she voted for the war and he opposed it from the beginning. (Don't give me that shit about him not having to vote on it. He made his opposition quite clear at the time, even when it was unpopular to do so.) Not sure that makes a difference now, but it's something. Third, Andy goes extensively into the contributions Obama takes from corporations (a problem, but not one that distinguishes him from practically every other candidate) and various shady characters (also a concern....but my follow-up question would be, has there been a quid-pro-quo? Is there evidence that Obama has done these shady characters some favor?). Fourth, the earmarks. Fair enough. That's a flaw. Fifth, he's endorsed and advised by lobbyists. I dunno. Just doesn't get my blood boiling. Sixth, his shortage of achievements in the Senate. Well, he's been there 4 years, and has spent 2 of them running for president. Depending on your point of view, that's either an excuse or a flaw.

All in all, I think his virtues outweigh his flaws, he's the most likely Democrat to win in November, and he's likely to generally pursue policies I agree with. I guess if someone wants to take the time to do equally extensive opposition research on McCain and Clinton, or an equally extensive list of their virtues as candidates, I'd be willing to consider it and might change my mind.

So those are my reasons for voting Obama in the primary and for probably voting for him in the general election if he wins. I'd appreciate if you wouldn't assume it's because of a deficit in intelligence on my part.

Also, you still haven't answered for your unpatriotic childhood.

Also, Jeff, how's the baby? That's more important than any of our rantings and ravings.

Mike said...

I don't have anything substantive to add, I just want to give Ben mad props for using the word "vituperative".

Ben said...

Mike - it comes from being a lawyer. I eat needlessly big words for breakfast. They go well with Honey Nut Cheerios.

I don't have anything more to add either. I've said enough. I've said more than enough. I'm through being the Obama apologist on this blog. I've said why I voted for him. I've never said I worship the ground he walks on. I'll leave the passionate (dare I say vituperative?) defenses to someone who's an actual Obama lover.

Andy, you want the last word, go right on ahead. Point out how Obama's the Anti-Christ. Point out how he's an unqualified Anti-Christ. Just please don't assume my idiocy in the process.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Actually, I think I'll take the last word.

Jeff said...

Bah.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Shucks.

Mike said...

Vituperative.

Michael said...

Jeff quoted the article as saying ''Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying at the church,'' Obama said

But it seems that's just Obama being disingenuous. The fact is, he was a member of that church for 20 years before Wright retired, and never seemed to feel uncomfortable.

Obama is a master of telling people what he thinks they want to hear, and getting them to believe it. With all of his speeches and stumping in this campaign, I don't think we've seen anything close to the real Barack Obama.

Andy said...

Michael, what you're saying is clearly obvious and correct. But, to play Devil's advocate for a second, Obama backers might say, So what? Wright's comments are not a reflection of Obama. You'll find here (if you read through previous comments), that what Michelle, Rev Wright/Meeks, Goolsbee et al. say is unconnected to Obama. One would think surrogates Ferraro, Penn and Bob Jones would be shown the same levity.

So while Obama's support seem to stem in large part from the educated, some around here are willing to put logic aside in pursuit of "Hope" and "Change".