Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More than a gaffe?

Some of my readers just can't understand why I would suggest that Obama's supporters, and maybe even the Obamas, have a rather elevated view of their own importance and seem to be suffering from an extended bout of political tachycardia.

Good liberals like Paul Krugman, Sean Wilentz and Doris Kearns Goodwin have noticed the same thing, but maybe they are also victims of the vast right wing propaganda machine. That machine couldn't put a pebble in John McCain's path but it somehow has - and continues to - distort our national political disccourse.

The evil geniuses have apparently gotten to Michelle Obama who announced that, for the first time in her adult life, she is proud of her country because hope is making a comeback.

It's hard to know where to start with a statement like this. As politics, it is a breathtaking gaffe. For a Harvard educated lawyer married to another, it suggests either a certain elitism ("hope" exists only for people like us) or a petulant lack of gratitude.

But most importantly, it reflects an overwrought sense of self importance. Michelle Obama apparently thinks that her husband reflects a resurgence of hope so unique and powerful that she can only now be proud of a country that has fought an bloody internal war to end slavery, ended two holocausts in Europe in which it had no direct stake, faced down global communist totalitarianism, underwent a civil rights revolution (from which she and her husband, deservedly, have spectacularly benefited), created a prosperity unheard of in human history and that has served, along with - really less than a handful of - other western nations England and sometime France) as a beacon for ideals of equality and liberty (even if we have not always managed to live into then.)

I understand that she made a mistake. But what concerns me is why she made this mistake. Maybe it was just the understandable enthusiasm of the campaign. But it reflects, at best, a stunning lack of self awareness and, at worst, a campaign that believes its own myth.

42 comments:

iT said...

Shouldn't you be criticizing Ms. Obama for her newfound pride, rather than for her prior lack of same?

Because I read somewhere that pride is among the things the Lord hates, and its expression is an abomination unto him.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Could you provide some links for examples of where Krugman, Wilentz, and Kearns Goodwin (notably, the former two are outspoken Hillary supporters, I'm not sure about Kearns Goodwin) have said Obama's candidacy -- and as an extension his supporters -- represent a threat to the fabric of American society and democracy as you have suggested in recent posts?

Anonymous said...

I think Ms. Obama may become a bit of a drag on her husband in the general election, a la Ms. Heinz Kerry.

Jim Bouman said...

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, born January 17, 1964.

The quote is quite specific: "First time in my adult life..."

So, her adult life started around 1982. Since she's smart and aware and political, she thinks of hope in terms of the kind of political leadership she has seen:

o Eight years of Reagan.
o Four years of Bush pere.
o Eight years of Clinton. (You, perhaps, expected her to offer a Clinton praise in a speech encouraging voters to reject Clintonism).
o Eight years of Bush fils.

One need not be a political ally to agree that there were few reasons--for Michelle Obama as well as millions of fellow Americans--to look upon American political leadership from 1982 to present as having inspired hope.

joe stalin said...

I think Michelle Obama is probably a pretty sharp woman. She is Princeton and Harvard educated, and is a VP at the University of Chicago.
She lives in a $1,650,000.00 home and flies first class. Her brother is the head basketball coach at an Ivy league school. (Brown), and her family is obviously well adjusted and well educated. She comes from a working class background and grew up solidly middle class. She is quite attractive and speaks eloquently
She and her husband are living the American dream. Wealthy, highly educated, self made, professionals.
What's all the class warfare about?
They are proof that America does work, yet they sell snake oil and tell others that they need government to help them. How is it that the Obama's can achieve but you and I can't. Are we too stupid, lazy or is it that some evil corporations are keeping us down?

Anonymous said...

it said -

"Because I read somewhere that pride is among the things the Lord hates, and its expression is an abomination unto him."


I'm not sure what scripture you're referencing but in Proverbs it clearly says that "pride comes before a fall".

Let's try to minimize the fall.

joe stalin said...

Good morning Jim Bouman.
I understand where you are coming from. Liberals are not proud of America unless they are in charge.
In Michelle Obama's adult life, America has offered her the oppurtunity to go to Princeton, to go to Harvard, to work for a prestigious law firm and to be a millionaire.
Yet she wasn't proud of America until her husband achieved Rock star icon status.
Only a liberal could think that way.
I wonder if Al Gore has ever been proud of America.
Well there was that 8 year stretch.

Zach W. said...

Rick, if you're going to quote Michelle Obama, at least get the entire quote right.

Michelle Obama said - and I quote - “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." Notice the word really in that sentence? I did, but you and your brethren on the right have conveniently left that one key word out of your quotes. Now perhaps I'm just reading her quote too literally, but I read that quote to mean she's always been proud, but now she's really proud. That's usually why someone adds the word really, as opposed to just saying they were proud.

joe stalin said...

Zach W. are you saying Michelle Obama wasn't REALLY proud of America before now?
And now she is really proud of America?

Spin liberal spin.
LMFAO. She was proud before, but not REALLY proud?
Is that your final answer?

jp said...

tachycardia!!
Oh... be still my heart.

jp said...

My hand shook when I voted for Obama today. I’m not sure that it had anything to do with tachycardia because I’m a cross over voter.

Anonymous said...

I heard that while in Milwaukee, Obama relaxed by taking a nice long walk on Lake Michigan.

Rick Esenberg said...

Zach W.

She actually said it both ways and I don't think that "really" softens it much. My point, in any event, wasn't so much that Michelle Obama hates her country but that the Obama campaign loves itself a bit too much.

Which is, of course, why IT is right about the danger of her pride, but wrong about its nature. "These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look ... .(Prov 6:16-17) But here pride, whether newfound or not, is in the millenial and redemptive nature of Obama, Inc.

And, as I said, if you think that's good - the fainting, the improbable claims, the hagiography - I can't help you.
If you think that this is what the Reagan campaigns were like, then you just weren't there.

Seth

It's a personal problem, but I'm on deadline for two op-eds, a white paper and a law review article and overdue with a referee report, so I can't go and find the links, but the Kearns Goodwin and Wilentz references were in last Sunday's New York Times "Week In Review" and I think I linked to Krugman somewhere in one of the earlier Obama posts or comment threads. Yes, I think they all support Clinton but I also think that you have eyes and can see what they are talking about.

Jim Bouman suggests that Mrs. Obama can't be proud of her country during her adult life because the GOP has been in power. Again, if that't the way you look at things, I can't help you.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Yes, I think they all support Clinton but I also think that you have eyes and can see what they are talking about.

Not sure exactly what that means, Rick, but I'll be patient and wait for you to provide the links. It's not my job to go hunting down your claims; but, as I'm sure you tell your students, it is your job to substantiate your claims, at least if you want them to be taken seriously.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Feeling generous this morning, Rick, so I decided to hunt down the link for you, after all (in the couple of minutes in took me to do so on the NY Times Week in Review website). I found this article, with quotes from both Wilentz and Kearns Goodwin.

What I didn't find were comments from either that suggested the excitement over Obama's candidacy in and of itself presents a real threat to the American social fabric or our democracy, which you have suggested in previous posts. I didn't see the words you've been throwing around like "dangerous," "messianic," "whiff of trouble in it," "totalitarian," etc.

Both scholars focus, instead, on the more controlled point that Obama's campaign is incomplete since it offers just hope, as opposed to hope through specific programs, which fits perfectly with the Clinton campaign line (making the fact they're both outspoken Clinton supporters all the more important).

As a corollary, Wilentz and Kearns Goodwin also note that Obama's campaign, in the words of Wilentz, "ends up promising more from politics than politics can deliver," which is a point you made on Monday (without referencing Wilentz, who it sounds like you read on Sunday), but that's quite different than what you implied in previous posts -- which emphasized, though in an undefined way, that what the excitement would do was in itself threatening -- and still, in my view, doesn't live up to the ominous language you've been using to describe Obama's candidacy.

Similarly, Kearns Goodwin refers to "a certain kind of hubris" that can set in to lead people to believe their candidate can make everything well again, which they've obviously can't, and then there are awkward references to how Teddy R. and FDR sought to extend the powers of the executive office, for which there is no clear connection to the popular excitement that either elicited (to be sure, few presidents have pushed the power of the presidency further than G.W. Bush and there has never been a link suggested between those attempts and any sort of dangerous hope that the Bush campaign embodied).

All in all, neither Wilentz nor Kearns Goodwin go to the lengths that you did -- prior to Monday, anyway -- to suggest that the excitement over Obama's candidacy in and of itself presents a fundamental danger to the fabric of the country, not just through false hopes, but through an active allegiance to Obama's candidacy. In fact, Kearns Goodwin even notes in the end that it would be ideal "if you could mush Clinton and Obama together as one person." This hardly says that she thinks the Obama candidacy represents an active danger to American society.

And you also seem to think that Wilentz, Kearns Goodwin, and Krugman -- even setting aside the fact that they don't say the same thing as you, at least in your earlier posts -- insulate you from charges that your comments are partisan-driven, but that point is significantly weakened by the acknowledgement that all three are Clinton supporters -- and thereby are reacting in a similarly partisan manner, even if it's inter-party -- which is quite possibly why you didn't feel the need to mention it in the post.

I also want to note the comments in the article by Alan Wolfe, the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Political Life at Boston College, in which he says that Reagan's "city on a hill" serves as a classic example of the same type of "civil religion" that Obama employs. According to Wolfe: "A soft civil religion is something our country desperately needs at a time of deep partisanship. [Obama] wants to go back to the Reagan years as a Democrat, with Democratic policies." This has been one of my main points since the start of our conversations; Obama's style presents no more of a danger to American society or democracy than Reagan's style did. Again, we can disagree on the results of their policies, but that's separate from the effects of their style.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

I would have thought that you would have mentioned how "ridiculously condescending" it is for Obamas wife to say that we have nothing to be proud of as a country unless we elect them.

Of course, you're fair and balanced and aren't caught up in the hype.

Anonymous said...

Oh so many comments to make here.

1. I found it rather comical that the Shark is criticizing Mrs. Obama for her pride--anyone take a look at what the Shark has posted on his main page. Pride, ego, yeah, you name it. I understand what Mrs. Obama was saying. . .pride and hope go hand in hand. I, too, would be proud if my husband was generating hope in this country. After the last seven plus years, it is something we all need.

2. I also find it rather comical (and sad) that rumors are still going around about Obama NOT saying the pledge of allegiance. Please--that is nothing more than an old wive's tale. Stop perpetuating rumors. It is childish and foolish.

3. So Obama doesn't wear a flag pin to show his patriotism. I don't wear one either--are you going to call me unpatriotic? People who profess too much (i.e. I'm a Christian--see I carry a Bible and go to church every Sunday), are simply phoney people. You do NOT need to wear a flag pin to be patriotic. I have always believed that actions speak much louder than simply wearing a pin.

4. It will be so interesting (and fun) to watch the conservatives and neocons try to disparage Senator Obama. He does, indeed, bring hope to the millions of people who can be classified as middle class. Dubya has done nothing but hurt this country (i.e. Gonzogate, Plamegate, Habeas Corpusgate, Iraqgate--hey, found those weapons of mass destruction yet?, etc.).

5. How anyone can decry that Obama in the White House would be a threat to the democracy of this country is either an idiot or is in lock step with the Republican Party. If ANYONE has been a threat to the democracy of this country, it is Dubya (see above for just a very few examples).

6. How many more times will we need to see the juvenile behavior of people from Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC by "confusing" Senator Obama with Osama bin Laden? Grow up already.

Yes, this election year will be very, very interesting.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I would have thought that you would have mentioned how "ridiculously condescending" it is for Obamas wife to say that we have nothing to be proud of as a country unless we elect them.

Twist words much? Show me where she said "we have nothing to be proud of as a country unless we elect them."

joe stalin said...

For the first time in my adult life, I'm proud not to be a Democrat. You liberals hate America, and yes I'm questioning your patriotism because you have none.
Now back to our usual lib spin,.

Anonymous said...

To Joe Stalin. . .interesting name you use claiming you are an American and all.

Yes, I am a liberal and I am mighty tired of all you so-called conseratives and/or neocons claiming all liberals hate America. Really! Why would you write such an idiotic statement?

I think all conservatives and neocons hate America since you seem to agree with Dubya in trashing the Constitution. We liberals want to make sure the Constitution and our freedoms remain in place. And for many of us, that means having Senator Obama become president.

If you want to continue trashing our freedoms and the Constitution and have another four years of the crap that Dubya has done, go ahead and waste your vote on McCain.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

she said she wasn't proud before but is proud now...same thing as saying that I'm proud because you are voting for us. Rather or better yet very condescending.

Anon with an attidude 1:45 & 2:51

Get a grip, Obama isn't the savior of the world, neither is there anything that he has done that tells me he could be a good President. You must be very empty to place all that "hope" in a human being, unless of course you don't think he's human.

By the way, I'm very interested in justice, fairness and impartiality but I don't think either side is doing very well with that. It appears from your statements that you want to shove things down people's throats rather then looking in the mirror and seeing the two faces staring back at you.

joe stalin said...

Anonymous 2:51.
Can I offer you some cheese with your whine. You prattle about trashing the Constitution and you offer nothing as proof.
Like the typical lib, you are long on mouth, short on brains. Grow a pair of stones lib.
And take a bath.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I find direct quotes the most enlightening, Anon.

What Michelle Obama said was this: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change."

Now here's what you said she said: "we have nothing to be proud of as a country unless we elect them."

The differences there are pretty clear (and it is interesting that you felt you needed to manipulate what she said in order to make your point, rather than just directly quoting it from hundreds of news stories on the web...if it was really such a blatantly condescending remark, a direct quote should've sufficed).

Of course, beyond all that, Michelle Obama clarified her point afterwards into something well within reason: "For the first time in my lifetime, I'm seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven't seen and really trying to figure this out -- and that's the source of pride that I was talking about," which is pretty clearly indicated in the second sentence of her quote.

You may not believe her, but, importantly, you -- assuming you're the same Anon from the previous post -- never bothered to clarify your statements that "Now, the [Obama] band wagon gets rolling and many people that maybe are logical become empty headed," "Seth, you seem to be a smart guy that I think will come out of this once your endorphines go back to normal," and "It's like talking to (Obama supporters) a teenage girl that think's she's in love and that the guy can't do anything wrong," which is what I referred to as condescending on your part.

Seth Zlotocha said...

And now I guess I can add "You must be very empty to place all that 'hope' in a human being" to the list.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Probably worth noting the other version of the line Michelle Obama made earlier in the day: "People in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics and for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."

This appears more problematic -- I wouldn't say condescending is the word for it -- but I do think her clarification is still plausible given the context of the troubling phrase, which pretty clearly suggests its in reference to pride in the nature of the country's politics as opposed to heritage or people.

Do you want to clarify any of your comments, Anon?

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

Think of James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams. This is the blogosphere and "there are no rules here." I try to add links and certainly try not to say things that aren't true, but I don't feel a moral obligation to footnote my posts with links. That would be ideal but practicality intervenes. You would have waited a long time.

I'm not saying that Wilentz and Kearns Goodwin see this the same way as I do. It'd be shocking if they did. My reaction to Obama is to his policies and to the reaction to his campaign and, increasingly, the signs that the campaign buys into and encourages that reaction. It's hard to disentangle them and that's what I was trying to say in Monday's post.

I don't know if the Obama phenomena will be destructive of the fabric of democracy. I only said that there are things about the Obama campaign that are worrisome. If Obama takes us back to the 70s, it will just be disastrous policy. If he takes us back to the 60s, I have more dire concerns. This is a matter of both substance and style. They are not so easily disentangled.

My own sense is that none of that will happen. The Obama campaign is going to look a lot different in the fall than it does today. Moreover, I think that, unless Obama, if elected, governs differently than he speaks. he's going to be a disaster of Carter-like dimensions and bury the Denocratic Party for another generation. In that sense, he's a risky bet with big upside and a huge down side. In that way, he is like Reagan.

As far as the anonymous comment on my ego wall, read it again.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I'm not saying that Wilentz and Kearns Goodwin see this the same way as I do.

vs.

Good liberals like Paul Krugman, Sean Wilentz and Doris Kearns Goodwin have noticed the same thing...

Not sure there's as much wiggle room there as you make out.

I don't know if the Obama phenomena will be destructive of the fabric of democracy. I only said that there are things about the Obama campaign that are worrisome.

Words like "messianic," "dangerous," "totalitarian," etc., suggest a little more than "things about the Obama campaign that are worrisome" (and you've still never defined what, exactly, we have to worry about).

If he takes us back to the 60s, I have more dire concerns.

Do you really think there's a possibility that any president, let alone Obama, could usher in another countercultural movement (which is what I assume you're referring to when you, as a conservative, reference the 60s in a negative way)? After all, the roots of that movement -- and the others of the decade -- were a tad deeper than one person, let alone the person in the White House.

But aspects of the 60s that Obama clearly does want to bring back are the relatively enormous amounts of political and civic involvement in that decade -- that spanned well beyond youth movements -- which started to descend in the 1970s and really tanked over the last two decades (see Putnam's Bowling Alone for the details).

My own sense is that none of that will happen.

I hope that you wouldn't continue putting up posts that suggest ambiguous things to readers that you don't believe will happen, at least without granting them that important caveat. Then again, as you put it, "there are no rules here."

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

What they see - and what you ought to see - is a campaign that claims to transcend politics and makes incredibly ambitious claims - often without any explanation of how they might be realized. What they see - and what you ought to see - is a response to that campaign that seems irrationally exuberant. I cite them to support the idea that not only a conservative could see it this way. Whether they share the other views I have of the matter is beside the point. You can, of course, dismiss them as Hillary supporters if you wish.

Now, I don't think that this type of politics is healthy and I think that, if carried too far, it is dangerous. Will it go that far? I don't know I am not sure that this whole Obama thing won't crater. If that happens, even if he wins, it will loook different than it does today.

I also think that Obama - when you look under the glitz - is advocating a return to a set of policies that are dangerous.

I don't think any of that should be hard to understand.

Seth Zlotocha said...

What's hard to understand, Rick, and what's always been hard to understand are statements like, "I don't think that this type of politics is healthy and I think that, if carried too far, it is dangerous."

What, specifically, is dangerous about it?

I don't think that question is too hard to understand.

Seth Zlotocha said...

And Kearns Goodwin and Wilentz may agree with you that there's a problem with the excitement caused by Obama's candidacy, but the real importance is in the effect of that problem. Those scholars primarily see it as an issue of creating hope that can't possibly be realized by any president, which can cause further disillusionment. That's different what the active effects you were suggesting in previous posts, and it was those effects that the majority of your commenters -- myself included -- were reacting to. So maybe the real issue is that you mischaracterized the concerns of your commenters rather than Kearns Goodwin and Wilentz.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, Joey. . .read the following re: Dubya trashing the Constitution:

4th Amendment reads: ". . .no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation". The NSA program doesn't worry itself about any warrants or judicial review.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 was enacted to provide the executive branch with the means to conduct electronic surveillance against foreign threats within a framework encompassing judicial review to safeguard our 4th Amendment rights--up to 72 hours without a warrant. However, and Joey, read this slowly so you understand it. . .it is a felony for anyone (including Dubya) to engage in electronic surveillance except as authorized by the statute.

On April 20, 2004 at Kkleinshans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY, Dubya said the following: "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires--a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional gauarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constititution."

So, Joe, you may want to watch a news source on television other than Faux News.

Anonymous said...

Seth said -

What Michelle Obama said was this: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change."


This is no different then saying that she never had anything to be proud of until people started voting for her husband. Her correction wasn't much different.

Fred said...

Aww, how cute. She's channelling Hillary and acting out being the next co-president.

Seth Zlotocha said...

she never had anything to be proud of until people started voting for her husband.

That isn't what she said, Anon. This is the first time in her adult life that she's seen so many people actively participating in the political process, and that makes her really proud of her country. You don't need to believe her, but regardless of how you read it there's little arguing that it's something very different than this -- "we have nothing to be proud of as a country unless we elect them" -- which is what you initially said she said.

And, again, at least she clarified her points in a plausible manner to make them reasonable statements, which isn't something you've been willing to do.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

You can try to spin it all you want but she said it, not me.

Seth Zlotocha said...

she said it, not me.

Yeah, she said and she explained it. I'm not asking you to clarify what she said, I was asking if you're interested in clarifying what you said. And you were the one who related what Michelle Obama said to things you said, Anon. That wasn't me.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

It appears to me that Obama supporters think that there is no hope for our country unless we vote for Obama.

Do you believe that there is hope if Obama doesn't win?

Seth Zlotocha said...

Hope for what? For life to continue? Yes. For the US to remain a great place to live? Of course.

Hope for there to be a noticeably renewed excitement and engagement in the political process? No.

I think Clinton would make a fine president. I just don't think there's a chance she'll be able to get people to believe in, and thereby engage in, the political process again.

The same goes for McCain, not to mention the fact that I think his policy positions -- while probably an improvement over the current administration (I think he'd govern more from the center than his campaign lets on) -- wouldn't help re-instill the primacy of diplomacy in foreign affairs or the need for government oversight to help democratize the opportunities -- not give handouts -- created by the prosperity from the free market.

All in all, I think Obama holds the most promise out of all the candidates for putting some new life into and creating some new excitement about -- particularly for young people -- the political process. That's what I see in the excitement surrounding his candidacy -- as opposed to something unhealthy or dangerous -- and while it's certainly not going to be a night and day transition should he become president, I do think he's the only one in the field who stands a chance at making some important strides in the right direction since he's the only who who's demonstrating a capacity for it now.

As Andrew Sullivan put it: "No he will not transform politics. He won't abolish our problems. He won't eliminate our enemies. He won't disappear partisanship. That's not the point. He's a decent, reasonable human being prepared to tackle these problems outside the depressing template of Morris-Rove politics. One way he can begin to do that is to bring a wave of support with him, to appeal beyond Washington to Americans who know this country is in a terrible mess and want to fix it. That's what Reagan did. He wasn't perfect. But we still remember the difference."

Anonymous said...

Seth wrote -

"That's not the point. He's a decent, reasonable human"

It's my understanding that he supports abortion, homosexuality, euthenesia and socialism.

Is that your definition of a reasonable and decent human being?

Seth Zlotocha said...

It's my understanding that he supports abortion, homosexuality, euthenesia and socialism.

Is that your definition of a reasonable and decent human being?


A woman's right to choose and gay/lesbian rights, absolutely. I'd need to see more about what you mean on the other two, specifically in relation to Obama's policy positions.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

I'm glad that we got down to what it's really about...the hype is only the curtain hiding it for now, but it is falling.

Nice talking with you.

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