Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wright stuff is wrong for Obama

There seems to be a surprising consensus that Jeremiah Wright did not do his friend Barack Obama any favors with his appearances before the NAACP and National Press Club. He made it quite clear that the highlight reels of his sermons do not present his views out of context and that he is a man who believes that the United States is an imperialist nation that is a force for evil in the world and a fundamentally unjust place in which little racial progress had been made. He made clear, moreover, that these views are part and parcel of his theology and definition of church. It is inconceivable that anyone could sit in his church for any appreciable length of time or have more than a passing acquaintance with him without knowing this.

So what does this have to do with Barack Obama and how should he "handle it?" For a candidate like Obama, whose ascent to the national stage is so recent and about whom we know little, it's another bit of information about who he is. It's not, as I have said, that he shares all of Wright's more outrageous views. It's that his longstanding relationship with Wright - along with his privileging of Wright as a person who has, perhaps, had more influence on his public life than any other,implies a certain sympathy for Wright's crtitique of America. When you add this to the many other things - sdome of which Obama calls "distractions" - such as his voting record, overwrought rhetoric, condescension toward the unwashed ignorant of rural Pennsylvania, removal of a flag pin as a political statement, reference to Bill Ayers as just a "professor," etc., we see begin to see someone who is not the postideological candidate that he wants to say that he is. As we used to say, meet the new boss (same as the old boss).

This is important because, whether we think they should or not, voters respond to cues and shortcuts in choosing candidates. They are, public choice theory tells us, rationally ignorant about politics. No one vote matters much so there is little incentive for the average voter to acquire much political information. Although the left wants to say that the manipulation of these shortcuts is a right wing phenomenom, the fact is that both sides do it. Republicans, say the Democrats, are cruel martinets for the rich. They don't care about the earth and enjoy war. Maybe the charges that each side fling at each other reflect real differences (both sides claim that it does) and maybe they don't. (My sense is that they do but overemphasize and unfairly emotionalize them.)

We can argue about whether the use of these cues constitutes political "market failure" or results in voters choosing candidates other than those they would choose if they were fully informed. But the fact remains that candidates who have come to be widely viewed as overly internationalist or pacificist in foreign affairs, who are committed to high levels of government intervention in the economy and seen as champions of the social views of liberal elites lose Presidential elections. There are no recent exceptions.

So what can Barack Obama do about Reverend Wright? Nothing. Anything that he might say now won't be believed and probably justifiably so. What he has to do is work on the image that is being rapidly being formed because of things like Wright, et al.

What he should not do is complain about being treated unfairly. He's not and, even if he were, complaining will only make it worse.

8 comments:

3rd Way said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
3rd Way said...

Wright as a person who has, perhaps, had more influence on his public life than any other

The only good thing to come of Wright's press club rants will be the death of this false claim. Obama says Wright isn't his mentor and Wright says he isn't his mentor. Through his speech yesterday Wright just made himself into an enemy of the Obama campaign, a mentor would not do that.

Obama made a bad choice of which church to attend. He isn't the first person do that and he certainly won't be the last.

You are right about this:

whether we think they should or not, voters respond to cues and shortcuts in choosing candidates. They are, public choice theory tells us, rationally ignorant about politics. No one vote matters much so there is little incentive for the average voter to acquire much political information.

(the Gablemen/Butler race can be looked to as the classic example of this)

The voters are going to use shortcuts to determine our next president, but the "Obama as anti-american muslim commie terrorist" meme is not going to be nearly as fresh or powerful in the voters sub-conscience as the "McCain as the McSame borrow and spend war mongering Bushie" meme. This is due to the drawn out democratic primary and the fact that one meme is true and the other isn't.

I will continue to push my meme and you will continue to push yours. So far McCain still lags behind Obama in the polls, even though your meme has had 24/7 coverage for months. When my meme escapes the blogosphere and these short cut voters start to take a harder look at McCain that lead will widen.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't that be refreshingly great if the race/gender card would just disappear from a woman's or (any) colored person's deck? No matter what was said, unfair or not, the candidate would not just ignore, but accept criticism as an acceptable point of view? Personally, I would respond to something like that. Maybe it is just too big a risk to take for any discriminated against person or group. Maybe the majority of people really do still respond to victimhood rather than being sick of it.

Still I wonder if Obama might not be stronger than ever if he had just acted like what he is trying to portray himself as, a uniter. Don't make excuses or blame your staff, or blame racism, everyone has prejudices on every subject. I have always disliked Pepsi, some because of taste, but mostly on their negative Coke ads as I was growing up. Same thing I have against Burger King. But only prejudice (by white males) against minorities is bad... Obama was dead on about his Grandma thing. I am nervous in Milwaukee if two or more younger black males step out behind me on the street at night, while not as much if two white guys step out even if dressed like gang members. Why? Because I have heard/read many stories of black youth beating, robbing, and/or killing people. Most of the stories I have heard about white toughs is against other races, truth be told. If Obama was a true uniter, he would be giving messages out about how he wants to change black and gang youth attitudes, because if he could many many whites would vote for him. Of course, it would alienate some of his black vote and whites won't believe him without some pretty good sounding plans not yet forthcoming so he will likely never be a true uniter. If he is elected, I firmly believe racism will be a worse problem than after his term than before he took office.
Tuerqas

PrivatePigg said...

As we used to say, meet the new boss (same as the old boss).

-Won't get fooled again.-

And the American people won't.

And, contrary to 3rd way, the commenter above, the "meme" about Obama is not that he is an "anti-american muslim commie terrorist." Using that hyperbolic exaggeration as the "true meme," while accurately portraying the anti-McCain meme as "Bush Lite," is a bit dishonest, especially when he goes on to say, basically, that "the Obama meme will die because it's not true, while the McCain meme will live on because it is true."

The Obama meme you listed will die because it is not the Obama meme. The "meme" on Obama is that he is elitist (see recent comments), inexperienced (see record), not really above partisanship (see record, again), and that he has poor judgment (see associations with Wright, Ayers, etc.). If anyone thinks these points will die, rather than grow, think again.

If it walks like a duck...

3rd Way said...

Maybe we should just throw out our presidential electoral system completely and just feature the candidates on an "American Idol" based reality show entitled "My Meme Is Better Than Your Meme". More people would call in and vote in that system than will get off their couch in November.

I am convinced the Democratic talking points linking McCain to Bush will be more powerful and influential than the elitist, inexperienced, partisan, or unAmerican memes. There is a big difference between the two sets of talking points. The Democrat's points are based on issues and policies and the Republican's are based on perception. The Republicans might be able to win on their "non-issue issues", but I have faith Americans aren't that "rationally ignorant".

Someone smarter than me once said:

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people"

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 11:22

I am not going to delete the comment but please don't use outmoded terms to refer to racial minorities. While I understand that such uses were once polite, they aren't anymore. I hate political correctedness as much as the next guy, but courtesy matters.

3d

The Obama memes are based on issues too. What does he think about America's role in the world? How willing is he to interfere in a market economy? To what extent will the government respect the concerns of social conservatives?

PrivatePigg said...

"I am convinced the Democratic talking points linking McCain to Bush will be more powerful and influential ...The Democrat's points are based on issues and policies and the Republican's are based on perception."

Linking McCain to Bush is nothing but perception - the perception being that McCain and Bush are the same.

And too bad that "meme" started and ended with the Iraq War. The whole point (when the Iraq War was THE #1 and only important issue to liberals) was to say "the Iraq War is the biggest issue, McCain and Bush are the same on that issue, don't vote for McCain unless you want a continuation of the same."

The Iraq War is now issue 4 or 5 to the American voter, the surge has worked, and no one is talking about it anymore. Not even the Dems. The talk is about gas prices, the economy, credit problems, etc. McCain is not very close to Bush on those issues (unless you compare McCain to Obama and Hillary, in which case, of course McCain, the Republican, has more in common with Bush, another Republican).

You need a new meme. Comparing McCain to Bush is not "about the issues."

Further, the "meme" on Obama concerns his credibility and his character - important "issues" for a President. Obama is telling us he is a moderate, and can bridge the gap, but his voting record is lefty, his friends and acquaintances are lefties, and he is appearing less and less genuine and honest with each passing day. That's important to the American people.

Leave it to an Obama supporter to consider those things "non-issues."

3rd Way said...

The talk is about gas prices, the economy, credit problems, etc. McCain is not very close to Bush on those issues

That is utter rubbish. Please explain the substanative difference between McCain and Bush on any of those issues. At one point McCain was a maverick, but he has since morphed into the same type of politician willing to pander to the GOP leadership as Bush.

I have said it here before, the only issue that matters in November is the economy. The McSame policy of recklessly cutting taxes while deficit spending will continue to reap the same damage on the dollar and our economy as we have experienced under Bush.

This characterization of Obama as some command economy liberal is simply nonsense. The real leftys are not happy that Obama put together an economic team that would convince a guy like Paul Volcker (Reagan’s fed chief) to endorse him.

This is from a far left blog that is critical of Obama for putting together an economic team that is too far to the right:

Although it is not widely understood, Obama is pretty much committed to the neoclassical economics outlook of his home-town University of Chicago. Since becoming Senator, he has relied on the advice of a professor named Austan Goolsbee, who calls himself “a centrist, market economist” (Washington Times, July 16, 2007).

Goolsbee has been a columnist for Slate.com and the NY Times, as well as a standup comedian. His economics are not meant as a joke, as I understand it. His columns are written very much in the same vein as fellow U. of Chicago neoclassical economist Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics,” examining everyday problems such as “Why you get stuck for hours at O’Hare.” Most are fairly uncontroversial except for the swipe he took at Michael Moore’s “Sicko”, whose single-payer recommendations violate his free market principles.

Another adviser with a particular interest in health care is David Cutler, a Harvard economist who was also an adviser to Bill Clinton–surprise, surprise. Cutler wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 asserting that “The rising cost … of health care has been the source of a lot of saber rattling in the media and the public square, without anyone seriously analyzing the benefits gained.”

Another Harvard University adviser to Obama is Jeffrey Liebman, a Harvard economist who co-authored a paper on the feasibility of privatizing social security when he was an adviser to Bill Clinton. Liebman has co-authored a book on social security “reform” with Martin Feldstein, another Harvard economist who was–appropriately enough–the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Ronald Reagan. In an article titled “The Rich, the Poor, and the Economists” that appeared in the January 2002 Monthly Review, Michael Yates notes the following:

Before he became Reagan’s chief economist, he [Feldstein] was an expert on the economics of social security. In published papers, he claimed to have empirically demonstrated that the social security system in the United States inhibited savings. Since savings are the source of capital investment, the implication of his research was that the social security system also reduced investment and thereby reduced the growth rate of the economy, since investment is the engine of economic growth.

Feldstein’s work fit nicely into the growing conservative movement which arose after the post World War Two boom came to an end in the early 1970s. The Keynesian economics that was gospel during my college years was giving way to a return to the pre-Keynesian theory that “freely” operating markets (free from the poison of government control and regulation) were the only solution to all economic problems.