Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thinking About the O

I am working on a column for next Sunday's Journal Sentinel on the relevance of the Rev. Wright and related phenomena to the Obama campaign. Today, the paper ran a piece on Obama's performance among blue collar workers in Wisconsin which was significantly better than it was elsewhere. The story skirts around what I believe to be the most plausible explanation. It comes closest at the end when it suggests that part of the reason may have been that Wisconsin voted before the Wright controversy (although, as author Craig Gilbert points out, Obama did poorly among blue collar voters in other states before the Wright controversy began as well).

Where I begin to differ is with Gilbert's summary of the Wright controversy as a matter of race. I don't doubt that it has racial aspects, although they are not so easily characterized. Part of the reaction to Wright might be a sort of racist revulsion at an overly assertive black preacher associated with Obama. Or it could be, as Linda Chavez points out in the recent issue of Commentary, a perception on the part of whites of a breach in the conditions for racial reconciliation. Her argument, as I understand it, is that whites who see Wright (and the reaction of his parishioners) are stunned by black hostility toward the white world and become wary about voting for a black candidate who has associated with that hostility. In fact, I suppose it is hard to know where the latter ends and the former begins. I imagine that some people would see no distinction between the two.

My own sense is that Obama has - and continues - to go through a process of definition. He has tried to run a post-ideological campaign. But he is, of course, anything but post-ideological. He is, in fact, probably one of the most ideological candidates to run for President and probably well to the left of any Democratic nominee since George McGovern.

He may also be one of the most arrogant.

You can see both characteristics in his gaseous victory speech last week in which he noted, with self described "humility," that perhaps his ascendancy is the moment that our 233 year old country- the most prosperous and free nation in human history - "began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation… ."

Dude, get over yourself.

As Mark Steyn puts it, Obama has to order the receding of the waters. He doesn't want to have to use a stepladder whenever he wants to walk on them.

But this may work this year. Bush has made too many mistakes. The stars are aligned with the Democrats. Although Obama, near as I can tell, wants to return to the policies that brought us the economic stagnation and global impotence of the 70s, our communal memory is short. They may be a mistake that we need to make again.

It also be that the desire to elect a black president as a statement of racial redemption - a desire that I regard as admirable - may prove decisive.

16 comments:

William Tyroler said...

His victory speech indeed was creepy: King Canute the Great, without the humility; Canute as Icarus.

I suppose the Republic has survived worse, but I'm guessing it'd be an awfully bumpy ride.

Seth Zlotocha said...

"More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country; to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose."

"For those who have abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!"

Yeah; he should just get over himself.

Rick Esenberg said...

Not really close. Reagan didn't promise to make something great that never had been. I don't recall promises to change the nature of Man or to engage in soulcraft. Obama isn't the first politician to engage in over the top rhetoric but he's the one that who is before us today. And what he is saying is a bit like the lyrics in alternative rock. It sounds profound but either means nothing or is literally preposterous.

jp said...

“It also be that the desire to elect a black president as a statement of racial redemption - a desire that I regard as admirable - may prove decisive.”

When white people cast their secret ballot, the truth will be known.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Reagan didn't promise to make something great that never had been.

Nice try, Rick, but Obama never said the US isn't, let alone wasn't ever, great. In fact, he explicitly says it is in the last part of the quote you cite (emphasis mine): "we came together to remake this great nation."

Yeah, big difference between that and "we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!"

That you can read Obama's full speech that's full of praise and love for the country -- which I'm trusting you did -- pull out one comment, and make the charge that Obama is suggesting that the US was never great -- when, in fact, the very comment explicitly states otherwise -- says a lot about how far of a back seat your well-earned intellectual credentials are taking to your partisan impulses this election year.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

Perhaps I should be clearer. My problem with Obama is not that I think he is unpatriotic or hates America. It's that he is wrong about the country and what makes it great.

I don't know if I have "well earned credentials" - or any credentials at all - but whatever they are, they are long earned. I went to college in the 70s. I saw what the overambitious state leads to and what paring it back can accomplish. I see no reason to turn back the clock which is what I think, ironically, the Obama candidacy is all about.

This was "the time" when we gave people jobs, "healed the sick" and stopped the "oceans from rising."

That's my problem. The notion that Obama can somehow remake the world by either doing something for you or preventing some bad evil corporation from getting in your way. Nothing in my experience or in my understanding of the world suggests that this is plausible and much in both suggests that it is dangerous and counterproductive to expect it.

But, of course, you disagree. That's fair enough but please don't clain that there is anything post-partisan or nonideological about this. It's the same old same old.

Seth Zlotocha said...

You can disagree with Obama's policies, Rick, although, as I've laid out before, I think it's simply ahistorical to claim they're the Carter administration all over again.

And...

My problem with Obama is not that I think he is unpatriotic or hates America. It's that he is wrong about the country and what makes it great.

I never accused you of claiming Obama is unpatriotic or hates America. You implied pretty clearly that what Obama said is different than Reagan b/c Reagan was simply promising to make America great again, while Obama was claiming to be doing it for the first time. I said that isn't true. Do you disagree? If so, then what is the difference between "we came together to remake this great nation" and "we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again"?

This was "the time" when we gave people jobs, "healed the sick" and stopped the "oceans from rising."

Here's the full paragraph from Obama's speech (my emphasis):

"The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals."

The bolded section that you seem to have an issue with is just a highly literary way to describe health care reform, job creation, addressing global warming, and ending the war in Iraq. That's pretty obvious when put into context.

The notion that Obama can somehow remake the world by either doing something for you or preventing some bad evil corporation from getting in your way. Nothing in my experience or in my understanding of the world suggests that this is plausible and much in both suggests that it is dangerous and counterproductive to expect it.

For starters, if you quoted the entire paragraph for your readers (see above), it would be clear that Obama wasn't claiming he alone could do the things he lists; rather, he says quite clearly it's the "capacity of the American people" that makes these things possible. He does say his campaign is a vehicle for this kind of change, which leads me to...

Secondly, most politician's speeches are chock full of inspirational promises to remake or renew something for the American people. That's what politicians do; they promise to make things better, often in lavish phrases. Take this classic from Reagan:

A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and--above all--responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill.

I believe that you and I together can keep this rendezvous with destiny.


I mean, come on. To claim Obama is unique in this and, as a result, somehow dangerous -- though in the next breath say it's the "same old same old" -- is ridiculous.

And I do think Obama would employ a significantly more post-partisan process in comparison to our current administration with its signing statements, closed door meetings, unending executive privilege, constant state of campaigning as opposed to governing (h/t: Scott McClellan), and overall cloak of secrecy, and I do think that difference is important and I do appreciate Obama making process, in addition to policy, an issue.

Dad29 said...

whites who see Wright (and the reaction of his parishioners) are stunned by black hostility toward the white world

That's not a concern specific to the O candidacy, but it certainly shone a searchlight on something.

James Harris states that this hostility is limited to a small segment--the intellectuals, he calls them--of the black community.

William Tyroler said...

The bolded section that you seem to have an issue with is just a highly literary way to describe health care reform, job creation, addressing global warming, and ending the war in Iraq. That's pretty obvious when put into context.

Not really. The very purpose of the speech was to claim the nomination ("Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States."); the "bolded section" was the peroration. The nomination, culminating in Obama's election, marks the moment we began, etc. It's more weirdly solipsistic than evidence of a "highly literary" style. Althouse got it right: Most megalomaniacal line in Barack Obama's speech last night. We laughed a lot. So did Rick Esenberg.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Yes, really. You may find it over-dramatic, but that just makes it an over-dramatic way of listing health care reform, job creation, addressing global warming, and ending the war in Iraq.

It says a lot, in fact, that Rick cut the "moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth" segment from his post. I think it's because including that part would make it seem more like a list related to specific issues rather than simply a set of generalized (and thereby hyper-arrogant) proclamations (and also b/c the "last, best hope on Earth" doesn't jive well with the "our 233 year old country" point he made).

Bottom line, though, is that these lines by Obama are no more arrogant or over-the-top than Reagan's "rendezvous with destiny" lines. Both suggest something special, and highly dramatic, about what the respective candidacies offer the country.

Anonymous said...

The proof will be in the proverbial pudding . . . . Reagan delivered . . . will Obama?

And, if he delivers on his promises, what will that mean for the country? I'm afraid to find out.

Seth Zlotocha said...

That's taking issue with Obama's policy proposals, Anon, which is -- although I'd disagree with it -- an entirely reasonable position to hold.

It's different to claim, though, which Rick does here and has numerous times before (along with many others at NRO and elsewhere on the right), that Obama's rhetoric is somehow inherently dangerous, and furthermore maintain that Reagan's similar rhetoric was not similarly dangerous simply b/c you agree with the latter's policies.

Anonymous said...

All of you so "afraid" of an Obama presidency strikes me as somewhat shallow and, if you will, indicates you may have your heads stuck in the sand. My goodness, look what Bush has done (or not done) to this country. Bush has certainly lowered the bar. Why are we in the mess we are today--because of Bush. Do you honestly think a McCain presidency would help this country?

Lew W said...

Bush has not "lowered the bar." We have. So we get whatever can toddle over it. It (the diminishment of the presidency in our modern era) clearly began with Nixon's resignation and the elevation of the clearly unqualified Ford. No wonder Carter followed. Reagan was flawed but wonderful at what a president should be limited to doing - making speeches. Bush, sr. was a moral failure - it was not beyond his ability or nature to finish off Sadam when he had the opportunity - but he could not do what was right and necessary - a moral failure. Clinton - not enough space to even begin. And two terms - Oy. Now "W." I cannot get out of my head the image of him dancing (at the white house whilst awaiting McCain) while Bin Laden machinates, and Americans are at risk at home and abroad. But W is no anomoly - he is precisely what the presidency has de-evolved to. That's why we have candidates spending more time on UTube or Daily Show then in study for the character necessary to assure us that their will be no more moral failures. There will always be missteps and errors made by a president, even one who inspires hope (Kennedy meeting with Khruschev unprepared and defenseless). One more moral failure (permitting Iran to develope the bomb?) may be the last.

illusory tenant said...

This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

Good grief. I'm with Seth et al when it comes to the absurdity of the right's facetious assignation of "Messiahship" to Obama, but this sure doesn't help.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Agreed, IT; but with an important qualifier.

That phrase is certainly the most over-dramatic of the bunch. But only by taking it out of the context of a listing -- and thereby further away from its association with the concrete issue of addressing global warming, which most scientists agree would, in fact, slow the rise of sea levels and strengthen the earth's environment -- does it begin to appear messianic.