Monday, January 07, 2008


I have always said that if Hillary Clinton got caught in the rain, she'd melt, I understand that there is a bit of sexism in that joke, but it's hard not to think that she deserves it. Clinton's entire rationale has been her gender and there has been a certain irony in that. There are all sorts of women in our world today who have accomplished all sorts of things that are wholly unrelated to their husbands. The whole "two for one" argument in Bill Clinton's first campaign was dated even then. A woman who goes to Yale Law School and becomes a partner in a decent law firm was not unusual even then. Hillary's chops as a gender pioneer went by the wayside long ago.

Her attacks on Obama now strike me as unlikely to work, in part, again ironically, because of the baggage from her husband's campaigns. The Clintons are consummate politicians. They will say or do anything. We - or at least enough of us - forgave it in Bill because he still managed to be engaging to those who wanted to believe in him and things went smoothly enough while he was in office (largely, I think, a function of the dotcom boom and a GOP Congress that pretty much prevented him from doing anything.)

But I think she has a point when she cautions against swooning over Obama. He is said to remind us of JFK and there is a sense in which I agree. JFK was lots of style but what substance he had (fierce cold warrior) is not one that the modern Democratic party much cares for. He did, in the end, come around on civil rights but the heavy lifting on that issue was done by Eisenhower and Johnson.

Obama is smart and articulate. He is supposed to have a great "message" but what is that message? As near as I can tell, it boils down to the fact that he hasn't been there before and we should hope for great things, somehow putting aside the "divisions" ot the past. While he says he eschews identity politics, the case for him being the one to do all this seems to rest entirely on his multiple identities. Black and white. Christian and Muslim. Ivy League elite and of humble origins. American and cosmopolitan.

I have a colleague who likes to say that people don't vote on a careful consideration of the issues, but in impression and image. I think that is often right as a descriptive matter and it seems to be what Obama is banking on.

But is it a good thing. Here Hillary has a good line. You campaign in poetry but you govern in prose. She wants to say that this favors her because she's the experienced one but I am not sure, in the end, that the voters are going to give her all that much advanced placement for living in the White House.

Four years ago, Barak Obama was in the Illinois state legislature. He makes a great virtue out of not voting for the war in Iraq. Well, he didn't vote against it either because he didn't have to. The notion that this guy, however smart and articulate he might be, is ready to be the most powerful man on Earth is wildly implausible. When he has spoken on foreign policy, he has shown a tendency to gaffe and exhibit a dangerous shallowness.

It certainly will be a historic day when an African American is elected President but the significance will not be so much what it changes (Condoleeza Rice would be a very different President than Barak Obama) as the way in which it confirms the change that has already happened. Obama's personal history means nothing. His soaring rhetoric means little. What matters is whether he can speak in prose.


Anonymous said...

The debate was very telling, Edwards clearly was the leader, Clinton scored points on how she would handle nations harboring terrorist but Obama just went with the flow by agreeing with Edwards.

My impression was that you can't know very much to be a supporter of Obama.

Anonymous said...

What is your obsession with Rice?

Mike Plaisted said...

If she gets caught in the rain, she'd melt? What, like the Wicked Witch of the West? You admit it's sexist but "she deserves it"? Excellent. Well played, professor. I pity the poor women in your classes who dare to get uppity, in league with their boyfriends or otherwise.

Right-wingers like to talk a lot about the left's supposedly blinding Bush-Hatred. It's a lie, of course -- hating an empty suit is a waste of time and emotion. But the right has always been entirely emotional and irrationally hateful toward Hillary Clinton. With the tiresome "witch" and "rhymes with witch" references -- not only your stupid little joke, but also on any Hillary thread on FreeRepublic -- it would be easy to dismiss the syndrome as ignorant sexism.

But it's more than that. What the right really hates about both Clintons is their success. Never mind what Bill was able to accomplish in his presidency -- remember when Hillary was supposed to go into the Senate, act like a queen and fail? It turns out she was a successful concensus-builder -- try to find a Republican senator that has anything bad to say about her personally -- you can't.

"They will say and do anything" to get elected? Even if true (it's not), how is this different than any other politician? Trying to find a message that resonates with people is a good thing, not some kind of Clinton-only mutation.

But, you know, I guess if you hang around enough Federalist Society meetings you start thinking, since those around you are laughing at your sexist joke, maybe you are on to something. But you're not. Your just being a sexist because, so you say, she deserves it. I can't wait to see what will happen when Obama crosses some line that you think "deserves" a response outside the lines. There are plenty of those kind of jokes, too.

Rick Esenberg said...

Gee, Mike, you need to get out more. If you think that people stand around at Fed-Soc meetings telling sexist jokes (the women too?), you would be wrong. Do you just prefer to live in a world where everyone you disagree with is some kind of beast or are you parochial enough to really believe that they are? If you're worried about how I treat my students, I can refer you to women, lefties and whomever else you want and they'll allay your concerns.

Mike Plaisted said...

Rick, you're the one who admitted you were telling a sexist joke about someone because they "deserved" it. I'm just trying to figure out why you think that's OK and a jab at the Federalist Society is the best I could do. I mean, any group that stands around and applauds Rudy Guilliani -- well, I think anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. Now boys, lets get back to the point. Rick, you called Obama an "African American," and while in one sense he truly is, his lineage is rather detached from America. The father, as we all know, was from Kenya, and was a Muslim who slid into atheism. Obama's father was a harsh critic of Christianity - which he perceived as being a womanly religion with its attachment to virginity and forgiveness. Apparently when Obama was very young (perhaps 2) the father retreated to Kenya, leaving junior and his white mother, who both then migrated to Indonesia with or to be with the mother's second Muslim husband. Later, Obama returned to Hawaii and if I'm right lived with his mother's parents. I haven't read Obama's book, so I don't know the full extend of what he claims to be his "African American" experience, but he has no ancestors who were slaves (at least not in this country). I also imagine his father, being from Kenya, spoke perfect (yes, British) English. So other than skin color, Obama's "African American" credentials are, well, skimpy. Yet American blacks are fixated on what they call this "brother" being the first black president. Ironically, whites don't care about his color. But just give a listen to your colleagues on WMCS gush about being able to vote for the first African American for president. Indeed, Obama may in the final analysis stand for the proposition that the descendents of slaves still are not in line, as it were, to make it to the higest office in the land. A sad irony.

Marcus Aurelius said...

Leave Hillary alone, now!