Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 3, 2008

Man of Mystery

This column in the Wall Street Journal addresses the ongoing pundit parlor game: who is Barack Obama? The questions are numerous:

While he has already written two autobiographies, there are significant gaps in Mr. Obama’s political resume. The nature of his relationship with onetime friend and political contributor Tony Rezko, a convicted felon, or with radicals Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, not to mention Acorn, remains ambiguous or contradictory.

They were all early supporters or mentors, yet during this campaign Mr. Obama has eventually disavowed each one. This is perhaps testimony to a ruthless pragmatism, or maybe opportunism, but what do those relationships say about what he really believes? He is fortunate the media have been so incurious about them — as opposed, say, to Sarah Palin’s Wasilla church or Joe Wurzelbacher’s plumbing business.

But even if voters (and certainly the MSM) are uninterested in his past, his future plans should certainly be of concern. And yet his intentions remain unclear, in large part because his high-minded rhetoric disguises a thin record, one devoid of intellectual creativity or political daring:

As a political candidate, he has presented himself as a consensus-oriented bridge-builder. But for all his talk about reaching across the aisle, we can think of no major issue where he has disagreed with his party’s dominant interest groups or broken with liberal orthodoxy. Not one. The main example he cites — “ethics reform” — is the kind of trivial Beltway compromise that changes nothing about the way Washington works.

Unlike Newark Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, Mr. Obama opposes school vouchers and would water down the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Unlike Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama is ambivalent at best about free trade. His promise to abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement, if Canada and Mexico refuse to bargain, is a more breathtaking case of U.S. “unilateralism” than anything Mr. Bush has done. Nafta is a 15-year old pact enacted by a Democratic Congress and President. The Kyoto Protocol had never even been submitted to the Senate when Mr. Bush refused to support it.

Indeed, those who are so enamored of his brilliance should query why he demonstrated so little ingenuity and courage as a legislator. For a man so lauded for a rich intellect, he seems to have done precious little to devise and pursue policy solutions that depart from rewarmed 1970′s liberalism. He has been, to put it bluntly, utterly predictable and unimaginative in his pre-presidential campaign career.

The mystery, then, may be why so many are impressed by so little. But if he is elected, he’ll have to reveal what he really thinks and what he wants to do. Based on his track record, I suspect this will be a lot more Barbara Boxer than Pat Moynihan.

This column in the Wall Street Journal addresses the ongoing pundit parlor game: who is Barack Obama? The questions are numerous:

While he has already written two autobiographies, there are significant gaps in Mr. Obama’s political resume. The nature of his relationship with onetime friend and political contributor Tony Rezko, a convicted felon, or with radicals Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, not to mention Acorn, remains ambiguous or contradictory.

They were all early supporters or mentors, yet during this campaign Mr. Obama has eventually disavowed each one. This is perhaps testimony to a ruthless pragmatism, or maybe opportunism, but what do those relationships say about what he really believes? He is fortunate the media have been so incurious about them — as opposed, say, to Sarah Palin’s Wasilla church or Joe Wurzelbacher’s plumbing business.

But even if voters (and certainly the MSM) are uninterested in his past, his future plans should certainly be of concern. And yet his intentions remain unclear, in large part because his high-minded rhetoric disguises a thin record, one devoid of intellectual creativity or political daring:

As a political candidate, he has presented himself as a consensus-oriented bridge-builder. But for all his talk about reaching across the aisle, we can think of no major issue where he has disagreed with his party’s dominant interest groups or broken with liberal orthodoxy. Not one. The main example he cites — “ethics reform” — is the kind of trivial Beltway compromise that changes nothing about the way Washington works.

Unlike Newark Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, Mr. Obama opposes school vouchers and would water down the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Unlike Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama is ambivalent at best about free trade. His promise to abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement, if Canada and Mexico refuse to bargain, is a more breathtaking case of U.S. “unilateralism” than anything Mr. Bush has done. Nafta is a 15-year old pact enacted by a Democratic Congress and President. The Kyoto Protocol had never even been submitted to the Senate when Mr. Bush refused to support it.

Indeed, those who are so enamored of his brilliance should query why he demonstrated so little ingenuity and courage as a legislator. For a man so lauded for a rich intellect, he seems to have done precious little to devise and pursue policy solutions that depart from rewarmed 1970′s liberalism. He has been, to put it bluntly, utterly predictable and unimaginative in his pre-presidential campaign career.

The mystery, then, may be why so many are impressed by so little. But if he is elected, he’ll have to reveal what he really thinks and what he wants to do. Based on his track record, I suspect this will be a lot more Barbara Boxer than Pat Moynihan.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another Democratic “gaffe” on coal? No, this sounds like a statement of policy: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because, they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

We’re advised that “Being conservative means never being too surprised by disappointment.” Yet a whole generation of conservatives got used to winning elections and being in power. The next one may have to get used to the more historically common role of critiquing government and warning against liberal excesses. I suspect this generation will have plenty to do.

Sarah Palin goes in for the kill. In two months she’s become the best natural campaigner of the four presidential ticket participants.

She also had some advice for Tina Fey: “we want her to make sure that she’s holding on to that Sarah outfit because she’s gonna need it in the next four years.” And beyond.

Had Rudy Giuliani been the nominee, it would have been fun to watch him do this every day. Perhaps in the next primary, the Republicans should do mock debates against a Democratic nominee stand-in and see how each candidate would do in the general election face-off. This sort of “skills test” might be useful.

This account captures the affection and enthusiasm for Palin among the base. Think of a GOP presidential primary now — is there any doubt she’d win in a landslide?

The newest definition of ”rich” gets into another GOP ad.

There simply hasn’t been, in recent memory, as devastating a skewering of any public figure as Ben Affleck’s takedown of Keith Olbermann. (How many suggestions do you think they got from his NBC disgruntled colleagues?)

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania apparently does not believe in the Marquess of Queensberry rules laid down by John McCain.

Most fun election stat yet: “Voting for president and having your ballot be the deciding one cast — statistically, that is like trying to hit the lottery. The odds for the average person are 60 million to 1 against it, a study shows.” But to decide Virginia, it is only one in 7.9 million. Hey, people do win the lottery.

Jay Nordlinger says it is about standing up to bullies. Well, if Obama thinks the world’s bad guys aren’t really bullies at all, but rather misunderstood, abused kids, there really isn’t much chance he’s going to stand up to them. In fact, he’ll do everything to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The MSM calls Obama’s gay marriage position “nuanced.” It’s double-talk, really.

From the “leaked” Obama concession speech: “Has there ever been a presidential candidate with more friends who hate America — who pray and work for the overthrow of our capitalist Republic? After the media bought my excuses about Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi, I’ll admit, I started getting a little cocky. At night Michelle and I would sit down on the campaign plane and draw up lists of repugnant people that I could befriend just to see how low we could go and still ride high in the polls.”

Another Democratic “gaffe” on coal? No, this sounds like a statement of policy: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because, they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

We’re advised that “Being conservative means never being too surprised by disappointment.” Yet a whole generation of conservatives got used to winning elections and being in power. The next one may have to get used to the more historically common role of critiquing government and warning against liberal excesses. I suspect this generation will have plenty to do.

Sarah Palin goes in for the kill. In two months she’s become the best natural campaigner of the four presidential ticket participants.

She also had some advice for Tina Fey: “we want her to make sure that she’s holding on to that Sarah outfit because she’s gonna need it in the next four years.” And beyond.

Had Rudy Giuliani been the nominee, it would have been fun to watch him do this every day. Perhaps in the next primary, the Republicans should do mock debates against a Democratic nominee stand-in and see how each candidate would do in the general election face-off. This sort of “skills test” might be useful.

This account captures the affection and enthusiasm for Palin among the base. Think of a GOP presidential primary now — is there any doubt she’d win in a landslide?

The newest definition of ”rich” gets into another GOP ad.

There simply hasn’t been, in recent memory, as devastating a skewering of any public figure as Ben Affleck’s takedown of Keith Olbermann. (How many suggestions do you think they got from his NBC disgruntled colleagues?)

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania apparently does not believe in the Marquess of Queensberry rules laid down by John McCain.

Most fun election stat yet: “Voting for president and having your ballot be the deciding one cast — statistically, that is like trying to hit the lottery. The odds for the average person are 60 million to 1 against it, a study shows.” But to decide Virginia, it is only one in 7.9 million. Hey, people do win the lottery.

Jay Nordlinger says it is about standing up to bullies. Well, if Obama thinks the world’s bad guys aren’t really bullies at all, but rather misunderstood, abused kids, there really isn’t much chance he’s going to stand up to them. In fact, he’ll do everything to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The MSM calls Obama’s gay marriage position “nuanced.” It’s double-talk, really.

From the “leaked” Obama concession speech: “Has there ever been a presidential candidate with more friends who hate America — who pray and work for the overthrow of our capitalist Republic? After the media bought my excuses about Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi, I’ll admit, I started getting a little cocky. At night Michelle and I would sit down on the campaign plane and draw up lists of repugnant people that I could befriend just to see how low we could go and still ride high in the polls.”

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The Obama Test

Jack Kelly writes:

Less is known about Barack Obama than about any major party candidate for president in modern history. His public resume is thin — eight years in the Illinois Senate, four in the U.S. Senate, with two of them spent running for president.

And no candidate for president has had more problematic associations. Barack Obama’s first major financial backer was Antoin “Tony” Rezko, currently awaiting sentencing on corruption charges. For nearly 20 years Mr. Obama attended services where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached hatred of the United States, and of white people. The radical group ACORN has been committing voter registration fraud on a massive scale. Mr. Obama taught classes for ACORN organizers, and represented the group in a lawsuit against the state of Illinois. The most significant managerial responsibility Barack Obama has ever had was as chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a project conceived of by unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers.
These associations have been less explored by the mainstream news media than has Joe the Plumber’s divorce and a tax lien against him.

The reasons why the MSM has avoided grilling Obama and failed to run 3000-word pieces picking through his associations and voting record are obvious: the MSM desperately wants him to win. But why haven’t voters expressed more concern? Why aren’t they troubled by the lack of information?

It may be that his calm, unflappable demeanor has convinced voters that, whoever the “real” Obama is, he can’t be all that bad. It may be that he has given diverse groups just enough assurance to satisfy their concerns, even if they seem to contradict the assurances given to others. (People are easily convinced he’s lying to the other people, while telling them the real thing.) Or it may be that his remarkable ability to lie (“Ayers is a guy in my nieghborhood” or  ”Of course, I would never defend infanticide”) has disarmed curious voters.

But whatever the reason, one wonders if we have set a new low bar for qualifications and disclosure for presidential candidates. In the future, when the candidate is less “transformative,” will we get more data? Will voters expect more evidence that he possesses the skill, ability, and knowledge to do the job?

We’ll have to wait for future elections to see. We’ve learned, for Supreme Court appointees, about the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg test (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). We may, in the future, see the Obama test — no records, no explanations, no revelations. It’s a heck of a way to pick a President.

Jack Kelly writes:

Less is known about Barack Obama than about any major party candidate for president in modern history. His public resume is thin — eight years in the Illinois Senate, four in the U.S. Senate, with two of them spent running for president.

And no candidate for president has had more problematic associations. Barack Obama’s first major financial backer was Antoin “Tony” Rezko, currently awaiting sentencing on corruption charges. For nearly 20 years Mr. Obama attended services where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached hatred of the United States, and of white people. The radical group ACORN has been committing voter registration fraud on a massive scale. Mr. Obama taught classes for ACORN organizers, and represented the group in a lawsuit against the state of Illinois. The most significant managerial responsibility Barack Obama has ever had was as chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a project conceived of by unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers.
These associations have been less explored by the mainstream news media than has Joe the Plumber’s divorce and a tax lien against him.

The reasons why the MSM has avoided grilling Obama and failed to run 3000-word pieces picking through his associations and voting record are obvious: the MSM desperately wants him to win. But why haven’t voters expressed more concern? Why aren’t they troubled by the lack of information?

It may be that his calm, unflappable demeanor has convinced voters that, whoever the “real” Obama is, he can’t be all that bad. It may be that he has given diverse groups just enough assurance to satisfy their concerns, even if they seem to contradict the assurances given to others. (People are easily convinced he’s lying to the other people, while telling them the real thing.) Or it may be that his remarkable ability to lie (“Ayers is a guy in my nieghborhood” or  ”Of course, I would never defend infanticide”) has disarmed curious voters.

But whatever the reason, one wonders if we have set a new low bar for qualifications and disclosure for presidential candidates. In the future, when the candidate is less “transformative,” will we get more data? Will voters expect more evidence that he possesses the skill, ability, and knowledge to do the job?

We’ll have to wait for future elections to see. We’ve learned, for Supreme Court appointees, about the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg test (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). We may, in the future, see the Obama test — no records, no explanations, no revelations. It’s a heck of a way to pick a President.

Read Less