How did Barack Obama grow so politically tone-deaf? Could it be due to his choice of reading material? Note this detail from a Washington Post story today: “As for what Obama reads online, his advisers said he looks for offbeat blogs and news stories, tracking down firsthand reporting and seeking out writers with opinions about his policies. Obama was particularly interested in Atlantic Online’s Andrew Sullivan’s tweeting of the Iranian elections last year.”
Topic: Andrew Sullivan
My own view is moving toward supporting a direct American military imposition of a two-state solution, with NATO troops on the borders of the new states of Palestine and Israel. I’m sick of having a great power like the US being dictated to in the conduct of its own foreign policy.
Presumably the direct American military imposition of a two-state solution would involve the Marines going house to house in Gaza City. Talk about American soldiers dying for Israel! For someone who has spent the past few years denouncing the hubris of American military intervention in the Middle East, this is heady stuff.
As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).
On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.
It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:
Dear NIAC Friend,
When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.
One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.
See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”
There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered. Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”
Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:
“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”
Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:
“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”
Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:
“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”
Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:
“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More
Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith – which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).
Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.
But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.
This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:
The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.
At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.
UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”
Up until about three weeks ago, the definition of the word smear was a simple affair. As Webster’s states, there’s the noun, meaning An attempt to destroy someone’s reputation and the verb meaning To contaminate the reputation of. But ever since John McCain acknowledged the fact that Hamas’s political advisor Ahmed Yousuf endorsed Barack Obama, the word smear has morphed. The candidate of change has worked his audacious magic. Thus, the new meaning of smear: to question or criticize Barack Obama. Senator Obama proclaimed of McCain’s words, “This is a smear.” And, lo, it was so.
You can see how the word spread. When Edward Luttwak penned an op-ed in the New York Times posing legitimate questions about Obama’s being considered an apostate by Islamists, Ali Eteraz wrote:
Now there is a new Islam smear. This one says that Obama was a Muslim — and as a result, he is going to arouse the wrath of Muslims around the world who are going to want to kill him for apostasy (converting away from Islam, punishable by death).
When Mark Levin wrote the following at NRO’s Corner blog–
Obama made a point of not wearing the flag pin, knowing that a point would be made of it, just as he makes a point of not placing his hand over his heart during the playing of the National Anthem. I find this perplexing, although I won’t obsess over it. This is not the typical behavior of a presidential candidate.
–Andrew Sullivan responded:
These are lies, smears, untruths . . . NRO need[s] to issue corrections. And the Obama team needs to be more aggressive in countering these deliberate lies.
Perhaps Sullivan is building a case to change the meaning of lies and untruths, as well. If every criticism or challenge to Barack Obama is a smear, how does one oppose him? If facts become lies, how can he be made accountable for his actions? Or is Barack Obama in effect redefining opposition and accountability?
In this post about how Barack Obama’s disposition plays out on national security and economic issues, I quibbled with Chris Matthew’s interpretation of Obama’s declining a cup of coffee in a diner. Andrew Sullivan linked to the piece and trenchantly exposed beverage choice as a less-than-critical campaign issue.
I agree, of course. Which is why the declined coffee (and the preferred juice) were mentioned only as an introductory launching point and the overwhelming majority of the post focused on Obama’s judgment in vital areas such as foreign policy, taxes, and crisis management.
But does Andrew Sullivan think beverage-talk is off limits for all candidates or only for his candidate? A few weeks back, when Hillary Clinton accepted a shot of whiskey in a Pennsylvania bar, Andrew cited the “cross-eyed boozing on a Saturday night” as evidence that “[h]er campaign has become worse than even I expected”.
If Hillary’s whiskey is fair game and Obama’s juice isn’t, then surely it’s permissible to write about Andrew’s Kool-Aid.
Reverend Wright wants “context”? Plenty of context here and here and here. The Left blogosphere seems strangely mute (not a word from Andrew Sullivan? nothing from the usually exhaustive reporting at TPM Election Central?), if not downright despondent. What does this tell us?
It’s now absurd to contend that Barack Obama never really “heard” the venomous utterances of Rev. Wright. He heard, he understood, and he stayed for twenty years. Whether he did it to gain credibility in the African-American community or whether he actually believed Wright is unclear and unknowable. But it’s dishonest for him to say he didn’t understand the tenor of his mentor.
Wright is twisting the knife by pointing out that Obama never denounced him and that he merely “distanced” himself (like any good politician). This spells only bad news for Obama–both the failure to repudiate and the “acting like a politician” may wound him. But he shouldn’t worry that much, since he’s doing fine in the polls. Er, less fine than before.
Poor Reverend Wright. In an interview with Bill Moyers to run tomorrow–I wonder if he asked whether white people really created AIDS ?–Wright says he’s been maligned. The New York Times reveals this snippet of accusation:
It’s to paint me as something — ‘Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country . . . for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,’” he said. “That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.
Hmm. Weren’t these his own words? Has he moved on, seen the error of his ways? In a word, no:
He did not apologize or back away from his remarks in the interview, instead saying that people wanted to paint him as “some sort of fanatic.”
Somehow “those people” (Americans? Republicans? Karl Rove, with an assist from Hillary Clinton?) made him out to be “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and “filled with hate speech.”
But then he lets on that just maybe Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was, you know, a contrived political response: “So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”
All this makes me wonder why Obama thinks this man is “brilliant:” He seems like a garden-variety demagogue. But Andrew Sullivan needs to amend his out-to-sink Obama conspiracy theory: I think Wright is in on the plot.
Hillary and Rove are, it’s true, both calculating, no-holds-barred political animals, and–as our crack intern Jacob has pointed out–they do both want to see Barack Obama lose. So, Sullivan’s assertion that the two are somehow in cahoots is, at least, conceptually viable. The problem is, he points to nothing resembling evidence whatsoever: Terry McAuliffe’s correctly pointing out that Fox News was first in calling Pennsylvania for Hillary; Rove correctly pointing out that if votes from Michigan and Florida are counted, then Hillary has the popular vote lead; and a North Carolina GOP ad slamming Obama.
If Sullivan wants to check up on what Karl Rove is saying about Hillary, he might read this piece from today’s Wall Street Journal, in which Rove writes:
Mrs. Clinton started as a deeply flawed candidate: the palpable and unpleasant sense of entitlement, the absence of a clear and optimistic message, the grating personality impatient to be done with the little people and overly eager for a return to power, real power, the phoniness and the exaggerations. These problems have not diminished over the long months of the contest. They have grown. She started out with the highest negatives of any major candidate in an open race for the presidency and things have only gotten worse.
Then again, maybe this is just another uncanny display of Rove’s bottomless talent for deception and misdirection.
Last night was an almost perfect outcome for the GOP. Hillary Clinton won by a wide enough margin to keep her in the hunt, infuse her campaign with much-needed cash, and keep super-delegates from breaking en masse to Obama. But the results by themselves are not enough to change–at least not yet–the eventual outcome. Barack Obama will probably still win the nomination. But he is looking far less formidable than he did even six weeks ago.
Senator Obama outspent Clinton by around 3 to 1–and he was wiped out. He lost badly among women, Catholics, union households, working class voters, and those who didn’t attend college. Clinton carried both white voters 45 and older and weekly churchgoers by more than 60 percent. Only six in ten Democratic Catholic voters said they would vote for Obama in a general election; more than one in five said they would vote for McCain. Nearly one-third of Clinton voters said they wouldn’t vote for Obama if he’s the nominee. As Fred Barnes wrote, “After Pennsylvania, Clinton’s argument that she’s a stronger opponent against McCain will be impossible to ignore or dismiss.”
The Democratic contest, which is already heated and personal, is only going to get worse. The anger that supporters of Obama and Clinton feel for the other candidate is palpable. The Democrats appear headed for what Andrew Sullivan calls a “death struggle.”
Senator Obama is still the favorite–the math, the rules, and the calendar are all in his favor–but he’s now on the ropes, cut and bleeding, and even a bit wobbly. He could have put Hillary Clinton away with victories in New Hampshire, in Texas, and in Pennsylvania, but he let those opportunities slip away. And now he’s paying a high price for it.
One of the problems faced by Obama is that his appeal has been largely stylistic and aesthetic, based on his personality and character. The core of his campaign is not built on his ideas, as was the case with Ronald Reagan. It’s based on his assertion that he embodies unity and change, a new era in politics, a way past the deep divisions and polarization that have characterized so much of our politics. Which is why this paragraph in today’s Washington Post is worth noting:
Unable once again to score a knockout, Sen. Barack Obama is likely to make his new negative tone even more negative…. the candidate who rocketed to stardom as the embodiment of a new kind of politics — hopeful, positive and inspiring — saw his image tarnished in the bruising fight for Pennsylvania. Provoked by Clinton’s repeated references to his remarks about the state’s voters and her charges that he is an “elitist,” Obama struck back in the closing days of the campaign.
Obama has no choice but to fire back against Clinton–but in doing so, he badly undercuts the rationale for his candidacy. He is discovering what many other sincere and even high-minded candidates have found: changing the tone in Washington is a lot harder than it seems. Politics in America has been a contact sport since about 1800, when Jefferson and Adams went after one another viciously. If one’s political purpose is philosophical and policy-driven rather than tonal, then “negative campaigning,” while regrettable, is not fundamentally harmful. But if, like Obama, hope, change, and unity are your main appeal, it can be lethal.
Barack Obama has presented himself as a fundamentally different kind of political figure. But he now looks more and more conventional–in his liberal policy positions, in how he is conducting his campaign, and in his associations (including Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Antoin “Tony” Rezko). All of this is building a narrative quite problematic for the junior senator from Illinois. People are beginning to wonder whether his candidacy of transcendence was merely an illusion.
Politics constantly teaches us not to draw too many sweeping conclusions from particular moments in time. It’s true that Obama offers a far more target-rich environment than he did earlier this year, and his appeal to key constituencies is (from his perspective) troublingly limited. But the GOP temptation to write him off as a fatally flawed or easily beatable candidate ought to be resisted.
The political environment still favors Democrats. And Obama is a money-making machine, his political operation is quite good, and he still possesses impressive skills. Every person who has run for the presidency goes through a period of trial and testing, when things seem bleak and sometimes even hopeless (like John McCain in the summer of ’07). But if and when Obama secures the nomination, he’ll receive a big boost. Democrats will begin to rally around him just as the GOP rallied around McCain and his poll ratings vis-à-vis McCain will get better. But what seemed improbable just three months ago now seems possible: a Republican victory in November.
Andrew Sullivan whining, whining, whining about how badly his candidate is doing — including likening George Stephanopoulos to Karl Rove!
At a Philadelphia synagogue today, Barack Obama claimed always to have felt a “kinship” with the Jewish community. Add this declaration to the fact that he’s half-black, and that his exposure to Islam as a child and acceptance of Christianity as an adult could cause theologically conservative Muslims to consider him an apostate, and the sum is indisputable. From an identity standpoint, the United States could not send a more provocative leader into negotiations with the Arab Muslim world.
This fact hasn’t interfered with the year-long media fetishization of Obama’s skin tone and cultural affiliations. In an Atlantic feature last fall, Andrew Sullivan speculated on a hypothetical future in which Obama is president. Sullivan found that, because of Obama’s appearance, “America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm.” Sullivan gushed on:
If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
Anti-black racism is rampant in large swathes of the Arab and Muslim world. Apostasy ranks among the highest crimes in the moral outlook of extremist Muslims. The unfettered rise of a black apostate to the country’s highest office would hardly cure a racist jihadist of his resentment toward American openness and prodigality. And once you throw some Jewish “kinship” into the pot, you can bet such feelings will be, in Sullivan’s words, “ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm.”
It would be interesting to hear from John Kerry, who recently said that Obama’s blackness would help bridge the U.S-Muslim gap. Where does Kerry suppose Jewish kinship ranks on Obama’s list of ethnic-based negotiation credentials? And what about Camille Paglia, who wrote last week that
with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging on in Iraq and with the nation’s world reputation in tatters, I believe that, because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person at the right time.
Does she feel that his life-long kinship with Jews will somehow help the U.S. in Iraq?
These considerations don’t affect much on the world stage. But they are apparently of the utmost importance to many Obama supporters. For them, race, religion, and gender trump questions of policy. It’s amazing that such single-minded people have managed to get their one issue so perfectly wrong.
Well what explanation could the Obamaphile punditocracy come up with for the Great One’s gaffe? There really is none.
One gamely offers the contrite approach, as if acknowledging that Eliot Spitzer could use “a tad more self-control”:
Despite his working class upbringing, Obama’s hyperconfidence sometimes translates as holier-than-thou, elitist, aristocratic, Dukakis-esque. Republicans know that these attributes aren’t popular in middle America, so they will use every opportunity to remind independents and moderates about them.
Notice the vain attempt to insist that Obama really did have a working class upbringing like all the folk he slandered. (Generally it helps to live on the same continent with your countrymen and not rely on Harvard sociology professors to brief you later in life on the habits of your fellow citizens.) And, you see, those nasty Republicans will “use” this outburst because ordinary Americans can’t tell for themselves when they have been insulted.
Others are more honest:
Not only is this pretty darn condescending on its face, but the trade comment adds another whole layer of insult. He’s almost admitting that he does not believe his previous trade talk!
(Somewhere Austan Goolsbee is smiling.)
And Obama wasn’t getting many takers for his convuluted explanation that this was a mini-exegesis on What’s the Matter With Kansas?:
And even if it was what he meant, it isn’t what he said. What he did suggest, most problematically, is that there’s something wrong, or symptomatic, about clinging to your faith, or to your gun. It’s a suggestion that probably plays better in San Francisco (politically, the worst possible place to say it) than in the middle of the country.
Well don’t expect Andrew Sullivan to admit Obama’s comments were meant “pejoratively” (because “cling to guns” was meant with the deepest reverence for the right to bear arms?). But if this is the reaction on the Left blogosphere imagine how this will go down in Altoona.
Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)
America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.
Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.
Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.
There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.
North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.
It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.
Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.
This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”
Matthew Yglesias’ hysterical attempt to make John McCain’s biography tour seem creepy:
What I’ll say on behalf of this strategy is that it’s the best way I can think of to try to take advantage of older people’s potential discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House that doesn’t involve exploiting racism or sexism in a discreditable way.
So, this exploits racism and sexism in a creditable way? And those odd italics in the quote don’t make much sense. Taking “advantage of older people’s potential discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House” hits a bullseye in defining exploitation. Not that McCain is, in my opinion, doing any exploiting: he’s simply showcasing his merits, much as the other candidates have showcased theirs. And if Obama’s allowed to tout (and tout and tout and tout and tout) his biography, why not McCain? Maybe Yglesias is working twice as hard at being tendentious this week because Andrew Sullivan is on vacation.
James: If you think Andrew Sullivan may not have his finger on the pulse of average voters, perhaps Ed Koch provides better insight into how the Reverend Wright controversy is being received. Koch explains what he thinks voters expected of Barck Obama:
What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric. Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.
Koch is also troubled by Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in America pre-Obama-mania, noting: “This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given.”
So we are left to ponder: Are the liberal pundits or Koch more in tune with the sentiments of working class Democrats, who largely will decide the remaining primary contests? The voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (all places pundits rarely visit) will tell us.
Andrew Sullivan has taken up the odious cause of defending Jeremiah Wright against conservative criticism. Now, if you want to defend Wright, you could argue that Obama shouldn’t abandon his pastor, out of loyalty, or that Obama turning his back on Wright would amount to his disowning an important segment of the American black population. But to downplay the poison of Wright’s 9/11 rant speaks to a pathological level of denial. Sullivan offers the familiar speech in its full context, and writes, “I still do not find it appropriate, and still do not agree with it. But it is not what Hannity and Ingraham and the other talk show thugs of the far right have been saying.”
He’s right. It’s worse. Try out this bit:
I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone–no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping.
I suspect I speak for most Americans who saw footage of WTC jumpers in saying a) the race of these individuals was not decipherable; b) if it was, it would have been, at that time, beyond my ability to notice, because c) who cared? When the World Trade Center went down, the issue of race in America was as atomized as those two buildings. But not for Obama’s pastor, who seemed to think it was important enough to assure his congregation that black people had perished. In some sense, this is the most offensive (and telling) thing I’ve heard from Wright. It reveals a commitment to divisiveness so deep as to prohibit the simple registering of human (forget national) tragedy.
And Sullivan is worried about Sean Hannity.
Barack Obama may or may not recover from the Jeremiah Wright controversy, but Andrew Sullivan will never recover from this.
Look, chances are Hillary Clinton’s revival this week is only a pothole the Obama steamroller will have to fill in on its way to the nomination. He’s still ahead in delegates and in the popular vote. The math is against her. He’ll win the next few contests. She’ll win a few later. In a month’s time, his dominant standing will seem so obvious that the superdelegates will naturally gravitate to him and away from Hillary and effectively hand him the nomination. This is the likeliest scenario at the present moment. What will stop him, perhaps the only thing to stop him, is real trouble that the Clintons will have nothing to do with: Revelations at the Rezko trial, or a series of missteps of the sort that have afflicted his campaign in the past week (Susan Rice saying he’s not ready for that 3 am call; Samantha Power saying, well, just about anything).
If anything, Hillary is doing Obama a favor. She’s giving him a flavor of what he will get later on, and is toughening him up a bit and giving him room to develop stronger and more credible responses to the “he’s got no experience” charge that is McCain’s strongest card to play against him.
So why is Andrew Sullivan — the ultimate Obamamaniac on the web — having a hysterical, screaming, over-the-top fit about all this? I can’t link to a single item; you’d have to read two days’ worth of postings at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com to get the full flavor of the rhetorical tantrum he’s pitching at Hillary Clinton’s refusal to stand aside and let America move on with its coronation of the Man Who Will Change Everything.
It’s not as though Hillary Clinton has no claim on the Democratic nomination. She’s not Ross Perot, who, in the end, ran for president solely to deny George H.W. Bush a second term in part out of a paranoid delusion about Bush disrupting Perot’s daughter’s wedding. She’s a hundred delegates back. She’s won a bunch of primaries, including in the nation’s largest states.
There is nothing illegitimate going on here. It’s an electoral contest. Hillary won Ohio and Texas fair and square. The very fact that the Obama fanciers like Sullivan and the entire cast of characters at the Huffington Post are so shaken by her unwillingness to lie down and die suggests to me that they are terrified Obama can’t handle the stress test she is forcing him to undergo. And if he can’t, then they shouldn’t want him to be the nominee, because he’ll collapse by Election Day.
This was Christopher Hitchens’s question a year after the death of Princess Diana, which brought forth a “frightful binging and gorging of sentimentality” from the British populace, odd in a nation stoic by reputation. The people of a stiff upper lip had quavered. Hitchens is hardly averse to sentimentality, some of his best writing causes a catch in the throat; it is bogus sentimentality that be abhors. The death of a “hyperactive debutante” didn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage, acres of flowers, and very public, very group-therapyesque bereavement that it had inspired.
As a 24 year-old male — just the sort of demographic he has solidly won over — I should probably hide while admitting this, but I feel the same away about the Barack Obama phenomenon as Hitchens did about the mourning of Princess Diana. And I’ll risk sounding a little self-satisfied by predicting that should Obama not be the one sworn into office come January 2009, the country will look back on this current presidential campaign feeling a similar sort of collective embarrassment that the British felt about their mourning of “The People’s Princess.” We may even be asking ourselves “What the hell was that all about?” should Obama actually win the presidency, a year or so into his tenure when his unpreparedness becomes manifest.
CONTENTIONS contributor Fred Siegel has a brilliant essay up on the website of City Journal that lays waste to much of the mythology surrounding Barack Obama. Siegel highlights the naivete and contradictions behind Obama’s various claims, from his vow to invade Pakistan unilaterally to his belief that hosting a convention with Muslim nations will bring about the end of Islamic extremism. What is most obnoxious about the Obama candidacy is the belief that his mere presence in the White House will end the world’s problems, for instance, Andrew Sullivan’s assertion that the reason to support Obama, “First and foremost,” is “his face.”
Siegel’s piece is worth reading in full, but I’ll excerpt this short portion:
It will be ironic if in the name of post-partisanship we manage, with the contrivance of both Left and Right, to elect Oprah’s candidate, a man with a narrowly partisan record who has never demonstrated a capacity (rhetoric aside) either to lead or to govern. Only Clinton derangement syndrome can explain the alliance of so many otherwise thoughtful people of both parties who speak well of the candidacy of a man with scant knowledge of the world who has never been tested and has never run anything larger than a senatorial office. The question that we need to ask is whether this man—who candidly admits, “I’m not a manager”—can manage the vast apparatus of the federal government. Will packaging be enough to deal with our problems?
Those who think like Siegel are not uncommon, but you would never know it from the media, which long ago gave up on any pretense of objectivity and is firmly in the tank for Obama. After all, a competitive campaign is not only fun for the journalists covering it, it also translates into better ratings. For the same reason that, during the Diana spectacle, the British media didn’t bother to report on curmudgeonly, unpleasant arguments like the one Hitchens raised, questions about Obama’s fitness for office — for instance, the whole Jeremiah Wright thing — are going unexplored (Mormonism has become a crucial issue for Mitt Romney, yet what the Mormon Church says pales in comparison to Wright). When Richard Cohen brought up the issue last month, Alan Wolfe pronounced it “the single most despicable op-ed of this century so far.” Far from unique, Hitchens’s “revulsion” towards the lachrymose “had been plentiful at the time but didn’t stand a prayer of being reported by a deferential mass media that became an echo chamber and feedback loop to the blubbering classes.” Sound familiar? While Diana had her “Candle in the Wind,” we now get the hip-hop video “Yes We Can.”
It’s long past time that we pause, take a deep breath, and evaluate the presidential candidates using concrete criteria as opposed to vague pronouncements that this or that candidate can “unite” the country or “transcend” this or that division, whether it be racial or political or what have you. It may be that Barack Obama is the best candidate at this moment in time; ultimately, of course, that’s a purely subjective question. But I fear about the emotional baggage that people have invested in his candidacy, and what his most fervent supporters will believe about American democracy should he lose. The country will, in short, become irredeemable. Given the unchecked passion already on display, it may already be too late to save this election from becoming marked, like the decade-old death of a blond divorcée, for its “bogus emotion and mass credulity.”