Monday, February 25, 2008

What Lies in Wait or Bill Kristol is Hiding in Your Bushes (JM)

It’s All About Him


Normally I wouldn’t touch William Kristol with a ten-foot pole. It’s like shooting proverbial terrible conservative writers in a barrel. However, I am going to make an exception for this piece, because is emblematic of the type of bombardment Barack Obama is about to face in the general election, should Hillary not pull out the miracle.*

Last October, a reporter asked Barack Obama why he had stopped wearing the American flag lapel pin that he, like many other public officials, had been sporting since soon after Sept. 11. Obama could have responded that his new-found fashion minimalism was no big deal. What matters, obviously, is what you believe and do, not what you wear.

Way to start us off with a William Howard Taft-sized lie. If Obama has proclaimed he removed the flag pin because of fashion minimalism, you would be skewering him for that as well. This article would have started: “No big deal, Barack Obama said choosing not to be patriotic is no big deal.”

But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

This a bit pompous, I grant you that. But the sentiment is totally fair.

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin. But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest.

I agree that the explanation was a bit… err… high-minded, but the sentiment is totally legitimate. I mean seriously Bill, may I call you Bill… do you really not think that dissent and courage is amongst the most patriotic of virtues? You can feel free to question whether Obama really has spoken out on controversial issues, but not the principle itself.

Fast forward to last Monday in Wisconsin. Michelle Obama, in the course of a stump speech, remarked, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Michelle Obama’s adult life goes back to the mid-1980s. Can it really be the case that nothing the U.S. achieved since then has made her proud? Apparently. For, as she said later in the same appearance: “Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime, through Republican and Democratic administrations. It hasn’t gotten much better.”

It’s pretty clear that this is not what she meant. Was it a politically stupid thing to say? Yes. Why? Because people like you will continually repeat it without reference to clarification and content.

Now in almost every empirical respect, American lives have in fact gotten better over the last quarter-century. And most Americans — and most Democrats — don’t think those years were one vast wasteland. So Barack Obama hastened to clarify his wife’s remarks. “What she meant was, this is the first time that she’s been proud of the politics of America,” he said, “because she’s pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she’s not alone.” Later in the week, Michelle Obama further explained, “What I was clearly talking about was that I’m proud of how Americans are engaging in the political process.”

You know, if you’re going to use a phrase like, “almost every empirical aspect”, perhaps you ought to provide some empirical evidence. It’s true, there are certainly things that were pretty good over the last fifteen years. However, it is crazy to claim that in all respects we’re better off when the rich/poor divide has gotten more and more extreme over the last fifteen years. People continue to assume that an increase in total wealth is the only relevant measurement of economic health, but there are two other factors to consider that do not speak well for this nation in the last fifteen years. The first is distribution of wealth and the second is the buying power of the limited wealth the working class has. Both of these are ways in which the U.S. hasn’t been great empirically over the last fifteen years.

But that clearly isn’t what she was talking about. For as she had argued in the Wisconsin speech, America’s illness goes far beyond a flawed political process: “Barack knows that at some level there’s a hole in our souls.” This was a variation of language she had used earlier on the campaign trail: “Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.”

Okay, that quote is, in no way, evidence that Michelle Obama didn’t mean what she said she meant. In fact, it kind of lends credence to the theory of new politics. That said, if this is a real quote that’s really super disturbing and kind of makes me want to vomit.

But they can be repaired. Indeed, she had said a couple of weeks before, in Los Angeles: “Barack Obama ... is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

Alright, seriously? I have to wonder what’s hiding behind that ellipsis. But if this is basically the quote, I am again kind of disturbed. It makes me wonder why you didn’t lead with this. This is crazy, this is like some hopped-up aerobic instructor/cult leader running for President. Weird…

So we don’t have to work to improve our souls. Our broken souls can be fixed — by our voting for Barack Obama. We don’t have to fight or sacrifice to help our country. Our uninvolved and uninformed lives can be changed — by our choosing Barack Obama. America can become a nation to be proud of — by letting ourselves be led by Barack Obama.

You were sooooo on the cusp of a good point and just overdid it by a lot. This is precisely the opposite of Obama’s general message, which is he can’t do this alone, that he needs the people with him to create a movement for change. I am cynical about this, but can easily spy the opposite of the truth which is your above paragraph.

John Kennedy, to whom Obama is sometimes compared, challenged the American people to acts of citizenship and patriotism. Barack Obama allows us to feel better about ourselves.

This is also part of the Obama scheme. This is sad Billy, may I call you Billy… we were on the same page for a minute there, but now you’re just flat out lying. Obama called for national service and has claimed he is going to demand sacrifices of the American people. It’d be nice to know what sacrifices, but still… it’s not just a cult of him.

Obama likes to say, “we are the change that we seek” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Obama’s rhetorical skill makes his candidacy appear almost collective rather than individual. That’s a democratic courtesy on his part, and one flattering to his followers. But the effectual truth of what Obama is saying is that he is the one we’ve been waiting for.

What is it about NYT columnist and their ability to just assert things as true. Here is a lot of evidence for X, but of course we all know the truth is negation X. I mean I suppose that is the only way to survive as a neocon, but still: wretch.

Barack Obama is an awfully talented politician. But could the American people, by November, decide that for all his impressive qualities, Obama tends too much toward the preening self-regard of Bill Clinton, the patronizing elitism of Al Gore and the haughty liberalism of John Kerry?

What are all people who were or would be waaaaaaaaay better presidents than GWB or eleventy billion year old John McCain.

It’s fitting that the alternative to Obama will be John McCain. He makes no grand claim to fix our souls. He doesn’t think he’s the one everyone has been waiting for. He’s more proud of his country than of himself. And his patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than “speaking out on issues.”

Oh Billiam, may I call you Billiam… I agree, McCain has done way more good for this country. I would totally vote for John McCain if I wasn’t convinced he might invade Mexico. Seriously, McCain has been for and against tax cuts, has a spotty record on the environment despite rhetoric to the otherwise and has espoused socially conservative opinions that make it more likely he’ll about more Scalias to the bench.

This type of argument; quotes out of context, questioning of patriotism and attacks on experience is what await us in the general. I have no doubt we can win, no matter who the candidate is, but it simply not going to be easy. Too many Obama supporters I know think that his numbers in red states and lovability will make Barack almost impossible to beat in the general. This is foolish, and this is how we lose the general. We will lose many of the states Obama has won in the primaries and McCain is a very different sort of competition amongst independents. He has this bizarro outsider appeal, while still having tons of experience and nearly unassailable character credentials (despite evidence to the otherwise). We as Democrats need to be ready for this, and should start with a couple of important things: 1) Both Obamas and their surrogates have to be very very careful with their language over the coming months, maybe add some traditional patriotic rhetoric to their stump. A sort of “only in America, could I have gained this opportunity” kind of speech would be a winning effort; 2) resist the call of picking a fresh-faced VP. The Obama camp seems to be in love with newer red state Democratics. It would be a mistake to add some one like Governor Sebelius to the ticket, instead he needs to balance with experience and strength (also she is the least compelling speaker I have seen in a long time, even if she gets reelected in Kansas). The best choices for Obama would be Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, or even Hillary should she be willing to accept (probably not though).

Anyway, prepare to be ill, prepare to hear all about Barack Hussein Obama, prepare to hear about drugs, prepare to hear about Rezko. For all y’all who had a problem with the way Clinton campaigned, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to get way worse before it gets better.

*This author is fully cognizant of the fact that some people, perhaps certain co-bloggers of mine, would not consider this a miracle.


Anonymous said...

I don't have a "hole" in my soul. I have it in my wallet. I don't need pretty speeches with nice inspirational words that will make me "feel good." Nor do I need a presidencial candidate to sound straight from the pulpit. I am not into rockstars or new age religion. If Obama is the democratic candidate I will vote for McCain. And that's going to depress me because I will vote for the first time as a republican.

Jonathan said...

Let's be fair. I kind of hate the weird Obama rhetoric too, but four years of John McCain ain't fixing a hole in your wallet. I am convinced Clinton would do more for the economy than Obama. But I would take Obama any day over bizarre tax cuts and wrongheaded GOP economic policies.

Dennis said...

Well first off let's give credit where credit is due, congratulations Anonymous on the success of "Primary Colors." What a great book!

As for the rhetoric, notice that Kristol uses as his damning proof against the Obama campaign a few (admittedly weird) quotes from his wife, who isn't a politician by profession, in what appears to have been a single appearance and exactly no quotes from Obama himself.

Also Anonymous, who is more superficial, the Obama supporters who prefer him over Hillary for his speechifying or, you, who appear to be willing to vote for a Republican because of it?