Gene Lyons writes a thumping good column on Obama in the Arkansas Democrat. On the disenfranchisement of Florida and Michigan:
Democrats were outraged that, due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush vs. Gore, not all of Florida’s presidential votes counted. In 2008, advanced thinkers supporting Sen. Barack Obama have persuaded themselves that fairness dictates that none of them should count. Nor Michigan’s, either. Better that the voters of two critical swing states comprising close to 10 percent of the electorate be disenfranchised than that Obama’s inevitable nomination be delayed.
On media and Obama:
In Time, Mark Halperin provides a list of “Painful Things Hillary Clinton Knows–Or Should Know.” No. 7: “The Rev. Wright story notwithstanding, the media still wants Obama to be the nominee–and that has an impact every day.” We’ve come full circle. So confident have the Beltway media courtiers grown in their social and political status that what once was furiously denied is now boasted about. Politicians may come and go, but Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Tim Russert and Maureen Dowd preside over a permanent House of Lords.
On race and the election:
Meanwhile, TV pundits like CNN’s Jack Cafferty warn us that should Obama’s supporters be disappointed in their hopes, “you wouldn’t want to live in this country.” A more concise way of turning the November contest into a racial referendum can’t be imagined. Who will win that one ? Then what ?
On Obama’s race speech:
Wright peddles DVDs of his inflammatory sermons on the church Web site. Could Obama possibly imagine they’d help build that coalition that King dreamed of ? Second, what do the Obamas, Harvard Law graduates, tell their two little girls about Wright’s downright delusional contention that the United States government created the AIDS virus to exterminate African Americans ? Anybody named Clinton or Gore who sat still for something like that would be derided as an inauthentic phony patronizing black folks for political gain–a faker, a con man. Cosseted and protected all his life, Obama’s speech shows that he understands that the Rev. Wrights of this world do as much to keep blacks down as white racism does. All this selfpitying obsessing over the sorrows of history leads nowhere.
I may be the only person who’s not become worshipful of Obama’s speech on race and religion and who finds it more disturbing the more I think about it. But then, I am.
At its core, his speech is more not less divisive. For his real message about Jeremiah Wright and his words was: It’s a black thing; you wouldn’t understand.
By putting himself in the position of explaining and justifying Wright and thus his association with him, Obama may have repudiated Wright’s worst words but he explained them as the product of a racial experience rather than racism.
Then he tried to dig himself out of the hole he dug for his white grandmother by calling her “a typical white person” and, worse, by saying that such typical white people are scared of black people. His spokesman made it no better when he said to Huffington Post that “her fears were understandable and typical of those often shared by her generation.” So now the Obama campaign finds itself in a position of not only explaining and justifying Wright’s racism but also whites’ racism and calling it understandable. Now it’s a white thing; you wouldn’t understand.
This is not ending separation. And the pity of that is that Obama could have done the opposite, which is what I wished for in my post the other day. He could have declared himself an American of every race, thus no race. That was his promise when he emerged on the national scene in his Democratic convention speech. Nick Kristof reminded me of it yesterday:
In that speech, Mr. Obama declared that “there is not a black America and a white America… . There’s the United States of America.” That’s a beautiful aspiration, and we’re making progress toward it. But this last week has underscored that we’re not nearly there yet.
Nor is Obama.
The discussion is reaching an absurd level as the Obama campaign gives The New York Times a picture of Bill Clinton meeting Jeremiah Wright in the White House, as if a meeting is an endorsement and mind meld. This morning, Matt Lauer on today gasped that this came on 9/11 — but not that 9/11; it was a few years earlier — and in the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Then Joe Scarborough said that it’s rather ridiculous to attack your opponent because her husband once met with the minister you’re defending.
I know the popular thing to do is to gush over Obama’s speech. I’m hearing no criticism and little analysis of it in media or conversation. So maybe it’s just me. I wouldn’t understand.
I’ve just had the chance to listen to Obama’s race speech. It is, as always, eloquently written and delivered and I agree with what he says about America, race, unity, and our work to do. Who could not?
But I believe he is trying too hard to dodge making a decision about Jeremiah Wright and his divisive and racist speech. After having thrown Wright to the wolves in prior videos, he now backs up. He tries to explain Wright. He explains him more as a product of racism than a racist himself. He says he cannot leave Wright and his flock behind or we will not come together to solve our problems.
No. A church is a choice. I left a church because it was bigoted toward gays. I left one congregation and the entire Presbyterian Church with it. Oh, one could try to explain their bigotry, to give it context and history, to caution that they should not be tossed aside because of this belief. But that, in my mind, would be every bit as bad as staying in a church or a country club that refused to allow black people in. That would be every bit as bad as refusing to condemn the hate speech of a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell. It would be as bad as trying to explain away the racism of George Wallace or Lester Maddox with context and history. I did not want to endorse or support this church myself and I certainly did not want to raise my children in their atmosphere of discrimination. A church is a choice and I chose to leave.
Obama chooses not to leave. He chooses to try to explain Wright away. He wants to make it into a lesson in racial history. He wants to stay with Wright and company while only disagreeing with what he says. He wants to have it both ways, every way.
This is not the decisive decision of a leader, I think.
I also believe that Obama missed the opportunity to recast the campaign, the nation, and even himself. As he so beautifully puts it, he has bits of every bit of America in him. He is not black. He is not white. He can be the melting pot we’ve dreamed of in this country — at least my generation did once — and have never and probably will never achieve. Indeed, we no longer want cultures to melt away. And that is good. But I’ve heard Vin Diesel and Soledad O’Brien — hey, I’ll take cultural spokesmen where I can find them — refusing to let people put them into racial pens and to insist that they are simply American.
Barack Obama is simply American. Yes, he’s right that we cannot work together to solve racial problems and all our other problems by glossing over race, acting as if the history and wounds are not there. We agree. But we also cannot move past mistrust by justifying words and actions that divide and demand condemnation and separation.
I liked my minister. But I told him that he was supporting an atmosphere of bigotry. I told his board that was why we were leaving their church. I refused to try to get along with that. It was a choice, a sad but clear and necessary decision. If we are going to change, we sometimes must break from the past, not explain it.
The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there’s not much audacity of hope there. There’s the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit — all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different. . . .
With no particular dog in the Democratic fight, many conservatives have tended to think it would be good for the country if Obama were to win the Democratic nomination, freeing us from the dreary prospect of the return of the House of Clinton. Now I wonder. Might the country be better off with the cynicism of the Clintons than the conceit of Obama?
* * *
Peter Daou, Clinton’s online adviser, sent an email to a bunch of bloggers arguing that Obama’s playing the negative game, too:
I want to address a pervasive misconception, namely, that Senator Obama hasn’t run a negative campaign against Hillary. I think it’s time to put that misconception to rest.
The truth is that for months, the Obama campaign has been attacking Hillary, impugning her character and calling into question her lifetime of public service. And now the Chicago Tribune reports that Senator Obama is preparing a “full assault” on her “over ethics and transparency.” To those who contend that Senator Obama is the clear frontrunner, I ask, to what end this “full assault” on Hillary?
On CNN last Tuesday, Senator Obama said, “Well, look, Wolf, I think if you watch how we have conducted our campaign, we’ve been very measured in terms of how we talk about Senator Clinton. … I have been careful to say, that I think that Senator Clinton is a capable person and that should she win the nomination, obviously, I would support her. You know, I’m not sure that we have been getting that same approach from the Clinton campaign.”
The facts of this election stand in stark contrast to that statement. Senator Obama and his senior campaign officials have engaged in a systematic effort to question Hillary’s integrity, credibility, and character. They have portrayed her as someone who would put her personal gain ahead of the lives of our troops, someone who would say or do anything to win an election, someone who is dishonest, divisive and disingenuous. They have adopted shop-worn anti-Clinton talking points, dusted them off and unleashed a torrent of unfounded character attacks against her. Among other things, they have described Hillary – and her campaign – as: “Disingenuous” … “Too polarizing to win” …’Divisive’ … “Untruthful” … “Dishonest” … ‘Calculating’ … “Saying and doing whatever it takes to win” … “Attempting to deceive the American people” … “One of the most secretive politicians in America” … “Literally willing to do anything to win” … “Playing politics with war” [Each of those lines is a link in his email to the quote; I’m too lazy to copy them all over -ed]
To top it off, they have blanketed big states with false radio ads and negative mailers — ads and mailers that experts have debunked time and time again. They have distributed health care brochures using Republican framing. They have tried to draw a nexus between Hillary’s votes and the death of her friend Benazir Bhutto. And one of Senator Obama’s top advisers (who has since left the campaign) recently called Hillary “a monster.”
This “full assault” on Hillary comes from the very top of the Obama campaign, not surrogates and supporters.. . . .
This is a hard-fought campaign – as it should be. Like any candidate for elected office, Hillary has made clear why she thinks she would do a better job than her opponent. She has laid out comprehensive policy proposals, put forth her 35-year record of accomplishment, and spent countless days introducing herself to voters across the country. She has said that she is far better prepared to take on John McCain on national security. She has contended that she is the candidate with the experience to confront the GOP attack machine. She has argued that she is more electable. She has said that Senator Obama’s words are not matched by actions. And she has challenged him to live up to core Democratic values and goals such as universal health care. . . .
* * *
I look forward to hearing Obama’s speech today about race. I hope he will say that criticism is not racism. And questions are not all negative. I hope he will urge a return to substantive discussion of issues, not personality and victimhood.
The New York Times op-ed page has now crossed the line I was hoping would not be crossed in a piece by Orlando Patterson that makes criticizing Barack Obama or questioning his qualifications — both the essence of campaign debate — tantamount to racism. We have crossed into a land where political discussion is politically incorrect. He says:
I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.
Oh, for God’s sakes, the images could also remind me of Peter Pan and children being protected from the youthful scamp by the shaggy dog.
Oh, and what would solve this problem in Patterson’s view? Not casting a blonde child. Being blonde is a problem.
It is possible that what I saw in the ad is different from what Mrs. Clinton and her operatives saw and intended. But as I watched it again and again I could not help but think of the sorry pass to which we may have come — that someone could be trading on the darkened memories of a twisted past that Mr. Obama has struggled to transcend.
Yes, and as I read this sorry piece again and again and saw its clear intention of painting Hillary Clinton as a racist, I could not help but think that it is a sad day when a Harvard professor and the New York Times sink to playing the race card in this election, turning political debate into victimization.
In this, the age of offense, let me say, I’m offended.
Hillary Clinton’s ringing phone commercial has been called an attack ad. It’s not. Since when is questioning a candidate’s qualifications and comparing them to your own an attack? If even discussion of experience and ability becomes politically incorrect, our politics are in deep trouble. Qualifications and policies should be the essence of a campaign.
I heard that commercial referred to as an attack ad when I was interviewed the other night for More 4 news in London and I see it again in David Brooks’ column today. No, an attack ad is one the goes after character instead of qualification, one that tries to create scandal as political leverage, one that’s nasty rather than informative. We know attack ads when we see them. This is no attack ad.
Brooks is arguing that Obama’s campaign faces a fundamental choice: to continue to argue that he can bring a politics of reconciliation to Washington or to lose that, the essence of his campaign, and go on the attack. If, indeed, the Obama camp launches attack ads, that’s true.
But let’s not mistake substantive debate for attack. It’s legitimate for Clinton to question Obama’s experience and abilities in foreign affairs. And it’s legitimate for Obama to question various of Clinton’s qualification. And I do wish they’d discuss differences on issues and policies at every opportunity. Out of that debate comes a better election.
I’ll define the Obama campaign’s problem a bit differently from Brooks: They will be drawn to specifics on both qualifications and policies now, specifics they have masterfully avoided so far in their puffy clouds of rhetoric.
Brooks argues that the lesson here may be that you can’t change politics. That may well be true. But I don’t think Obama is teaching us that lesson. I’ve been saying that he has been running the ultimate political campaign, one built on political rhetoric and style over substance. But Brooks comes around to nearly this view at the end:
In short, a candidate should never betray the core theory of his campaign, or head down a road that leads to that betrayal. Barack Obama doesn’t have an impressive record of experience or a unique policy profile. New politics is all he’s got. He loses that, and he loses everything. Every day that he looks conventional is a bad day for him.
Besides, the real softness of the campaign is not that Obama is a wimp. It’s that he has never explained how this new politics would actually produce bread-and-butter benefits to people in places like Youngstown and Altoona.
If he can’t explain that, he’s going to lose at some point anyway.
So if he is forced to explain that and if he does it well, it could actually be good for him. Depends on what he has to say. And now we have five months to hear it. I think that’s a good thing for the campaign.
Well, at last, attention is being paid to the hand job that news media have been giving Barack Obama. Howie Kurtz was pretty much alone in questioning Obamedia (here he was on their slathering over the Ted Kennedy endorsement that did Obama little good in Massachusetts, and here I am complaining about their fawning). Now Saturday Night Live has taken up the story, followed at long last — and way too late, I’d say — by On the Media.
On Kurtz’ show this week, former Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin Madden called media coverage of Obama an “infomercial.” (With emphasis on the mercial, of course.) And former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers shamed media critics and editors for missing their own story: “I think it’s interesting that it took pop culture to make the country focus on the question of whether Hillary Clinton is being treated unfairly, and that was Saturday Night Live.”
Here’s where SNL started, a week ago, with a debate skit. A wonderfully exaggerated Jorge Ramos of Univsion questions Obama: “Oh, my God, I’m so nervous. I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you…. I’m sorry to go on so long, I just really, really, really, really want you to be the next President. And not just because you’re a fantastic human being and the only person who can turn this nation around…. So my question is, are you mad at me?… I was afraid you might be mad at me because, you know, all the shilling for you in my campaign coverage has been so obvious.”
Obama replies: “As I travel around this country, I’ve been hearing the same sentiments from every journalist I meet…. For too long in this country, the press has been hearing the same old refrain: Just give us the news and not your personal opinions. And they’re tired. They’re tired of being told, you journalists have to say neutral, you can’t take sides in a political campaign. And they’re saying, yes, we can. Yes, we can take sides. Yes, we can.”This week, the well-deserved skewering of puppy-love press continued with another debate skit, this one making fun of the MSNBC Barackfest debate. Clinton: “Maybe its just me but once again it seems as if (a) I’m getting the tougher questions and (b) with me, the overall tone is more hostile.” Cue Russert and Williams playing violins.I’ve saiditbefore: I think this is a failure of media. It is also a failure of media criticism. Media won’t cover their own failings. Indeed, it’s frightening to hear the logic of political correspondents — this week’s Kurtz show is only the latest example — when they blame the campaign for getting bad coverage because they’re not being nice to the press.
So I’m glad to finally hear On the Media take on the story. Though fat lot of good that will do since we’re only days away from what the horse-race correspondents say is make-or-break Tuesday. Said Brooke Gladstone: “The media heart Obama.”
On OTM, media critic Bill Powers says that Obama has “an amazing ability to deflect bad press and move on.” I think that’s criticizing the event from the wrong direction: The press has an amazing ability not to press. Even in OTM’s criticism, we hear more wet kisses for Obama. Says Powers: “The way he keeps is cool is remarkable for someone under fire, particularly someone relatively young running for president…. It is something we haven’t seen the like of since Kennedy.” Just once, I want to hear reporters talk about what Obama does not say. Just once, I want to see reporters to go into a crowd of Obamaniacs and ask 10 of them — or a pollster 1,000 of them: “What does change mean?” Let’s hear whether, indeed, they are one or whether Obama is an empty vessel for his supporters as he is for media.
On both On the Media and Kurtz, guests predict that once Obama wins and Hillary is out of the way — which they all eagerly predict — the press will start attacking him. I don’t believe that. They’ll continue to slather over him until he gets into the White House. And then we’ll just see whether they finally start doing their job.
(Disclosure: I voted for Clinton.)
: LATER: I post this and then pick up the New York Times this morning, which twice mentions the media’s slathering over Obama. Here they are mocking US magazine, of all journalistic paragons, under a journalism heading, of all places, for treating Obama’s wardrobe better than Clinton’s (though the Clinton feature was one in which she quite gamely made fun of her own outfits and got points for being so game). And here’s a feature on the SNL writer of the debate skits. Not a mention, though, of the Times’ newsroom’s own incurable crush. Reporters, report thyselves.
: But at least on the op-ed page, there has been acknowledgment of the media’s issue. Here was David Brooks’ mockery of it a few weeks ago. And Paul Krugman today:
What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent — and that he has not yet faced the hostile media treatment doled out to every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988.
Yes, I know that both the Obama campaign and many reporters deny that he has received more favorable treatment than Hillary Clinton. But they’re kidding, right? Dana Milbank, the Washington Post national political reporter, told the truth back in December: “The press will savage her no matter what … they really have the knives out for her, there’s no question about it … Obama gets significantly better coverage.”
: LATER: I missed Jacques Steinberg’s story in the Times on Saturday that did, indeed, start to cover this, though I’d say it’s a much bigger story than this. See also Rachel Sklar’s complaint with his piece.
I’m a day late linking to an amusing skewering of Obamania by David Brooks in yesterday’s Times. He writes about Obama Comedown Syndrome.
Up until now The Chosen One’s speeches had seemed to them less like stretches of words and more like soul sensations that transcended time and space. But those in the grips of Obama Comedown Syndrome began to wonder if His stuff actually made sense. . . .
Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?
Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?
If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.
And should we be worried about Obama’s mountainous self-confidence?
These doubts lead O.C.S. sufferers down the path to the question that is the Unholy of the Unholies for Obama-maniacs: How exactly would all this unity he talks about come to pass?