Thursday, June 15, 2006

Is the Bloom off the Rose?

David Sirota has probably one of the best pieces I've read to date on Barack Obama in this week's The Nation. The other night, I found myself in political conversation with a group of well-meaning white liberal types in which the inevitable adjective "well-spoken" was used in reference to Obama. For all that we'd like to believe we are above the racial tokenism of the right, there is a certain similarity in the way both sides treat politicians, cabinet members, etc. of color i.e. extra points for charisma, articulateness, and the like. It's annoying because it smacks of a low-grade racial panic. Oh finally, a black person I don't have to grit my teeth to like.

Obama has managed to get a lot of mileage out of his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, but if Sirota's piece is any indication, the tank is low on gas. Sirota points out that Obama shows himself to be more cautious than not.

Then there is the Iraq War. Obama says that during his 2004 election campaign he "loudly and vigorously" opposed the war. As The New Yorker noted, "many had been drawn initially by Obama's early opposition to the invasion." But "when his speech at the antiwar rally in 2002 was quietly removed from his campaign Web site," the magazine reported, "activists found that to be an ominous sign"--one that foreshadowed Obama's first months in the Senate. Indeed, through much of 2005, Obama said little about Iraq, displaying a noticeable deference to Washington's bipartisan foreign policy elite, which had pushed the war. One of Obama's first votes as a senator was to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her integral role in pushing the now-debunked propaganda about Iraq's WMD.

In November Obama's reticence on the war ended. Five days after hawkish Democratic Representative Jack Murtha famously called for a withdrawal, Obama gave a speech calling for a drawdown of troops in 2006. "Those of us in Washington have fallen behind the debate that is taking place across America on Iraq," he said. But then he retreated. On Meet the Press in January Obama regurgitated catchphrases often employed by neoconservatives to caricature those demanding a timetable for withdrawal. "It would not be responsible for us to unilaterally and precipitously draw troops down," he said. Then, as polls showed support for the war further eroding, Obama tacked again, giving a speech in May attacking the war and mocking the "idea that somehow if you say the words 'plan for victory' and 'stay the course' over and over and over and over again...that somehow people are not going to notice the 2,400 flag-draped coffins that have arrived at the Dover Air Force Base."

Sirota freely admits to being vulnerable to the Obama personality spell, referring to is "mesmerizing ability to connect with people." It is true that there is something to be said for personality, but I think that Democratic nostalgia for the cult of Clinton has been overall bad for business. Both Gore and Kerry suffered for not having that "zing" thereby exposing the chinks in the Democratic campaign machine. For Sirota to challenge Obama to be the progressive politician and not just look the part shows a degree of chutzpah.

1 comment:

Kate said...

The thing that really pisses me off about Obama is that he doesn't represent us, the majority of Illinoians. I know there are more wingnuts here than we'd like, and they may move our "middle" a little to the right, but on traditional progressive issues our state stands strong. Durbin understands this. He represents us, ony rarely voting counter to our core beliefs. I think Schakowsky represents us really well too. But Obama? He's completely off the mark. I can only guess that his ambition has blinded him. He sees a VP or presidency in his future and, like so many others before him, thinks that the only way to get there is to become a faux-progressive mediocrity, hoping that his veneer of charisma will blind us to what he's become.

He's an awesome orator. His convention speech was impressive. I held out hope that he'd actually represent us, in large part because I'd only heard good things about him and his wife from Deborah. But consistently he has disappointed me. I think you're right about liberals and our racism. I hope we can start to see beyond the exteriors of our politicians and candidates and start looking at their positions and their fortitude to withstand republican sliming. The whole Lamont v. Lieberman is a good test case. If Lamont manages to win, there may be hope for the party. We'll see!

BTW, Lenora, I'm so glad to see you back blogging. I missed you!