“If we are honest with ourselves”

Obama frankly denounces black anti-Semitism, homophobia, and immigrant-bashing. He also takes a swipe at Reagan’s “welfare queen” nonsense. Don’t expect his critics to notice, though.

Barack Obama, from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart — that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.

For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays — on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

This ought to make the people who have accused Obama of being soft on Jew-baiting, gay-baiting, and Reaganism ashamed of themselves. But it won’t.

Continue reading ““If we are honest with ourselves””

Obama’s moderation

Obama voted “No” on Roberts and Alito. Knowing how to sound conciliatory isn’t the same as not knowing how to stand on principle.

One of Andrew Sullivan’s conservative friends points out that Obama voted against confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice. (And, it might be added, against confirming Samuel Alito as an Associate Justice.)

With Roberts and Alito poised join their fellow right-wing Republicans in disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of (mostly Democratic) elderly, young, and poor voters for the crime of not having a driver’s license showing a current address &#8212 a measure nominally adopted to counteract a nonexistent form of voter fraud but actually to help Republican candidates win elections &#8212 some of us may regard those votes as a feature, not a bug.

By the same token, Obama’s votes ought to reassure those who fear that his failure to start each campaign rally with a Two Minutes’ Hate directed at conservatives means that he’s not prepared to act aggressively on liberal principles.

Progressives who will accept nothing less than the Two Minutes’ Hate, and conservatives who think of a “reasonable” liberal as one with no backbone, will not find what they want in Sen. Obama. Conservatives willing to settle for an opponent who will reason with them in good faith, and liberals who prefer winning the policy battles to triumphing in the culture wars, will find him more to their taste.


Since New Hampshire, there’s been a flood of endorsements for … Barack Obama.

Since his surprising loss to HRC in New Hampshire, Barack Obama has picked up endorsements from:


Nevada Culinary Workers

Nevada SEIU

Janet Napolitano

John Kerry

Gary Hart

Ned Lamont

George Miller

Tim Johnson

Ben Nelson

And the rumor is that he’s poised to pick up Kathleen Sebelius as well.

(To date, Obama has escaped the dreaded Al Sharpton endorsement, but his luck may not hold out forever.)

Did HRC pick up any endorsements this week, other than Henry Cisneros? Of course, she had lots of them beforehand, including more than a third of the Congressional Black Caucus; no one needed Iowa to demonstrate that she was a serious candidate. Maybe there wasn’t anything left for her to pick up. But it looks as if lots of players were just waiting to see if the Obama thing was real before jumping on the bandwagon.

Napolitano, Johnson, and Nelson are all especially noteworthy because all of them have to run for re-election in Red states (though Arizona is moving toward Purple). Their opinion about which of the two candidates is going to be a bigger help (or at least a smaller drag) in the downballot races is worth pondering.

Even conceding &#8212 which I doubt &#8212 that the Clintons have managed to convert Bill’s many blunders into “experience” and that Obama, as a rookie, would make more rookie mistakes as President, it still wouldn’t be obvious that HRC would have more capacity to get things done. Having a few more Democrats in the Senate and a substantially bigger majority in the House could easily more than compensate for that skill difference when it comes to being able to actually get new policies passed into law.

Update Add Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, another Purple-state officeholder, to the bandwagon.

Does Obama identify with the poor?

Yes and no.

A progressive colleague writes:

Based on Obama’s speeches, I don’t get a strong feeling that he identifies with the poor.

Based on “reading” The Audacity of Hope as an audiobook, I think that’s true, but it only expresses half of the truth of the matter.

Obama doesn’t identify with the poor in the sense that he doesn’t think of himself as poor, or formerly poor, or having poor relatives. He grew up without much money, but in cultural terms his upbringing was solidly middle-class. (Maybe he has poor in-laws.) So when he thinks about the poor, he’s thinking about other people: he thinks and speaks like, and as, a liberal, rather than a poor person.

But he isn’t, and doesn’t claim to be, so “post-racial” as to have forgotten that he’s black. And he’s explicit in saying that, as a black man, his attitude about poor people can’t be the same as the attitudes of middle-class whites. Lots of black people are poor, and lots of poor people are black. Non-poor blacks know perfectly well that the way the wider society views them is strongly influenced by the condition and behavior of the group that (according to Obama) whites, but not blacks, call “the underclass.” (The technical term, which Obama doesn’t use, is “reputational externality.”)

Moreover, middle-class blacks (says Obama) aren’t likely to forget the history of racism, and therefore &#8212 even when blaming the poverty of the poorest blacks partly on their own behavior &#8212 aren’t likely to forget that circumstances shape culture, or to blame the poverty of the very poor on innate and unalterable characteristics. To that extent, they (and he) do “identify” with the blackness of the black poor, though not with their poverty or some of their behavior patterns.

The African-American church has traditionally been a center, not just of religiosity and community activism, but of respectability. And Obama clearly identifies strongly with that part of the tradition. As he says, when middle-class black folks discuss the behavior of those still trapped in poverty, some of the language they use is very like that of the Heritage Foundation.

(The key word, which Obama doesn’t use but which, e.g., Bill Cosby does, is “ignorant,” which has a much stronger sense in Black English than it does in white English; it connotes not merely lack of learning, but intellectual and moral sloth, like the Russian nekulturny, with the dual meanings of “ignorant” and “rude.”)

But listening to Obama read his book, it’s impossible to imagine that he might decide to let poverty take a back seat to other issues. As the Republicans will (if he’s the nominee) no doubt remind us from here to November, he’s pretty much a hard-core liberal.

Footnote All of this makes me think of the way middle-class German Jews regarded my Jewish ancestors from Russia and Eastern Europe. They took seriously their obligations to help the Russian, Polish, Baltic, and Galician Jews, but they never lost sight of the distinction.

Second footnote I’ve always thought the following story, which I heard from my father, a very perceptive one:

The Lone Ranger, with his faithful Indian companion Tonto, is fleeing from a band of Comanches intent on taking his scalp. As they ride furiously over a pass, they confront another band of Apaches, evidently with the same intent. They are hopelessly trapped.

The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “Well, old friend, looks as if we’ve about had it.”

Tonto replies, “What you mean ‘we,’ paleface?”

Like Tonto in the story, a middle-class white liberal always has the option of deciding to worry about something other than the “underclass” problem. A middle-class black, not so much.

Obama’s sanity

Steve Teles is right to say that Obama is inexperienced. But he’s also brilliant and (what’s much less common in seekers after the Presidency) profoundly sane. That’s why I’m willing to roll the dice.

Steve Teles makes some good points and raises some serious questions about an Obama Presidency. Steve’s concerns overlap with Jonathan Zasloff’s.

Despite the results from New Hampshire, those points are still relevant.

Yes, executive experience is a valuable commodity in a Presidential candidate. Yes, it would be good to know that Obama is capable of a proper pessimism. No, we don’t know precisely what he would do as President (any more than the electorate in 1932 could have guessed the content of the New Deal).

Why am I less worried about the admitted risk than I am about the alternatives? I can answer in two words: intelligence and character.

Obama’s brilliance is not in serious dispute. (He is also, what counts for at least as much, genuinely well-educated, well-read, and thoughtful.) But the problem with a brilliant President is that he may be too full of his own brilliance to know how to take advice. That’s where character comes in.

If the actual human being named Barack Obama at all resembles the character he plays on the political stage, he is that wildly unusual figure, the seeker of the White House who has his ego firmly in check. Obama’s sense of humor is among his most attractive features, especially because it’s a sense of humor almost always turned against himself rather than (as in the case of Bob Dole, for example) against his opponents. I take that to be an excellent protection against the arrogance that is the occupational risk of high office.

Better yet, as far as I can tell from listening to his speeches and “reading” The Audacity of Hope as an audiobook, Obama is almost devoid of the megalomaniac and sociopathic tendencies so common among top-level politicians.

The Greek word sophrosyne is usually translated as “temperance” or “moderation.” But its core meaning seems to be closer to “self-command” or “sanity.” That’s the characteristic that shines through the speeches and actions of Abraham Lincoln. It’s on Obama’s sophrosyne, even more than on his intelligence, that I’m prepared to bet.

Quote without comment

Obama heckled by anti-abortion group at speech. As they leave, still chanting, tells his crowd:
“Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That’s part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard.”

(Emphasis added.)

Anti-abortion protestors heckle Obama

From NBC’s Lee Cowan and NBC/NJ’s Aswini Anburajan

[Rochester, N.H.] Obama was heckled from the balcony of a theater here. A group of about 10 protestors began to chant “Abortion is abomination.” The audience in turn began to shout, “Obama! Obama!” And in the top balcony many started screaming at the protestors telling them to shut up.

Obama from the stage said, “Guys! Guys!” Initially he told the protestors, “I’ll talk to you afterwards.”

The scene escalated with angry shouts from the audience directed toward the protestors telling them to, “Shut up, go home.” And one man even screamed, “Kill the babies!” An older gentleman put his head down and stuck his hands in his ears. It was unpleasant on both sides.

The police came after about five minutes and were greeted with cheers by the audience. The protestors voluntarily left, chanting the entire time. When the hecklers had left, Obama joked, “Excitement is over, or maybe it’s just beginning.”

And he said, “Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That’s part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard.”

No sense of decency?

The slimy little so-and-so breaks laws that don’t even exist. Ask the Clinton campaign.

You have to feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. It can’t be easy running against someone who learned to deal drugs while studying in a madrassa. And it’s clear that Obama’s morals haven’t improved a whit since then. (Why, he’s so slippery he uses speeches &#8212 some of them containing whole sentences &#8212 to try to persuade people who disagree with him. Disgusting!)

Not only did Obama dare to challenge Her Inevitability, despite how hard and successfully she has worked for change (which is why we now have national health insurance). That enough would be proof of bad character. But the sneaky little b*stard actually voted on an abortion-rights bill the way the pro-choice organizations in Illinois asked him to vote! You can’t protect a woman’s right to choose by doing that! If you’re really and truly pro-choice, you’ll just ignore what the pro-choice leadership asks you to do. Isn’t that obvious?

And when this gross misconduct was politely called to his attention, did he apologize and thank Ms. Clinton for straightening him out? He did not! Instead, Obama found another pro-choice leader to make excuses for him: one who even had the temerity to criticize the former First Lady for telling fibs.

Wait! It gets worse! In putting out that message, Obama’s campaign broke a law. The violation was about as egregious as they come: the law requires that a phone call’s sponsor be identified within thirty seconds, and in the calls in question that announcement didn’t come for a full thirty-eight seconds. Has he no sense of decency? At long last, has he left no sense of decency?

Well, yes, technically the law being cited didn’t actually apply to this case: it specifically exempts Presidential preference primaries. But that just shows how utterly untrustworthy B. Hussein Obama is: he’s capable of breaking laws that don’t even exist! Anyway, it’s the principle of the thing.

Or something.

God damn, I’ll be glad when this is over!

No conservation law for political vitriol

Yes, Obama will be attacked if he becomes the nominee. No, he will not be attacked as successfully has Hillary Clinton would be.

John Cole and Glenn Greenwald argue that, kumbaya or no, if Obama wins the nomination he will be subjected to the same sh*tstorm of abuse as would Hillary Clinton would be. I’m not convinced.

Will the wingnuts attack Obama with every vile claim they can invent? Of course. That’s who they are.

But the question isn’t whether the attacks will be made. The question is whether the attacks will stick.

Actually, I don’t think that even Hillary-bashing would work as well this year as it has in the past, simply because voters desperate to get rid of the GOP won’t want to hear anything bad about the Democratic candidate, whoever that might be. Reagan got away with being obviously senile in 1984 because Mondale never made the case that he was a plausible replacement. That’s also how Nixon got away with being obviously Nixon in 1972: as soon as McGovern had been safely disposed of, the media and the political class became ready to believe Watergate. The same sort of cognitive-dissonance effect will help protect whoever is the Democratic nominee this year.

In addition, not all candidates pose equally target-rich environments for vitriol. I think that’s true of Obama as compared to HRC. But let’s take it from our side. It’s predictable that Atrios and Kos and CrooksandLiars (and, of course, your humble obedient servant) will have vicious things to say about this year’s Republican nominee. But consider how much easier it would be, how much more enthusiastic we would be about it, and how much more of our attacks would get through to the voters, if the nominee were Giuliani or Huckabee rather than Romney or McCain or Thompson.

Similarly, on Election Day in November I think that Barack Obama as the nominee would excite far less Republican enthusiasm than would HRC.

In defense of New Hampshire voters

Sure some of them have moved since Obama’s victory in Iowa. But didn’t that victory, and the speech that followed, contain important information about choosing a nominee?

Kevin Drum:

In related news, apparently the flinty-eyed independents of New Hampshire aren’t quite as flinty-eyed as they’d like you to believe. After a solid year of town halls, coffee klatsches, and early morning doorbell ringing &#8212 because, you know, New Hampshirites take their electoral responsibilities so much more seriously than the rest of us &#8212 all it took was a few thousand Iowans to flip them from one side to the other in less than 24 hours. Feh.

Well, yes … and no. As a long-time resident of Massachusetts, I’m always happy to join in on bashing the moochers and free-loaders of Cow Hampshire, who ought to get honest and change the state’s motto to “Live Free At Someone Else’s Expense.” And of course the notion that Iowa and New Hampshire are virtuous because they are mostly rural and Northern European is pretty damned offensive.

But … is it so unreasonable for a voter to have changed his or her mind after Iowa? The critique of Obama is that he doesn’t know how to get things done, and that he makes promises based on hope that he can’t deliver. He’s been claiming that he can get Republicans in Washington to work with him to pass progressive legislation, which seems pretty implausible given the last fifteen years. It’s hard to figure out whether he can pull it off without actually electing him.

On the other hand, he’s been pushing some equally silly-sounding ideas: that he can attract hordes of independent and Republican voters, that he can mobilize young voters, that he could win Iowa against the Clinton machine and Edwards’s union backing.

And guess what? Those silly-sounding ideas turned out to be correct, in the one trial so far. Why shouldn’t a dispassionate observer weigh that fact pretty heavily in judging whether Obama’s “theory of change” ought to be believed?

On top of that was The Speech. Why should we expect New Hampshire voters to be any more flinty-eyed than, let’s say, Ezra Klein? Moreover, in politics words are weapons, and it’s not unreasonable to want to nominate a well-armed candidate.

Footnote Ezra is taking some ribbing for his enthusiastic words, but that just reflects the basic Kool Kidz rule of never appearing to be impressed by anything. I, for one, don’t count being moved by oratory as a sign of mental deficiency. It’s not the tone-deafness of people like Mickey Kaus that’s so infuriating; it’s the pride they take in their tone-deafness.