Monday, March 17, 2008

Pastorgate: The modified hang-out, and the modified modified hangout

Despite the serial profession of a new politics, there is something Nixonian about Obama's recent disclaimers over his racist pastor's diatribes. At first he tried to blame the messenger:
"Here is what happens when you just cherry-pick statements from a guy who had a 40-year career as a pastor."

The problem is not cherries, Senator, but an entire orchard. The most egregious slurs are not from two decades past, but post 9/11 and especially in 2006. And Obama should have learned from Nixon that when there is something there, it is best to get out in front of it in a manner that anticipates more disturbing revelations. Yet the modified hangout then followed;
"It's a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS."

This is a de facto defense of, not a distancing from, Wright, and begs the question of why? And the AIDs evocation is especially damning since the reverend has made it clear that HIV was our own creation, apparently part and parcel of some US government conspiracy. Is Obama now suggesting that Wright did important civic work with AIDs even though he promulgated a belief that the virus was fabricated by our own government? And then comes the modified modified hangout:
"But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church."

That makes it even worse, because now Obama hints that he might have been in fact aware of the Wright rhetoric, but gave him a pass because he was "on the verge of retirement," as if the albatross were about to disappear anyway, and with it the cause of prior embarrassment. And the evocation of his marriage and his children's baptisms in such an extremist landscape should not be cited as reasons to stay in it, but rather should have been evoked as causes why he should get out-and not have his family further tainted by it. And it goes on and on:
"And while Rev. Wright's statements have pained and angered me, I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in; on my values, judgment and experience to be President of the United States."

"Judgment" is the wrong word here, because the entire Wright liaison is proof positive of terrible judgment. And the problem is not judging Sen. Obama "on the basis of what someone else said", but on the basis of his own generous subsidies to someone who spewed forth not mere speech, but hate speech. And when Obama announces,
"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation,"

he only will prompt investigative reporters to rush to substantiate whether the Senator was there when any of this calumny was preached, or has given a hint that he was aware of it in the past. No doubt every word he has written, interview he has given, and people he has talked with will be examined to see whether that astounding statement is in fact true. For some strange reason, Obama has now banked his entire campaign on his word and assurance that he did not hear on a single occasion any such screed.

I hope he is correct. But if one were to collate the reverend's views on what his congregation should think of the United States, and, further, his writs against Americans as "selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant" with Michelle Obama's own astounding statements that hitherto she had no pride in the United States, and considered America "just downright mean," and Americans "guided by fear" and (in the words of the New Yorker profiler) who summed up her views as `we're a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents' the echoes are eerie.

Without sounding dramatic, I think his campaign has seriously underestimated the effect of the Wright tapes on the average American voter (again, the problem is not just the transcript, but the delivery, most notably its fury and coarseness), and the senator's own abject inability honestly and forthrightly to explain the close relationship of the Obamas to Reverend Wright, apologize for such a lapse of judgment, and move on. His advisors are culpable here, and apparently in their spin have no clue that they are making things worse rather than better.

Instead, we have heard first "cherry-picking" and then that the reverend does not represent his own views, but not a hint of contrition for an association with such a demagogue and hate-monger. I think this will not go away, and ultimately damage Obama beyond repair, for it strikes at the heart of his very candidacy-that he was a healer who has transcended racial divides, and was introducing a new credo of transparent and painfully forthright politics. The Wright scandal and his reaction thus far belie both. This was precisely why Hillary stayed in the race, and mirabile dictu, perhaps what she imagined would eventually transpire. Whatever one's views, this is both a travesty and a tragedy.


Obama just blathers on foreign policy

Some supporters note that Senator Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, implying that his pre-adolescent experience somehow vests in him the wisdom to deal with foreign policy challenges. But others -- particularly in the Hillary Clinton camp -- disagree. Her now-famous 3 A.M. phone call commercial symbolized this view: Barack Obama has not yet earned his spurs and is unprepared to the rigors of the Presidency. They have their reasons to believe so.

As an adult, Barack Obama focused his efforts in community organizing in Chicago and local and state issues when he became a member of the Illinois State Senate. Since he became a U.S. Senator, his foreign travel has been severely limited and sparse. His supporters tout his role on the Foreign Relations Committee but neglect to note that he has yet to convene a policy-oriented hearing of the Subcommittee on Europe -- which he chairs. As the New York Times notes, Senator Obama seems to have focused on his Presidential campaign rather than on the duties of his office. .
Senator Obama realizes that his lack of experience and track record are liabilities in his quest for the Presidency. His campaign instead touts that he has superior judgment and that this judgment trumps experience. In his own words, "foreign policy is all about judgment"

This has been a signal message of his campaign, placing the question of his judgment squarely in the center of the campaign debate. Of course his claim to good judgment relies almost solely on his opposition to the launch of the Iraq War, first articulated in a speech he made in Chicago while running for the U.S. Senate.

Since that speech he has moved toward a more, shall we say, nuanced view of the Iraq war than many of his supporters would want us to appreciate. Since the initial 2002 speech his views have evolved over the years (he is the "change" candidate, after all). This is a history of change regarding the Iraq War that the campaign obscures.

But the liberal and Obama-supporting New Republic has gone back and looked, into "The Cinderella Story". His views on the Iraq War have not been quite as principled as his campaign wishes voters to believe. Even before candidate Obama first spoke of his opposition to the war, he fretted to his political advisers regarding whether his speech opposing the war might hurt him politically . That shifting of positions to suit the political tenor of the times has continued over the years.

A timeline of Obama wavering

Here is a convenient timeline of his changing positions (in his own words):
October 2, 2002, Chicago Wearing a war is not an option pin, he thrilled the anti-war rally by disparaging the Iraq war as a "dumb war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle, but on politics."

The Audacity of Hope When America was obtaining clear victories on the ground in Iraq, Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, "I began to suspect that I might have been wrong [about the war]"

March 28, 2003, on CNN, Obama claimed that he, "Absolutely want to make sure that the troops have sufficient support to be able to win." He was invested in winning at that point.

Democratic National Convention July 2004 His only mention of the war was, "There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it." The day after his speech, Senator Obama told reporters that the United States had an "absolute obligation " to remain in Iraq long enough to make it a success. He stated that failure of the Iraqi state would be a disaster and would be a betrayal of the promise that we made to the Iraqi people, and it would be hugely destabilizing from a national security perspective". (This history is beginning to get more attention -- see below).

Same month He was no longer certain how he would have voted. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know." (The New York Times on July 26.)

2004 election To keep in line with his party's candidates Kerry and Edwards, who had voted for the Iraq War, he told The New York Times, "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence,"

After the election Obama regained his certainty on the Charlie Rose Show. When Rose asked him if he would have voted against the Iraq War resolution had he been in Congress, Obama's answer was a simple, "Yes."

July 2004 Obama told the Chicago Tribune "[t] here's not that much difference between my position [on the war] and George Bush's position at this stage."

As for the troop withdrawal,
November 2005 speech He called for a gradual withdrawal of forces. "Notice that I say 'reduce,' and not 'fully withdraw'"

December 2005 He told the Chicago Tribune, "It is arguable that the best politics going into '06 would be a clear, succinct message: 'Let's bring our troops home...But whether that's the best policy right now, I don't feel comfortable saying it is."

January 2007 (just before announcing his run for the Presidency), for example, he outlined a plan to begin "redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007" and "remove all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008."

Today, he vows to "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq."

The AP reported it this way in July 2007:
"Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there."

Obama and obligations

The following is a statement startling in its implications, and gives us insight into Barack Obama's reliability. In 2004, according to the Boston Globe, he stated:
...that the United States had an "absolute obligation " to remain in Iraq long enough to make it a success. He stated that failure of the Iraqi state would be a disaster and would be a betrayal of the promise that we made to the Iraqi people, and it would be hugely destabilizing from a national security perspective.

That was a commitment to the Iraqi people -- an "absolute" promise that we would hold paramount our obligation to provide them security, to protect them from the ravages that would flow from a failed state. Yet a mere three years later he was ready to throw them to the wolves, genocide be damned.

This willingness of Senator Obama to turn his back on something he proclaimed an "absolute obligation" should be particular concern to the millions of supporters of Israel in America. When campaigning, Senator Obama has made similar promises regarding the safety and security of Israel? How long will those promises last? Until January, 2009?

Much more here

Obama 12 years ago

Barack Obama, the uniter across party lines, across religions, across racial divides, wasn't always Mr. Sunshine. He had a different view 12 years ago, when his campaign was more localized. He was 34 years old: a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School -- bastions of power and wealth. He was the beneficiary of the best education America had to offer. What were his feelings at age 34? Resentment, hyper-partisan, and accusatory towards whites, Republicans and the so-called Christian right.

As Barack Obama prepared to run for the state Senate he spoke up shortly after the Million Man March lead by Louis Farrakhan -- or as Barack Obama honorifically recently titled him, Minister Farrakhan. Via Newsbusters:
These are mean, cruel times, exemplified by a 'lock 'em up, take no prisoners' mentality that dominates the Republican-led Congress. Historically, African-Americans have turned inward and towards black nationalism whenever they have a sense, as we do now, that the mainstream has rebuffed us, and that white Americans couldn't care less about the profound problems African-Americans are facing."

The right wing, the Christian right, has done a good job of building these organizations of accountability, much better than the left or progressive forces have. But it's always easier to organize around intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and false nostalgia. And they also have hijacked the higher moral ground with this language of family values and moral responsibility.

Barack Obama has commented on the value of words to inspire, to bring about change. What kind of change was he talking about in his mid 30's when most of us had already given up the rebellion we flirted with, and the resentments that beset us, in college?



Brief notes:

Various Leftists think it is unfair to focus on Obama's church affiliations. Many of the same people, however, had no hesitation dwelling on Romney's Mormon affiliations. See here

Obama on Wright, before the videos reached Americans: "It was just a year ago (March 6, 2007) when Bill Burton, Obama's campaign spokesperson, told the New York Times that "Senator Obama is proud of his pastor and his church..." Listen to Obama talk about his pastor before the media started asking the tough questions. John McCain is too much of a gentleman to use this video in a campaign ad, but others might not be as considerate.

Pelosi boosts Obama: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it would be damaging to the Democratic party for its leaders to buck the will of national convention delegates picked in primaries and caucuses, a declaration that gives a boost to Sen. Barack Obama. "If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what's happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic party," Pelosi said in an interview taped Friday for broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week." The California Democrat did not mention either Obama or his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, by name. But her remarks seemed to suggest she was prepared to cast her ballot at the convention in favor of the candidate who emerges from the primary season with the most pledged delegates. Obama leads Clinton by 142 pledged delegates - those delegates picked in nomination contests to date, in The Associated Press' count."

Civil war at Kos: "There is a writers "strike" at the Daily Kos by pro-Hillary writers. Writes the striker: "Instead, I will put my energy into posting at sites where my efforts aren't routinely trashed, spammed and ridiculed by a handful of angry, petty and spiteful folks who clearly have too much time on their hands." I see a light in the foggy furrows of a bewildered lefty mind. It suddenly dawns on the striking writer that, hey, the years of profanity and personal attacks on others are catching up. Ridicule hurts. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. "Sadly, the majority of the administrators have allowed this hostile environment to develop in our online community for anyone who isn't planted firmly in the Obama camp. They've routinely ignored personal attacks and allowed disruptive, spam-like posts to go unchecked whenever anyone expresses support for Hillary or challenges something their candidate has said or done. There are however several front-pagers who have managed to avoid taking part in the attacks on Hillary and for that I'm grateful. But the site has grown to the point where they simply can't - or won't monitor it. Yes, if you dare disagree with a lefty, said lefty will try to make your life miserable."

Thanks are due to Rev. Wright: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright for his selfless service to the country. Seldom in my memory has one man with one single, unwavering, and forceful train of thought done for America what Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright has done. Almost alone in the 21st century Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright has brought back to life and given voice and face to something most of use believed was lost with the 20th century -- the stone cold stereotype of the angry, bitter, and crazy African-American. So thank you, Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright. Without your ceaseless efforts in the service of your hate, Americans of all colors and creeds might have gone to the polls this fall thinking that the change we all hoped for was at hand. It's comforting to know we can, if we wish, cast our vote to keep your sacred stereotype alive in this century. Do not go gently into that good retirement Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright. The nation needs men of God such as yourself to keep the wounds of racism open, infected, and suppurating."


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