Thursday, April 24, 2008

The candidate who does not want to be questioned

Post below recycled from Taranto. See the original for links

North Carolina Democrats hit the primary polls in two weeks, and CBS News was to have hosted a debate this Sunday between front-runner Barack Obama and underdog Hillary Clinton. Alas, it was not to be. A press release from the North Carolina Democratic Party says that the party has decided to spend more time with its family:
We regret to inform you that the proposed Democratic Presidential Debate scheduled for April 27 has been cancelled due to time constraints and logistical issues associated with such a large, national event. . . . There were also growing concerns about what another debate would do to party unity.

CBS News has what almost certainly is the real story:
Hillary Clinton had accepted the invitation to Sunday's proposed debate but Barack Obama's campaign had not. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer earlier this month, Obama voiced skepticism about participating in too many debates. "I will tell you, after the 21st debate," Obama told the paper (in advance of last week's 21st debate), "all of which have been nationally televised . . . North Carolinians have had ample opportunity to watch these debates. . . . I don't know that they are ending up being more informative than the kinds of town hall meetings that we've scheduled."

Of course, after last week's debate--which turned out to be highly informative--Obama has got to be wishing he had stopped at 20. Given that he seems to have the nomination nearly locked up anyway, it makes tactical sense for him to run out the clock and stay far away from anyone who may ask him a tough question.

But does it make strategic sense? It strikes us that Obama may be setting a trap for himself. Consider the experience of John Kerry in 2004: He won nomination easily, with the media largely buying into his "war hero" story and not asking tough questions. One notable exception was ABC's Charlie Gibson, who almost exactly a year ago confronted Kerry about his shifty behavior vis-…-vis his medals.

Once Kerry was past the convention, the questions that should have been asked much earlier began coming out. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ended up doing the media's job for them. If Obama succeeds in avoiding the tough questions now, someone will end up asking them in the fall. Will he be prepared?

The Hotline reports from Scranton, Pa., on an unsubtle effort by Barack Obama to avoid a tough question:
Chomping down on sausage and waffles at Glider's Diner today with Sen. Bob Casey at his side, Barack Obama declined, in a sense, to comment on Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas.

Asked if he had heard that Carter reported a positive outcome from the meeting, Obama looked at the reporter who questioned him and said, "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" Asked again by the reporter, Obama bit. Not at the question but into a butter-covered bite of Glider's specialty over-size Belgian waffles. With a wink this time he said, "Just let me eat my waffle."

Obama, who has the support of Hamas honcho Ahmed Yousef, henceforth will be known as the waffle man, joining other food-associated politicians such as Ronald Reagan (jellybeans), George H.W. Bush (pork rinds), Michael Dukakis (endive), Dan Quayle (potatoes) and Bill Clinton (McDonald's french fries).

Globaloney, Obama-Style

Barack Obama appears to be America's first homegrown global candidate. His core constituency is the New Age tribe of the Internet, which promotes the illusion that we can now start to live in "a world without borders." A posting by an African from Italy on the official Obama '08 website, featured under the headline "For a Cosmopolitan Humanism," reads: "In this Global Era, we need a new vision for a cosmopolitan humanism, that ingredient necessary for peace and justice: Barack Obama embodies this hope."

Similar sentiments abound in the blogosphere. Senator Obama received an A-plus rating from Citizens for Global Solutions, which "envisions a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions." On Care2, a blog devoted to "green living, health, human rights [and] protecting the environment," a self-described Kiwi woman living on the Isle of Man writes: "It should be Barack Obama for the world, not just the USA. We are a global society now."

At his enormous rallies, the distinction between American politician and global celebrity comes close to breaking down. Obama merges the roles. As America's first global candidate, he has about him the aura of a millenarian figure, the leader of a mass movement. In its early stages, the Obama movement was heavily campus-driven, resembling student upheavals like the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and the antiglobalization movement of more recent years.

Like them, Obama '08 wants to "heal this nation" and "remake this world as it should be." To that end, Obama promises a "new kind of leadership," devoid of the grubby wheeling-dealing of ordinary politics. That is why his campaign rhetoric consists largely of abstract nouns like hope, peace, change, and dialogue, generalities that everyone is for. At times, he verges on fantasy, as in his belief that he can work out America's differences with Iran through direct talks with Iranian president Ahmadinejad without preconditions. By the same token, people all over the world with leftist leanings see in Obama just such a global savior, as if his mere election could alleviate poverty and injustice everywhere.

His closest predecessor in American politics is not the hawkish cold warrior John F. Kennedy, with whom he shares little beyond a youthful vigor and bodily grace, but Jimmy Carter, who also tended to believe that talking to America's foes would be enough to bring peace and that America itself was too often the chief source of the world's problems. Both men share a taste for Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who believed that politics should be an act of penance for America's sins at home and abroad. Obama's willingness to abandon one ally overnight (Iraq) while invading another (Pakistan) also savors of -Carter's tendency to think America's allies or beneficiaries were more deserving of reproach than its open enemies.

Social scientists and political activists are agog at what they hail as the "new global civil society," and Obama's core constituency is the American branch of this new International. His most fervent follower is the kind of Democrat, affluent and conventionally well educated, who sees himself as belonging less to his own country than to an emerging global community of the enlightened, believers in world peace, the environment, and "talking" to others, including lethal enemies, all in the conviction that the nation-state is an outmoded product of global capitalism, greed, and shabby compromise. In this view of things, America, as the world's most powerful nation-state, is the chief impediment to the flowering of a new world order.

Obama's penchant for cheerleading slogans reminiscent of a 12-step program ("Yes we can!") is in tune with his appeal to young people, who have little experience of life's ironies, who may not have noticed how often the sweep of history frustrates good intentions. They are, after all, the product of an educational system that has increasingly abandoned the teaching of narrative history and the distinction between democracy and tyranny in favor of a fuzzy globalism that casts us all as citizens of a coming world community of the ecologically conscious and antimaterialistic.

Many of Obama's followers know no better and are already awash in the sentimentality of "global solutions" that will end poverty and violence everywhere, so long as the world's worst offender, their own country, is finally shackled and defanged by "the international community." Obama's path has been smoothed by several decades of naive one-worldism, the kind that only affluent citizens of a democracy insulated from the horrors of the Mugabes and Assads who rule much of the world could entertain. His most authentic forebears are countercultural movements harking back to the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" or John Lennon's assertion that the world can have peace right now "if you want it."

Seen in this light, Senator Obama's attachment to his pastor, Reverend Wright, resonates with a broad swath of Obama's supporters, not just a segment of African-American opinion. For, stripped of its bumptious rhetoric, Reverend Wright's view of America as a capitalistic oppressor at home and abroad is shared by American leftists of every ethnic hue. Millions of young people have watched the online documentary Loose Change, which debates whether the Bush administration carried out the 9/11 attacks itself or merely allowed them to happen in order to have an excuse to launch unjust wars. Reverend Wright's view that 9/11 was payback time for American imperialism merely echoes the contention of William Blum, author of Rogue State, that 9/11 was "direct retaliation for decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East." Such views are heard daily in lecture halls, not just in dorm rooms and caf,s, on campuses across the country; they are corollaries of the tireless teaching of Noam Chomsky. And, to the extent (as yet unclear) that Obama shares them, he is not so much the candidate of the Louis Farrakhan wing of black opinion as he is the candidate of Michael Moore Nation.

When it comes to style, Obama is a princely candidate, the latest and most effective in a line going back to Carter and Bill Bradley who say, in effect: "I am making you the gift of my gracious person. Don't ask what I will do. Trust me." To follow him is the politics of "hope." To seek details or challenge his credentials is the politics of "cynicism." He has gone further than anyone else in merging the realms of politics, celebrity, and New Age tribalism through the elixir of his golden voice and supple presence. Of course, it is possible that much of this is just a winning rhetorical formula for gaining the presidency. But that's the problem--we don't know.

If Obama were, upon election, to prove less than sincere about the rhetoric, many of us would find it reassuring. Our reassurance, however, would come at the cost of an enormous Monday morning hangover for followers who had thought he really would lift us all to a higher reality. After the soaring promises, such disillusionment could damage young people's faith in the democratic process.

On the other hand, if he is sincere and he becomes president, we are in for a very rocky ride. Obama's idealistic globalism clashes with the reality of a world containing forces whose hostility to the West is often a matter of deep conviction, and rarely the result of a simple failure to communicate.


What's the Matter With Obama?

Traveling the country the past few months, I have encountered habitual Republican voters so entranced by Barack Obama's potential to lead the nation that they plan to vote for him in November. Once Hillary Clinton's defected supporters return to loyalty, Obama Republicans could produce a Democratic presidential landslide. But Obama's current missteps jeopardize their support and imperil his election.

These apostate Republicans never were deluded into considering him anything other than a doctrinaire liberal who wants a more intrusive government with higher taxation and tougher regulation. But they have leaned toward him as an exceptional candidate in the mold of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, a post-partisan leader and a welcome contrast to George W. Bush's failed presidency. That impression is threatened by Obama's performance the last 10 days, climaxed by Wednesday night's debate with Hillary Clinton.

Obama's new resemblance is less to Kennedy or Reagan than to leftist author Thomas Frank, whose 2004 book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" answered the liberal conundrum: Why do ordinary Americans vote against their own economic interests to support Republicans? Frank explained that "deranged" and "lunatic" Kansans were led away by Republicans from material concerns to social issues. Obama similarly described small town Americans turning to guns and the Bible in frustration over government's failure to take care of them -- a more genteel version of Frank. That raises the question, "What's the matter with Obama?"

Almost everybody I encounter in politics is familiar with Frank's best-seller. Democrats are united in embracing his theory but are divided about its rhetoric. While sophisticated Democratic politicians regard the book as condescending to lower-income Americans who have voted for Ronald Reagan, grass-roots activists in the party consider it gospel. They tell me Obama should not back away from what got him in trouble: his declaration to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco that "bitter" small-towners in Pennsylvania and elsewhere "cling to guns or religion."

Obama and his advisers know better. Though he revealed political inexperience by thinking what he said in San Francisco would stay in San Francisco, he is savvy enough to apologize profusely for "gaffes" and "errors." But he considers his blunder one of style not of substance. Actually, while seeming to be anti-gun or anti-church is self-destructive for a candidate, even raising Frank's thesis is dangerous.

The trick is for Obama to distance himself from the rhetoric while holding to the theory, as restructured in last week's debate: "Yes, (the American people) are in part frustrated and angry" by "manufactured" issues. Indeed, he said, beating "to death" this issue is "not helping that person ... trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month."

Clinton's effort to brand Obama as elitist has failed to move the polls, probably because Democratic primary voters agree with Frank. Nevertheless, Democratic pros feel that the San Francisco incident halted an Obama surge in Pennsylvania that might have won him the state and ended Clinton's campaign tomorrow. What really worries them, however, is the impact on independents and Republicans who had been entranced by the young man from Chicago. Now, they wonder whether the appealing unifier is really a divider.

Obama is trying to change the subject, but he lost his cool demeanor when ABC News questioners Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos returned to his San Francisco statement (among other difficult issues) in Wednesday's debate. In watching campaign debates dating back to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960, I never before had seen a candidate criticize the moderator or challenge his premises so often (on at least eight occasions). "Look, let me finish my point here, Charlie," said Obama, after Gibson had interrupted him following a 126-word answer.

The other unprecedented element was the deluge of abuse heaped on the two ABC moderators by reporters on the media, television critics and political writers. They object to prolonging what amounts to a debate on "What's wrong with Obama?" Exploring whether Barack Obama is a modified Thomas Frank does not depend on television talking heads or Hillary Clinton. Supporters of John McCain, seeking to reel back the Obama Republicans, will press the issue from now to November.


Obama's Media Army

Nothing in the hysteria over last week's Democratic debate - including the unprecedented opprobrium press critics heaped on the ABC moderators - should have come as any surprise. That doesn't make it any less fascinating a guide to current strange notions of what is and is not a substantive issue in a presidential contest, or any less striking an indicator of the delicate treatment Mr. Obama's media following have come to consider his just due. Moderators Charles Gibson's and George Stephanopoulos's offense was to ask questions Mr. Obama didn't want to address. Worse, they'd continued to press them even when the displeased candidate assured them these were old and tired questions.
- "Akin to a federal crime . . . new benchmarks of degradation," The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg declared, of the debate.

- "Despicable. . . . slanted against Obama," Washington Post critic Tom Shales charged.

- A "disgusting spectacle," the New York Times's David Carr opined.

- The questions had "disgraced democracy itself," according to columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

The uproar is the latest confirmation of the special place Mr. Obama holds in the hearts of a good part of the media, a status ensured by their shared political sympathies and his star power. That status has in turn given rise to a tendency to provide generous explanations, and put the best possible gloss on missteps and utterances seriously embarrassing to Mr. Obama.

The effort and intensity various CNN panelists, for instance, expended on explaining what Mr. Obama really meant by that awkward San Francisco speech about bitter small towners clinging to their guns and religion - it seems he'd been making an important point if one not evident to anyone listening - exceeded that of the Obama campaign itself.

Still, no effort in helpful explanations was more distinguished than that of David Gergen, senior CNN commentator, who weighed in just after the first explosion of reports on Mr. Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright. About this spiritual leader - whose sermons declared the September 11 attacks to be America's just desserts, who instructed his flock that the United States had set forth on a genocidal program to kill black Americans with the AIDS virus, who held forth as gospel every paranoid fantasy espoused by the lunatic fringe about America's crimes - Mr. Gergen said, "Actually, Rev. Wright may love this country more than many of us . . . but we've fallen short."

It was an attempt at exculpation, as regards Rev. Wright, that no one has equalled, though many have come close. Not least Mr. Obama, who spends considerable time arguing that the press has focused on a few "snippets" taken from years of sermons.

Mr. Obama's apparent inability to confront, forthrightly, the pastor's poisonous pronouncements and his own relationship with him is, of course, the cause of all the continuing questions on the subject. It had not been in him, for instance, to say publicly that for a pastor to have preached that the U.S. government had embarked on a project to inject blacks with AIDS was an outrage on truth and decency. He delivered a celebrated speech on race, one generally hailed as a masterwork, that was supposed to have explained it all. It was a work masterly, above all, in its evasiveness. Even its admirers, prepared to swallow his repeated resort to descriptions like "controversial" for the pastor's hate-filled rants, couldn't quite give Sen. Obama a pass when it came to his beloved white grandmother, or to the not so beloved Geraldine Ferraro, both of whom he suggested were racists in their own right.

These issues - the unanswered, the suspect - which outraged press partisans have for days attempted to dismiss as trivia and gossip, largely forgotten by the public, are unlikely to be forgotten, either today or in the general election, nor are they trivial. This, Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos clearly understood when they chose their questions. Mr. Obama's answers told far more than he or his managers wished.

Offered a chance to explain the meaning of his remarks about the reasons people living in small towns cling to guns and religion, he went on to repeat them all over again in different words. What there was in those remarks, what attitudes shown, that had offended people, he had still not grasped. In short, what he had said that day he'd meant to say. "What you are, picks its way," as Walt Whitman told us.

The way has been a long one for the candidates, and what they are is, indeed, picking its way on the campaign trail and during events like that instructive debate. About which, we now learn, there is to be a protest campaign against ABC and the moderators, mounted by assorted journalists and bloggers.

We are at the beginning of a contest likely to repeat itself through November: between that part of the press prepared to put hard questions equally, and all the rest, including those who'll mount the barricades when their candidate is threatened with discomfiture. Let the wars begin.


The Friends of Barack Obama

When Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer decided to retire in 1995, she hand-picked local left-winger Barack Obama as her successor. In order to introduce Obama to influential liberals in the district, she held a function at the home of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. This was, really, the beginning of Obama's political career, and it linked him forever with Ayers and Dohrn, with whom, as his campaign has acknowledged, he continues to have a friendly relationship.

Ayers and Dohrn were famous radicals, and fugitives from the law, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dohrn, actually, was the more famous of the two; she was the head, as I recall, of Students for a Democratic Society or one of its factions. Dohrn was crazy. She is the only public figure, to my knowledge, to approve publicly and enthusiastically of the Charles Manson murders.

Ayers was a would-be murderer of soldiers and policemen, but he wasn't a very good terrorist. He had the ill fortune to choose September 11, 2001, as the day on which to publish an op-ed in the New York Times, in which he said that he didn't regret his attempted murders and only wished that he had planted more bombs.

In last week's Pennsylvania debate, Barack Obama was finally asked about his friendship with, and the political support he has accepted from, Ayers and Dohrn. Obama replied that Ayers had done reprehensible things forty years ago, when Obama was eight years old, and scoffed at the idea that Ayers's ancient history could be relevant. That was disingenuous, of course, given Ayers's 2001 regrets.

It turns out that we don't have to go back as far as 2001 to find that Obama's friends are as unrepentant as ever. Just last year, Ayers and Dohrn attended a reunion--no kidding--of what must have been the tiny remnant of SDS members who still haven't figured out that they were wrong about everything. Listen to what Bill Ayers, who hosted Barack Obama's first fundraiser, has to say about the United States. Not when Obama was eight years old, but in 2007:

At the same event, Obama's friend and supporter Bernadine Dohrn described the United States as "the monster." Obama was 47 years old at the time:

Barack Obama has declined to repudiate or distance himself from his neighbors, supporters and friends, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. There is a certain consistency of perspective among Obama's friends and mentors, which can be summed up in Jeremiah Wright's memorable phrase: "God damn America."

PAUL adds: Michelle Obama also takes a fairly dim view of America. But with all those student loans to pay off, I guess it's understandable. Much more to come, tomorrow.



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