Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barack Obama: the new Great Redeemer

First it was Kennedy... now the US media are prostrating themselves before the saviour

Every decade or so the people who control the way we see the world anoint some American politician the Redeemer of a Troubled Planet. In the late 1960s the media placed the halo on Robert Kennedy, the tragic dynast whose antiwar and civil rights credentials made him in life - as he remains to this day in death - a kind of devotional figure for most political journalists.

Kennedy at least had charisma and intelligence. But to prove that these were by no means necessary preconditions for the honour, it was conferred a few years later on Jimmy Carter, the plodding nonentity elevated by a willingly compliant press into Everyman, brandishing his steely sword of Truth against the Manichean mendacity of Richard Nixon's Republican legacy.

Partly because of the Carter embarrassment, the 1980s were barren years for the idolators. Try as they might, they couldn't work themselves into much ecstasy over Walter Mondale in 1984 or Michael Dukakis in 1988, though they had little flings with bit-part players Gary Hart and (I kid you not) Bruce Babbitt, a genial former Governor of Arizona.

But by the 1990s a new Democrat, or rather a New Democrat, was come among us, a man the media told us would lift our eyes from our selfish greed and rid the world of the ineffable misery left by 12 years of reactionary rule. It's hard to imagine now, after the battering he's taken from his old friends in the press these past few months, but Bill Clinton was once their idol. His cleverly cynical balancing act - promising a return to high-minded tolerance while executing mentally ill prisoners in Arkansas, for example - was lauded as a brilliant synthesising of traditional liberal ideology with the political realities of the modern age.

The alert among you will have noticed by now that what all these spiritually uplifting leaders have in common. They are all Democrats. Never in any of the chapters of this hagiography does a Republican, a conservative, appear in a remotely similar light. These alien creatures by contrast have always been portrayed as cartoonish representatives of the Dark Side of humanity, or, if they were really lucky, simply idiots, failed B-movie actors and irredeemably ignorant hicks with embarrassingly neanderthal views on women, religion and communism.

It's been a while coming - neither Al Gore in 2000 (before the luminescence created by his recent joint Nobel/Oscar triumphs) nor John Kerry in 2004 quite fit the bill. But it's fairly clear now that, with the near-certain nomination by the Democrats of Barack Obama everything is in place for the media to indulge in one of the greatest, orgiastic media fiestas of hero-worship since Elvis Presley.

You will not see a finer example of the genre than the cover story of this week's Newsweek, which was entitled "The O Team". This rhapsodic inside account of Senator Obama's campaign reads a little like a cross between Father Alban Butler's Life of St Francis and the sort of authorised biography of Kim Jong Il you can pick up in any good bookshop in Pyongyang.

Mr Obama is portrayed throughout as an immanently benevolent figure. Not human really, more a comforting presence, a light source. He is always eager to listen to all aides of an argument, always instilling confidence in the weak-willed, resolutely sticking to his high principles and tirelessly spurning the low road of electoral politics. I stopped reading after a while but I'm sure by the end he was healing the sick, comforting the dying, restoring sight to the blind and setting prisoners free.

The panegyric included the now conventional wisdom in the media that Republicans have only ever won elections in the past 40 years through lies and fearmongering - smearing their opponents and spreading false fears that a vote for a Democrat would open the country to foreign invasion.

To be fair, the Newsweek credo was only the latest and perhaps most shameless phase of the pro-Obama liturgy in the media. Some cable TV channels prostrate themselves nightly before him. Most newspapers worship at the altar. They have already set up a neat narrative for the election between Senator Obama and John McCain in November - the Second Coming versus Old Grouchy, The Little Flower of Illinois up against the Scaremongering Axeman from Arizona.

There's a special irony here. Senator McCain is the Republican who has received probably the single most favourable treatment from the media in the past 40 years. He has been a favourite because he conformed to the first law of contemporary political journalism: the only good conservative is a bad conservative. His willingness to defy his party on everything from taxes to global warming, to take on George Bush, has earned him at least an honourable mention in the martyrology of American politics of the past 40 years. But now that he's up against Oh! Bama! he will have to be recast in the more familiar Republican mould of villain and scaremonger-in-chief.

This media narrative is not only an outgrowth of the journalists' natural enthusiasm for a Democrat such as Mr Obama. It is also a clever ploy to pre-emptively de-legitimise any Republican critique of the Democratic nominee. It is designed to prevent Mr McCain from asking reasonable questions about Mr Obama's strikingly vacuous political background, or raising doubts about his credentials for the presidency.

The idolatry of Mr Obama is a shame, really. The Illinois senator is indeed, an unusually talented, inspiring and charismatic figure. His very ethnicity offers an exciting departure. But he is not a saint. He is a smart and eloquent man with a personal history that is startlingly shallow set against the scale of the office he seeks to hold. It is not only legitimate, but necessary, to scrutinise his past and infer what it might tell us about his beliefs, in the absence of the normal record of achievement expected in a presidential nominee. If the past 40 years have taught us anything they have surely taught that premature canonisation is an almost certain guarantee of subsequent deep disappointment.


Fuel prices: Too `Complex'?

By Thomas Sowell

The sheer irrationality of Obama does have a good explanation

Some people think that the reason the public misunderstands so many issues is that these issues are too "complex" for most voters. But is that really so? With all the commotion in the media and in politics about the high price of gasoline, is there really some terribly complex explanation? Is there anything complex about the fact that with two countries- India and China- having rapid economic growth, and with combined populations 8 times that of the United States, they are creating an increased demand for the world's oil supply?

The problem is not that supply and demand is such a complex explanation. The problem is that supply and demand is not an emotionally satisfying explanation. For that, you need melodrama, heroes and villains. It is clear that many people prefer to blame President Bush. Others prefer to blame the oil companies, who have long been the favorite villains of the left. Politicians understand that. Numerous times they have summoned the heads of oil companies before Congressional committees to be denounced on nationwide television for "greed," with the politicians calling for a federal investigation to "get to the bottom of this!"

Now that is emotionally satisfying, which is the whole point. By the time yet another federal investigation is completed- and turns up nothing to substantiate the villainy that is supposed to be the reason for high gasoline prices- most people's attention will have turned to something else. Newspapers that carried the original inflammatory charges with banner headlines on page 1 will carry the story of the completed investigation that turned up nothing as a small item deep inside the paper. This has happened at least a dozen times over the past few decades and it will probably happen again.

What about those "obscene" oil company profits we hear so much about? An economist might ask, "Obscene compared to what?" Compared to the investments made? Compared to the new investments required to find, extract and process additional oil supplies? Asking questions like these are among the many reasons why economists have never been very popular. They frustrate people's desires for emotionally satisfying explanations.

If corporate "greed" is the explanation for high gasoline prices, why are the government's taxes not an even bigger sign of "greed" on the part of politicians- since taxes add more to the price of gasoline than oil company profits do? Whatever the merits or demerits of Senator John McCain's proposal to temporarily suspend the federal taxes on gasoline, it would certainly lower the price more than confiscating all the oil companies' profits. But it would not be as emotionally satisfying.

Senator Barack Obama clearly understands people's emotional needs and how to meet them. He wants to raise taxes on oil companies. How that will get us more oil or lower the price of gasoline is a problem that can be left for economists to puzzle over. A politician's problem is how to get more votes- and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to be a hero who will save us from the villains.

You have heard of the cavalry to the rescue. But have you ever heard of economists to the rescue? While economists are talking supply and demand, politicians are talking compassion, "change" and being on the side of the angels- and against drilling for our own oil. Has any economist ever attracted the kinds of cheering crowds that Barack Obama has- or even the crowds attracted by Hillary Clinton or John McCain? If you want cheering crowds, don't bother to study economics. It will only hold you back. Tell people what they want to hear- and they don't want to hear about supply and demand.

No, supply and demand is not too "complex." It is just not very emotionally satisfying.



Over 90% of black Democrats support Obama. So, asks Cinque Henderson in a must-read New Republic article,
What the hell is up with that other 10 percent? Are they stupid? Do they hate their own race? Do they not understand the historical import of the moment? I can shed some insight on this demographic anomaly. In gatherings of black people, I'm invariably the only one for the Dragon Lady. I'll do my best to explain how those of us in the ever-shrinking minority of a minority came to our position.

And shed light he does! But before he even starts he lays his cards on the table:
I disliked Obama almost instantly. I never believed the central premises of his autobiography or his campaign. He is fueled by precisely the same brand of personal ambition as Bill Clinton. But, where Clinton is damned as "Slick Willie," Obama is hailed as a post-racial Messiah. Do I believe that Obama had this whole yes-we-can deal planned from age 16? No, I would respond. He began plotting it at age 22. This predisposition, of course, doesn't help me in making the case against Obama, especially not with black people. But, believe me, there's a strong case to be made that he isn't such a virtuous mediator of race. And it's this skepticism about Obama's racial posturing that has led us, the 10 percent, into dissent.

First, he doesn't like the fact that
Barack is the black person [white liberals] want the rest of us to be - half-white and loving, or "racially transcendent," as the press loves to call him. And, since picking a candidate makes you allies with his other supporters, why would I want to be allies with educated whites whose glorification of Barack depends in large part on their implicit denigration of the rest of us?

But he dislikes Obama for reasons that go far beyond the fact that white liberals like him. In fact, he writes, "once you stare past the radiant glow surrounding Obama and begin to study the exact reasons for his so-called racial transcendence, you can't help but conclude that it is mostly hokum."

Channeling Malcolm X
It is Obama's biography, we are told, that will govern his behavior. He was raised by a mother who supposedly didn't see color, so he doesn't see color. He was born into tolerance and multi-racial understanding, so he will practice tolerance and multi-racial understanding. Except, that is, when it's not useful to him....

It's worth remembering that the majority of blacks still think O.J. Simpson is innocent. And, in times like these, when a black man is out front in the public eye, black people feel both proud and vulnerable and, as a result, scour the earth for evidence of racists plotting to bring him down, like an advance team ready to sound an alarm. Barack needed only a gesture, a quick sneer or nod in the direction of the Clintons' hidden racism to avail himself of the twisted love that rescued O.J. and others like him and to smooth his path to victory, and, therefore, to salvage his candidacy. After Donna Brazile and James Clyburn started to cry racism, Barack was repeatedly asked his thoughts. He declined to answer, allowing the charge to grow for days (in sharp contrast to how he leapt to Joe Biden's defense a month earlier). But, while he remained silent about the allegations of racism, he gave speeches across South Carolina that warned against being "hoodwinked" and "bamboozled" by the Clintons. His use of the phrase is resonant. It comes from a scene in Malcolm X, where Denzel Washington warns black people about the hidden evils of "the White Man" masquerading as a smiling politician: "Every election year, these politicians are sent up here to pacify us," he says. "You've been hoodwinked. Bamboozled."

But all that is prelude, in my view, to his most powerful reason for resenting Obama, a reason that will be familiar to those of you who've been following my Obama threads here.
As the son of a Baptist minister, I can attest that Wright is and was an extreme aberration from how the overwhelming majority of black Christians worship. In church, black people hear about Peter, Paul, Mary, and how to get into heaven. How to forgive. How to love. Not how to vote.

But here was Barack suggesting that Wright's behavior was commonplace in black churches: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." He generalized Wright's ridiculousness to distract from his individual choice to worship under a buffoon for two decades. I have a cousin who attended Wright's church for three weeks and then left, never to return. She had no interest in hearing his nonsense from the pulpit.

Barack obscured the true nature of black religious life because, to do otherwise, he would have had to answer the question, "Why are you a member of a church that is this racially divisive and such a sharp aberration to how the rest of black people worship?" When Barack beautifully suggested that the beliefs pronounced from the pulpit of Trinity in Chicago are not uncommon, he was feeding us garbage. But Barack needed to protect his reputation as a race-healer and unifier, so he told a lie about black religious life to help keep the glow of his own reputation alive. And now the evidence suggests that Barack didn't, in the end, break with Wright over his outrageous racial claims, but over his suggestion that Barack is just a politician.

I've tried to say that several times, but for some reason I suspect the point will be more credible coming from a Hillary-supporting son of a black Baptist preacher. Indeed, the only think in this article I disagree with is its support for Hillary.


The Lessons of West Virginia

I suppose it is fitting that the news media and the super delegates are ignoring the significance of a thrashing of monumental proportions. After all, this campaign is being brought by to us by a media that gives new life to a traditional proverb satirist Jonathan Swift's once cited that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Swift may have been a product of the Enlightenment, but he anticipated the relationship that much of the modern media political narrative has to the concepts of reason and truth.

What I saw Tuesday that caused my eyes to go wide was Fox flashing exit polling results showing that while 63% of West Virginia Democrat primary voters found Hillary Clinton honest and trustworthy, less than half said the same of Barak Obama. While I find it mind boggling for any politician named Clinton to poll so well on the issue of honesty, it was equally startling how far voter perception may have shifted on Obama. In the hard fought campaigns in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in which Hillary ultimately won, Obama's supporters were quick to note that their man had prevailed in the character question in the exit polls, sometimes by an impressive margin. This, they said, certainly made him the best choice for the general election. Now that their man gets walloped by a Clinton on the question of who is the more honest and trustworthy their tune has changed. Now perceptions of honesty don't matter at all to voters.

At NRO, Jim Geraghty noted that Obama supporters are now insisting that there's an antipathy to Obama unique to white, working class voters across Appalachia that just isn't shared by their counterparts in the rest of the nation. Thus those West Virginia, western Virginia, East Tennessee, Southern Pennsylvania, Western North Carolina and (presumably) Eastern Kentucky voters who voted against Obama can all be safely ignored even though recent results have totally eviscerated the initial narrative that Obama's campaign transcends race, class and culture. So what if the facts show the only thing this race is about right now is identity politics based on race, class and culture? It's best for everyone that those facts get ignored. Clinton was expected to win West Virginia. She won so it means nothing to the narrative. Move on.

What an amazing way to run a campaign! Those who continue to consider Obama a great political candidate are not unaware that his voting record has moved further to the left each year that he has been in the U.S. Senate until he now stands to the left of all 99 of his colleagues. They just dismiss it as irrelevant. As the number of voting blocs finding serious flaws in the vision of Obama as a unifier continues to expand, it is amusing to hear the Obama media claque bleat even louder about his unique political skills on the one hand, as they dismiss voters who say they're just not comfortable with Obama's philosophy and his experience with the other. No appeal to working class whites in Appalachia? Big Deal. They're too stupid and racist to matter. Weak appeal to observant Catholics? Nobody cares about sexually uptight anti abortion zealots anyway. Jews voters are uneasy? They're Jews. Who cares to begin with? We don't need any of them.

So much for the big tent concept in this crowd. Should Puerto Rico go for Clinton, the political tent under construction by this claque is at risk of looking so small it might find itself marketed by Mattel as part of the Barbie Goes Camping ensemble. Their attitude is rapidly approaching that of why even count the votes anyway? America has been offered a compelling narrative supported by the people who really matter: Us few. We the smug. We the Obama-maniacs. And if you're not one of us, it must mean you are a racist. What a recruiting slogan!

As I observe much of the media coverage of this election I sometimes have to make sure I have not picked up a copy of Gulliver's Travels by mistake and am inside at the School for Political Projectors at the Academy at Lagado in Balnibarbi That's because much of the recent primary analysis in the media is laden with extravagant and irrational nonsense that our self-described political philosophers maintain as truth. Principal among such irrationality is the idea that a 40 point loss by the purported Democrat frontrunner in a state that was solidly Democrat until 2000 is irrelevant.

White working class voters in Appalachia are unimportant? To whom? They certainly were important to Al Gore. For the last eight years the Obama-maniacs have been blaming imaginary Republican dirty tricks in Florida for his defeat. In really it came at the hands of voters in West Virginia and Eastern Tennessee, states that Gore was an early favorite to win. The second part of the proverb Swift cited in his Polite Conversation applies here: The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.


Is Obama Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has an indicted, Syrian-born Chicago shyster named Tony Rezko for a financial mentor. He has a screwball, race-baiting, America-hating pastor named Jeremiah Wright for a spiritual mentor. He has an unrepentant domestic terrorist named William Ayers for a political mentor. And he has one of the angriest wives ever to aspire to the position of First Lady. Obama refuses to wear a flag lapel pin because he thinks it is more patriotic to criticize his country than to support it, or even to wear a symbol of its support. Obama thinks those of us out here in flyover country are all a bunch of bitter, gun-toting, Bible-thumping bigots furious at 'those who don't look like us.'

That really should be enough to sink this lightweight candidacy filled with vague language about 'hope' and 'change' - what George Will has called 'rhetorical cotton candy.' But wait. There's more. Just when we thought Obama had shot himself in the last foot he had available, he presents us with another gift.

On top lapelgate and pastorgate and bittergate, now comes stategate. It seems that the brilliant Barack Obama doesn't know how many states there are in our union. In an off-the-cuff statement you will not hear about on the nightly news, Obama declared that during his presidential campaign, he has visited 57 states. He also said that he has one more to visit: Alaska and Hawaii. I swear to you, that's what the man said. Here are his exact words: 'I've now been to 57 states'I have one more to go'they wouldn't let me go to Alaska and Hawaii.'

Now, try to imagine if John McCain - or any other Republican - had uttered such a stupid statement in public. Is there any doubt that person would have been pilloried and Dan Quayled for the remainder of this campaign? (At least when Quayle questioned the spelling of potato, he had some basis in fact for his inquiry: the plural of the word is 'potatoes' - with an 'e.') McCain is still being vilified for referring to Iran-supported terrorists in Iraq as al Qaida, as if the vast majority of Americans care about the distinction between a Sunni and a Shiite terrorist.

Entire books have been written about the gaffes of George W. Bush. He has been castigated for everything from his mispronunciation of the word 'nuclear' (he always says 'nucular') to his inability to communicate with the press. His mangled syntax has been regular fodder for the crew at 'Saturday Night Live' for his entire two terms in office. 'Misunderestimated' was always one of my personal favorites. But even the most misinformed American can tell you this country has 50 states, having learned that information in what? Kindergarten?

But fear not, Obama supporters; excuses will be made by the mainstream media. 'He was tired,' we will be told, or 'he misspoke.' And they will only tell you that if they are forced to report on the matter at all. The New York Times (and most other major newspapers), CNN, ABC, CBS, tax-supported PBS and especially NBC are so pro-Obama it is downright embarrassing, and make no mistake, they will continue to circle the wagons around this guy, just as they have done throughout this campaign.

Perhaps Obama should be a contestant on Fox's 'Are you smarter than a 5th grader?' Or maybe Jay Leno could interview him out on Hollywood Boulevard as part of his Tonight Show 'Jay Walking' segment. How many of our states have you been to, Senator Obama? Fifty-seven? That's very impressive. I hope you get the chance to see the other one. Or is it two?



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