Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Obama We Don't Know

With Barack Obama clinching the Democratic Party nomination, it is worth noting what an extraordinary moment this is. Democrats are nominating a freshman Senator barely three years out of the Illinois legislature whom most of America still hardly knows. The polls say he is the odds-on favorite to become our next President.

Think about this in historical context. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were relatively unknown, but both had at least been prominent Governors. John Kerry, Walter Mondale, Al Gore and even George McGovern were all long-time Washington figures. Republican nominees tend to be even more familiar, for better or worse. In Mr. Obama, Democrats are taking a leap of faith that is daring even by their risky standards.

No doubt this is part of his enormous appeal. Amid public anger over politics as usual, the Illinois Senator is unhaunted by Beltway experience. His personal story - of mixed race, and up from nowhere through Harvard - resonates in an America where the two most popular cultural icons are Tiger Woods and Oprah. His political gifts are formidable, especially his ability to connect with audiences from the platform.

Above all, Mr. Obama has fashioned a message that fits the political moment and the public's desire for "change." At his best, he offers Americans tired of war and political rancor the promise of fresh national unity and purpose. Young people in particular are taken by it. But more than a few Republicans are also drawn to this "postpartisan" vision.

Mr. Obama has also shown great skill in running his campaign. No one - including us - gave him much chance of defeating the Clinton machine. No doubt he benefited from the desire of even many Democrats to impeach the polarizing Clinton era. But he also beat Hillary and Bill at their own game. He raised more money, and he outworked them in the small-state caucuses that provided him with his narrow delegate margin. Even now, he is far better organized in swing states than is John McCain's campaign. All of this speaks well of his preparation for November, and perhaps for his potential to govern.

Yet govern how and to what end? This is the Obama Americans don't know. For all of his inspiring rhetoric about bipartisanship, his voting record is among the most partisan in the Senate. His policy agenda is conventionally liberal across the board - more so than Hillary Clinton's, and more so than that of any Democratic nominee since 1968.

We can't find a single issue on which Mr. Obama has broken with his party's left-wing interest groups. Early on he gave a bow to merit pay for teachers, but that quickly sank beneath the waves of new money he wants to spend on the same broken public schools. He takes the Teamsters line against free trade, to the point of unilaterally rewriting Nafta. He wants to raise taxes even above the levels of the Clinton era, including a huge increase in the payroll tax. Perhaps now Mr. Obama will tack to the center, but somehow he will have to explain why the "change" he's proposing isn't merely more of the same, circa 1965.

There is also the matter of judgment, and the roots of his political character. We were among those inclined at first to downplay his association with the Trinity United Church. But Mr. Obama's handling of the episode has raised doubts about his candor and convictions. He has by stages moved from denying that his 20-year attendance was an issue at all; to denying he'd heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary remarks; to criticizing certain of those remarks while praising Rev. Wright himself; to repudiating the words and the reverend; and finally this weekend to leaving the church.

Most disingenuously, he said on Saturday that the entire issue caught him by surprise. Yet he was aware enough of the political risk that he kept Rev. Wright off the stage during his announcement speech more than a year ago.

A 2004 Chicago Sun-Times interview with Mr. Obama mentioned three men as his religious guides. One was Rev. Wright. Another was Father Michael Pfleger, the Louis Farrakhan ally whose recent remarks caused Mr. Obama to resign from Trinity, but for whose Chicago church Mr. Obama channeled at least $225,000 in grants as a state senator. Until recently, the priest was connected to the campaign, which flew him to Iowa to host an interfaith forum. Father Pfleger's testimony for the candidate has since been scrubbed from Mr. Obama's campaign Web site. A third mentor was Illinois state Senator James Meeks, another Chicago pastor who has generated controversy for mixing pulpit and politics.

The point is not that Mr. Obama now shares the radical views of these men. The concern is that by the Senator's own admission they have been major moral influences, and their views are starkly at odds with the candidate's vision as a transracial peacemaker. Their patronage was also useful as Mr. Obama was making his way in Chicago politics. But only now, in the glare of a national campaign, is he distancing himself from them. The question is what in fact Mr. Obama does believe.

The young Senator has been a supernova exploding into our politics, more phenomenon than conventional candidate. His achievement in winning the Democratic nomination has been impressive. Now comes a harder audience. The presidency has to be earned, and Americans have a right to know much more about the gifted man who is the least tested and experienced major party nominee in modern times.


Will Obama "pivot" on Iraq?

Like most Democrats, he believes in nothing, so it could happen

We're not talking about the Democratic Primaries but Iraq. Andrew Sullivan thinks the Surge is working, here's what he says, courtesy of Classical Values, who has some additional thoughts. But the Sullivan quote is:
Petraeus deserves the lion's share of the credit; luck and time and the self-defeating nihilism of the Jihadists have helped. But Bush and McCain equally merit points for pursuing the surge, even though the metrics pointed to failure. Obama needs to capitalize on these gains, not dismiss them.

Sullivan forgot Odierno who is said to have contributed a great deal to the operationa. aspects of the surge. And he forgot a lot of others, who supported it when the conventional wisdom was that Iraq was lost. The Mudville Gazette, for example, exemplified the virtues of seeing a thing for what it is; based on a sound appreciation of actual events. But the important things in politics aren't the facts, but the fads. Classical Values is right on the money in predicting that when he's convinced which way the wind blows, Obama won't be far behind in "pivoting" on Iraq.
Now what about Obama? Boy, is the Good Judgement ManT ever in trouble. He has been talking defeat in Iraq since forever. Whoops. McCain on the other hand has the distinction that, despite the unpopularity of his position, he was right. I predict a pivot - "I never knew how really vile those jihadis were. And I repudiate them for their obvious misjudgment. I have always been in favor of good relations with the Government of Iraq and no Republican is going to stand in the way of my achieving that goal. There are a number of companies in Chicago that would be excellent help in the effort to rebuild Iraq and they will have all my support." Aside to staff: " &#(*^@!~& Axelrod, where are my G-d Damn Tickets to Iraq?"

This prediction is very probably on the money. After all, if Obama can "pivot" on Jeremiah Wright, why not Iraq? Not only will victory in Iraq be underhandedly acknowledged by people like Obama, they will claim credit for it. The probably line of argument will be "Bush changed his strategy in response to our pressure", etc, etc.

Victory has many fathers. Defeat is an orphan. And history is infinitely malleable. One Bolshevik propagandist illustrated the peculiar relationship of facts to time when he replied to the question of "what happened yesterday?" with the answer that "we haven't decided yet." I think the press has decided that al-Qaeda is not going to win in Iraq; the only question now is how to apportion the credit.


Obama has done a switch on Israel

Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of the online Pro-Palestinian publication The Electronic Intifada and the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Here is part of the transcript from the interview with Democracy Now from January

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, I wanted to ask you about the candidates in the United States. You're speaking to us from Chicago, so let's start with Barack Obama. The stances of the presidential Democratic and Republican candidates on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I can't remember when in a debate they were asked about the mounting crisis there.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I don't know if they've been asked in a debate, but whenever they have been asked, they have all gone out of their way to express full support for what Israel is doing. Barack Obama is not distinguished from the rest of the pack, except by for how far he has moved to try to appease AIPAC and pro-Israel movements.

I remember, Amy-I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator-when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time.

I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that's just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation. And just yesterday, he apparently sent a letter to Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador at the UN, to urge the US not to allow any resolution to pass criticizing Israel and saying how Israel was forced to impose this barbaric medieval siege on Israel.

None of the other candidates in the mainstream have spoken out for Palestinian rights. The only ones who have taken forceful positions opposing the current US strategy are Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic side and Ron Paul on the Republican side. The mainstream are all perfectly comfortable with the war crimes that Israel is committing, no matter how much they talk about human rights elsewhere.


Some Jews are seeing the light

Obama getting only 61% of the Jewish vote -- down from over 80% for the Democrats in 2006

BARACK Obama will seek to assuage fears overnight about his foreign policy by addressing America's powerful Jewish lobby - where John McCain yesterday hammered home a warning that his likely Democratic opponent threatened Israel's security.

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, the Republican nominee-in-waiting expressed disgust for Senator Obama's declared willingness to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran without preconditions. "It's hard to see what such a summit would gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks about starting another," Senator McCain said. He said Senator Obama's plan for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would "result in a catastrophe" and a potential terrorist sanctuary in the heart of the Middle East. This "would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends".

The sensitivity of the Obama campaign to such charges was reflected in the 3835-word rebuttal it issued even before Senator McCain had finished speaking. It pointed out that Senator Obama had sponsored a sanctions bill against Iran and emphasised that he would consult military commanders on the withdrawal from Iraq.

Although the Jewish vote in the US is relatively small, Democrats have relied on it in key swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. Christian evangelicals - who represent a huge slice of the electorate - are also fervently pro-Israel.

Yesterday, Senator Obama's aides circulated recent polling that showed he led Senator McCain among Jewish voters by a margin of 61 to 32 per cent.

Senator Obama has been dogged by claims his position on holding talks with Iran reflects a broader view - expressed openly by some of his past associates - that Israel is responsible for much of the Middle East's problems.

The campaign recently and swiftly severed links with Robert Malley, one of its informal advisers, after it was disclosed he had been in contact with the Palestinian organisation Hamas, listed by the US State Department as a terrorist group. It also distanced Senator Obama from former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has been sharply critical ofIsrael and similarly has called for the US to have direct contact with Hamas. Last year, Senator Obama praised Mr Brzezinski as someone "I've learnt an immense amount from". Yesterday, an Obama spokesman described Mr Brzezinski as a "supporter" who was not and had never been an adviser.

The campaign office refused to comment on allegations in right-wing blogs that Senator Obama has employed a number of Nation of Islam members. Under federal civil-rights law, it was illegal to ask staff about their religion, the spokesman said. Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League say the Nation of Islam, founded by Louis Farrakhan, is less of a religion than a vehicle for anti-Semitic hatred. Senator Obama has been at pains to emphasise he has "always denounced the abhorrent anti-Semitic views of Louis Farrakhan".

Lee Rosenberg, a member of AIPAC's national board, said: "I've known Barack Obama for eight years. Throughout that experience, including travels together to Israel, he has always been a friend of Israel." He suggested suspicion of Senator Obama among some Jewish groups was because "people don't know him properly yet". In such a climate it is significant that Senator Obama's foreign policy adviser, Tony Lake, has recently chosen to disclose his conversion to Judaism.

In an interview last month, Senator Obama made yet another effort to explain why Israel would not be hurt by any negotiations he had with its traditional enemies. "I welcome the Muslim world's accurate perception that I am interested in opening up dialogue and moving away from the unilateral policies of George Bush," he said. "But nobody should mistake that for a softer stance when it comes to terrorism or protecting Israel's security."

The Republican National Committee is circulating damaging quotes from Senator Obama. These include comments such as "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" and an apparent failure to remember that Israel is among the US's closest allies, as well as a suggestion that the violence of Hezbollah and Hamas "weakens their legitimate claims".


McCain camp believes the Obama candidacy is a blessing

That Sen. Barack Obama limped through the final Democratic primaries, unexpectedly losing to Sen. Hillary Clinton in South Dakota Tuesday after being trounced in Puerto Rico Sunday, is reason for hope by dispirited Republicans. Reversing their earlier judgment, Sen. John McCain's strategists now feel that Obama is a weaker Democratic nominee than Clinton would have been. McCain's tactics change now that Obama is his opponent.

Since clinching the Republican nomination two months ago, McCain has concentrated on consolidating his shaky party and ideological base -- with limited success. Even though McCain is the best Republican bet in a bleak year for the GOP, he generates little enthusiasm from the party faithful. The Republican right is downright hostile.

Knowing he never can fully win over conservatives, McCain began Tuesday night to zero in on Obama. As Obama, following the last two primaries, basked in his improbable victory over Clinton, McCain at a party rally in Kenner, La., launched an attack that will be familiar in the weeks to come. He painted Obama as inexperienced and wedded to failed policies of the past.

McCain strategists long have recognized that Obama's principal thrust against him will be to depict him as seeking the third term of the unpopular George W. Bush. He separated himself from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney so thoroughly that his Republican audience listened in shocked silence.

McCain demonstrated Tuesday he will do what losing Democratic candidates have failed to do: openly criticize the unpopular incumbent president of their party (Adlai Stevenson regarding Harry Truman in 1952, Hubert Humphrey regarding Lyndon Johnson in 1968). McCain even assailed Obama for supporting an energy bill blessed by Bush that McCain opposed.

The problem viewed by McCain strategists as their second most difficult is his age -- the prospect of a 71-year-old man against a 46-year-old. He dealt with that only in passing Tuesday night, asking why so young a man would embrace such old ideas. But he has not yet decided whether to take the most dramatic -- and irretrievable -- step of promising to serve only one term as president.

McCain's campaign managers believe that Obama clinching the nomination will give him a bump in the polls, amounting to a lead of at least six or seven points. McCain's response will be to slash away at Obama and his issues.


Rev. Pfleger As A Modern John Brown

Post below recycled from Discriminations. See the original for links

I was tempted to describe Mary Mitchell as a Chicago Sun Times columnist who sees Barack Obama as the Second Coming, but upon re-reading her column today it strikes me that she may well see him as the First.

Her heart goes out to the eight thousand congregants of Rev. Wright's Trinity United, not because of anything they are subjected to inside the church but because they are "hostages" to the mean, "fearmongering" politics on the outside. Indeed, she sees nothing inside the church but people, "just like other people, [who] go to church looking for comfort," but as result of ugly politics" - all of which is directed at the 8000 hostages from outside - "the sanctity of Trinity has been trampled."

Mitchell, in short, writes in solidarity with those "Trinitarians [who] jumped to their feet hooting and hollering" in response to Rev. Pfleger et. al., and she bitterly resents the fact that "Obama has repeatedly been forced to cut ties with black leaders by people who are exploiting white fears...." She does, however, get one thing about right.
In the footsteps of John Brown

Pfleger, who has raised holy hell about racist policies, including those fostered by churches under the umbrella of the archdiocese, has been a modern-day John Brown. For those who are fuzzy about history, in 1859, Brown was the white abolitionist who led an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, trying to arm blacks for an assault on slaveholders.

They were stopped before carrying out the plan, but the insurrection put the South on notice that there were abolitionists willing to wage fierce battle to end slavery in America.

Although no one proposes that Pfleger be hung as a traitor, as John Brown was, this comparison is more apt than Mitchell suspects. In his zeal to free the slaves by arming them with weapons to be captured at Harpers Ferry, Brown was actually responsible for the deaths of several.
Initially, the raid went well, and they met no resistance entering the town. They cut the telegraph wires and easily captured the armory, which was being defended by a single watchman. They next rounded up hostages from nearby farms, including Colonel Lewis Washington, great-grand-nephew of George Washington. They also spread the news to the local slaves that their liberation was at hand. Things started to go wrong when an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train approached the town. The train's baggage master tried to warn the passengers. Brown's men yelled for him to halt and then opened fire. The baggage master, Hayward Shepherd, became the first casualty of John Brown's war against slavery. Ironically, Shepherd was a free black man. Two of the hostages' slaves also died in the raid.

That Brown's raid would result in additional victimization of the victims of slavery was not ironical at all, but entirely predictable. In fact it was predicted by Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist.
In late August he met with Douglass in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he revealed the Harpers Ferry plan. Douglass expressed severe reservations, rebuffing Brown's pleas to join the mission. Douglass had actually known about Brown's plans from early in 1859 and had made a number of efforts to discourage blacks from enlisting.

Both Brown and, if Ms. Mitchell is to be believed, his modern counterpart, Rev. Pfleger, were honest and up front about their radicalism. In that regard they are actually more appealing Obama, who has so far succeeded in disguising his.

Obama's success to date in keeping his radicalism under wraps will be severely compromised by anyone who reads Stanley Kurtz's explosive expos‚ on NRO. Almost everyone who comments on Obama's Trinity problem goes out of his or her way to emphasize that no one really suspects Obama himself shares Wright's or Pfleger's views. Drawing on an underappreciated profile of Obama that appeared in 1995, Kurtz does more than suspect. Read it.


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