Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

I thought Dick Morris and Charles Hurt had interesting things to say on last night’s election results.  Gay marriage lost in Maine, which suggests the momentum of this judge-and-elite-driven social change may be losing steam. Republicans won the governorship of Virginia, which is an Obama swing state and the home of a long stretch of DC suburbs, by a whopping 18%. The economy and a lack of confidence in Obama’s leadership I presume were important factors.

I think this just confirms what I already suspected. While Obama excited many people, much of his support was thin, driven more by personality, the projection of hopes of improved race relations, and concern for McCain’s erratic character and politics. Further, Obama has deviated from what he promised to be: a pragmatic and moderate “uniter.”

This series of interrelated outcomes should not be terribly surprising. The media did a lot to conceal Obama’s past, including playing along with his “et tu Brute” take on his long-time minister. The media basically suppressed the Bill Ayers’ controversy. And the media hardly noticed that Obama and his staff all cut their teeth in the nihilistic world of Chicago politics, where the name of the game was ethnic spoils and power more than idealism. To the extent there was idealism in this town, it was the socialist idealism so common in Hyde Park. People outside of the University of Chicago don’t realize that it’s as liberal and conventional a university town as any other and that the conservatives and Milton Friedman types all knew each other and could fit inside the Home Room of the International House, where we occasionally met. Everyone else was your basic extreme “progressive” and books about transgenderism and “Bombing the Suburbs” and support for gun control and other un-American ideas were common fare in the ‘hood.

Obama is an extreme liberal whose agenda is increasingly unpopular and who has implemented plans–such as the stimulus–that are not working. The recent elections and next years’ congressional elections are, in effect, referenda on Obamanism and its results. The best case scenario would be his and his liberalism’s thorough discreditment, though the incoherence and unwillingess to make tough choices by the American electorate will likely give it a new lease on life regardless of what happens in 2010 or 2012.  Austerity doesn’t sell for very long.  If Republicans are fighting for immigration amnesty, democratizing Iraq, overly generous Medicare, and other unsustainable subsidies, it hardly bodes well for the leave-me-alone coalition.

Democracies are inherently unstable and inimical to liberty in the long run, as William Lecky observed so well over 100 years ago.

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In much of America, if Karl Marx is known at all, he’s considered a bad person:  the intellectual grandfather of Communism and an enemy of organized religion, and thus an opponent of the traditional American way of life. 

This is not so everywhere, such as on elite college campuses or Obama’s Trinity Church (with its unique take on liberation theology), nor in the community organizing circles where Obama spent much of his young adulthood.  There’s a reason that former Weather Underground terrorists are employed as academics.  Marx is popular there, as is his disregard for “individualized justice” as a bourgeois anachronism.  Power to the people!

It’s more than a little bit amusing to see Joe Biden and others work so hard to ridicule the very suggestion that Obama’s program might have something in common with the ideas of Karl Marx.  Indeed, what else would Obama’s promised economic redistributionism be other than a Fabian-Trotskyite strategy of transforming a capitalist society?

Andrew Sullivan quite remarkably argues that Obama’s early 2000s radio interview discussing the Warren Court shows that Obama is in fact a conservative decrying judicial activism.  Even allowing some correction for Sullivan’s hero-worship of Obama, this is quite a stretch. If you admit the possibility that intelligent people might be extremely liberal–even socialists–then it’s clear that Obama wasn’t saying anything conservative.  Only the results-oriented prejudice that Obama can’t be that liberal compels Sullivan, Biden, and others to dissemble on Obama’s behalf. 

Obama was quite clearly saying that the notoriously activist Warren Court was, in fact, not activist enough.  He was making a descriptive statement.  He thinks it missed the boat by not also recognizing so-called positive rights, such as the right to a job, healthcare, a share of national wealth, etc.  University of Chicago liberal Mortimer Adler said something very similar in Six Great Ideas, which was basically a Great Books defense of democratic socialism, and this idea was very current among legal academics at this time.

Since the Courts would not go down this road, Obama thinks the civil rights movement should have shifted its focus onto the legislative and presidential branches.  Obama never says the Warren Court was right not to make such rulings . . . simply that it didn’t.  Procedural niceties are of little moment when “economic justice” is on the line.  Obama’s pursuit of the presidency is the fulfillment of Obama’s judgment about the strategic mistakes of the 1960s-era civil rights movement.

His discussion of community organizing at the end of his earlier interview is hardly a lament for the absence of a vibrant civil society, that is, a saccharine suggestions that blacks and whites should have formed Boy Scout Troops and midnight basketball leagues and other grass-roots approaches to supporting vulnerable, impoverished families.  It’s a lament that the civil rights movement was content with, well, civil rights.  Obama recognizes that in the last 40 years, that is after Jim Crow and other ugly and un-Christian impositions on people’s lives and livelihoods were taken away, many blacks were content to get on with their lives, achieving the American dream of upward mobility. The whole point of community organizing is to stop this process and keep people mad, to get communities riled up to seek money and power through the government, and to prevent disunity. It’s designed to coalitions among the “dispossessed” across economic, racial, and other lines to prevent economic attrition of natural leaders by their movement into the more conformist and less alienated suburbs.

It is this “contentment” and movement to the suburbs–i.e. the traditional American dream–that Rev. Jeremiah Wright condemns so forcefully.  Just to give a sense of time and place, when I was in Chicago in the 90s, a popular poster said, “Bomb the Suburbs.”  To Rev. Wright, and apparently to Obama, the civil rights movement is not over until the government is yoked and directed by community organizers and their agitated constituencies.  The conservative criticism that the welfare state rewards idleness, promotes poor decision-making, and stifles economic growth is largely absent from Obama’s worldview.  Indeed, it is this system of rewards and punishments and “trickle down economics” that is the problem to him and others of his far left ideological worldview.  The traditional capitalist way is, for them, unjust, unfair, ridden with corruption, “institutionally” racist, and leads to “false consciousness” even where it seems to succeed.

The whole point of Obama and his One America rhetoric is to get everyone united over the transformational power of fleecing the rich . . . this, a group that will soon have to be defined very expansively to achieve Obama’s ambitious agenda.

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Lawrence Auster has a good piece on Obama that discusses the pros and cons of his election, which the chief positive being that he would focus conservatives and purify our beliefs, something I argued in May. I still believe this would happen, and it would happen in a particularly healthy way: his overreach, enabled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, could revive our respect for limited government and the traditional criticisms of the welfare state, remind us of our latent wariness of foreign adventures, and hopefully degrade the health of political correctness and taboos on race and immigration. The latter is particularly important, and would depend upon his policies revealing themselves (as they have been his entire career) to be narrowly tribal and tinged with the rhetoric of class warfare rather than unifying in any normal sense of the term. Arguably, this radicalization was the effect of the Carter Administration, which functioned as a capstone of the craziness of the 1970s. Only after that long and dark decade could Reagan explicitly attack the pro-government, pro-welfare, anti-defense, and anti-American foundations of much of contemporary liberalism. In other words, the times created Reagan as much as he responded to the times; only really tough times made worse by Obama’s policies could revive a healthy conservative political voice in American life. Continuing with the faux conservatism of Bush or McCain, which is in fact populist militarism, would discredit conservatism on many fronts: this approach does not work, it is not responsible, it causes too many conservatives to compromise on their core principles, and such policies, by rejecting free markets and replacing them with managed corporate welfare, does not command the respect of the vast majority of natural conservatives among small businessmen, folks that take pride in self-sufficiency, and the “leave us alone” coalition in general.

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I think this is a useful observation by Mark Thornton over at the Mises blog:

On top of all that, people suffer psychological consequences as well. The people most involved in the bubble are confident, jubilant, and self-assured by their apparently successful decision making. When the bubble bursts they lose confidence, go into despair and lose confidence in their decision making. In fact, they lose confidence in the “system,” which means they lose confidence in capitalism and become susceptible to new political “reforms” that offer structure and security in exchange for some of their autonomy and freedoms.

In this manner, great nations of people have given away their liberties in exchange for security. The Russians submitted to Communism and the Germans submitted to National Socialism because of economic chaos. In 20th century America, economic crises–and fear more generally–provided the justification for the adoption of “reforms” such as a central bank (i.e. the Federal Reserve), the New Deal, the Cold War, and even fiat money during the economic crisis of the early 1970s. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a massive transfer of power to government at the expense of individual liberty. Submission of liberty and individual autonomy in exchange for security and the “greater good” is now often referred to as choosing the dark side.

The reason economic crises create fear and submission of liberty is that people do not generally know what caused the bust or economic crisis and generally do not even know that there was even a bubble in the first place. In fact, as the bubble is bursting many people will deny that there is a problem and believe that the whole situation will quickly return to what they consider normal. The average citizen thinks very little about what makes the economy work, but simply accepts the system for what it is, and tries to make the most of it.

People want practical goods from government and from the economy: predictable laws, a job, safety, order, and prosperity. The government’s failure to provide those things (or the conditions for them) as a consequence of its own mistakes–subsidizing housing and lending with loose money for over a decade–does not lead most people to demand that government steps back. Instead, its apparent power is intoxicating. Our intimate familiarity with this power and an ignorance of the ways it leads economies astray leads for calls for new, radical expansions of government.

Politicians (including the politicians at the Fed and the Treasury) willingly oblige, and the voices of restraint are labeled as special interests, reactionaries, or worse. People are becoming desperate, particularly as we have become less self-reliant and more dependent on cheap credit than in the past. Combined with ignorance of the business cycle and a misplaced trust in government, we’ve seen the Federal Reserve and treasury step into uncharted waters like unsecured short-term commercial credit, ownership stakes in banks, and huge bailouts of the least necessary players in the investment world, i.e., Bear Stearns.

Isn’t it comforting to know that in this fertile soil we will soon make a choice between a pompous socialist with a cult of personality on one side of the ballot and a guy with little respect for the private sector who yearns to unify the people through soul-purifying historical change on the other?

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Barack Obama, like so many demagogues with a surrounding cult of personality, is now taking things surprisingly far, particularly as he has not yet won this election. He has enlisted law enforcement in Missouri to create a Barack Obama truth squad who will prosecute anyone who “lies” about Obama. The civil law of defamation and slander is apparently not enough for him, nor is it enough apparently for the Missouri law enforcement folks to at least give themselves a neutral label.

Obama is already in a bit of hot water for having his associates inundate news and radio outlets that host critics of Obama on the air, as if news is obligated not to criticize him.

This guy’s arrogance nearly cost him the primary. Middle of the road, working class, and elderly voters seem less impressed than young people and educated white liberals by his smooth talking schtick, seeing instead a guy with few accomplishments and a very exaggerrated sense of entitlement. (By way of example, in his debates with McCain, he said “As President” several times, rather than “if I’m given the privilege to be President . . .”)

This is actually scary stuff. Liberals have spent the last four years making both reasonable and unreasonable criticisms of the expansion of presidential power through items such as the Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness project. Coupled with McCain-Feingold, Presidential power can easily be abused to alter an election. It’s something Bush has not done, to his credit. But can the Chicago machine politician wrapped up in the labeling of an ethical reformer promise the same? It’s hard to imagine this cynical guy who attached himself to some of the most unsavory people around–Tony Rezko, Jeremiath Wright, Bill Ayers–in a city famous for its corruption would not abuse presidential power in the form of various degrees of censorship for the narrow purpose of helping himself and his associates.

Political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections. It has long been safe from “prior restraint” and surrounded with broad protections, particularly in debatable questions of opinion and mixed questions of opinion and fact. It appears some overzelaous law enforcement perssonnel are going to shield Obama from the most anodyne criticisms under the rubric of combatting lies. Historically, the good sense of the American people, the news media, and the campaigns themselves performed this function.

What now will happen when people say Obama has associated with terrorists (he has) or visited Pakistan as a young man (he did) or went to a church that spewed anti-American hatred for twenty years (he did that too). Will these facts be labeled lies? Will the zealousness of his enthralled supporters undermine one of the most important American rights in the name of combatting hate and rumors? Obama’s rhetoric is the language of censorship nearly everywhere: it’s always cited as necessary to stop corruption and agitation. It’s the language of Huge Chavez and Valdimir Lenin alike.

Bush’s exercises of power are subject to a great deal of skepticism and media criticism, as well as resistance from his own party. This is overall a good thing. Who, however, will resist Obama when his favorite charge–racism–will be levied so promiscuously at those frail creatures of the media and the cultural elite, and elite which is easily stopped in its tracks by the very suggestion?

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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence.  She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism. 

Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks.  They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires.  Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain.  I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book:  that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances.  For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.

I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.”  I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.

That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it.  Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals.  Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.

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McCain often identifies America’s problems in moral terms as opposed to ideological differences on policy. Is this really the root of political friction? Liberals of good will justify most of their proposed impositions on the market economy with the same language of community, sacrifice, and public spiritedness. For them and McCain too, America is a cause and a project, not just a place, a people, and an extended family. McCain’s defenses of free markets and limited government stand uneasily alongside rhetoric like this:

We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington.

The — the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause. It’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not for you. . . .

Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier, because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

This rhetoric is reminiscent of Ross Perot’s. He was a similarly self-confident figure and an old-fashioned patriot who thought our policy differences could be easily resolved if only people of would abandon their blinders of self-interest. This is a natural enough instinct about personal vocation from McCain, whose entire life has involved government service, including honorable service in the military. But as a diagnosis of what’s wrong with our politics and how to solve them, this formulation seems wrong.

Bush, Clinton, and McCain’s triangulation obscures that there are deep disagreements since the 1960s about core values on issues ranging from free trade and abortion to immigration and the Iraq War. People’s disagreements on these issues, as often as not, do not flow from narrow self-interest so much as disagreements about policy, history, identity, and priorities. After all, self-interest is not why white males like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden support affirmative action or massive destruction of our economy to combat the alleged crisis of global warming.

McCain’s rhetoric, in spite of its superficially unifying character, invites greater conflict and acrimony. His confidence in his own pure motives and the call of history invites crude put-downs of his opponents, which he has indulged in repeatedly, as if folks what want to keep America’s population and demographics stable for cultural reasons are merely a selfish faction.

It’s true, the Democratic Party’s rhetoric often invites narrow self interest: join us and take money from the rich people! But Republican rhetoric does in some respects too: you should keep your money and do what you want with it. It’s better kept with you than the government. While pork barrel spending offends McCain’s sense of national interest, large and expensive government projects, such as “transforming the Middle East” or “defending democracy in Georgia,” do not. He seems a bit blind to the ways even well-meaning government programs can harm our collective interest in being able to pursue our individual goals, plans, and concerns. He also seems not to realize that one man’s pork barrel interest is another’s necessary local project to benefit “his community.” In other words, McCain’s lack of principled conservatism leads to a kind of dissonance in policy and does not equip him to resist calls for grand historical government projects that are exceedingly expensive. Prosaic, but necessary, big cuts in spending on entitlement programs do not appeal to his sense of grandeur and historical mission. For example, nothing in McCain’s view of the world would find anything wrong with the New Deal or the Great Society.

An authentic conservative political vision must acknowledge a few things about our times. While government is not the only problem, it is an impediment. The government has become too big, and its goals are often hostile to civil society’s institutions like private enterprise, religion, and the traditional family. Government is out of control only partly for reasons of narrow self-interest. Indeed, grand altruistic projects based in the “selfless” goal of equality like social security and Medicare cannot be easily reigned in through rooting out corruption. Their problems are structural; we need to make tough choices about priorities and spending and the purpose of government, and those tough choices will require shrinking government rather than expanding its commitments in the name of concern for the public good. McCain’s shown little appreciation for these difficulties the redistributionist agenda imposes on the private sector, partly, no doubt, because he is completely insulated from economic worries and the suffocating impact of taxes and regulation. Finally, in our ethnic politics, everyone is playing by the rules of power and self-interest except for whites.  What, after all, is the meaning of groups like the National Council of La Raza or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  McCain, however, to show his own bona fides is silent on affirmative action and repeatedly supports massive amnesty as a grand historical gesture.  Unfortunately, amnesty and continued mass immigration will an opening for greater disunity and stress our over-generous welfare state and public health resources.  The diminution of America’s traditional majority and leadership class will ultimately lead to a cruder, more Balkanized ethnic politics that we see in corruption-ridden places like Los Angeles and Chicago.  If McCain truly cared about America and could somehow connect the dots, he’d realize that keeping this country populated with native-born Americans is part of the formula for having the kind of national political culture he desires.

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The inveterate muck-raking of Sara Palin’s daughter’s personal life, particularly her unremarkable decision at 17 to have a baby and marry the father, is that it is not about her or her daughter.  Instead, it’s supposed to be a sign of McCain’s reckless decision-making and an implication that other skeleton’s lurk int he closet. 

That may be true for some, but that’s just a ruse.  It’s a cover, an alibi.  It’s obvious the collision of an evangelical Republican woman and her family’s ordinary problems is supposed to make us all despair.  No one’s good! Everyone’s a hypocrite! It’s like the thin tissue of relevance surrounding the Jon Benet Ramsey killing. In that case, we were all invited by the media to look in horror at her over-sexualized beauty contest performances.  The media claim they show us these images to demonstrate their awfulness and as part of the story.  But then they repeat the glamour shots ad nauseum. 

McCain should be judged on his merits.  If he rushed to pick her that should not be a surprise. This guy rushes to antagonize Russia, rarely knows the facts of any important issue, and is a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy.  He always has been. This is not news.  This is part of his appeal to some.

But even if he discovered Palin’s daughter was pregnant, should that have disqualified her?  Should he have not nominated her?  Hardly.  The Left’s cynicism and despair are a far cry from the moral realism of social conservatives, who are well aware that stuff happens, kids get pregnant, and that it’s far more admirable in this day and age to allow that unexpected child to live than to abort it, as Obama has implied he’d encourage his daughters in a similar situation. 

Palin’s daughter’s human weaknesses are far less of a commentary on either her or her mom’s character, whereas Obama’s admission that he’d encourage his daughters to have an abortion rather than be “punsihed witha  baby” shows him to be a callous, overly image-conscous human being. 

This will backfire on the Democrats.  There may be other legitimate concerns about Palin, such as her flirtation with the Alaska secessionist movement.  But things like her husband’s 20 year old DUI or her daughter’s pregnancy will only make the Left look mean-spirited and judgmental, traints which they project upon evangelicals without understanding in the least the basic vibe of Christian churches, which is very much the opposite.  Tales of lives gotten off track are not new to such people; any set-back is rightly seen in today’s Christian churches chiefly as an opportunity to get back on track and honor God going-forward.

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I watched it.  His pseudo-soaring rhetoric is getting on my nerves.  This empty vessel talk of the “promise of America” sadly may fly with the Oprah generation. I mean, how can anyone say, “Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us,” with a straight face?  This talk, however, certainly inspires the Democratic Party’s odd coalition of cynics, pacifists, layabouts, black racists, and meaning-starved atheists.  In the end, I thought his speech a somewhat clumsy collection of meaningless cliches, partisan anger, completely vague proposals, magical thinking (such as “energy independence”), and lack of clarity about the core issue of one’s view of our times and our recent past, that is whether this country is totally messed up or basically healthy and just needs a good president.

Will this speech play well with independents?  Perhaps.  Nonetheless, in spite of the fog created by the Bush administration, I had the old Republican mantra asserting itself throughout:  How in the hell do you plan to pay for all this bulls**t?  I think a lot of independents will be thinking the same thing.  The speech was conventional big-government semi-socialist spending proposals.  We’ll save on Iraq only to give it away to welfare queens, connected agribusinesses, and a whole host of new government workers.  This is not a formula for austerity, nor is it a particularly serious response to problems like Social Security insolvency, the weak dollar, the debt, or much else.  I also think his foreign policy talk, abandoning Iraq to focus on Afghanistan makes sense superficially, but if nation-building does not work in Iraq, why Afghanistan?  If al Qaeda is in 80 countries, why is putting so many resources into a manhunt for an essentially ineffective fugitive in Osama bin Laden the best use of resources?  And when was this magical era when the US was respected, I wonder?  Was it during the 90s when Europe cajoled us for our inaction in Bosnia?  In the 60s, when we undertook the Vietnam War?  His use of history is, frankly, utterly cynical and manipulative.

Finally, I think the stadium and the visuals–including Doric columns!–was a bit much.  It had a fascist feeling. I know he’s no such thing, but all his talk of changing the way we treat one another en masse is a little weird.  He’s the president after all, not the Pope.  His rhetoric and his perception by fans does have something in common with the messianic politics of the 30s, where charismatic leaders in places like Belgium, Spain, and, yes, Italy and Germany would work outside the confines of old-fashioned 19th Century limits on authority and channel the real voice of the people.  This idea that national politics should somehow transform our national character and that this “enlightened man of his time” will do so for us is frankly just creepy to me.  The adulation of that enormous crowd only underscored the sense of “mandate” this guy would have if he takes the helm.

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I think Obama’s talk about McCain’s houses will not fly.  The usual implication of wealth in a political campaign is that someone is out of touch with and indifferent to the sufferings of ordinary people.  But as a former military man and POW, McCain will always have “street cred” with the working classes as someone who has suffered in his life, and, better yet, suffered for his country. 

These charges won’t stick.  It’s part of a general odd tone of the Obama campaign, as if any attack is equal to any other.  There is no narrative unity.  Consider Obama’s whiney argument that McCain (and his surrogates) should not question his patriotism, and in return he won’t question McCain’s.  Huh? McCain’s commitment to the country is undeniable. He might be wrong-headed and embrace a liberal version of open-borders, but his subjective intent and life experiences count for something.  Obama, by contrast, spent much of his life affiliating with people highly critical of the country and its core institutions, people like Jeremiah Wright and terrorist Bill Ayers.  Coupled with symbolic acts like his resistance to rituals like the national anthem, frankly his patriotism is questionable.  Either way, he should stay off the topic.  It is as if McCain were to say in pseudo-magnaminous fashion, “I won’t question my opponent’s commitment to civil rights.”  No shit.

By contrast,the Rezko stuff and Obama’s shady housing deals are easily coupled with Obama’s prep school years and Ivy League alma maters and occasional resentment of America to show him as a guy who thinks he is so smart and so worthy that the rules do not apply to him. Instead of reflexively suggesting that McCain’s snobbery is extant and equal to his own, Obama would benefit by contrasting his native smarts with McCain’s pig-headedness and bad judgment.  This character debate is a dead-end for Obama and ultimately helpful to McCain. 

Obama has another challenge. He has boxed himself in by campaigning like this post-political voice of reason.  Every time he strikes or strikes back, even if it’s reasonable on the merits, it hurts his main narrative and marks him as indistinguishable from every other politician.  You at least knew that Clinton played hard-ball the minute he got rolling in 1992.  Of course, this “post political” narrative should have been deconstructed a long time ago.  This charlatan rose through the ranks of Chicago politics and has played the race cards about as frequently and obnoxiously as McCain appealed to his POW credentials.  We have too power-obsessed biography candidates who avoid ever being clear about any real policy matters. 

In the end, this stuff is only of mild academic interest to me.  I find this campaign boring beyond belief, not least because I don’t plan on voting for either of the two front-runners, and I find them both to be slaves to political correctness, unserious in their treatment of our nation’s problems, and both represent different variations of consensus liberalism.

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Good piece on Obama’s dubious career as a community organizer.  A friend jokingly said he was a “party planner,” but it’s actually similar to a union organizer for the Wobblies:

Community organizing is old-fashioned, bare-knuckle politics for the little guy.

Were you picturing Obama in a soup kitchen instead?  It is not your fault. When Obama talks about his time as a community organizer, he does not go beyond a vague and benign description of how he worked with unemployed steelworkers and their families to fight for change. Media coverage of Obama’s days as a community organizer has not been much better. Most journalists tend either to repeat stories that Obama has told in his books, or merely interview people who worked with him at the time without giving you a clear idea of what community organizing entails.

The words “community organizing” themselves probably present the biggest problem.

Hearing the touchy-feely sound of “community,” you may assume organizing has something to do with community service, like working at a homeless shelter.

But there is nothing touchy or feely about community organizing. It has more in common with the brutal contact sport of Chicago politics than it does with any kind of charitable act, such as serving food to homeless people. And like the neon-green relish that garnishes a Gold Coast dog, community organizing is pure Chicago.

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I know we bloggers are supposed to say something profound about every news item that comes down the pike, but I have little to say about Obama’s big Mideast and European trip.  It seems like the kind of thing wonks get super-excited about that has little long-term impact.  I do think it’s surprising he’s making so many specific commitments, and I think there’s something conceptually off about his desire, essentially, to import the troops, tactics, and procedures of Iraq into Afghanistan.  In other words, he embraces the nation-building approach whole-heartedly, he just thinks it’s a waste of time in Iraq.  This suggests a natural, calculating politician whose deeds will fall short of his high-falutin’ rhetoric.

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Obama’s flip-flopping is more dangerous than it is for most candidates because it cuts against the central theme of his campaig:  that he was a new kind of politician who would speak plainly, deliver bad news, and work in good faith with both sides to address persistent long-term problems that are politically costly to address.  It’s not just a question of inconsistency or whether he is a closet liberal.  He is and inconsistent but quite obviously open and avowed liberal, when you listen carefully.  It’s a question of whether he is a coward, exemplified by his numerous “present” votes in the Illinois legislature and federal Senate.

Consider his latest statement on Iraq:

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

Talk about triangulation.  This 95% draw down of troops coupled with training cadres may be a good compromise.  But it does not match his primary rhetoric, which was explicitly against any involvemetn in Iraq.  Leaving troops to fight al Qaeda and train Iraqis is a huge exception that could easily metastasize into logistics support, force protection troops, etc.  Let’s not forget, Vietnam began with training troops and the addition of U.S. Marines to protect airfields in Danang, something I doubt Obama is too familiar with. 

I would ordinarily applaud the prudence of Obama on something like this, but I don’t think his more ardent anti-war supporters would.  And I’m reluctant to see anything all that encouraging, as I think on Iraq, as on everything else, his domestic political goal of accruing and keeping political power drives all of his decisionmaking, including on sensitive matters of foreign policy.  If McCain is driven by the politics of honor and grand historical gestures, Obama is driven by the small politics of popularity.

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Obama excited the Democratic base for several reasons.  He is young, obviously smart, thoughtful, a good speaker, and charismatic.  He is black, which excited blacks who are unusually tribal in matters political, but he also excited younger whites indoctrinated in multiculturalism since their infancy and unimpressed with the GOP’s conventional choices.  FInally, and most importantly, he was forthright on the war, an issue that seperated him dramatically from the cynical Hillary Clinton.  Even anti-war conservatives have given him serious consideration on account of this stand.  Now he’s damaged his credibility on this issue after weeks of damaging his credibility in general by making a move to the center. 

Daniel Larison remarks:

[I]t seems to me that the charge that Obama committed a first-class political blunder going into a long weekend is basically right.  Having already given substance to the idea that he will abandon important pledges made during the primaries with his flips on the FISA legislation and public financing, and having apparently reversed himself on at least a couple other questions in the space of a few weeks, it was an unusually poor time to be “inartful,” as they like to call it, about one of the central policy questions of the day.  Even if Obama’s remarks were completely consistent with past statements, which I think is not the case, he had nonetheless set himself up over the last few weeks to be attacked for yet another shift on a major policy.  If the McCain campaign has a problem coming up with a coherent message, Obama’s campaign has its own problems with message discipline.  Having just shaken the confidence of many of his supporters over the FISA bill and having opened himself up to being portrayed as opportunistic on something as fundamental as constitutional protections, this was hardly the time to start talking about “refining” anything.  The Obama campaign wants the candidate to display thoughtfulness, but they don’t seem to think very much about how the candidate’s phrases will be interpreted by supporters and critics alike. 

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It’s a sign of our spiritual and moral decay that we expect so much as a people from politics and politicians, and that we are so much less capable of seeing through their obvious and self-serving machinations.  I believe that this stems from the decline of the Christian religion; without some hope in the next world and some balanced sense of the human good in light of eternal life, politics assumes exaggerated importance.  It becomes the only hope of community, human unity, the alleviation of pain and suffering and injustice.  We put too much faith in politicians and forget that it’s a prosaic task often undertaken by venal people.

Consider Barack Obama’s latest egregious flip-flop.  He basically blames his own campaign statements against NAFTA on a force outside himself:

“Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake,” despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? “Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself,” he answered.

Huh?  You’re either for NAFTA, against it, or for particular revisions to it.  It’s only over-heated and amplified in the sense that he’s said one thing in the primaries and a now saying another in the general election. It’s telling that so many people are willing to buy this self-serving use of the passive voice.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said elsewhere:

Instead of seeing a romantic optimist, I instead see a typical politician, a man with great faith in himself that he hopes others will endorse without asking too many questions. He is also a man that is all too plastic, willing to avoid controversy because his number one issue is not Iraq or welfare or immigration, but himself and his salvific mission. Obama wants to be President not because he wants to commit to any particular policy but because he believes his mere presence will elevate our politics and his native intelligence will be able to see him through any particular issue on which he has not taken a stand. He finds it unseemly and constricting to commit himself to the liberal policies he has endorsed his entire career when it was safe to do so. Most tellingly, he has voted “present” on a number of controversial votes, including those related to gun control and partial birth abortion in his time as a US Senator. This is all packaging that reveals someone for whom winning will trump matters of high principle and accountability.

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