The Dark Side of Obama

As the inevitable media cycle turns negative against Obama—with fears of messiahdom, liberal fascist, with Obama Comedown Syndrome, (phony imo) plagiarism charges, all style no substance–I think it would be worth actually examining the only real worthwhile evidence of his dark side (which everyone has). That comes from the best biography of the man to date by Chicago Tribune correspondent David Mendell.

You can listen to him here, fascinating interview, covering his book Obama Promise to Power.

Wherein we learn, (horror of horrors) the guy is really ambitious. Surprised? He’s a politician.

Turns out he’s had a careful plan to run for President perhaps since 2004 or so. Again–nobody gets to the position without some kind of decision to go for it and maneuver him/herself appropriately.

But compared to McCain (whose been running for President since 1998 continuously) and Hillary Clinton (who arguably has been running longer than that), so what?

He has a bit of a thin skin, has some self-centered qualities, also from his bball dayz is known to strut and talk some game on occasion. Lord have mercy, whatever shall we do?

But once more, compared to McCain and Hillary—I mean good Lord. Thin skin? Tendency to hold grudges those two are not exactly paragons of virtue in that regard. We elect politicians not moralists. I think certain moral qualities are helpful (sense of service, humility, ability to admit mistakes and learn from them), but no one gets to run for President seriously without having serious status and power seeking side. Come on. Doesn’t make them (or him) necessarily sleazy–sleaze may or may not play a role–but status and ambition are a given.

He plays it tight with the media. McCain plays the media by letting them in on the bus, Obama by keeping them out. Again kind of a wash in my opinion. I have a severely low enough of opinion of the MSM that I really couldn’t care less frankly. If they would worry, imo, more about doing their job and less about how politicians like them or not, the country would be better off as well as the medium.

His wife also is as Mendell states, “less politic” than her husband. Which is a nice way of saying she is prone to shooting off at the mouth. (e.g. in this interview). But compared to how Bill Clinton has carried himself so far (yikes)….She is also a very smart, tough, independent woman.

Conversely, as Mendell points out, he also has a deep sense of mission and purpose. His better angelic side—as McCain has one, so does Hillary.

The discussion of his anti-war stance was very interesting and revealing. Obama was personally and by all accounts genuinely against the war–not all war just that particular one–and he was also asked to give the speech that he often cites (prior to the war) in Illinois by a local woman of clout and had to be advised by his confidantes that he “had to do it.” So sure there were politics involved AND his personal mission/vision.

Again that is no different than either of the other two candidates. My sense is that he would bring less baggage (not none) to the Office than either McCain or Hillary. But I could be wrong about that. There is no predicting how any candidate would actually be in the White House nor what crises they may face. But I’m sufficiently convinced that Obama is the coolest of the 3, takes the time to think of the views of both sides of an issue, listens well, and has a good head on his shoulders.

But he’s not the Second Coming. I don’t cross myself in the Name of The Barack, The Hussein, and The Obama.

The Obamania and hype is as equally as useless in my opinion as the Obama-fear now coming out of some right-wing outlets. In fact the latter seems like the equal and opposite reaction to the former.

He’s a dude, he’s running for president. President is an important role but he is not running for Emperor of the World or Savior of the Universe. He’s a human, he’ll make mistakes. He’ll do some good if he were elected I’m sure. If he’s not, I’m sure he’ll do other fine things in other arenas of life. POTUS is not all determinative for my life or yours–nor should it be.

The guy has policies, but has run I think realizing correctly that he was up against a real policy wonkette in Hillary. His campaign realized that if he got in a platform laundry list with Hillary she would win. So he’s run on his other talents–media savvy, oratory, ability to generate enthusiasm, appeal to broad spectrum of voters of different ideological interests, etc.

If he gets the nomination and faces McCain I think we would see a somewhat different game plan, particularly since McCain is not a policy wonk–particularly on domestic issues (economics, health care, for example). McCain is vulnerable there and any Democrat will exploit that weakness, Obama included. McCain basically is running on being a pork buster and no tax increases—but if he wanted to balance the budget both would be required in addition to a drawdown of the occupation which McCain is not going to do obviously.

So again some of this (not all) is contextual. Not to mention of course that Marshall McLuhan argued that TV was the wrong medium for political debate (the radio is superior). I think Obama and his team have realized this. I would like to see a renewed Lincoln-Douglas Debates for the General—on the radio the only medium properly attuned to debates.

Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 2:14 pm  Comments (15)  
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  1. Oh, god, Chris. Because, yeah, what Obama actually says, and what his wife actually say, don’t matter. This isn’t “media cycle”; this is people actually listening to the what they are saying. And what they are saying is disgusting.

  2. I didn’t write anywhere that what he or she says does not matter. Nor do I subscribe to that view.

    I’m just saying I don’t think it’s a slippery slope to a Messianic complex. Pro or anti.

    The stuff she said (from the Hewitt clip) was weird and not cool no doubt. With the clips cut it was tough for me to get a sense of the gestalt & context, but still not happening in my book.

    Was it just stump speech boilerplate? Was it for real? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Even if it was what she thinks, is that equal how he would govern? Not automatically.

    My point is that it only makes sense to evaluate these kind of statements as compared to the other candidates.

    McCain for Pete’s sake sang a song about bombing Iran. And said that anyone who thinks the US can’t withstand a 50 year occupation doesn’t understand the military. Excuse me? He has also rattled the saber with Russia, which I think is unwise.

    As compared to joking about starting a war… everybody’s gotta make their calls, mine is that I’m more scared of that kind of rhetoric than Michelle Obama’s.

    Peace. Chris

  3. i think you get it about right. obama’s no saint, but he’s the most intriguing of the candidates. and the one i trust the most at this point.

    but i think you miss the point a bit with regard to the obama = messiah and obama = second coming meme. it’s not really about obama at all, so saying that obama isn’t perfect doesn’t really refute the meme or respond effectively. the problem is not with obama, but with his “followers”. most of obama’s supporters are just fine, but the internet has brought out the zealots and they are the most annoying and worrisome bunch of politicial supporters i’ve ever encountered. i’m a bit scared for what they’re doing.

  4. You blamed the “media cycle”; which implies that what the Obamas are saying, and the criticism they received for it, is systemic, rather than merely a result of, well, what they are saying.

    More Michelle Obama: “We need a leader who’s going to touch our souls. Who’s going to make us feel differently about one another. Who’s going to remind us that we are one another’s keepers. That we are only as strong as the weakest among us.”

    Gross. And rhetoric right out of the liberal fascism playbook, I might add.

  5. Joe,

    On the point about the Obama-nicks, I know there out there–I never been to a live Obama rally so I’ve never seen any in person. I’ve seen some pro-Obama fundamentalist trolls on blogs, but I don’t know…do these people gain any actual influence in an Obama administration?

    Or maybe the worry is they become a new power base in the Democratic Party a la Huckabee’s fans/evangelical right wing kinda thing?

    I’m just not sure what the worry is beyond some wacky people get fired up and then eventually disheartened (inevitably) by the mania. Maybe I’m missing something.



  6. MD,

    Imo, individuals genuinely being creeped out by speeches and media cycle are not mutually exclusive. These criticisms are only coming out now because of 1)what was said and 2)because he’s in the lead. If he was losing, we wouldn’t be hearing about this pro or con. That was my only point on that, which was secondary anyway.

    The primary point I was trying to convey was that I think this rhetoric stuff is less helpful as a predictive tool for what kind of president an individual would be then books that actually investigate their political lives and governing philosophy–not their media portraits/images.

    That’s why I’m not as worried that what he has said–or worse what his wife has said–is a harbinger of totalitarian takeover. The guy is a Constitutional Lawyer.

    Overall, I’m extremely skeptical campaigns tell us a great deal about the candidates themselves. Any of them.

    George W. Bush is a perfect example. He campaigned as one candidate (uniter not divider, compassionate conservative) and governed as another. But how he governed (at least domestically) was pretty much the same as how he did as Gov. of Texas–e.g.cut taxes, increased spending, pro-immigration. So if you studied his history, the outlines of his governance were pretty clear.

    That is why I cited Matt Welch’s book repeatedly on McCain and Mendell’s book on Obama. Also Bernstein’s book on Hillary. I think a person deciding between the candidates would learn more from reading those than worry about all the stuff in the media environment.

    Not to mention the books the candidates themselves have written. Again I think those are superior sources of information than the other stuff. That’s all I was saying.



  7. PS (MD)

    For what it’s worth, John McCain qualifies as a liberal fascist according to Goldberg’s theory. Militant nationalism, the politics of courage as a politics of meaning, and using the government as a bully pulpit to moralize about “national greatness”–plus possible enforced national service.

    So I guess Jonah was right, “We are all Fascists Now.”

    i.e. The choice is between three liberal fascists (so-called). If you want to go on an anti-Obama he’s a liberal fascist riff, I think you might consider giving McCain some equal time under the microscope.

  8. Wrong. It is quite clear you have not read Goldberg’s book, else you wouldn’t make such gross error. Try to find rhetoric of crisis and mobilization in McCain.

    Obama being a lawyer really doesn’t matter. One can be drunk with messianic tendency no matter their education. One tip off with Obama — uses training of Saul Alinsky.

    Bush governed like a compassionate conservative, and he talked about it. The size of government increased; spending increased; No Child Left Behind; Medicare entitlement; “people hurt, government moves” schtick.

    So, wrong again. If there was lip service by him, it was to limited government conservatism.

    I like you batted .000 on this topic. Well done.


  9. Other than Islamic extremism, can’t think of any crisis rhetoric from the AZ Sen.. Plus the whole argument that war as a moral effort that Goldberg makes (war as a progressive/lib fascist model for all other engagements) has some parallels to McCain’s rhetoric. Also McCain’s hero is TR—the founder of the Progressive Party (Bull Moose). He freaks out a whole host of libertarians (e.g. Welch, Wilkinson).

    On Bush–The lip service was uniter not divider. He governed as a base conservative. He also ran on a “humble foreign policy” and not getting involved in nation building. Then started a war with nation building.

    Looks like that batting average of mine is creeping back up.

  10. Discussing the Islamic threat is not mobilization or crisis. He talks about it in the way Fred Thompson talked about it. Serious, sober, reflective.

    Bush has governed like a base conservative? Outside of tax cuts, where? Rhetoric about gay marriage; appointing justices, ok. Nothing else.

    The nation building was in response to 9/11, and would not have happened, most likely, without 9/11; which you know as well as I do.

    Yes, McCain likes TR; we’ll see, if elected, whether McCain is as reckless with the law as TR was.

    And, no, you still haven’t convinced me you have read Goldberg’s book; lame that you conduct this discussion like you have.

    All of which, though, is besides the point. There is one person who talks like a Messiah, talks literally of mobilization, talks literally of “higher purpose”; talks literally about being the change; talks literally about “unity”; talks literally about substantially increasing the role of the federal government; and displays massive cognitive dissonance as he, amidst all that, complains that there are too many lobbyists in DC. (They are there precisely because the fed government is as large and sprawling as it is; and would not be there if gov’t was shrunk); and he isn’t part of the GOP.


  11. I don’t like the “all of which” you refer is besides the point. I mean McCain does refer to the threat of Islamic extremism (his words) as the “transcendent” cause of our time. If taken as literally as you take Obama’s words then that means participating in the struggle against IE is inherently salvific. War therefore is purifying and that which makes holy. Kinda like a political indulgence from our Presidential Pope for fighting in the new crusade.

    That is, if you are taking him as literally that is. Or perhaps following the religious analogy a bit too far. Not to mention that it “unifies” the people–or is designed to anyway. IE as the New Communism.

    If you are not taking the words so literally (as I wouldn’t in either case) and just judging the statement on its merits than it’s just simply wrong and shows a very limited and dangerously ignorant (imo) point of view. Namely that he has not learned the failure of Bush’s flypaper theory of terrorism. That there is a finite number of terrorists who then you judge whether you are winning or not by body counts. There are any number of serious political issues to face–terrorism being an extremely important one–but I don’t believe the one around which an entire administration should be built (as seems likely with a McCain one).

  12. Speaking of religious analogies then….
    onto Obama.

    If you are using a religious analogue, he does not talk like a Messiah (though I guess others have spoken of him in Messianic terms–“he’s the one” kinda stuff).

    If the religious analogy is deployed, then he is actually speaking like a prophet. That might not make a difference to you or others or allay your fears but we should at least get our terms right seems to me if you are going to criticize.

    A prophet stands between the people and God–or in this case (again I think this isn’t the best analogy but I’ll run with it) stands between the people and the higher cause. A prophet recalls to the people’s mind that they are the (chosen?) ones who are responsible. And a prophet’s call usually results in a movement–what you call mobilization. So some points of contact there.

    Obama cited Joshua in the speech he gave. Not Jesus. That’s more the prophetic not messianic strain.

    The black church/liberation theology that he comes from stresses the Exodus theme and when it does talk about Jesus it is as suffering servant, man of the people. You can definitely hear resonances of all that in Obama, but (and I’ll speak racially here for a sec) white people who don’t go to those churches (either commentators/critics on the right and the people who go to his rallies) miss alotta of the nuance, I think, of what is going on there.

    Now you might say therefore he shouldn’t say what he says or use the rhythm of the pulpit, I don’t know perhaps…

    Intriguingly a prophet also stands between God and the people and intercedes on behalf of the people for God. And on behalf of God before the people.

    When the people fail, as they inevitably will–making idols of golden calves at the first opportunity–the prophet must face down his anger towards the people for their sins.

    Interesting to see how Obama would respond to that situation.

    Certainly true that people turn prophets into messiahs all the time often in order to cede their autonomy and responsibility to the Savior figure. No doubt some of that is going on currently with Obamaniacs. And they will be disappointed by him and then seek to “crucify” him as it were.

    Now while that’s fun in a sense (at least for me, hope for you and others), I actually don’t put too too much weight on it as an analysis as I said before.

    While I wouldn’t want to subscribe to all the ideas contained herein, I think this article by Mark Schmitt

    better reflects what’s going on with all this language and gaming. Politically. I think a conservative should be less concerned about messianism and more concerned about him seizing on the breakdown of the Reagan coalition and scoring a major electoral win that could seismically shift the ground.

    I tend to think more of it is “pap” as you would say than messianism. And McCain has plenty of his own pap. All politicians do.

    That’s why I think for what it’s worth, McCain’s campaign ((to date) is the wrong one for Republicans and conservatives going into this new wind. And while there are legitimate fears of creepiness (I have some as well) with the Obama thing, I think a good deal of this charge + his wife doesn’t love America is grasping at straws to figure out how to re-unite the base which is otherwise demoralized and which I think only Hillary can revive. All the hallmarks of a ginned up controversy. Not made up out of thin air, but a legitimate though perhaps not huge concern, turned into this six-headed monster.

    Peace. Chris

  13. Of course you can base an American administration around foreign policy. Obviously, events will intrude, but foreign policy is the preeminent Public Good, and if president focused 95% of his/her attention on that, instead of meddling in areas that should be left to civil society and the states, I would be thrilled. America could be itself, for the first time perhaps since Jefferson, even Washington.

    I’m going to ignore your distinction between messiah and prophet; not because it is meaningless per se, but because it is splitting hairs in the context of macro politics. Both are classically illiberal for the head of state.

    Problems with the picture you want to paint:

    McCain does not testify; Obama does. That characteristic is a key component of liberal fascism.

    McCain’s big issue, foreign policy regarding Jihadism, is one that involves a legitimate function of republican governance — protection of the state. One can disagree on the substance, but the main frame is appropriate for the federal government, from a classically liberal point of view (which is the view that founded America); Obama, while against the Iraq policy, hardly draws his main attraction from them (since all Dems held the same line), rather his come from domestic policy (if at all), and thus violates much of the classically liberal/American point of view — doing that, in and of itself, infringes on limited ambition government, and strong civil society.

    Look, McCain wears his military service/suffering too much on his sleeve for me. I also don’t care for his global warming stances. I don’t like how glib he was talking about 50/100 year occupation of Iraq (though I take his point about similar occupations in other countries that don’t arouse progressive ire). I think he’s unaware of the power of home schooling to renew civic pride. And in general he doesn’t strike me as very well read. I have my problems with him. But he doesn’t talk like he’s the chosen one, and he doesn’t speak very airily, even when talking about the war. I do agree with him on free-market approaches to health care.

    In a choice where I’d prefer neither, and would instead rather see Thompson, at this point I’m going with McCain because he does seem very proud of America, does not seem as full of himself as Obama, and has shown genuine political courage, while a senator.


  14. fair enough. peace. chris

  15. Right on.

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