Barack Obama: The Undistinguished Gentleman [Karl]
A commenter with a fondness for science-fiction writes:
why does it drive u into a frenzy that ppl believe in O and admire him?
The short answer is that it doesn’t,Ã‚Â though it strikes me as somewhat irrational and disproportionate to his supposed public accomplishments.
From June 1985 to May 1988, Obama wasÃ‚Â a community organizer withÃ‚Â the Developing Communities Project in Chicago, working primarily to organize a housing project called Altgeld Gardens.Ã‚Â According to the Boston Globe:
For all its impact on Obama, Altgeld Gardens today seems far from the kind of success story politicians like to tout.
Dozens of buildings are boarded up, with fences surrounding much of the property. The roads are a potholed mess. Blinking lights illuminate a series of towers where police have mounted cameras.
That’s change you can believe in.Ã‚Â Moreover, Hazel Johnson, who has lived at Altgeld Gardens since 1962 –Ã‚Â and was an organizer long before Obama appeared on the scene –Ã‚Â claims Obama has exaggerated his role in getting asbestos removed from the projects.Ã‚Â Otherwise, Obama did not get much done — and even had difficulty explaining what a “community organizer” did.
He then departed for Harvard Law School, where he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.Ã‚Â The title gained him notoriety, as reportedÃ‚Â byÃ‚Â the New York Times:
He was approached by an agent, Jane Dystel, who got him a contract for a book. Obama missed his deadline, and Dystel promptly got him another contract and a $40,000 advance for the same book.
Obama finished the book while living in Bali.
Obama returned to Chicago, where heÃ‚Â directed Illinois Project Vote! from April-October 1992.Ã‚Â This was a project for ACORN — an ostensibly non-partisan (but actually partisan) voter registration group often charged with voter registration fraud.Ã‚Â Nor was his involvement altruistic; the group would later provide the shock troops for his political campaigns.
In his first race forÃ‚Â the state SenateÃ‚Â in 1996,Ã‚Â Obama employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers,Ã‚Â thus running unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district:
“That was Chicago politics,” said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. “Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right? It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race, he made sure voters had just one choice.”
Nothing illegal about it, but nothing particularly inspiring about it, either.
Though Obama served in the Illinois Senate for seven years, he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year, when Illinois Senate Majority Leader Emil JonesÃ‚Â appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.Ã‚Â During this period,Ã‚Â he lostÃ‚Â the 2000Ã‚Â Democratic primary run for the US House of Representatives toÃ‚Â incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.
In the Senate, Obama points mostly to his role in the 2007Ã‚Â overhaul of Congressional lobbying and ethics rules — a role he has repeatedly overstated.Ã‚Â Indeed, Obama was called out publicly by his colleagues for trying to take undeserved credit on the recent immigration reform andÃ‚Â housing bills.
Obama also points to the Lugar-Obama nuclear non-proliferation bill — a bill so non-controversial that it was passed into law by unanimous consent.Ã‚Â Indeed, when not trying to take credit for the work of others, Obama’s Senate record is almost entirely minor legislation, usuallyÃ‚Â passed by unanimous consent or voice vote.
Obama’s presidential campaign, recognizingÃ‚Â how threadbare his record really is, and how utterly conventionalÃ‚Â his paltformÃ‚Â is within left-leaning politics, insists that what matters is judgment, especially with regard to invading Iraq.Ã‚Â Jonah Goldberg recently summed up the issue of Obama’s judgment:
The problem is that it doesn’t reflect reality. Obama, who was a junior Illinois state senator from a very liberal district in Chicago and a star parishioner of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s Trinity United Church of Christ when the country was debating invading Iraq, would have voters believe that he carefully weighed the pros and cons and concluded it would be a bad idea.
But, even if you want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the facts.
As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama said he would “unequivocally” oppose President Bush on the war. But once in office, he voted for every war-funding bill — until he decided to run for president.
After the invasion, Obama did not favor an immediate pullout from Iraq. On July 27, 2004, the day after he delivered his brilliant keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, he told the Chicago Tribune that when it came to the war, “there’s not much of a difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage.” In other words, while he opposed the war, he was now committed to seeing it through. That was hardly the position of Moveon.org and other progressive outfits at the time.
During the long battle for the Democratic nomination, however, Obama’s position evolved (or devolved) into a consistent call for withdrawal in order to differentiate himself from Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I would add that his position in 2004 just coincidentallyÃ‚Â dovetailed with support for the Kerry-Edwards ticket; both had voted to authorize the invasion.Ã‚Â But when it came time to run for higher office, he constantly attacked Hillary Clinton for havingÃ‚Â made the same votes as Kerry and Edwards.Ã‚Â That is very conventional politics, not “change we can believe in.”Ã‚Â His flexibility here says as much about his judgment as his 20-year membership at what he knew was a radical church from the outset.
This leaves Obama’s organizational skill, which I have praised before — though not without noting thatÃ‚Â his campaignÃ‚Â was seeded with venture capital from George Soros and the usual Wall Street wheelers and dealers.Ã‚Â He was able to defeat Hillary Clinton — another candidateÃ‚Â with much moreÃ‚Â name recognition than record — by putting together a coalition of Hart and Jackson voters against the remainders of a Mondale coalition, with a strategy lifted from the 1972 McGovern campaign.Ã‚Â It was no small feat, though the incompetence of the Clinton campaign was also a factor here.
Finally, there is his oratorical skill.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Much of Obama’s lofty message of unity and hope really came from campaign consultant David Axelrod, who “long ago hatched the idea that Democrats’ campaigns should revolve more around personality than policy.”Ã‚Â Indeed, much of the rhetoric was already test-drivenÃ‚Â in 2006 by one ofÃ‚Â Axelrod’s other clients, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.Ã‚Â Not that such themes are in any way unique to American presidential politics, as demonstrated by Bill “The Man from Hope” Clinton and George W. “Uniter, not a Divider” Bush.Ã‚Â
As I have repeatedly noted here at pw, the candidacies of Obama and John McCain are driven by voters pursuing a mirageÃ‚Â of changeyness where bipartisanship reigns and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“moneyed special interestsÃ¢â‚¬Â vanish.Ã‚Â And we should Hope that it is a mirage:
The appealÃ‚Â is vague precisely because it is illusory…Ã‚Â The Framers of the US Constitution recognized Ã¢â‚¬â€œÃ‚Â as James Madison explained in Federalist No. 10Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that factionsÃ‚Â are one of the costsÃ‚Â of liberty.Ã‚Â There is nothing high-minded about selling the notion that faction can be magically eliminated Ã¢â‚¬â€ a notion that is equal parts snake oil and tyranny.
Again, there is not much to admire in either snake oil, tyrannyÃ‚Â or flowery speeches trying to sell either.Ã‚Â Moreover, remove Obama from a TelePrompTer and he is every bit the gaffer asÃ‚Â any otherÃ‚Â average politician, though few have had the audacity to base their foreign policy on a debate gaffe.
In sum, Barack Obama’s record, judgment and message are at best entirely undistinguished in the field of presidential politics.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â At worst, we have Axelrod’s campaign of personality attractingÃ‚Â a cult of followers so creepy that even many Obama backers are put off by it, to a man who admits he is a “blank screen,” with a message that is either illusory or tyrannical.Ã‚Â It is in those people that I find little to admire.
Update x2: Tom Maguire fills in Obama’s similarly undistinguished record in reforming Chicago’s public schools in the 1980s and 1990s.
Update x3: Insta-lanche!
Update x4: Corner-lanche!