Friday, March 7, 2008

Of Rhetoric & Reality

Charles Krauthammer puts on his psychiatrist's monocole to analyze the appeal of Obama, the reality of his promise of bi-partisanship, and how Clinton has been able to finally put a dent in Obamamania.


Charles Krauthammer notes that Obama's rhetoric has led to a wide-spread impression that Obama would be the most likely of the candidates to be able to bridge the partisan political divide, uniting both Republicans and Democrats in a post-partisan nirvana:

How did Obama pull that off? By riding one of the great non sequiturs of modern American politics.

It goes like this. Because Obama transcends race, it is therefore assumed that he will transcend everything else -- divisions of region, class, party, generation and ideology.

The premise here is true -- Obama does transcend race; he has not run as a candidate of minority grievance; his vision of America is unmistakably post-racial -- but the conclusion does not necessarily follow. It is merely suggested in Obama's rhetorically brilliant celebration of American unity: "young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Latino and Asian -- who are tired of a politics that divides us." Hence "the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white. It's about the past versus the future."

The effect of such sweeping invocations of unity is electric, particularly because race is the deepest and most tragic of all American divisions, and this invocation is being delivered by a man who takes us powerfully beyond it. The implication is that he is therefore uniquely qualified to transcend all our other divisions. . . .

This raises an interesting aside. While Krauthammer is arguing on the premise that the majority of Obama supporters see him as transcending race, the reality is that an unseemly element of race has been injecting itself at regular intervals into his campaign.

I have previously raised a concern that Obama was not above allowing the race card to be played against the Clintons earlier in the campaign. And I do not hear him stepping in to stop pressure being brought to bear on African American super delegates to switch to him on the basis of race. Likewise many who support Obama on identity politics grounds see any attack on Obama as a racial attack and are responding accordingly. While Krauthammer may analyze Obama's message as transcending race, I think the reality is that its going to require affirmative action (no joke intended) on the part of all candidates to keep race from becoming a central issue. And if it does, it could well backfire on Obama given that I do not think that McCain, who seems utterly focused on keeping his campaign message on issues, could be plausibly charged with any racial animus.

To continue with Krauhthammer, he notes that Obama's rhetoric does not have a basis in reality. Obama has not even attempted to reach across the partisan divide on any issue of contention. Indeed, as Krauthammer notes, the person Obama pretends to be meets reality in the person of John McCain:

The Obama campaign has sent journalists eight pages of examples of his reaching across the aisle in the Senate. I am not the only one to note, however, that these are small-bore items of almost no controversy -- more help for war veterans, reducing loose nukes in the former Soviet Union, fighting avian flu and the like. Bipartisan support for apple pie is hardly a profile in courage.

On the difficult compromises that required the political courage to challenge one's own political constituency, Obama flinched: the "Gang of 14" compromise on judicial appointments, the immigration compromise to which Obama tried to append union-backed killer amendments and, just last month, the compromise on warrantless eavesdropping that garnered 68 votes in the Senate. But not Obama's.

Who, in fact, supported all of these bipartisan deals, was a central player in two of them and brokered the even more notorious McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform? John McCain, of course.

Yes, John McCain -- intemperate and rough-edged, of sharp elbows and even sharper tongue. Turns out that uniting is not a matter of rhetoric or manner, but of character and courage.

And as Krauthammer notes, it was Clinton's raising questions about Obama's character in her "phone call at the White House at 3 a.m." commercial" that has finally exposed a chink in Obama's heretofore teflon armor:

Ostensibly the ad was about experience. It wasn't. It was about familiarity. After all, as Obama pointed out, what exactly is the experience that prepares Hillary to answer the red phone at 3 a.m.?

She was raising a deeper question: Do you really know who this guy is? After a whirlwind courtship with this elegant man who rode into town just yesterday, are you really prepared to entrust him with your children, the major props in the ad?

After months of fruitlessly shadowboxing an ethereal opponent made up of equal parts hope, rhetoric and enthusiasm, Clinton had finally made contact with the enemy. The doubts she raised created just enough buyer's remorse to persuade Democrats on Tuesday to not yet close the sale on the mysterious stranger.

The only way either Clinton or John McCain can defeat an opponent as dazzlingly new and fresh as Obama is to ask: Do you really know this guy?

Or the corollary: Is he really who he says he is? I'm not talking about scurrilous innuendo about his origins, religion or upbringing. I'm talking about the full-fledged man who presents himself to the country in remarkably grandiose terms as a healer, a conciliator, a uniter. . . .

Read the entire article. I am sure we will see much more of this focus on Obama between now and the Pennsylvania primary. We have already seen Obama lose his composure under tough questioning from the press. Now we will see how he holds up as Clinton mines his most obvious weakness.

1 comment:

suek said...

"I'm not talking about scurrilous innuendo about his origins, religion or upbringing."

Scurrilous innuendo....what is scurrilous about questioning his attitudes towards islam? We are engaged in a war with islamics - it seems to me to be pretty important to find out just exactly what his attitudes towards islam are. Islam is both a religious _and_ a political movement. There is clear evidence that there are forces within our borders who are using our own laws to spread sharia - his knowlege of islam _could_ be an asset - unless he is sympathetic towards that movement.