Wednesday, May 07, 2008

change that's hard to believe in

Noel Pearson on Obama:
"Despite the long debate on welfare reform and the clear benefits of America's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996, Barack Obama hesitates to accept a social-policy truth that sticks out like canine testes. Responsibility and choice should never be subsumed by a focus on structural solutions; when this happens, you end up with the kind of shallow determinism that Obama ultimately falls victim to. He would be truly radical if he was equally vehement about equipping citizens to seize opportunities and convert them into capabilities."
- Pearson on Obama

2 comments:

Mark Miller said...

Hi Bill. I'm in agreement with you both. Obama's rise is a sad commentary on the Democratic Party, but I say that for different reasons. Obama was a state senator in Illinois for several years. He ran for U.S. Senate in a special election, and won, 3-1/2 years ago. That's his experience. Senators typically hold their seats for the full term of 6 years, and then run for re-election. By typical standards Obama is a lightweight. The typical career route that presidents have taken is they gain office at the state level, such as the senate, or attorney general, or maybe directly to governor after doing some length of time in some other civil service work. Whatever route they take they eventually make it to governor. They serve at least one term as governor, maybe two, where they gain executive experience, and then run for U.S. president. In the Constitution anyone can run, no matter their experience, but I'm not comforted by Obama's inexperience. So far he has shown he is a very good campaigner, but I wonder how good a leader he will be. As insiders know the two skill sets are completely different.

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes, as the saying goes. As I've watched Obama I get visions of Democratic president Jimmy Carter, who served from 1977-1981. Carter was governor of Georgia, before becoming president. I mean this in the sense that Carter ran as a moral candidate after the shame of Watergate. Obama is doing the same in relation to the Bush Administration and the Iraq war.

I saw one of Obama's first campaign ads, called "Yes We Can", and to an American it's very inspirational. Obama is such an eloquent speaker the artist Will.i.am found it pretty easy to incorporate snippets of his New Hampshire primary concession speech (he lost there) into his musical piece in support of him, and make Obama sound even better. But then I watched one of his town hall meetings in Iowa and I didn't get the impression that his rhetoric matched what he actually wants to do. I saw him talk about only a few specific policies he wanted to enact. The rest was just "I believe in X", "We should do X", etc. And all involved public outlays to create new government programs. It sounded less like "Yes We Can" than "I'll Do It For You". In fact I saw him outright lie to the audience with a straight face, doing it very convincingly, meanwhile telling them, "I'm not going to tell the people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear," suggesting austerity and frankness.

Robert J. Samuelson, an economist who writes for Newsweek and The Washington Post, and who I find to be knowledgeable and insightful, wrote a column back in February called "The Obama Delusion". Samuelson is a Democrat, so this is not a partisan attack. He expresses his disappointment in Obama, because he met him in 2004, thought he was a good guy, but has lately seen a mismatch between his rhetoric of "telling people what they need to hear" and his policy proposals. In short, he is not what he appears to be. His voting record in the U.S. Senate is not bold. He's consistently obstained from votes on important issues or done straight party line votes on them. He campaigns as a uniter, but doesn't seem to act like one. He makes a point of saying that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but he wasn't serving in the Senate at the time. This is like Hillary Clinton saying that in the 1990s she entered Bosnia "under sniper fire". He was not privy to what actual senators knew, nor could he be held accountable for any votes on the matter. The situation he suggests didn't exist. It was in fact a position taken without consequence, a pose.

What's sad is the Democratic Party has gone for this poseur hook, line, and sinker. They are bereft of any concern about running someone of substance. In fact, I've seen focus group meetings where Obama supporters are asked to name just one major accomplishment for Obama, and time after time their reaction is the same. At first they are struck by the question, like "Oh my gosh, I haven't thought about that." After thinking about it for a bit they still can't think of anything. It doesn't matter though. They love him anyway. They are ecstatic about platitudes. Platitudes are part and parcel of politics, but they're usually delivered by someone who knows how to wield power. I'm not so sure about this one. What I hope is the American public doesn't go for him in the same way. If it does I'll be afraid for my country.

Bill Kerr said...

interesting links mark --> saying that obama is an inspirational orator but his policies are ordinary - that he has the appearance of a "man of destiny" which is hard to resist

noel pearson is an aboriginal australian leader I follow closely - he has been influenced by shelby steele's analysis of obama

you might be interested in these links
the obama bargain

a bound man

What Steele means by "a bound man" is that Obama is a bargainer - "I will not rub America's ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me" - and that "Senator Obama is too constrained by these elaborate politics to find his own true political voice. Obama has the temperament, intelligence, and background -- an interracial family, a sterling education -- to guide America beyond the exhausted racial politics that now prevail. And yet he is a Promethean figure, a bound man" (from the book description)