Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Has Obama been punked?

Our Blue Voice co-conspirator Neil has been saying for several days that he hoped Barack Obama would throw his former pastor Jeremiah Wright under the proverbial bus. And it looks like that's what he's done: Obama On Wright: "I Might Not Know Him As Well As I Thought" by Greg Sargent, TPM Election Central 04/29/08.

In terms of its impact on Obama's candidacy, I hope this puts the issue to rest for him. But I have two big concerns.

One is that the attacks by the media and the Republicans - with a nudge or two from the Clinton campaign, as well - linking Obama to Wright's more controversial statements looks to me like one of those "bitch slap" issues. The idea with that tactic is to slam your opponent with a damaging charge that you know lacks much substance in hopes that his response will make him look bad. If the opponent backs down, or just whines that the attack is out of bounds, etc., he can come off looking weak. And the sharks will make another similar attack, on that issue or another.

A classic weak response came in the 1988 debate between Michael Dukakis and Old Man Bush, in which a CNN reporter challenged Dukakis on his opposition to the death penalty by asking if Dukakasis' own wife were raped and murdered, would he want the killer to be put to death? Instead of verbally handing the reporter his head and saying he was shocked that such a sleazy-mouthed reporter was assigned to the debate and what kind of trashy standards does CNN have these days, Dukakis just launched into his usual defense of his death penalty position.

A classic in-your-face response was in one of George Wallace's campaigns for Alabama Governor. Some reporter got wind that Wallace had once seen a psychiatrist and asked him about it in public. Wallace's response was something along the lines of, "Yeah, I've got a certificate to show I'm sane, what have you got?" And that apparently was enough to spike the issue.

I'm worried that Obama's latest statements on Wright that he made on Tuesday may come off more like Dukakis than Wallace. For instance, the headline at the Huffington Post at one time today was:

I would have preferred a response more along the lines of, "I've made clear my disagreements with Rev. Wright. And your momma is a Republican! So why don't you silly reporters do something useful like talking to some of those nutcase preachers who are lining up to support that warmonger McCain?" I won't be satisfied until we start seeing names like John Hagee's in those headlines.

The other problem this presents is that it complicates Obama's own self-branding as the candidate who is more comfortable talking about religion showing his spirituality than those other Democrats who supposedly are uncomfortable doing so. Being backed into the corner of having to repudiate the pastor of your church of the last 20 years and seemingly (if you just see the headlines) some large portion of what he stands for complicates that branding strategy quite a bit.

But that may well be more of an opportunity than a hindrance. Because the partisans of the Christian Right were never going to vote for a Democrat who's also a scary black man a hippie radical right out of the 1960s pro-choice. He can still appeal to people with strongly-held religious values. But this "postpartisan" hope that Christianist voters could be persuaded to vote for him for President was always more than a long shot.

I fear the current renouncing and re-renouncing of Jeremiah Wright is not going to shut this issue down. But Obama will have plenty of chances to handle this and other similar problems in a more aggressive way. Because the Establishment press and the Republicans will be throwing stuff like this at him relentlessly so long as he's a candidate for President.

For at least the next few days, though, I expect to see our Big Pundits furrowing their brows and wringing their hands about Obama's troubling former pastor and Obama's troubling disloyalty to him and what it all implies about Obama's troubling "character". They will likely say very, very little about the Establishment press' atrocious handling of this story.

In the "paper of record", Bob Herbert is already doing so in The Pastor Casts a Shadow New York Times 04/29/08. Big Pundits have a phenomenal ability to discern what the subjects of their columns are thinking. Herbert has telepathically determined that Rev. Wright is seeking revenge on Barack Obama, that he's a narcissist, that he was nearly "swooning over the wonderfulness of himself". I hadn't heard about Wright nearly passing out; but maybe it was just bad food at the National Press Club or something. And I wouldn't question Herbert's telepathic gifts. But that self-admiring wonderfulness he detect: is that known to cause neurological symptoms? Herbert also knows:

Forget the gibberish about [Wright] responding to attacks on the black church. That is not what the reverend’s appearance before the press club was about. He was responding to what he perceives as an attack on him.
Gee, I'm glad we have Big Pundits. Otherwise, I might have thought it possible that a prominent African-American Christian minister might actually be concerned about the image of the black church among his fellow Americans. Silly me.

I could never make it as a Big Pundit. My training is all wrong. I wouldn't be quite able to type out stuff like this:

For Senator Obama, the re-emergence of Rev. Wright has been devastating. The senator has been trying desperately to bolster his standing with skeptical and even hostile white working-class voters. When the story line of the campaign shifts almost entirely to the race-in-your-face antics of someone like Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama’s chances can only suffer.

Beyond that, the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf.
Those Methodist and Jesuit colleges I attended just screwed me all up by insisting that when you're writing non-fiction you should pay attention to, you know, facts and stuff.

Has Wright's "re-emergence" been "devastating" to Obama in any sense other than the mainstream media and ditzy columnists obsessing over it? Do the election results show that "white working-class voters" as a group are "hostile" to Obama? (Uh, no.) Are Wright's speeches "race-in-your-face antics"? And what a great line from Herbert, "the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak." Translation into normal English: The Establishment media have deluged Obama with obsessive reports and ludicrous pundit hand-wringing over that very scary black man Jeremiah Wright and we're going right on obsessing about it and because Obama hasn't been able to make us stop, that shows he's a pussy." But Herbert somehow manages to completely avoid the role of the press in this. (Duh!)

Okay, this is already longer than I intended. But I might as well mention that Maureen Dowd also goes after Obama and his very troubling scary black pastor - who she calls "The Really Angry Black Man" - in Praying and Preying New York Times 04/30/08. She opens by saying, "Barack Obama has spent his life, and campaign, trying not to be the Angry Black Man." Yes, I'm sure Obama has gotten up every day of his life, at least since he was 3 years old or so, and looked himself in the mirror and said, "I really don't want to be an angry black man today". Is there some cryptic significance to Dowd's using caps in the phrase?

Dowd has been calling Obama a girlie-man for a while now, usually through her oh-so-clever allusions and her own mind-reading. In this one, she comes up with, "Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke."

For some, Obama didn’t offer enough outrage. "He talks about Reverend Wright violating his core beliefs as if he is detailing why he doesn't like cheesecake or cream cheese," said one Hillary Democrat. "He’s more passionate about basketball."
Did she actually talk to a "Hillary Democrat" to get this quote? What does "Hillary Democrat" mean anyway? A senior campaign official? Dowd's hairdresser who voted for Clinton for the Senate? And why would anyone need to be anonymous with that quote? Why would any responsible journalist allow them to be anonymous?

Whether Dowd just made it up or actually got it from whatever in his corner of reality counts as a "Hillary Democrat", if she didn't have an on-the-record source for a comment that there was no good earthly reason to be off-the-record, why didn't she just say it without the quotation marks? After all, I'm pretty sure none of the phrases she "quoted" are copyrighted. I can't read minds like the Big Pundits. But I'll speculate: Why just criticize Obama for being a low-passion girlie-man when you can put it into the mouth of one of those backstabbing supporters of Vile Hillary?

Oh, by the way. The Supreme Court just handed down a decision green-lighting straight-out segregationist vote suppression. But what a boring column that would make! Only tedious policy wonks would worry about some anti-democratic measure like that straight out of the Jim Crow days, who cares about that? Especially when our Big Pundits must concentrate on the truly major concerns, like Rev. Wright's "race-in-your-face antics" (Herbert) and how Obama now sounds like a "Sort Of Angry Black Man" who is deeply implicated with "The Really Angry Black Man" (Dowd).

The segregation-in-your-face Supreme Court ruling is just not entertaining to our media seers. They probably would think it's "elitist" for someone to worry about The Really Screwed Up Republican Supreme Court and its increasing pro-segregation tilt.


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