Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama's Serendipity:

I am not following the tedious presidential campaign in the USA very closely. I only pay attention when I feel a disturbance in the force. That is, when something momentous, or seemingly momentous, has occurred. Everyone has been weighing in on Obama's surge as a very real candidate. I don't have much to say about him so I'll bring a few quotes I found on the Internet. It is a mixture of quotes from well known journalists and posters on blogs and message boards:


All this easy talk about being a "uniter" and not a "divider" is piffle if people are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I have been droning on for months about how Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about the flat-out racist background of his own church, and about how Huckabee has shown in public that he does not even understand the first thing about a theory—the crucial theory of evolution by natural selection—in which he claims not to believe. Many Democrats are with me on this, but they go completely quiet when Sen. Obama chooses to give his allegiance to a crackpot church with a decidedly ethnic character. (Hitchens, here)

Obama is the opposite of a polarizing figure (and maybe we could use that in the White House). He has a keen and sympathetic understanding of competing positions. He is a Democrat who actually understands economics and the needs of business. He has a stunning intelligence (and maybe we could use that in the White House). He promises to go beyond the decreasingly relevant conflicts of the 1960s and the 1990s. He is a specialist in constitutional law (and maybe we could use that in the White House). On issues ranging from health care to climate change, his policy proposals are careful and pragmatic. (Cass Sunstein, here)

So back to Obama, It’s clear that if he becomes president, the USA will be a safer place for it’s people and the World will be a nicer place for everyone else, because this man has the perfect image of a good diplomat! In some way, he is the Nelson Mandela of the USA….he is the candidate of Moderation , the colour of his skin isn’t a major part of his campaign ( as opposed to Jesse Jackson in the past) , he just happens to be a Candidate who is black and not a Black who is a candidate! …. (From the Good Neigbours blog)

Yes, success to Obama! Genocide to the Kurds! Iraq-turned-Rwanda! Nuclear-armed Iran! USA as a Socialist Utopia in the model of Cuba, China, USSR, Cambodia, Venezuela! Al Qaeda getting nuclear weapons! Complete and unconditional surrender to Islamism!
Vote Obama - for Peace in Our Time! (From the Good neighbours blog)


Obama is a communist and a black supremicist. If elected he will bring disaster to America. (Here)


I don't think Obama is good looking at all. He has blue lips. Ugh. I could never vote for someone with blue lips. I am going to force myself though because aside from his looks I have more confidence that, despite his lack of experience, he will be able to accomplish more because as has been said over and over, Hillary has too much baggage and not of her creating. She has been put in a choke hold because the republicans started going after the Clintons with all their guns from the first day her husband took office and continue to do so with her. They will do the same from day one if she is nominated and wins the election. (From an occasional unwitting contributor to my blog...)

Some of the explanation of Obama's success lies in his background, as well as in the rapidly changing ethnic landscape of America. Though he describes himself as "black", is married to a black woman and was converted to Christianity in a black church, Obama represents something more complicated.

He is the son not of African-Americans but of an African - a Kenyan student - and a white woman from Kansas. He spent part of his childhood in Jakarta with his Indonesian stepfather, part in exotic (even for most Americans) Hawaii, and much time with his Midwestern family


He studied at Occidental College on the West Coast and at Harvard Law School, breeding ground of the East Coast establishment. Then he worked as a community organiser in Chicago.

Many discounted Obama on the grounds of weirdness alone. He was not a mainstream white candidate, nor - in the minds of some black leaders - a "real" black American. Coming from Hawaii and Indonesia by way of Harvard and Chicago, he could not be geographically pigeonholed. And conventional wisdom decreed that no one whose middle name is "Hussein" could possibly win an election in middle America. (Anne Applebaum)


"I've always been a Christian," said Obama, focusing on his own personal lack of practice of Islam as a child to deny any connection to Islam. But Muslims do not see practice as key. For them, that he was born to a line of Muslim males makes him born a Muslim. Further, all children born with an Arabic name based on the H-S-N trilateral root (Hussein, Hassan, and others) can be assumed to be Muslim, so they will understand Obama's full name, Barack Hussein Obama, to proclaim him a born Muslim. (from the Machiavellian Daniel Pipes)

With all these opinions in mind, (Obama's blue lips made a special impression), I came to the conclusion that there appears to be a longing among Americans to generate a little love for themselves in the world and they think they can achieve that by showing to the world that they can elect a black president, whose middle name is Hussein, and who was in fact born into a Muslim (though secular) family. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but there has not been a black elected head of state in any of the Western countries, so Americans may be feeling that to be the first democratic, Western, largely-white country to elect a black man would help restore their tarnished image to its former glinting surface (though I suspect that had never been the case anyway).

It may be a version of “some of my best friends are…” writ large.

Anyway, Hollywood has been conditioning Americans for years to the very real possibility of a black president ("24" is a prime example), so the leap from fiction to reality all of a sudden seems very reasonable, not even a leap, just a small step...

He is indeed an attractive candidate. I take Sunstein's endorsement of his integrity and decency very seriously. And, as David Brooks said in what I suspect is going to become a staple of Obama's campaign:

And Americans are not going to want to see this stopped. When an African-American man is leading a juggernaut to the White House, do you want to be the one to stand up and say No?

I only wish all this was happening four or eight years from now. A man wants to be elected for what he is, not for who he is not.

________

I think Oliver Kamm, with his usual linguistic thrift and acumen, manages to describe exactly the reaction to Obama: an admiration for his brilliance as well as a certain trepidation:

I am apprehensive of the foreign policy inexperience of Obama and dismayed at his belief in unconditional direct talks with the leaders of rogue states. But he is a world (or rather, a generation) away from the politics of literally embracing autocrats, as Jackson did to Castro. You can't gainsay the fact that his emergence as a power in the Democratic Party is symbolic in an entirely admirable sense.

Anonymous left a comment which is worth posting here:

If the resonance of Kennedy idealism hovers over the Obama candidacy,(and for those of us old enough to have experienced it firsthand, it surely does,) it is because it reminds not just us Americans, but the rest of the world, what the very concept of America as a unique abstraction is. How else to understand the melted cynicism of the media as they cover him, the empowering effect on people so different from each other? Obama's the product and embodiment of a certain experience-- Everyman as American. He's an "America" not exportable, but essential--not the "old world," not the America of manufactured goods and services, which so easily can be outsourced and duplicated elsewhere, but the epitome and symbol of a kind of life that has always lived in our historical imaginations and in the eye, heart, and mind of the rest of the world. I mean no national hubris by this-- but observe that we Americans, and others as well, have become so weighted down with complexities and insolubles that we suicide ourselves on such a grand scale, politically, intellectually, environmentally, and emotionally, that we seem to have willingly chosen politically assisted suicide......

Obama reminds there is another way-- an opportunity to embrace life.

A dialectic is a controversy, that is, the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments, of thesis and antithesis. The outcome of such an exchange does not have to be refutation a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. I'm using this term because my friend's comment seems to embody the two perspectives I was trying to articulate: That of Americans looking outwardly, and that of Americans looking inwardly. What I sense is a somewhat incongruent hope that Obama will manage to make America look better and act better by being both cosmopolitan and isolationist.

Speaking of "Another way" of "embracing life" is the kind of language one hears from the evangelicals. And it's not a coincidence that this seems to be exactly the effect that Obama is having on his admirers. They compare him to Martin Luther King!

I am suspicious of such messianic longings. And in my experience, people who can weave magic with words are the least equipped to act in accordance with the lofty sentiments they espouse. The fact remains that Obama lacks experience and does not offer concrete solutions. And no service is done to him by this sort of adulation. The ancient Romans used to show respect to their Caesars by endowing them with divinity.

6 Comments:

At 11:22 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the resonance of Kennedy idealism hovers over the Obama candidacy,
(and for those of us old enough to have experienced it firsthand, it surely does,) it is because it reminds not just us Americans, but the rest of the world, what the very concept of America as a unique abstraction is. How else to understand the melted cynicism of the media as they cover him, the empowering effect on people so different from each other? Obama's the product and embodiment of a certain experience-- Everyman as American. He's an "America" not exportable, but essential--not the "old world," not the America of manufactured goods and services, which so easily can be outsourced and duplicated elsewhere, but the epitome and symbol of a kind of life that has always lived in our historical imaginations and in the eye, heart, and mind of the rest of the world.

I mean no national hubris by this-- but observe that we Americans, and others as well, have become so weighted down with complexities and insolubles that we suicide ourselves on such a grand scale, politically, intellectually, environmentally, and emotionally, that we seem to have willingly chosen politically assisted suicide......

Obama reminds there is another way-- an opportunity to embrace life.

And because there is something of all of us in him, maybe the best part of ourselves, we see this is possible and wonder how we could possibly have forgotten who we are and where we came from.

 
At 8:50 PM EST, Anonymous nwo said...

To anonymous above.....You wouldnt say the same if he was an eloquent speaker on the American Right, especially if he was black.


To Noga:

Blue-Gum: Racial slur...Refers to the blue tinge of the gums of some blacks/southern origin.

Classic!

 
At 9:03 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the utterer of this galactic stupidity was aware of its racist connotations.

 
At 9:04 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Looks like my blog does not recognize me. That was I, just now.

noga

 
At 5:58 PM EST, Anonymous Moishe Kapoyer said...

There is a joke about a young Jewish boy during the heyday of the New York Yankees when Babe Ruth was a household name. "Grandpa, grandpa," the boy said excitedly as he ran into the apartment the family shared, "the Yankees won the world series." "Nu," said the grandfather, "is it good or bad for the Jews." The story loses a little flavor translated from Yiddish, but the idea that Jews need to weigh everything in terms of their preservation (which is different from self-interest) is something which has never disappeared. Nor should it. Being eternally vigilant is the price one pays, however reluctantly, for being part of a minority group which has been vilified (and worse) for over half of recorded history.

The question for any American Jew regarding who is going to serve as the best leader of her/his country is not something that is taken lightly. But it is obvious that there is a variety of opinion among Jews as to who the best person to fill that position is. I personally have a hard time understanding how some of my Jewish friends and acquaintances (fortunately,very few are Republicans) supported (and still support) Bush. I find him a national embarrassment in terms of his inability to be spontaneously articulate or to even read convincingly from a teleprompter, his lack of intellectual curiosity, his unabashed pride in being "born-again" and his being embraced by evangelicals who have an agenda rooted more in the Book of Revelations than in real national interest, never mind their inability to understand what a scientific theory is and their insistence that the universe is only a few thousand years old. Ask yourself if you would trust such people with your children's education if they were truly a prevailing force in this nation's public schools. I give thanks every day that a senator like Rick Santorum (I maintain that the letter "i" was removed from two places in his surname to disguise his origins) was not reelected.

I spoke with my father the other evening. He is 89 years old, a veteran of WWII, a survivor of the Great Depression, the son of a baker from Lodz who was at one time the secretary of the Baker's Union in St. Louis, and, as most Jews in this country who were on their way up from a lower socioeconomic standing, a lifelong Democrat. So am I, for that matter, and I make no apologies about it because as an American, I don't have to. My father told me that he supports Obama and feels that Bush has run this country into the ground. He is not a knee-jerk liberal -- he has always been in favor of the death penalty -- I think of him as more a pragmatist who feels that the "little guy" deserves as much of a break as the corporate world of companies like Halliburton.

I think that it is difficult for anyone who has not grown up in this country to appreciate the subtle dance or sometimes outright tension between domestic and foreign policy. It is also a grave error to assume that because a president like Bush supports Israel unequivocally that his former opponent would have done the opposite, or would have been lukewarm at best. From my point of view, as a Jewish American, I think that in the long run, I (and possibly even Israel) have more to lose from a conservative "faith-based" administration than from an administration which does not have a potential hidden agenda of hastening the advent of the messiah, which incidentally, for any ultra-orthodox who might have tuned in, is also proscribed by the Talmud. No barbecues for the Almighty at a restored temple for me, thank you.

I don't think that the Democratic Party is necessarily less kindly disposed towards Israel than the Republicans -- it was Truman who recognized Israel, it was Eisenhower who essentially forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai in '56, and it was Nixon who harbored the typical small-town anti-Semitism in spite of having Kissinger (who I'm not sure I would trust to watch my luggage while I used the airport restroom) as Secretary of State. And I don't think that Clinton was lukewarm on Israel. I realize that the status of the territories is a very sensitive and serious issue, but I think that if Arafat had not been a forked-tongue thug (and probably frightened to death of being assassinated) instead of a statesman (now there's an oxymoron), an accord at Camp David would have been preferable to the tragic violence that ensued. That said,even though I was never wild about Sharon, I think his visit to the Temple Mount was just a very convenient pretext for the Palestinians.

So on to Obama. You have to look carefully at a larger picture. The fact that he attends a church whose minister is suspect in some ways is not that important in terms of what Obama himself stands for. A former rabbi (at our synagogue which I don't attend very frequently) was caught plagiarizing. Because I didn't resign my membership doesn't mean I supported plagiarism then or now. Besides,why should I have resigned when he resigned a year later? There are other things (like a circle of personal friends or charitable programs) that keep you connected to place of worship even if the leader is flawed. So until I hear differently, I won't assume that Obama has hung a portrait of Louis Farrakhan in a prominent place in his home. Quite honestly, I don't think I've heard much of substance from any of the candidates as far as real details of foreign policy are concerned -- only generalities. It's just as easy to say that you'll talk to rogue nations while you're in the early stages of a campaign as it is to say you'll whack their tushes so hard they'll feel it for a decade. I think it's far too early to get exercised about any candidate. I support Obama at this time because I feel that our country is suffering from some very serious internal injuries and he is the only candidate who has something resembling the vision that JFK had instead of the same old tired platitudes. That he doesn't have enough experience is a canard. Counting the time he spent in the Illinois legislature, he has more years in government than Hillary. Just because it's a state legislature doesn't mean that the experience is less valuable. If anything, many state legislatures tend to get things done more efficiently than Congress because what they do on a day to day basis isn't in the national news and leads to less posing and posturing.

Having grown up seeing first hand the degradation that Black Americans experienced (St. Louis is not truly a southern city, but it was still segregated when I was in high school) and hearing the ignorant prattle that otherwise reasonable adults engaged in when it came to racial issues, I feel a sense of relief that enough progress has been made that a person of color can be seen running for the highest office in the country. So he isn't "all black." Believe me, Ms. Centrist, the fact that he is even "part black" is still an issue to more Americans in some parts of this country than I would hope would be the case, a reflection of attitudes not much different from those of the Third Reich . I would venture to guess that some people might consider the fact that he is the product of an interracial marriage even more of a liability. My father the pragmatist opined that Obama had better have a lot of life insurance, possibly because during his career, he encountered a lot of what he called "people with small minds." He was called a(n)"n-word lover" by one of his co-workers because he spoke up about civil rights in the late 50s -- he also, for those who might not be aware of it, said that the anti-Catholic venom among his coworkers with rural Missouri backgrounds at McDonnell Aircraft was much stronger than their prejudice against Jews.

The dynamics of race,religion, and politics in this country are complicated. It's gradually getting better, but there is a long way to go. Anyone who holds out hope or the prospect for even more healing is going to get my vote until he or she proves himself truly untrustworthy in some critical way.

 
At 3:54 PM EDT, Blogger josh franta said...

on the obama blue lip issue... nobody has really explained this but today I noticed a New York Times article where they say he's always drinking this "black berry" fruit drink... is is possible that his lips are always blue because of this??!? His personal aide is apparently toting around a supply of this drink for him...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/27/us/politics/27reggie.html?em&ex=1212033600&en=bffe5833f91edc72&ei=5087

He knows that “the boss,” as he calls Mr. Obama, likes MET-Rx chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew — Black Forest Berry Honest Tea. He keeps a supply of both on hand.

 

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