Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Obama-rama (II):

A-propo, Obama and the Farakhan issue, Jeff Weintraub provides some very useful information:

In my post this morning on Obama's Farrakhan Test, I anticipated that some people would attack Richard Cohen's column with that title (and/or Richard Cohen ad hominem) rather than addressing the substantive issues it drew attention to.

P.S. If Obama's supporters--in the blogosphere and elsewhere--now attack Cohen for having the temerity to raise this issue, that will be disgraceful. (I'm hoping they won't, but I have a sinking feeling that some of them might.) Actually, if Obama can get this out of the way early, and do it a morally appropriate and politically savvy way, that will be best all around.

Alas, my sinking feeling was correct. The blogosphere was immediately filled with angry and often absurd vilificaton of Cohen for writing this column, some of it from people who should have known better. But the question that Cohen raised was perfectly legitimate, and one that was bound to be raised at some point.Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo tossed off some unfair knee-jerk attacks of his own, but he also took the useful step of actually putting the question to Obama--or at least his campaign. This is the response to Cohen's column that Sargent got from the Obama campaign:

I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.

That's a good answer--clear, direct, and unambiguous. Obama doesn't try to pretend that Farrakhan isn't an anti-semite, and he states explicitly that he disagrees with the decision to give Farrakhan this award. (There is also no whining about the question having been raised, and no insinuation that raising it was some kind of racist slur.)

At the moment, this is just one brief response posted on one political blog, but it's a very encouraging start. Obama must have known for a while that this question was coming, and I assume he has a more extensive answer worked out already. (If he doesn't, then he's not the superb politician he appears to be.) I assume sometime soon Obama will give that full response publicly, in a place and in a manner of his choosing. If Obama deals with this issue as honestly and effectively as this immediate answer suggests he will, then he should be able to resolve the matter in a way that's morally serious, constructive, and politically successful--which would be a good thing not just for him but for all of us.


I share Jeff Weintraub's salutation. Unlike Moishe's attempt to exonerate Obama by providing a false analogy (that Moishe's good standing is not harmed by the fact that his rabbi was caught plagiarizing), Obama seems to understand the importance of this issue and therefore made the effort to address the substance itself, without any casuistrous prevarication. Good for him. Cass Sunstein's measure of the man so far seems to hold fast.


At 5:59 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can’t believe it’s taken so long for the Washington Post to pick up on this. Actually, I can (see comments about mainstream media elsewhere).

Obama definitely knew the questions would be coming. Here’s an excerpt from a JTA article published in July 2007:

“Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) named a top adviser to a retired Jewish congressman as his campaign's liaison to the Jewish community.

Eric Lynn, who was a senior legislative assistant to Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), will also serve as Obama's adviser on Middle East policy.

While working at Congress, Lynn led a number of congressional tours to the Middle East and advised members of Congress on homeland security issues.

Like Obama, Lynn has a community activist in Chicago. He has also been involved in a number of pro-Israel groups.”

And another from August 24 of the same year noting Obama's connections with Dennis Ross:

Obama "certainly values his counsel and would continue to value his counsel as he moves forward," Lynn said. "He views Dennis [Ross] as a friend and they talk often about situations, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian situation."

The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, praised Ross.

"There are very few people in the United States more experienced, more knowledgeable more astute in understanding the subtleties, issues and opportunities for American foreign policy in the Arab Israel conflict than Dennis Ross," Foxman said. "It is a feather in the cap of whichever candidate has the foresight to make him part of his team. He has not only an understanding, not only does he have experience, he's also creative in terms of setting forth options, he's worked both sides of the political street on this issue. Even the Arabs have learned to have respect for his knowledge and creativity."

Dan Shapiro, an outside adviser to Obama's presidential campaign, who helped organize the meeting Wednesday but did not attend, said that the gathering was part of a wider outreach effort to the Jewish community.

"He's reached out to Jewish leaders in major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York," Shapiro said. "He'll be doing it in other cities. He would like to expand his ties."

At 6:26 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I trust Dennis Ross completely. I can't see that he is a member of Obama's team. But that might also be Ross's choice. Perhaps he wants to be able to instruct whomever is interested in knowing without being constrained by too tight an affiliation with any one candidate.


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