Friday, April 04, 2008

More Obama

The discussion continues at Bob's place, with New Centrist and Bob [supporting]* somewhat agreeing on the Obama-Carter analogy.

New Centrist also relates to the problematic nature of Obama's more radical constituencies.

I keep asking the question: why do they keep supporting him, in spite of all the renouncing and rejecting that he has done, publicly? What do they think they know, or understand about this man?

If we take Sunstein's advocacy for all that it is worth, the radical factions who support Obama in spite of his declarative positions are dead wrong in their estimation of his ability to make statements he does not mean. It is a strange kind of endorsement, when the fans of a presidential hopeful are predicating their support upon the premise that their favourite candidate must be lying when he articulates positions which are contrary to their own inclinations.

Whom should we believe, Sunstein, Nussbaum, Marty Peretz, Tony Lake? Or the people at Obama's church, who cheered when the mad priest was damning Amerikkka?



New Centrist posted this beautiful comment at Bob's:

"But, it seems to me, the American people no longer have an appetite for building democracy in Iraq, and this is one of the things driving his popularity. If the people are no longer behind the engagement, can we hope for Obama to be?"

Absolutely, yes. That's why I'm probably voting for McCain. The greatest leaders often go against the mainstream or common sense notions of those they lead.

I've probably mentioned it too many times but have a look at Thucydides, in particular Pericles' Funeral Oration.

The main gist is the Athenians standard of living, their leisure time, their love of the arts, etc. were all maintained by Athenian naval supremacy i.e. war and empire. If the Athenians wanted to continue their way of life, they needed to be prepared to go to war to defend it. The majority Athenians did not realize this. They supported the demagogues who told them what they wanted to hear. In the end, the entire Greek world collapsed.

There is a lesson for us--and all democratic socieities--in this sad tale. To be blunt, the Democrats who want to withdrawl are analagous to the demagogues, telling the American public what they want to hear regarding bringing the troops home. But the results of this will be disatrous.

In times like these we need a Pericles, not a pandering demagogue.

Bob, Obama taught some law school classes but he has not written anything of consequence in his field. Nothing. I need a bit more evidence of actual intellecual work to consider someone an intellectual, great, mediocre or otherwise.

Pericles' Funeral oration. Here is an excerpt:

I have dwelt upon the greatness of Athens because I want to show you that we are contending for a higher prize than those who enjoy none of these privileges, and to establish by manifest proof the merit of these men whom I am now commemorating. Their loftiest praise has been already spoken. For in magnifying the city I have magnified them, and men like them whose virtues made her glorious. ... I believe that a death such as theirs has been the true measure of a man's worth; it may be the first revelation of his virtues, but is at any rate their final seal. For even those who come short in other ways may justly plead the valor with which they have fought for their country; they have blotted out the evil with the good, and have benefited the state more by their public services than they have injured her by their private actions. None of these men were enervated by wealth or hesitated to resign the pleasures of life; none of them put off the evil day in the hope, natural to poverty, that a man, though poor, may one day become rich. ... They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone. And when the moment came they were minded to resist and suffer, rather than to fly and save their lives; they ran away from the word of dishonor, but on the battlefield their feet stood fast, and in an instant, at the height of their fortune, they passed away from the scene, not of their fear, but of their glory.

I've written a few times about the falseness of hope before. I think when Thucydides says: "They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone." he invokes the exact same lesson learned over two millennia later by this author, Tadeusz Borowski:

"It is hope that makes people walk apathetically into the gas chamber, makes them shrink back from uprising ... Hope that tears apart family bonds, makes mothers reject their children, makes women sell themselves for a piece of bread and turns men into killers. Hope makes them fight for each day of life, for maybe the next day will bring liberation ... We did not learn to renounce hope, and that is why we died in the gas."

The soldiers of Athens, says Thucydides, made a distinction between a hope and action. Hope, they reserved for the chance of personal happiness. For the survival and flourishing of their community, they opted for action, putting the luxury of hope aside.

Poe's short story, A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM is a great illustration of this dialectic: hope versus action.

Sidebar: it is quite interesting how almost any introspection about Obama provokes a literary connotation in my mind. As in here, here, here, and here. I wonder why. It's not as if he is a dramatic persona. Not in the least. But the dynamics that get unleashed due to his pursuit are quite fascinating. Alan Johnson rightly said that Obama "shows the artistic insight that made his autobiography Dreams from my Father a genuine work of literature...". This insight suggests to me that Obama himself has a literary kind of awareness about himself, his own life and the role he is to play in it.


The New Centrist expands upon Thucydides's politics on his blog, here:

Pericles encouraged the Athenians to stand firm. After all, strategically everything was going according to plan besides the unpredicted plague (2.64). The Athenians were a strong maritime empire who had little to fear from the closed society of the Spartans. Pericles implored the Athenians to not give in to their fears and place trust in his leadership abilities. The ability to bear arms, courage in the face of the enemy, and dying honorably were all-important at this crucial moment. In short, the Funeral Oration was an ideological justification for continuing the war and a willingness for societal sacrifice. Why would a free and democratic people be willing to make this sacrifice? Because the establishment of the Athenian empire had made the Athenian standard of living, their leisure, their culture, their enjoyment of the arts, possible. More than a rationale for war, the Funeral Oration was a justification for the Athenian way of life.

The true danger in this situation was the fickleness of the voters. In politically fearful conditions like wars and plagues, there was a need for a strong and authoritative leader or else the government would succumb to demagogues. For Thucydides, by not giving in to the fears of the multitude, Pericles exhibited true leadership (2.65). Pericles’ successors, the demagogues, failed in this regard (2.65.10). Subsequently, Athens was assaulted continuously (2.75-2.79). In short, Athens lost the war by not following Pericles’ advice and succumbing to the fear of the demos. It’s an ancient story that has relevance today because the long-term result was the collapse of the Greek city-state system i.e. “the West.” (Read it all, here)


A different view is offered by Judeosphere, which claims that

" since 2006, self-declared "progressives" have been accusing Obama of selling out to the all-powerful "Israel Lobby" because he has embraced such controversial positions as denouncing terrorism and urging Arab countries to implement democratic reforms instead of blaming all their problems on Israel.

The latest chapter in this saga concerns Obama's recent speech on racism, delivered in the wake of the controversy surrounding his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Reflecting on Wright's fiery rhetoric, Obama declared:

“The remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”


*Bob corrected me on this point, in the comments, but I don't know how to do the "strike out" feature so this is the best I can do.


At 1:34 PM EDT, Blogger bob said...

I don't support the Carter analogy, but I think it gives some food for thought. I am not wholly anti-Carter, by the way, either!

I think your question - what doe they "know" about the man - is an excellent one. The most important one, perhaps.

At 8:29 PM EDT, Blogger Roland Dodds said...

A nice post CT. I am going to have to bust out my Thucydides today and re-read it.

At 2:03 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug. Always appreciated...

At 8:27 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

What a learned bunch we are eh? I have very much enjoyed this exchange, even if I haven't contributed a lot to it!

At 12:46 PM EDT, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

Argh... could we have a bit less Obama? Please?

At 1:05 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Not until I figured him out.


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