Thursday, August 28, 2008

Responding to Distortions About Obama

In his piece on Newsweek’s website, “The Other Side of the Story: Rebutting Sean Wilentz on Barack Obama,” Charles Kaiser (full disclosure: my wife's uncle) explodes the kind of lazy – and often dishonest – criticisms of Obama that have been so prevalent these past two years. He calls out Wilentz for having written "a thinly disguised hatchet-job," and says, in part, that
Wilentz reinforces the canard that Obama's campaign is short on specifics, charging that his rhetoric amounts "chiefly to promising a dramatic break with the status quo"—and arguing that "millions of other Democrats still find his appeals wispy and unconvincing." The truth is, Obama has detailed positions on everything from Iraq and Afghanistan to universal health care and tax reduction—as was made clear by the cover story in the The New York Times magazine last Sunday dissecting his economic program. The Times concluded that of the two major candidates, Obama would be the real "tax cutter" for most Americans—except for the ones making an average of $9.1 million. That group would get a tax cut of $190,000 a year, from John McCain, versus a tax increase of $800,000 a year from Obama. So much for a lack of specifics.
I highlight this paragraph in particular because one of the biggest pieces of "received wisdom" of all this campaign season is that Obama is vague and lacks substance.

Some of Kaiser's arguments include references to other pieces that are also worth reading – esp. Ryan Lizza’s piece in The New Yorker last month, “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama.” Lizza shows Obama to have sharp elbows and to be incredibly politically tough and astute.


I have some beefs with Obama myself – his FISA vote among them – but to say that he’s radical, vague and touchy-feely, a tax-and-spender, &c., is to betray willful ignorance. There, I said it.

When friends of mine – people I deeply admire – mock Obama for being an empty suit, throw up their hands and complain that the man is not perfect, or earnestly say they're thinking of voting for McCain, I can only smile uncomfortably. Maybe it's more of a wince?

Even Obama's oratory, which is continually criticized for – get this – being too good, is sloughed off as vague. But anyone who actually listens to an entire speech – i.e., beyond the stuff played in clips the next day – will hear a display of a depth and breadth of knowledge and ideas that completely blow John "You Say 'Sunni,' I say 'Shiite' – Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" McCain out of the water. I'm as sick of hearing Obama's hackneyed "from the shores of [insert name of one state here] to the fields of [insert name of another state here]" lines as the next guy, but listen to a whole Obama speech or "town hall"-style forum, and then tell me that he lacks substance, specifics, or depth.

If you have any doubt about Obama, I encourage you to check these out and/or forward them:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I am not researching it as closely as you certainly are for the answers to the content questions, but he's got more content and specificity WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF BROADCAST MEDIA, that I think one can ever hope for. But one thing that is apparent is that the stuff you're sick of hearing from Obama is that Rove-style campaigning has forced all candidates into a corner, making sound-bite jingles necessary just to play to popular culture. It's figuratively like a campaign rope-a-dope that Obama HAS to allow to happen and play to just to get people fired up. Once you have them in, then hopefully, as you have done, he'll come out of the corner with the content to win people over, but if you can't bring 'em in, you can't get out of the corner and the differences between McCain and Obama seem less pronounced. If you don’t like MTV, you won’t like that aspect of Obama’s campaign, but he NEEDS MTV people to win.

We as an entertain-me society have become accustomed to the off-the-cuff dismissal of "content" in campaigns because we've been trained to do so--so much so that even thoughtful, insightful people; well-educated people who KNOW BETTER--are chiming right in with a carte blanche “where’s the beef?!,” Even when there’s plenty of beef. Rove and the conservative radio pundits have gotten us used to believing everything's a lie, or a promise too good to be true, and only this mentality can lead us to the point where someone can be CRITICIZED for being too good an orator. What is a president if not someone who can mobilize people with oration, specifically with ideas spoken in a motivating manner. What a CROCK this sad process has led too. "Is Barack Obama ready to lead because he is admired around the world?" That's a McCain AD!!!! By all means, let's elect someone who the world, and keep conflict alive, because someone who is rock-star popular clearly won't be able to LEAD people. (The political counterpunch has become so ridiculous that it amazes me that it has not become a massively hot-button topic. It's like everyone is asleep)

Does Obama’s ability to stir the less-literate, pop-culture, under-educated, disadvantaged, normally-uninterested-in-politics portion of our population, make some of the intelligensia, or worse—-the economically comfortable, well-educated, entitled, self-proclaimed, lazy, armchair liberal-—squirm at who they find themselves next to at the Obama rally? If so, think a little more critically and get off your high horse. You might be smart, but your still stupid enough to be a human being. Class, race, gender, it's all packed down in there in our subconscious, and at the very least, we are forced to confront it within ourselves in this campaign.

Clinton supporters voting for McCain, take note: letting McCain off the hook simply because there are facets of Obama you don’t see as perfect is more ignorant than not engaging AT ALL! At least if you’re not engaged, you have an excuse.