Sunday, February 25, 2007

Barack Obama and the Political Story of the Week

Perhaps the most significant political event of the week involved Barack Obama, and no, I’m not talking about the dustup with Hillary Clinton and David Geffen, an event of surpassing interest to the quaintly named chattering classes. Geffen, who has his finger on the pulse of media superstars everywhere, chose to enter the fray via Maureen Dowd’s column. Bob Somersby gives Dowd the skewering she deserves in his incomparable Daily Howler:
Again today, she snidely compares Obama to an iconic white woman:
DOWD: Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O'Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the DreamWorks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary's hackles.
In her last column, Obama was “legally blonde” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/16/07). In today’s piece, he’s Scarlett O’Hara. And if you think these sneering references are some sort of odd coincidence, you haven’t watched this tortured nutcase working her magic down through the years. For years, Dowd imagined conversations with Gore’s bald spot (more below); by the time he began his race for the White House, Dowd wrote that Gore was “so feminized” that he was “practically lactating.” But then, inside the tortured mind of Dowd, all Dem males are big girlie-men.
The Times may have lost some of its luster as a paragon of serious journalism; let's see if the solemnly named National Journal can do better. Paul Starobin offers 5,000 words of analysis in this periodical headlined, "The Authenticity Sweepstakes." For those who may have slept through social studies or their own experiences as voters, Starobin offers a helpful explanation of the political process:
For voters, authenticity has become a Holy Grail. "We're in the era of authenticity," political consultant Mary Matalin has proclaimed.
Matalin reminds me of her husband, James Carville, only without the wit or anything interesting to say. Her pronouncements are as unoriginal as the endlessly dreary campaign spots we are forced to endure as Election Day approaches: "Peter Cottontail says he's hopping down the bunny trail, but what he's not telling you..." Cue grainy black & white photo of a frightened rabbit.
Starobin is positively gushing about Rudolph Giuliani:
Giuliani became a national hero for his calm performance under pressure on 9/11 and in the days after, and he oozes authenticity from his outer-borough (Brooklyn-born) pores.
Mayor Giuliani is a noteworthy political figure, but I swear, I have no interest in what's oozing from his pores. "The Authenticity Sweepstakes" sounds like a new concept cooked up in Hollywood, like "Charisma Factor" or "Projecting Authenticity with the Stars" or simply “Oozing with the Pores.”
Missing from all of this nonsense about body language and authenticity is the question of what the candidates actually have to say. But then reporting what they say isn’t very sexy compared to explaining what they really mean, as if voters need the candidate’s use of the English language translated in order to make sense of it all.
The essence of campaigning is standing in front of people and speaking. It was true in Lincoln’s day, in FDR’s and JFK’s, and it’s still true today. (A quick quiz: For all the memorable phrases from Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, can you recall a single comment from the journalists of their eras?) I'm guessing that Senator Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, is at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, not because of his body language, but because people are interested in what he has to say.
This is why the most revealing story of the week didn’t come from an important columnist or political analyst, but from an unknown AP beat reporter named Kelley Shannon:
Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.
"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.
"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."
At a point in the campaign when candidates are content to speak before a few hundred voters at a time, the rally in Austin attracted a crowd of 15,000, which is one reason I consider this the most significant political story of the week. Another would be Obama’s evident deft touch in dealing with a sensitive subject:
Tickets to the rally were free, but Obama asked the attendees to give even $5 or $10. "I don't want to have to raise money in Hollywood all the time," he said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, well written and expertly edited. Like a good Cabernet you continue to hold up well after two years.

Obama has the power of the press behind him. In this way he is Kennediesque in his manner and his persona is right for the current times. But like Kennedy, there his maturity level that needs to be explored. Remember how Kennedy was railroaded into Bay of Pigs by his supposed experts at the onset of his administration. "This is your only option. The question is: are you man enough to do it?" We have just had one young buck for a president who was either unable or unwilling to go against his boss, and we must be cautious to make sure we do not get another one.

We need time, and we are fortunate that the campaign has started already.

This campaign is so much like the 88 campaign, it is eerie. Then, no one early on expected the wimp vice president or the tarnished governor of Massachusetts to get through the opening primaries.

1:00 AM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a little interested to see where he goes from here. He has a hell of a start to the campaign, but I don't know how well ANYONE could hold up for 2 years of brutal campaigning. I hope giving up smoking doesn't affect his personality in the short-term and cause some gaffes or behavior that gets blown out of proportion and extrapolated to some awful end.
That said, he has my vote as long as he stays this course and keeps the administrations feet to the fire.

11:06 AM, February 26, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

First, I don't see as close a parallel between 1988 and 2008. In my mind Bush, as a sitting VP, was the GOP front runner. This is the first election since 1952 (Stevenson v. Eisenhower) that will not feature a sitting president or vice president.

Dukakis was nominated in a rather weak field. This year's Democratic field is much stronger in my view. By the way, Richard Ben Cramer's book on the 1988 campaign, "What it Takes" is still a great read.

I haven't seen a hint of evidence that Obama's temperament has been affected by his quiting smoking. I think he came through the week just fine, given the extent to which the big media stars wanted to hype the Clinton-Geffen story.

12:24 PM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of the good news in tyhe Obama story is that Maureen Dowd and Cheney are both punch lines.

That is a bog step forward and might idicate a campaign season that deals more with ideas and policy and less with gossip and fantasy.

9:41 AM, February 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a difference perspective brings. Bush in 88 really wasn't considered a front runner leading up to New Hampshire. He actually came in third in Iowa. He was too closely associated with Reagan's fiasco's such as Iran Contra, yet did not really have Reagan's far right endorsement, because the religious element, lead by Pat Robertson, did not trust or support him.

He was second or third among Republicans in most polls, until he smacked down Dan Rather on live television, just before New Hampshire voted. That was his turning point within the Republican party.

Against the Democrats, he was polled behind them,through the early part of the summer, until their front runner took a televised tank ride. The brilliance of Lee Attwater, Bush's campaign strategist, pushed him to victory through the "revolving door of Willie Horton. He was also the only President in recent memory, besides Clinton to visit Delaware between the convention and the election.

Because the election was almost lost early on, and then won by a surprisingly wide margin, speaks highly of Attwater, who by the way, was a rather good blues guitarist.

On the other side, the prominent Democrats, threw in the towel during the summer. 88 was probably Jackson's finest campaign, one in which he was taken seriously. I believe 88 is the campaign with the most number of primary winners. Gore and someone named Biden, were also candidates who had potential to go all the way. But if you go back to early 1987, which corresponds to early 2007 today, the two front runners who were going to duke it out "Obama-Hillary" style, were Mario Cuomo and someone named Gary Hart.

Another trivial point for those of you who like political trivia, is:
Of all the fifty states, in 88 which state, other than New York, offered up more than one major party candidate? Delaware: Joe Biden and Pete Dupont.

And with humor, to tie up the observation that 88 is a hodgepodge like 08 is today, name another declared candidate, beside Biden, who has thrown his hat into the ring twenty years later? Ron Paul: he ran as a Libertarian in 88.

4:59 AM, February 28, 2007  

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