Obama’s rhetoric is not enough.

William_jennings_bryan "Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word “walls” 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.

The Berlin blockade was thwarted because people came together. Apartheid ended because people came together and walls tumbled. Winning the cold war was the same: “People of the world,” Obama declared, “look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together and history proved there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”

When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.

But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more."  David Brooks


Ah, but is the overture really "the whole symphony" or is there something else which is not seen?

Brooks has put his finger on one of the issues that Americans have with the man.

Obama is clearly Europe’s man in the contest to become president of the United States next year, but the sale is not made to those who will elect the president. I think it is likely that Obama will be elected but the outcome is still in doubt.

Few Europeans understand the complexities of American politics or political culture.  They think they do, but they do not.  They tend to think that Americans are unsophisticated Europeans who would do better if they knew how.  This view is largely self deception and based on a mistaken belief that the US is a cultural extension of Europe.

In fact, we are an alien race, far, far removed from ancestral roots.  Most Americans are largely without ideology, without any sense of history that extends beyond the 4th of July and the date of their own birth, and without any interest in the outside world.  Even the coastal zones are filled with people who have never been to any foreign country, do not have a passport and certainly do not speak any language other than the "English" of their region.  Americans just do not care about worshipful crowds in any European city.  A big crowd in Paris might actually hurt Obama’s chances.

The soaring rhetoric of such speeches and the appeals to the better angels of our natures move people who are already within the percentage of the population who favor the idea of Barack Obama.  John Kennedy’s speeches moved many in 1960, but nothing like all.  His false claims of a "missile gap" with the Soviets had as much to do with his election as his exhortation to become one of "freedom’s frontiersmen."  His wife and children were appealing, but by ’63 he was thought by many Americans to be a remarkably ineffective president.  At the same time, his picture was to be seen on the walls of shacks and mud huts around the world.  Would he have been re-elected in 1964?  This is an open question.  Khrushchev thought him a posturing, empty suit.  From that came much mischief.  He forced the Soviet Army out of Cuba?  Yes, but would they have been there if the Soviet leadership had not thought him weak and a dreamer?

There is something hollow about Obama’s candidacy, something that gives citizens a chance to think him less rather than more.  He should be far, far ahead of McCain in the polls.  The Republican Party is a wounded beast.  McCain increasingly looks like a declining, mean old man.  Obama should be at least ten points ahead in national polls.  Yes. Yes.  I know we don’t elect presidents on a national basis.

William Jennings Bryan was an orator at the soaring level of Barack Obama.  His "cross of gold" speech still lives in legend, but he was never elected president.  pl




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56 Responses to Obama’s rhetoric is not enough.

  1. Amazingly interesting post from a very sophisticated person. Hit the nail on the head. While America sleeps might still be the warning note. Even I would not have a feel for Europe (northern) if I had not had an extended deployment thanks to Uncle Sam. I only speak English (somewhat fluently often corrected by foreigners) smattering of French and German. Do have a passport. Did do the post-college grand tour little realizing would be drafted within 3 years of that trip. So the Presidential campaign is at least part educational for the voters of the US. It is interesting to see the choices made by politicians. McCain’s basic choice status quo. Obama’s change. Neither quite fits. In general Americans are conservative in lifestyle and choices, few bohemians and eccentrics really tolerated. Still there does seem to be a lessening of fear of what change will bring. In the west, there is a sense that the passage of time brings improvement. Not so in the East. Nevertheless, basically most Americans are optimistic. Question which better satisfies their optimism-potential for status quo or potential for change to benefit them. Low voter turnout will favor McCain. High voter turnout will favor Obama. Time will tell but under 120 days now to election. May we live n interesting times-we do!

  2. Cloned Poster says:

    I more or less agree with all your points, here on discussion radio in Ireland (where every home a picture of JFK next to the Sacred Heart back in the 60’s) they are full od admiration for his rhetoric but cannot find substance in what he’s saying.
    He reminds me of Blair, and look at what his legacy is now!

  3. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    1. “Bethlehem – Ma’an – US democratic candidate Barak Obama said during a press conference on Wednesday in Sderot, a city in the south of Israel, that he does not support the idea of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
    Obama made it clear that Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel and that he would not see the city divided.”
    2. Whether it is dumpy and old McCain or natty and young Obama, it seems to me we will continue to have a dysfunctional foreign policy based on geopolitical narcissism. Perhaps if the situation gets catastrophic enough by 2012, slight modifications may be possible. I do not count on this owing to the power of the long entrenched imperial faction.
    3. Do the Euros see Obama as a product of recent British colonialism in West Africa, hence more open to Euro/British suggestion than old Yankees, Southern whites, and African-Americans who arrived here centuries ago?

  4. Cato says:

    The fact that Obama doesn’t clearly lead McCain in the polls may have a bit more to do with his complexion than any hollowness in his rhetoric. You mention the complexities of American politics. One of the main complexities, in fact more like a hideously deformed club foot, is the rampant racism that has been a chief impediment, if not the worst, to acheiving any sort of real democracy in America.

  5. jonst says:

    If we judge events in a one year time frame, sure, it is surprising that the Dem nominee is up by the margin he is up by. But if we judge events in a larger historical framework, it is astounding that the nominee, given who he is, is in the lead. Period.
    Throw in, that in one sense, but only one sense, we are a nation at war; That the newcomer, seeing who he is running against, is up at all is equally astounding.
    And for the record I disagree with the conventional ‘wisdom’ regarding Khrushchev, Kennedy, and the empty suit syndrome. I would argue that, perhaps, K’s military advisers, and rivals, thought Kennedy was an empty suit and tried him on Cuba. This all has whiff of Soviet domestic politics. In any event, whomever thought Kennedy a “empty suit”, they were rebuked, in clearly the most important–and potentially deadly–confrontation the world has ever known.
    And besides….this empty suit stuff fits right into this all too familiar post WW II narrative that said wherever and whenever the Soviets decided to hand the US a ‘check’ we had to ‘cash’ it for to do otherwise was to raise issues of credibility. It seemed a simplistic theory then….and it seems one now. But it’s hold on Americans is tenacious.

  6. Walter R. Moore says:

    Hollow, compared to what? George W. Bush in 200? He’s a politician with a short resume, sure.
    Polls – how much are the polls affected by race & slanders about his religious background? Can you tell me? McCain was, two years ago, an extremely popular politician, and it will take time for Americans to decide if they will reject his candidacy.
    Anyway, my cardinal rule is that if you quote David Brooks, you have automatically lost the argument.

  7. johnf says:

    As a European, I’d merely comment that I thought Obama in Berlin – and on his (one third) world tour – is appealing to the American electorate.
    I thought the strategy was that a majority of Americans – who polls show are fed up with America having such a negative image abroad – was being shown that it is possible for an American leader to be looked up to abroad. I got the impression that he was (successfully) appealing to the (mistaken) notion that the world still wants to be led by American idealists.

  8. DLB says:

    I’ll probably vote for the O-Man but still the questions linger: where on earth did this guy come from and how did this happen? (I’ve read plenty about him but still…) One thing’s for sure, he’s the owner of a vertical political learning curve. 2000 was McCain’s year if he had one and he got shredded by the Rove bad guys.

  9. jr786 says:

    I supported Obama initially, and will certainly vote for him over McCain, but my enthusiasm has waned. He seems increasingly the post-modern ‘statue without eyeballs’ – superficial, hollow, blank.
    On two international issues – Palestine and Muslim-American relations in general – he’s hopeless. His pathetic abasement to Israel and refusal to be photographed with any Muslim (minus the comical exception of Hadrat HRH the Hashemite Dumpling) indicate more speechifying with zero action.
    Frankly, I found his Berlin speech ridiculous. His history lesson was for his die hard camp followers, the modern incarnations of Orwell’s ‘dreary tribe’.

  10. Bartolo says:

    “He should be far, far ahead of McCain in the polls. The Republican Party is a wounded beast. McCain increasingly looks like a declining, mean old man.”
    Obama was a relatively unknown black male with a funny name to many people, and previous to a couple of weeks ago, McCain was the media’s darling. Fickle them.

  11. Cieran says:

    I’d suggest examining Obama’s last campaign for clues as to who supports his opponent, and thus why the polls are closer than one might expect.
    After a string of failed attempts to find a Senate candidate, the Illinois GOP recruited Alan Keyes to run against Obama in 2004, and while Keyes lost badly, he still managed to get 27% of the vote in a state that has often been friendly to Democratic candidates.
    Keyes was not even a resident of Illinois, and skin color was not an issue in the campaign (how could it be?). His campaign was incompetent and underfunded, and his personal behavior was appalling (he even refused to congratulate Obama on his win).
    And he won nearly 30% of a supposedly-Dem-friendly electorate.
    Note that this is essentially the same percentage of residual support for George W in current approval polls.
    One obvious inference is that around 30% of American voters are politically clueless GOP supporters who would vote for Satan if he ran as a GOP candidate. If this is true, then the 2008 presidential race is going to be run within the remaining 70% of the electorate, and that’s a big part of why Obama can’t open up an insurmountable lead.
    McCain has plenty of money, the corporate media have so far insulated him from his worst liabilities, he’s got a war hero record ready-made for our times, and his skin color is white. And over a quarter of the population is likely to vote for him no matter what.
    That’s what any Democratic candidate has to overcome, and it’s a big part of why the race will always seem closer than it ought to be.

  12. Paul says:

    David Brooks is showing his triple-citizenship (U.S., Canadian, and Israeli) sentiment. Reality and power, as he expresses it, is code for: “let’s kick the crap out of those who don’t roll over”.
    Surely no one expected Obama to deliver warmongering rhetoric in Berlin. Since Brooks could not attack the gist of Obama’s words, he complains about the repetition of Obama’s stump speech. Imagine McCain delivering his stump speech to a crowd of Europeans.
    It is doubtful that Brooks spent much time with ORDINARY people in Europe. He would find that most Europeans are dismayed because they cannot understand why Bush has been allowed to stay in office given his administration’s abuse of power. Europeans are in a good position to observe and judge, from afar, how America’s ideals have diminished.
    There was a time when America was home to the underdog. “Anyone can succeed in America” was the mantra that brought so many talented and capable people to our shores. That idea was swept aside by the collective (and repressive) force of the present administration, corporate America and the news outlets.
    Obama’s political elevation suggests that underdogs can still win something. But most in the over-50 crowd will not vote for Obama for it is inconceivable to them that a black guy should be in the White House. They seem to prefer the paranoid and eternal-war world of Bush/Cheney/ McCain.

  13. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Only one political party in the world could mangle it up so bad as to lose to the Republicans at this time in history. Woodstock generation Democrats. Remarkable when you think about it.
    No, I am not voting for McCain under any circumstances. And there are people I greatly respect now circling in the orbit of the Obama star. Hagel in particular. Nunn, apparently. And others. But as Zanzibar as so wisely written, Obama is not the second coming of Thomas Jefferson. No where close. More Chicago than Monticello.
    Of course, McCain isn’t Jefferson either and therein lies the problem. Neither presidential candidate has even remotely reaffirmed a long forgotten Jeffersonian principle that the people and the States created the Federal government. Didn’t our founding fathers establish sovereignty with the people through the States so as to place a check on the rise of a centralized and imperial government? Honestly, they did.
    No wonder the McCain neoconservatives worship Lincoln. No wonder that Obama started his campaign at Springfield. It’s all about the centralization of the government and imperialism, both here and abroad.
    Neither is going to solve America’s acute problems. But for those who jumped on the Obama bandwagon from the get go, the fact he doesn’t have a 10 percentage point lead now is disconcerting, to say the least.
    Shelby Steele, a man I greatly respect and admire, may offer an explanation as to problems facing Obama. Steele, who has written very incisively about the Obama phenomenon for over a year, has recently stated that Obama is more of a cultural candidate than political candidate. He wrote such in his WSJ screed titled, “Why Jesse Jackson Hates Obama”. It’s worth a look, but I admit, I like Steele and have ever since he wrote his courageous book, Content of Our Character. Here is a key quote:
    “But here lies his essential contradiction: His campaign is more cultural than political. He sells himself more as a cultural breakthrough than as a candidate for office. To be a projection screen for the cultural aspirations of both blacks and whites one must be an invisible man politically. Real world politics, in their mundanity, interrupt cultural projections. And so Mr. Obama’s political invisibility — a charm that can only derive from a lack of deep political convictions — may well serve his cultural appeal, but it also makes him something of a political mess.”
    Steele sums up America well: a political mess. And just wait and sees what happens if a tape showing the rants of Michelle Obama truly exists and then magically appears after the Democratic convention, courtesy of the Republicans and Fox News.

  14. I’m disappointed with Obama’s rhetoric on Palestine, too.
    He is a politician, a good one, and he is doing what he must in order to win. He has the handicap not only of skin color but also of that funny name, which is a HUGE handicap in my opinion.
    If you read about how his campaign is organized and you watch how he has handled all the slanders, scandals and silliness thrown at him, you must conclude that he is good at organizing large numbers of people, and responding to events while focusing on a larger goal.
    If you read transcripts of his interviews or listen to him getting quizzed, you know that he reads widely and understands issues. He’s a professor of constitutional law. He’s good at explaining things so that people who don’t know as much as he does can understand.
    He’s good at communicating – he can change the style and content of his message to reflect the audience and the venue. For a crowd of 75k you have to speak in a different way than for a group of 20 lawyers.
    I think he’s shown as well as anybody can before the fact that he can handle the pressures of the Presidency.
    Caviling about “empty suit” is sour grapes in my opinion. People don’t like how photogenic he is and how well he’s playing the media even though the media wants to keep sticking him with “Muslim” “scary” “empty suit” “angry Black wife” and so on.
    Presidential elections are won on image. Obama, a Harvard Law grad, professor, senator, with a keen mind and a good hook shot, also has a natural ability to look good on camera. Perhaps it’s that he’s a Leo – many Leos have that natural ability to attract attention – see Bill Clinton. (I’m one). It pisses other people off…
    I am pretty resistant to visual imagery as propaganda but I can see why Obama enchants.
    The charge that he’s an “empty suit” is unfounded. Vague? He has put out mind-numbing specifics. But you can’t spew wonky platform paragraphs in campaign speeches and TV appearances – you’ll lose your audience and they’ll call you a geek or a bore (see Kerry).
    I think the “empty suit” crowd are just whining because the popular kid is getting all the goodies and attention. Sometimes when a real star appears, the rest of us peons feel resentful. Why is he so special? He’s got that “it” factor and it’s just not fair. *I* work hard, I am smart, why don’t I get all that glory?
    Col. Lang, in your case, I just think the man is not exactly to your taste. I wonder how you would feel about him after a private meeting though.

  15. Jose says:

    On night, in Columbus, GA, I met a beautiful woman at a night club and dance with her several times.
    Latter, she asked what I did and she was shocked that I was training at Fort Benning, GA.
    When I asked why she was surprised, she replied, “I thought you were a foreigner plus you have to be a U.S. citizen to attend that course.”
    Still brings a laugh to me every time I think about it.

  16. David W. says:

    If Brooks were a columnist in Nineteen Eighty-Four, his columns would feature titles like ‘We have always been friends with Oceana.’ Let’s start with Brooks’ last sentence:
    But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.
    Uh huh. And yet what about the people who ‘believed’ in Reagan’s ‘Morning in America?’ What was the ‘reality’ behind that catchphrase? Also, wasn’t one of Reagan’s chief appeals his sunny optimism?
    I also recall ‘The Man From Hope.’ Did he have to face similar skepticism, or was the imprimatur of governing such an important state as Arkansas relieve him of this burden?
    Regarding Obama’s speeches, and MSM backlash, my response would be that the exceedingly positive nature of his oration is an attempt at starting to mend the fences that have been trampled by the Bush administration. Yes, it is true that America needs good PR right now in the world, just as it needs to build bridges once again with the countries that didn’t go along with the ‘coalition of the willing.’
    Brooks other straw man argument is that Obama didn’t talk tough like JFK or Reagan, well, I suppose its too simple to say that the latter were sitting POTUS, while Obama is just a candidate. And, really, what was Obama supposed to talk tough about, given the global misdeeds of the US during the past 8 years?
    Remember in 2000, due to Bush’s thin resume, the bar was set low, at ‘looking Presidential,’ and the public was constantly reassured that Bush was indeed looking the part (as he was stage managed every step of the way). Like the content or not, Obama indeed looked presidential on this trip. Indeed, the unspoken frustration on the opposition’s part is that they know inside that McCain is simply incapable of this level of oration, or inspiration.
    I’d also want to cover up for McCain’s concurrent gaffe about how ‘the surge’ is short for ‘counterinsurgency,’ and that he was really for the surge before it even began. (Someone else can unpack that one.) Or, his appearance with Bush I, where he looked more like he served with Poppy in WWII than anything else.
    I recall that sort of ‘he’s not one of us’ talk going on when Clinton was elected as well–in that regard, imo, Obama’s ‘change’ will look a lot like Clinton’s; it will be an improvement, yet essentially will still be bought and paid for by the powers that be (Wall Street, telcos, AIPAC, etc). It’s not a coincidence that candidates who are out for ‘real change,’ like John Edwards or Ron Paul, are marginalized out of the race via the MSM. (This is not an endorsement of either of these candidates, however, if you wanted ‘real change’ in this election cycle, these are the candidates who really did take some radical positions)
    I’m not an Obaman, and I haven’t ‘fallen’ for his message, nor do I believe that we are just months away from a new Golden Age, yet, it should be some measure of comfort that Obama knows the difference between Sunni and Shia, and between Iraq, Iran and Vietnam.

  17. swerv21 says:

    i guess you are right to be sceptical- obama has for now been short on specifics.
    but it would be canny of him to make sure that he makes no promises now that he has to break later (i remember both clinton’s and Bush I’s promises not to increase taxes, as an example). it is also smart to not give the other side a grenade to lob back in his face.
    but when i look at him and his seemingly effortless ability to move crowds, i wonder again, what should we really expect from a president? is speech not an essential part of leadership? we’ve seen these last years how dumb the presidency can become. perhaps it is enough to want a leader who can speak and compel others to listen.

  18. ExBrit says:

    Cieran, You said it better than I could. We know that 30% of the electorate are knuckle dragging Republicans. They’ll vote for baby killers. Then there’s the corporate Republicans who just don’t want their taxes raised – that’s got to be another 10-15% right there. I think Obama’s work is cut out for him.
    I don’t get the same sense of a hollow suit that Colonel Lang has. I think there’s plenty of substance there. In fact, I get the sense that Obama is like an ice berg. We’re only seeing the 10% that’s above the water. He’s a campaigner right now. He’s hiding his real substance because Americans aren’t known for electing the best and the brightest. He’s playing a role – that of a campaigner running for office, but it’s not who he is. If he showed himself as he really is he’d be open to “elitist” charges. That’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    I believe I said that his CANDIDACY was hollow. pl

  20. Col. Lang -so you say the candidacy is hollow but not the man. OK. This distinction is subtle and was not clear to me in your previous arguments. Thank you for the clarification.
    If the man is running a hollow candidacy in order to win at a game which favors the hollow (see Bush), but behind that hollow candidacy he is a smart, complex thinker who is good at organizing people and making decisions, then how is that a bad thing?
    To win the presidency in our era a candidate has to be able to ride the bucking demon of the media while juggling fundraising, interest groups, corporate lobbyists, international concerns, and building a cabinet to start governing once the exhausting campaign is over.
    I think Obama is showing signs that he can handle all this.
    Do we know what decisions he’s going to make once he’s in office? Hmmm… not sure. But I think most modern Presidents have surprised their supporters (and detractors) once in office with their decisions. Lots of Arab Americans voted for Bush II because they thought he was going to be “fair” to the ARab MIddle East. Hah. Plenty of liberals were mad at Clinton for his welfare reform and other decisions. Plenty of conservatives were upset with Reagan and Bush I for certain of their court appointments and political decisions as well. We’ll just have to see.
    I doubt that Obama is going to get into office and turn this country into East Germany. I bet he’ll play to the center, anger a lot of far lefties (they’re mad already), and fail to convince the knuckle-draggers that he is not Satan.
    Note this cartoon of Abraham Lincoln as a scary Muslim – there were rumors at the time that his mother was actually Ethiopian:
    Some sentiments in American life persist…

  21. Yohan says:

    Campaigns in America have NEVER been about substance, so why are people so shocked by the lack of it now? As The Onion has put it, the number of acceptable things a candidate can say can be counted on one hand, anything else is considered an embarrassing “gaffe.” Both candidates are equal in their refusal to paint in anything but the broadest of strokes.
    American campaigns are all about image control and to a lesser extent a dry run at managing a large, fast-paced organization. By all accounts Obama is improving as a manager: pulling off an upset against Clinton, keeping leaks to a minimum, and running a miniature state department of 300 foreign policy advisers. In contrast, McCain has done very poorly as a manager. If he doesn’t have the balls to fire a campaign manager, how can he be expected to fire a problem Secretary of Defense? If his campaign is a unstructured nest of in-fighting and confusion, how can he be expected to successfully manage the entire executive branch?
    But if you really want to see what kind of policies Obama would *really* implement, don’t listen to campaign speeches, look at his adviser list and read what they’re writing about in the think tank/academia world. Yeah that’s a lot of work, but if one is to bitch about a lack of substance, then one can’t very well turn around and bitch about how it’s too much work to do a little due diligence on a candidate for the most powerful position on earth. What else do you have to do over the next 3 months that’s more important?

  22. ExBrit says:

    Point taken, Colonel. I agree that it’s worrisome Obama isn’t way ahead in the polls. I hope the polls are missing the younger cell phone users who don’t bother with a land line.
    I don’t get the feeling that his candidacy is hollow. I do sense, however, that the media covers him in a typically vacuous way. Main stream media doesn’t do nuance and depth.

  23. Altoid says:

    I think I understand what you’re saying, but I think you’re overlooking something that people outside DC feel acutely. Whatever side of any fence people are on, something over 4/5s of the country thinks Washington is broken.
    Okay, you say, that’s why both Obama and McCain are running against Washington. The question is, “Which better represents un-Washington?”
    Obama, to me, is substantively close to center-right Democratic Washington but personally miles outside it, so he’s running as “cultural change” embodied in one person.
    He does it after nearly 40 years of cultural politics from the right– they’ve prepared the ground for him well, or , alternatively, he’s taking advantage of the terrain they shaped. Reagan was a cultural avatar before anything else, Bush sr. couldn’t persuade anyone he was one and lost, Clinton ran as one and was made into one (and helped in the process), and bush jr. ran as one and has run the White House as one. That’s the terrain of contemporary presidential politics.
    But the cultural features the right plays on are out of date by at least 20 years or more, which is the opening he’s trying to exploit and a symbol of where DC is broken.
    Who used to guard the racial/ethnic gates more fiercely than any other group in America? The white working class. Think Rizzo’s Philly, think South Boston and busing. Yet at one point we suddenly saw white working class boys wearing Michael Jordan jerseys, idolizing Shaq, lusting after J Lo and Kimora. Middle-class boys want to be Tiger Woods.
    And most important, the white working class *is* mixed-race now. Not just the welfare class, but the working class too. The earliest of this wave is now college-age; I see them everywhere in this mostly working-class town and on its campus.
    To the extent that McCain and Rove want to make this election about racial purity– which is really the underlying theme– they’ll mobilize old farts and some Appalachian middle-aged whites, and they’ll profoundly alienate 2/3 of the people under 35. Yet they might win if they can keep turnout low enough.
    To a large extent Obama’s tactics have to depend on McCain’s. It looks like Rove isn’t even going to try to split the attacking duties away from McCain (apparently the idea is that he’ll win by appearing genial while showing he’s mean enough to say the unsayable himself instead of leaving it to the 527s). But it’s still early, and Obama’s been overseas for a while after a long and bruising primary fight.
    To get back to the point: we don’t know the there that’s there in him, in part because he’s new on the scene and in part because that’s how campaigns are run these days; and his campaign is going to aim itself at showing that as a cultural figure he’s more in touch with the America that exists now than with the one that might have existed 20 years ago and has changed completely while the political memes have yet to catch up.
    There are lots of things I don’t like about him, starting with his personal resemblance to george w bush (speech mannerisms, etc). On the other hand he’s obviously a smart guy and a good organizer, a skilled politician who managed to find a way through very complicated Chicago politics. I don’t underestimate those attributes.
    It’s frustrating that he won’t let himself be pinned down to specifics, and I think that’s part of what doesn’t feel right to many people. That’s not the terrain of presidential campaigns, though.
    I wouldn’t read too much into the not-ahead-by-a-landslide thing. It’s the kind of ambivalence I think we’d feel if we had to move and had a choice between something in our current neighborhood whose problems we hate but at least we know them, against a newer one that looks good but assuredly will have things we don’t like. We want to know what it is we won’t like, already.

  24. zanzibar says:

    Something valuable I have learned from Pat on my frequent visits to SST for which I am eternally grateful is to judge the content not the source. The source however like many of our leading punditry is amazingly transparent in his bias. All one needs to do is read Brooks columns from a few years and you’ll see contradictions and hypocrisy elevated beyond an art form.
    Now the criticism that the “vague overture is the entire symphony” is a valid one. But in my opinion that is more a reflection of us as the American electorate than if Obama the political candidate has depth. We want the guy who we can have a beer with. We want the “Mission Accomplished” jock. We want the guy that can wow us with bullshit. We want that “Slick Willie”. We want pageantry and visions of “Morning in America”. We want chanting of “USA. USA” as if were cheering for a football team.
    We don’t want nuance nor real debate on what are our national interests or what our priorities ought to be. We don’t want the tough questions if we are prepared to be the sovereign and what does that mean. We don’t demand accountability.
    So its natural that in that environment we will get candidates that seem vacuous. Obama’s campaign has deliberately made the overture the entire symphony so all of us have the ability to create our own symphony from the overture. He’s got enough of a challenge being labeled a black, muslim, terrorist appeasing rag-head with a raving black panther wife and minister.
    Lest we forget, he barely beat Hillary for the nomination. Were it not for those strong caucus wins in Feb and playing a close game on Super Tuesday and in NH – he would not be the nominee today. As Cieran and others point out there’s around 35% of the electorate that no Democratic or Republican candidate will get. Each party has a core base. I also believe the mythical swing voter is basically voting the lesser of the two evils. They are not happy with either choice. So every election turns on who can turnout their base in larger numbers.
    IMO, Obama has some unique challenges in this election cycle. His likely coalition is rather fickle and he does not have a lock on them. That’s why I believe he is trying to run a “movement” campaign. A lot of imagery and pageantry. The early 21st century version of Morning in America after the Malaise. He’s run a very well orchestrated campaign in that regard and he deserves credit for that.
    The best thing that Obama has going for him is his opponent. Because for that mythical swing voter its going to be lesser of two evils and when it comes down to it even some Republicans will be afraid to leave McCain with the launch codes. That’s why I believe Obama will prevail and win the electoral college decisively.
    The real question that Pat is addressing I believe is what kind of Presidency will we get under Obama. What does he believe in? That in my opinion we really don’t know. And if I am a betting man I would bet is going to be a very cautious DC-Wall Street insider thing. He will give us lot of populist rhetoric and Kennedyesque images but the plutocrats will still run the show. Expect to see sizeable representation from the corporate wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties in his Administration. In many ways I expect a Clinton redux. The biggest danger that I see is an overwhelming Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and a perception of Obama coattails. A sense of a mandate beyond what the American people really signed up for. That could very well lead us down ratholes and further exacerbate our precarious situation.

  25. arbogast says:

    The election of a Democratic Congress in 2006 proved one thing very, very clearly: without a Democratic President, the Congress could be bomb-throwing Communists and the country would march to the Republican’s tune.
    And what a tune it is! Cut taxes, ignore the environment, and go to war. Oh, I forgot, bailout your plutocratic cronies.
    If McCain is elected we will have at least 4 more years of this.
    Everyone expresses suspicions of Obama, that he’s not showing all his cards.
    For the love of Heaven, what are the cards you’re afraid he’s hiding, because until I know, I don’t really envision myself voting for McCain?

  26. Patrick Lang says:

    The title of my piece does not signify that I think Obama should not win. It means that I still have doubts that he connects well enough with enough American voters to win.
    See Wiki on Myers-Briggs type indicator.
    My “doctrine” on this point is that both the source and the content must be evaluated, separately and then together. pl

  27. rjj says:

    McCain increasingly looks like a declining, mean old man.

    Ageism and humorism. Mean and short-tempered are code for choleric. He is equanimity- and sanguinity-challenged.

  28. rjj says:

    I am partial to McCain because, now that HRC has been so adroitly eliminated, he is the only one left who has had the experience of being “Fair Game” for the attack machine.

  29. DaveGood says:

    IF Obama is not the best president America can get ( And I would certainly agree with that).
    What or who, or how is America being prevented from selecting the best from it’s 300 million population?

  30. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    “There is something hollow about Obama’s candidacy, something that gives citizens a chance to think him less rather than more. He should be far, far ahead of McCain in the polls. The Republican Party is a wounded beast. McCain increasingly looks like a declining, mean old man. Obama should be at least ten
    points ahead in national polls.” pl
    In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold, Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
    Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
    Alexander Pope, Criticisms, 1711
    Assuming that Colonel Lang’s seemingly, patently obvious-to-the-world character of McCain’s weakness as a candidate is true one can only wonder why American voters keep missing it. If it is so obvious to us, why are they having such trouble understanding what there is about McCain that makes him so easy to beat, and, more importantly, why he should be beaten?
    Moreover, what is wrong with Obama that he can’t see these things because if he did he would capitalize on them so that a landslide defeat of McCain would become both inevitable and obvious? Or, in the alternative, it must be that Obama is unable to convince the electorate of his strengths because his own liabilities exceed those of McCain. Either way, what a dilemma for Obama.
    I keep coming back though to the possible problem with the American voters and why they keep missing McCain’s weaknesses. Maybe they’re not being told by the media because the media have been unable to reach the conclusions about McCain’s vulnerability as a candidate with the same clarity as the rest of us. Is it possible that they live in a world where water doesn’t flow downhill, or, more likely, do they have reasons for ignoring the obvious?
    Issues of doing the bidding of their corporate masters aside, is it possible that the media have so conditioned the public to ignoring, overlooking, and tolerating existing and even expected flaws in our leaders that for the press or others to talk about them is akin to complaining aloud about the “fart in church?” Not done in polite company.
    If we really aren’t up to talking about our leaders flaws is it also possible that our government’s seven year effort to create a one-party political system that will do anything to stay in power has been effective? Have the media, recognizing the implications for their own survival in the face of this raw, unfettered government power, unchecked by moral and legal constraints, capitulated to the point that they no longer feel safe in addressing the broad questions of the competence of the candidate representing the party in power inherent in Colonel Lang’s statement above?
    (If you question the validity of this assertion, consider how the recent congressional hearings about the collusion of the DOJ in the development of “enhanced methods of interrogation” (the verschärfte Vernehmung of the Gestapo) exposed a process of presidential decision making that removed and punished dissenters, placed a premium on secrecy, and actively ignored existing law and constitutional mandates in order to achieve its ends.)
    Is this why the media prepared the public for Obama’s trip to the Middle East and Europe by focusing not on the benefits of the trip but on its potential liabilities it might have for the candidate? One has only to listen to the “news anchors” and their surrogates who cover Obama’s trip to know that the underlying subtext for their interviews and reports was, “When can we catch him out in a mistake?”
    Was this willingness to talk about Obama’s flaws an unconscious attempt to try to even the score with an earlier administration? Probably not. More likely, it is an unconscious recognition that in his larval state, Obama has no power to threaten them. Thus, they even feel safe in arguing that his answers are unacceptable because they don’t meet what they have come to expect from people who really control political power. Understood in an earlier time to be an example of “Identifying with the Aggressor,” this idea, in the broadest sense, now has currency as the Stockholm Syndrome.
    Does this explain why the media don’t act the same way toward McCain? Are they afraid of him in a way they are not afraid of Obama? Is he a to-be-feared representative of the current political power structure the extent of whose predations are just beginning to be uncovered and impact felt?
    How else to explain why they don’t carp or cavil when McCain can’t remember which Iraqi insurgent group is supported by Iran or the fact that Iraq and Pakistan don’t have a common border? Or why the media don’t address McCain’s penchant for hiring people for his campaign who are later fired because of their contamination by the political excesses of the Bush administration.
    Is this also why 55 percent of prospective voters in a recent NBC/WSJ poll view Obama as “riskier” than McCain and why 58 percent believe that McCain reflects their values? Is the devil you know really better than the devil you don’t?
    This is the void that Obama must fill. These variables must be addressed if his candidacy is to be more than hollow. If he is to become more rather than less he must persuade the electorate that his values are theirs and his solutions relevant to their experience; past, present and future.
    Unfortunately, the media, for a variety of impolitic reasons, have not been doing their job. Some would also add that in order to keep their ratings up the media have encouraged if not fostered controversy and conflict between the candidates and have tried to create those polar absolutes against which Pope warned. They have ignored that Obama is neither the essence of the new any more than McCain is the archetype of the old and that to embrace either uncritically is foolishness.
    Although probably capable of doing it on his own, Obama’s life, and ours, would be a lot easier if the media could figure out a way to safely get on board so that the perils of having the country run by a declining old man who is so mired in the problems of the past that he is unable to fully grasp the very real and growing problems of the future can be kitchen table topics that everyone can consider and debate openly.
    The country itself is at enormous peril and the people know it. Whether it be the economic disaster anticipated by an estimated 25 million U.S. homeowners at risk to owe more than the value of their homes, or the risk imposed by the failure of our government to address competently the many other dangers that threaten the integrity of the nation, the risk is there and can no longer be ignored.
    The future belongs to our children and grandchildren but its existence is predicated on what we do today. At some point we must lay the old aside and decide what part of the new to take hold of. We’ve got to move on

  31. lina says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, trying to put a Black man in the White House is nothing short of revolutionary.
    Brooks’ column should be titled “Sour Grapes.”
    When is the last time you saw a non-U.S. crowd waving American flags?
    Of course he’s not going to give a substantive policy speech abroad – HE’S NOT THE PRESIDENT.
    I agree with all the other commenters here that to be substantitive in an American election is TO LOSE.
    Obama’s foreign policy views seem to me to be very much like those of George H.W. Bush. Radical? Hardly.
    After eight years of Bush-Cheney, America is circling the drain. Along comes this JFK-esque orator and we’re all agog. Surprising? Hardly.
    If Obama loses the election, I hope he’ll continue to travel the world giving speeches. God knows, if McCain wins, and turns foreign policy over to Joe Lieberman, we’re going to need all the Disney we can find.

  32. Col. Lang, it is not far from the narrative arc that rhetoricians have analyzed in Reagan’s pre-presidential speeches — a restoration rhetoric related to the mainstream American jeremiad that has roots in the Puritans, and has three clauses: (a) the Promise of America’s special destiny; (b) the Decline: America’s failure to live up to its obligations; (c) the Prophecy that if America repents and reforms, its promise can still be fulfilled. See the excellent and fascinating book, Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator by Kurt Ritter and David Henry (1992), in the Great American Orators series of rhetorical analysis (Greenwood Press.)
    Obama’s problem is that, on the war, some of his positions have been chosen so that if the ground conditions change, he has to equivocate. He should simply state that he trusts Gen. Petraeus’ judgment, and leave it at that. Now the surge is stalling a little, violence is upticking: Will Obama stick to his 16-month timetable?
    Reality is that Obama and McCain are both part of the foreign policy establishment, and they are not even an inch apart on Iraq. McCain is going to start drawing down troops a little, and Obama isn’t doing it in 16 months. But McCain is going to have him over a barrel in the debates if he doesn’t do something fast. McCain makes factual mistakes as everybody does, but Obama is setting himself up to sound like an equivocator, and that won’t fly with the majority.
    In terms of domestic politics, Bush’s war of choice and inept occupation for three-and-a-half years gave the Democrats a voice against the Republicans — but the surge has wrongfooted the Dems, because the surge has increased the chance of a good outcome (however long the odds,) and Americans don’t want to screw the Iraqis again. We all want to go to Las Vegas.
    What the public really needs is a full, non-partisan educational course in “nation-building” and counter-insurgency. It’s a funny turnabout in a way, because old-time liberal hawks were very much in tune with “nation-building,” while Republican conservatives were against it for decades. In the 2000 presidential campaign for example, Gore talked about the possibility while Bush scorned it.
    We are running some kind of newfangled empire while trying to be a democracy, and this election season is more growing pains. We are not going to have much more time to get this right.

  33. Nancy K says:

    Obama is articulate he can speak in complete sentences, maybe some Americans have a problem with this. The world has become a small place; I find it admirable that he has a global vision. I find it interesting that Obama speaks to thousands in Berlin and McCain speaks to several in a German restaurant, I notice that it is mentioned that people are unsure of what Obama stands for at this point in the campaign do we really know what McCain stands for except more fighting in Iraq. Until the Democratic Campaign Obama is only the presumed canidate and as such cannot really give his platfore. I think when he is the Democratic canidate he will be much more precise in what he stands for.

  34. taters says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you. I appreciate the history lesson. Very powerful.
    I believe one of the many valuable instructions that you have imparted upon us is to not disregard a message simply because of the messenger.
    Heck, even a blind, drunken hog can stumble up on an acorn. And we all know the addage of a broken clock…
    While I’m not a fan of Mr. Brooks or Frank Rich for that matter – I will check them out occasionally.
    I think Sen. Obama was being looked at as a presidential candidate when he spoke at Kerry’s coronation, uh I mean the DNC convention.
    When you compared him to Kerry in particular, it certainly seemed that he had a promising future. And like Col. Lang I believe he will be president.
    As for me, I had a problem with the guy when I found out about his constituents in the slums of Chicago in 1997 went without heat during a brutal Chicago winter. Most of them were tenants of convicted criminal and Obama patron Tony Rezko. Either Obama didn’t care and turned a blind eye or he didn’t care enough to know of their suffering. Prior to finding this out I was leaning toward him.
    I consider myself an FDR dem. I see Obama as a .225 hitter being passed off as a hall of famer, who still throws to the wrong cutoff guy. I hope I didn’t offend with a baseball analogy.
    I do agree with him about the surge. I agreed with his support of the Webb -Hagel – Warner new GI Bill of Rights. Actually I supported that bill before Sen. Webb was elected. It had gone down in defeat in the past.
    (BTW, Chuck Hagel – whom I admire and respect – initially voted with his party against it’s previous incarnation. I’ll betcha he heard from his brother on that one. For those that may not know, the Brothers Hagel were in the same unit in VN and saved each other’s lives. Both were decorated and wounded. Sen. Hagel’s brother, Tom now teaches law at the University of Dayton.)
    OK, it’s Friday and I got sidetracked.
    I’m with Zanibar upstream.
    “The best thing that Obama has going for him is his opponent.”
    Every time I hear John McCain speak, it’s a reminder that I’m voting for Obama. I’m not particularly enamored with stars – rock or otherwise. I know and have been around my share of them. (Hey, I partied with Rick James and lived to talk about it. I have seen both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the audience – the latter from the stage at Carnegie Hall.)
    Stars, schmars.
    More will be revealed, I’m sure. Perhaps he will be a fine president. (Or maybe it will be Obama the So – So. You know in the spirit of Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great..)
    I do not mock real hope or change.
    For it is when all hope is gone that causes a young mother to strap herself with explosives.
    And it is only through change a that wounded heart may ne healed and wrongs can be set right.
    These are not small things to me.
    His die hard supporters who see no fault with him? Well, that’s another matter.

  35. PeterE says:

    Judging from Obama’s statements, advisers and background, if he was elected his administration would be competent, efficient, and moderate. He’ll be like Michael Bloomberg in NY. We would have a safer and sounder country .
    If McCain is elected, and we’re lucky, we’d have something Reaganesque. Lower taxes for the rich, a bigger deficit, neglect of infrastructure, saber rattling and probably more troop deployments. The country would be wrapped in the flag, but less safe and less sound.
    The average voter on election day, will get up in the morning, waddle to his gas guzzling SUV, drive to his voting booth, and make America proud by voting for McCain and freedom!
    After all, the average voter doesn’t want a Muslim in the White House, particularly one with no experience. Let’s face: he is uppity and his middle name is Hussein.

  36. jon says:

    In the past week Obama has taken McCain’s foreign policy credentials, rolled them into a little ball and used them to sink a three-pointer from half court. Foreign policy had been McCain’ trump card, as the serious defender of America.
    Obama can now claim to be on a first name basis with most of our primary allies. He has been welcomed as a conquering hero wherever he has gone. He has defended America, while mildly chastising allies, and urging the foreigners to rally to America’s cause.
    McCain can’t remember the specifics of the Surge, of which he was the most vocal proponent, while the government of Iraq publicly says that Obama’s policies will best assist its continued survival. Obama is raising his money from average people, while McCain is running over the top of his signature legislative achievement.
    You complain that Obama has been short on specifics. That matter is likely well detailed in statements by his campaign, and by his prior behavior and legislative accomplishments.
    In my view, Obama has not been terribly specific because he has not needed to. He can paint with a broad brush that allows people to read into him their own desires. Allow the man room to maneuver.
    A European tour, however, is the wrong place to lay out those specifics. He is not President and he would be instantly attacked for stating what America would do in regards to various events. He is a good will ambassador, not a diplomat with a charge.
    Besides, what benefit has come to democratic candidates that prided themselves on the depth and completeness of their policy proposals? Her I am thinking of Kerry, Gore and Dukakis. Able candidates, with skill and expertise, but who were never able to connect with the electorate and shift the needed votes. In fact, they were all penalized for being egg-headed policy wonks.
    I also think that concerns that because Obama has been vague in the thirty second sound bites and media appearances most of us are exposed to, he might be a dangerous cipher, are ludicrous. He is a center right Democrat. His health care plan is not as encompassing as HRC’s. He supports gun owners, and is not opposed to the death penalty. He will not transform the military into the Peace Corps. He won’t socialize industry or turn your house into a commune. He might be too free market for this current crop of Republican office holders, though.
    Obama’s European vacation has been a way to soak up the air and starve McCain, and to provide fodder for the Fall campaign, when it counts. No doubt they’ve harvested some wonderful images and talking points as a result. If he was white (and not Hilary) he’d have a twenty point and growing lead right now, and no one would care what his policies were. I can’t wait to see how those ‘town hall’ debates play out.

  37. JohnS says:

    Not a surprise. About half of the general electorate is now experiencing what half of the Democrats did during the primaries. That’s why this thing will remain close right up until the election, even with the GOP’s branding handicap and McCain’s remarkable campaigning ineptitude.
    It didn’t have to be this way. Clinton would have been a shoe-in, easily taking PA, OH, and FLA from McCain. But the anti-war base hated her, and there appeared to be a concerted effort by the Party leadership (and the media) to push her out. Conspiracy theories rose up. Lots of online chatter about “building a new Party” that didn’t necessarily include Clinton’s core group of supporters, the so-called Reagan Democrats. That seemed a little to radical a plan to me, at least as far as Party leadership goes, since they’re such a timid bunch. That timidity is the probably the reason Party leaders went for the post-partisan pol in such a big way, out of fear: fear of alienating their African-American base, and a still-continuing fear of pushing their own brand.
    Obama was the safe bet. Only his career will be over should he lose, the Dem leadership will continue on their merry, blurry, lackluster way, while the country continues spiraling down…

  38. JD says:

    One of the biggest hurdles for Obama is the nurtured public perception that he’s something of a lightweight– maybe even an airhead. Hillary did as much as humanly possible to nurture that portrayal– and it worked for her. She lost the nomination not because her message wasn’t working, but because she was not organized to compete after Super Tuesday. Before she finally got her head out, he grabbed a delegate lead she couldn’t overcome even though she was kicking his ass in the late primaries. Now McCain has grabbed that baton and is running with it. He portrays Obama as a preacher who can deliver a damn fine sermon but doesn’t comprehend the intricacies of the real world, a flamboyant hors d’oeuvre in a time calling for meat and potatoes, a bon vivant in a proud nation of shit-kickers.
    Truth be told, I have never been impressed with Obama’s supposed gift for oratory. I easily remember the 1960 campaign. I was dazzled by JFK. But that’s a long time now; I don’t get dazzled as easily any more. But neither do I see Obama as a an airhead idealist. I see him getting more and more specific about his vision– I can’t say I agree with all of it. I would be satisfied if the next president would do three things better than the current one. In general, wherever possible, appoint competent administrators instead of lobbyists, party hacks and other assorted a-holes (no more Brownies). Second, nominate competent moderate lawyers for judgeships. Third, give some thought before going to war. Show a smidge of awareness that these things don’t always turn out as hoped.
    Is this too audacious to hope for?

  39. Steve says:

    In Ames, Iowa, in Feb., 2007, I saw Obama’s first campaign speech after his announcement to run. I went in optimistic and came out cynical.
    The speech was well-delivered but contained mostly platitudes. And that was the apparent perception of many in attendance. I heard one comment in particular to the effect that he had heard the same speech at every democratic hootenany since 1972.
    But, I supported him anyway, mostly because I thought he would, if elected, have a reservoir of good will beyond Clinton’s in passing his agenda in Congress.
    At the moment, it seems to me that Obama needs to put some more meat on the bones and begin attacking the republicans on healthcare, tax inequity, the financial mess, social security, the budget, etc. and explain to the public how we got there and how McCain will continue the same policies.
    There are so many openings in those areas, it’s like those issues have been handed to him on a silver platter, yet he doesn’t exploit them.

  40. jamzo says:

    obama did the obligatory and for him necessary war zone, hot spot, foreign capital tour and made a public speech to demonstrate his european (probably world) popularity
    mr brooks, an ideological opponent, was disappointed in his speech
    the media, sensing the tide coming in, covered the trip like they did covered the run-up to and invasion of iraq
    the fact that a black candidate for president is maintaining a consistent lead in daily opinion polls this early in the campaign is probably the thing that caused the networks to pump up coverage of the trip
    i wonder how david brooks can ignore the surprising political savvy of the idealistic, naive, shallow obama candidacy
    an unexpected, unprecendented, and until now unconceivable happening

  41. taters says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you. I appreciate the history lesson. Very powerful.
    I believe one of the many valuable instructions that you have imparted upon us is to not disregard a message simply because of the messenger.
    Heck, even a blind, drunken hog can stumble up on an acorn. And we all know the addage of a broken clock…
    While I’m not a fan of Mr. Brooks or Frank Rich for that matter – I do check them out.
    I believe yet to be US senor Obama was being looked at as a presidential candidate when he spoke at Kerry’s coronation, uh I mean the DNC convention.
    When you compared him to Kerry in particular, it certainly seemed that he had a promising future. And like Col. Lang I believe he will be president.
    As for me, I had a problem with the guy when I found out about his constituents in the slums of Chicago in 1997 went without heat during a brutal Chicago winter. Most of them were tenants of convicted criminal and Obama patron Tony Rezko. Either Obama didn’t care or he didn’t care enough to know of their suffering. Prior to finding this out I was leaning toward him.
    I consider myself an FDR dem. I see Obama as a .225 hitter being passed off as a hall of famer, who still throws to the wrong cutoff guy. I hope I didn’t offend with a baseball analogy.
    I do agree with him about the surge. I agreed with his support of the Webb -Hagel – Warner new GI Bill of Rights. Actually I supported that bill before Sen. Webb was elected. It had gone down in defeat in the past.
    (BTW, Chuck Hagel – whom I admire and respect – initially voted with his party against it’s previous incarnation. I’ll betcha he heard from his brother on that one. For those that may not know, the Brothers Hagel were in the same unit in VN and saved each other’s lives. Both were decorated and wounded. Sen. Hagel’s brother, Tom now teaches law at the University of Dayton.)
    OK, it’s Friday and I got sidetracked.
    I’m with Zanzibar upstream.
    “The best thing that Obama has going for him is his opponent.”
    Every time I hear John McCain speak, it’s a reminder that I’m voting for Obama. I’m not particularly enamored with stars – rock or otherwise. I know and have been around my share of them. (Hey, I partied with Rick James and lived to talk about it. I have seen both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the audience while I performed – the latter at Carnegie Hall.)
    Stars, schmars.
    More will be revealed, I’m sure. Perhaps he will be a fine president. Then again in the spiri of Ian the Terrible and Peter the Great, perhaps he may simply be Obama the So So
    I do not mock hope or change.
    For it is when all hope is gone that causes a young mother to strap herself with explosives.
    And it is only through change that wrongs may be righted and injured hearts healed.
    These are not small things to me.
    His die hard supporters who see no fault with him? That’s another matter.

  42. Altoid says:

    rjj: McCain experienced the Rovian attack machine in South Carolina in 2000, to be sure. His response was to hug bush on the convention stage.
    alnval: Why the press corps treats McCain the way they do is a really big topic and I think Duncan Black of Eschaton and digby have a good handle on it. McCain has played up to them very hard for years, spends lots of time seeming to be open with them. On a personal level they like that treatment and him. They’re so used to his mistakes (when they recognize them as mistakes) that they don’t even catch them anymore– “oh, that’s just John being John”– or think about how they look to people worrying about what he’d be like in the White House.
    To them he’s kind of like a comfortable sparring partner/friend– sort of like Tony Snow was for the WH press corps, but it’s cozier because they don’t need anything specific from him in order to do their jobs.
    On the bigger question of this entry, let me take another stab at the hollowness question.
    Maybe what Obama isn’t showing, and what people want to see, is that he wants it bad enough to attack McCain personally.
    That’s ultimately what did Kerry in, I think, and Dukakis. When people talk about Dems’ weakness on national security, I think this is really what they’re referring to. It was all summed up by Dukakis’s response to the Bernard what’s-his-name question about someone assaulting his wife: “Oh, Bernie . . .”
    Reagan, who’s now remembered mostly for being “sunny,” was personally nasty and dismissive of Carter and dissed the sitting president to his face in a national debate. Americans seem to want people who will talk nice but show they’ll fight dirty for something they really care about. They need to see ruthlessness there.
    In _All the King’s Men_ Willie Stark doesn’t get any traction until he shows anger. Then he takes off. I expect we’ll see something like that from Obama in the fall, maybe sooner; maybe then his candidacy will feel more substantial. He is a very smart guy who just needs to remember to keep the initiative.

  43. peg says:

    i say that our news media has a lot of interest in who wins this election — ie – which person, as president, will help their bottom line (PROFITS)?
    who influences the media?
    Web of board members ties together Corporate America
    Big Media Interlocks with Corporate America
    come on– McCain has made some BIG mistakes lately that got little air time.
    Obama’s gaffes are given more scrutiny.
    the M.E. conflict is my #1 issue. as a regular citizen, i see Obama being more diplomatic in our foreign affairs, and McCain as being a stubborn saber-rattleler.
    but what do i know….(at least i come here to learn Col Lang and the great comments. i’m trying!)

  44. Craig McKie says:

    Very astute analysis of American society. But I think the era of Americans ignoring the world will soon end, not because of domestic change or aspiration but because the world will forcibly intrude. This might occur in many ways: oil prices, the Internet, reverses in battle, more destructive hurricanes…and so on. I think the era of isolation and indifference to the world is about done with. At least I hope so…
    On the Obama front, he reminds me of the children of committed 1930s Communists I knew when I was growing up. They presented a normal sociable face to the world. But they had been to camp and they knew the moves. I got on with them very well but you often had the sense that underneath the act was iron. My intuition says Mr. O has an iron core.
    All the Best

  45. ISL says:

    Thanks for this discussion, I find it hard to disagree with anything written. As a law professor, Obama should have a better understanding of the constitution, and should he be so inclined, to restore its central place in our government and society, certainly compared to McCain. On the other hand, John Yoo is also a law professor.
    It also seems obvious that fortune has perversely shined over the last 8 years – if current policy had been implemented by a highly competent team, the US would be a very different place; Likely this blog would not exist – which would be a loss for all.
    As someone who straddles both sides the pond, I think most on each side largely are ignorant of the other, with many prefering their preconceived notions.

  46. Altoid – re: will Obama attack the other guy… Just give him a chance.
    Didn’t you see him discuss his approach to Hilary Clinton? This was back when “they” were saying that she’s a fighter and he isn’t. He said he was biting his tongue and holding back because he was opposing a fellow Democrat. He said just wait.
    And then in another interview when he suddenly went off on “don’t attack my wife” – he said it a couple of times – then he gave this smile that was menacing, as in – get it? I mean it. Don’t even try me because you will be sorry.
    The guy is a street fightin’ politician from Chicago. He is also smooth. I think he will indeed lay some gloves on McCain and will do it in such a way that the right wing will sputter about how unfair and slick and underhanded he is. I.e. he will do it with class but the knife will twist, twist twist. Hilary’s supporters are still mad about some of the things he said to parry her.

  47. frank durkee says:

    There is a kind of rough and ready reality test of where each candidate is likely to be and why there is no landslide for either and eapecially obame. Each party has roughly 35-40 % of the ‘voting’ electoratewho are very unlikely to change. so the contest is not to lose that and to win 50 % plus of the remainder. that group routinely doesn’t begin to shift significantly until after the conventions and frquently much later.
    It would seem that around 15 % pf the voting electorate { their combined totals subtracted from 100% ]is not yet in play. most Democratic election followers tha I read give McCain aroud 40% as a starting base and Obama roughly the same. Those analysts are not looking for a land slidde, just a victory.
    This raises the question if the ‘meme’ “Why isn’t he more a head? or He should be leading by a larger margin.” open to question. Given many of the factors mentioned in the preceeding posts and the issue described above perhaps the closeness is less surprising.

  48. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Altoid: re your comment on why the press treats McCain the way it does.
    I agree that it’s a big topic, and, in the context of the upcoming presidential election is certainly worthy of its own post and comments.
    As to Atrios (Duncan Black) and digby, IMO each illustrates the underlying dynamic inherent in my own comments. In too many cases, there exists no true arm’s length relationship between the MSM and the folks they ultimately report on. There is no real independence. That’s what makes C-Span and access to the internet so precious. In the case of C-Span it is the only outlet we have left where one can see and hear for oneself what is there and no media bias or reporter’s preconceived notions can change it.
    This is not to say that the MSM should not have or cultivate sources of information. But that should not result in the kind of pervasive prostituting of media integrity that exists today, which is perhaps best exemplified by the upcoming 89th annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
    Even in the case of Katrina, had it not been for the magnitude of the catastrophe we would likely still be listening to the mewling of Brownie because the president’s patently inaccurate assessment of his job performance would not have been seen by the MSM as important enough to challenge.
    Finally, getting to ride as a reporter on McCain’s Straight Talk Express: How can you complain about doughnuts with sprinkles on them as rewards for good behavior, or, more recently, getting promoted to the comfortable armchair next to the candidate because your reporting was congruent with the candidate’s expectations?

  49. Oh come now mate, this is pure bollocks. Obama’s real bloody problem is a funny background for the strong nativist sentiment (and that’s hardly purely American, eh?) and frankly race.
    Rhetoric and the like is pure bollocks, really absolutely pure bollocks.
    You’re right about American insularity, but wrong on alien race mate. It’s really not so dissimilar to English isles insularism, and in my view having lived on, what, four continents?, rather more a function of geography and intensity of exchanges. Continental Europeans run into and are more aware of bumping into Germans, or whatnot. US particularism is not really that alien.
    (And btw, re the comment supra, Blair’s legacy is quite good, as he moved Labour from its Red Days to solidifying Thatcher’s gains. But its got no more legs, time for Cameron to come in; if Obama were like Blair, you’d be in good shape. Unfort. his trade and economy politics suggest otherwise)

  50. rjj says:


    McCain experienced the Rovian attack machine in South Carolina in 2000, to be sure. His response was to hug bush on the convention stage.

    Yes, I saw the pictures. Never could look at them very long till recently. Captioned them “A Bargain Abasement” and “You’re My Bitch, Johnny Boy” and “What is this man thinking?”
    I do wonder what someone with his personal experience would be thinking in that situation. Impossible to say, I suppose. We are all so very different.

  51. MF Lehman says:

    Col. Lang:
    I agree that Obama has so far shown pretty much all Cool Whip and no pie. But then, I stood in crowds in Iowa where the person on each side of me was swooning asking what he had said that caused the swoon.
    But bear in mind that it would be at best pointless and possibly harmful for Obama to get too specific about policy. The nitwit teenagers of our major media are bored by it. Some aspects of policy, especially of foreign policy, yield no benefits through discussion, especially if one intends to actually change anything, since most of the self-absorbed foreign policy “experts” in our major media are invested in various current policy blunders. No, better to keep it vague and present the nuts and bolts of the policy – whatever it may be – when there are means at hand for implementing it.

  52. Patrick Lang says:

    So you thing that this Obama thing might have something to do with racialism. Remarkable. I will try that out on the chaps at the club. pl

  53. Jane_in_Colorado says:

    What would you have preferred that Obama say, PL? Is there anything he could have said that would satisfy you?

  54. Arun says:

    Obama interview:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatch…clatchy/ 3002009
    Q: Afghanistan is something you’ve spoken a lot about…Take us to the next level, why, as you’ve said, and how, we need to put more U.S. forces into Afghanistan . To the Soviets it became a quagmire. How do you avoid that? How do you measure success? If you could give us a little more detail about what you think you’d like to do.
    A: I’m not here to lay out a comprehensive military strategy. That’s the job of our commanders on the ground. I can tell you what our strategic goals should be. They should be relatively modest. We shouldn’t want to take over the country. We should want to get out of there as quickly as we can and help the Afghans govern themselves and provide for their own security. Our critical goal should be to make sure that the Taliban and al Qaida are routed and that they cannot project threats against us from that region. And to do that I think we need more troops. I also think that we need to deal with the situation in Pakistan and the fact that terrorists are able to operate with relative freedom of movement there right now.
    Q: Do you have an idea of how long it might take?
    A: A lot of it depends on not only our military actions but on our diplomatic initiatives with countries like Pakistan . And it also depends on how quickly we can get the Afghan government to cut down on corruption, take seriously the problem of the narcotics trade. So there are a lot of moving parts there. You don’t know until you know.

  55. Patrick Lang says:

    Jane in C
    You missed the point. I find his rhetoric quite satisfying, but do enough of our countrymen find it satisfying enough to vote for him in large enough numbers to elect him? pl

  56. searp says:

    It is enough, given the alternative.

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