Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Obama paradox

Sully on Obama’s conversion to speaking truth to power douchebags:

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this. They are not as interested in getting beyond the racial question, in changing the hopes and dreams of black America, as they are in exploiting it for partisan advantage. Their response to the first major black candidate for president tackling the old racial politics? “We don’t believe him.”

To my mind, the “cynicism” is warranted (and, by the way, it’s a cheap shot to lump Glenn Reynolds—who has spoken very positively of other black Democrats, like Harold Ford—in with the Corner crowd and the odious Michelle Malkin) because, fundamentally, the question is which Obama is genuine. He’s spent two decades in Jeremiah Wright’s pews, and there are two plausible interpretations of that: he sat there all that time thinking “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit” while Wright preached his nonsense about CIA conspiracies to infect blacks with AIDS and spread crack in the inner cities and was being politically expedient in using that as a platform for reaching out to a black community skeptical of his African-American bona fides as a half-white, half-black-but-not-black-American politician, or he’s being politically expedient now reaching out to whites and Hispanics who are rather more troubled by Wright’s bullshit (and the related bullshit spread by Sharpton and Jackson) than he genuinely is. Neither interpretation squares well with the Sullivanesque interpretation of Obama as the Great Black Hope who will unite all the races in the quest for the one ring to rule them all, or at least a quick exit from Iraq or something.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is a bad person or isn’t telling the truth now; hell, even if he is a liar on this one issue he’s still an order of magnitude more genuine a person than Hillary Clinton, who skillfully combines all of her husband’s artistry for compulsive dishonesty with none of the used-car-salesman charm that made it at least vaguely palatable. But it’s somewhat harder to square Obama the presidential candidate with Obama the inner-city politician than it is to square, say, Ford, who never had to pander as much to the black establishment (in large part because of his father’s coattails) before becoming a DLC-style centrist in Washington.

Update: Timothy Sandefur makes largely the same points, but far more eloquently (particularly with 100% fewer uses of the word “bullshit”), while Johnathan Pierce at Samizdata critiques another part of Sullivan’s argument.

The long arm of Barack Obama

Current MS-1 resident Marvin King and I have been taking note of the surprisingly successful campaign of Prentiss county chancery court clerk Travis Childers, running as a Democrat, against Southaven mayor Greg Davis; the surprise is that this has been a reliably Republican district since 1994, and likely would have turned to the GOP a decade earlier if not for Jamie Whitten’s heroic efforts to get federal largess directed to northern Mississippi.

Now that Childers has placed first in the first round of the contest, it appears the gloves have come off with GOP ads linking Childers to two recent winners of the not-very-coveted National Journal “most liberal senator” award, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama. Childers is now trying to distance himself from the national Democratic party and Barack Obama in particular, but it’s questionable how effective that tactic will be over the course of the campaign. Childers also has to contend with the real likelihood that he will win the special election amid low turnout, only to be turfed out in six months when the presidential contest will bring out more of those GOP-leaning voters and Davis will have a big stack of roll-call votes showing Childers having an 80%+ agreement in his voting record with Nancy Pelosi; I can almost imagine the ads now.

Obama continuing to win the economic literacy debate

As noted previously on these shores, Barack Obama has—contrary to his reputation as the “most liberal senator” ginned up by the National Journal—generally made proposals that make economic sense. His opposition to the hare-brained “gas tax holiday” scheme is another point in his—or at least his economic advisors’—favor.

That said, I will quibble with Dan Drezner’s half-suggestion that Obama run with the “it’ll only save you $30” talking point. My general feeling is that when politicians have belittled dollar figures in the past—most notably when the first $300 tax rebate was being proposed way-back-when (2002?)—voters outside the beltway bubble generally seem to think that they have better ideas about how to spend the money than folks in Washington do, especially when they're not making a six-figure government salary. That said, I think the talking point works better when it’s a relatively non-transparent tax like the 18.4¢/gal federal gasoline excise tax that generally isn’t broken out on receipts rather than a check that shows up in the mail.