by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
A weird campaign gets weirder
This campaign gets ever more surrealistic. For most of August and early September, Obama on the stump was complaining about the McCain campaign’s “lying” and “lies”; yet last night on CNN Ed Rollins and David Gergen were lamenting the “new” McCain who had authorized an ad that said Obama had “lied” about his relations with Bill Ayers.
Then Fightin’ Joe Biden was on the stump, veins bulging, hands pumping, screaming that “John McCain could not bring himself to look Barack Obama in the eye and say the same things to him. In my neighborhood, you got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.” So here we are in fantasyland where Biden with hairplugs and teeth whitener evokes his supposed blue-collar fides to suggest the veteran who was tortured and held for over five years by the communists is now scared of facing down the arugula-eating Obama.
Then Rep. Lewis let loose with:
What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse…George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
So suggesting that Obama showed terrible judgment in continuing to communicate with Ayers after his circa 9/11, very public boasts that he hadn’t bombed enough is now the equivalent to the murdering of four innocent little girls.
The common denominator in all this? Ask Bill Clinton who saw all this earlier in the primaries. Team Obama has so prepped the battlefield that it is nearly impossible to raise legitimate questions about Sen. Obama’s mysterious past without incurring charges of racism and/or character assassination. The modus operandi is to have Obama high in the clouds talking about hope and change and brotherhood, descending on occasion to lament those who cruelly lie about him, and then ascend again as he unleashes a variety of surrogates who preemptively create a climate in which McCain can say very little without being condemned as illiberal and worse.
Many of us warned about all this in March and April as we saw the Obama Rules box in Hillary. Time is running out for McCain and Palin, and they must act preemptively themselves, honestly warning that they expect to be demonized and have the race card played against them, but that such threats and invective will hardly stop them from asking even more legitimate questions.
Bill Clinton must be yelling “I told you so!”
Once again we see the Obama Rules in action: Obama as Zeus on Olympus decries the petty mean politics of mere mortals that the McCain campaign is using against him: “In the final days of campaigns, the say-anything, do-anything politics too often takes over. We’ve seen it before and we’re seeing it again — ugly phone calls, misleading mail, misleading TV ads, careless, outrageous comments.”
Meanwhile, Obama has raised and spent the largest amount of money on ads — and negative ads — in election history, and remained silent about the New York Times running an 11th-hour hit piece on his opponent’s wife, or a Rep. Lewis comparing McCain to George Wallace — or a Sen. Kerry now suggesting that John McCain (which Team Obama characterized as “losing his bearings”, and “confused”, etc.) uses adult diapers.
So the same old, same old modus operandi: all sorts of surrogates in the Congress and press offer some pretty mean-spirited “outrageous comments,” while St. Obama does his part to complain that McCain himself is doing exactly what his own supporters are in fact doing.
Call it Nixonian deniability of culpability, or call it Teflonesque or creating the necessary firewall — but it finally becomes as creepy as it is predictable, and I think all the voters cannot be fooled all the time.
But why keep talking to him?
I confess I haven’t followed the Ayers matter — except for one key and persistently bothersome detail — the continued communications following 9/11. Relying on the unimpeachable New York Times, I learned two fact: (one), Bill Ayers, in 2001 said that he felt that he had not done enough bombing and could not rule out the possibility that he might have done it all over again; (two) for the next four years (until 2005 when Obama reached the Senate), Obama communicated with Ayers by phone and email (e.g.: “[they] have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Mr. Obama began serving in the United States Senate in January 2005.” New York Times)
So why would anyone in a post-9/11 climate continue to communicate with such a loathsome character for four years, when it was common knowledge that Ayers had approved (no, was proud) of his past terrorist tactics of bombing buildings?
Obama may plead the ‘I was only 8 years old’ line about Ayers’ bombing career, or the ‘I bumped into him on the street once or twice’ story, or the narrative of ‘I served with him on a board with some Republicans’. But really, the continued association by phone and email with a proud, creepy Ayers is simply mystifying and has been rarely raised and never explained.
Better the subjunctive mood
I’ve always liked and admired Gen. Powell, and believe his endorsement both helps Obama and is sincere. But I am confused by what he said today, especially this line, “He [Obama] has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.”
How does running for office, even in charismatic and professional fashion, or projecting an image of both presidential style and substance, translate into “meeting the standard of being a successful president”, much less an exceptional president?
One can only meet such a standard once in office. I think he meant to say instead that Obama has now met the standard of being a successful presidential candidate, even being an exceptional presidential candidate — and that may mean, if elected, that he could be a successful, even exceptional president.
That was then, this is now
I was surprised in the debate that Obama downplayed and seemed unconcerned with the less than legalistic protocols of ACORN, which he has helped in person and purse — surprised because in the 1996 state primary race in Illinois, Obama sued all of his Democratic rivals on allegations that their qualifying petitions were null and void due to faulty signups of mostly African-American voters. He succeeded then in throwing out all their petitions, eliminated all his rivals, and then ran unopposed on his way to an easy victory in the general election. In 2004, his Senate Democratic rival mysteriously had his sealed divorce records leaked, crashed and burned, leaving Obama with an easy race — and mirabile dictu the same thing happened in the general election when Mr. Ryan’s sealed divorce records were likewise mysteriously leaked and he too imploded. Hope and change in action…
Speak out, speak often…
Regarding the supposed intolerance alleged by Mr. Douthat (whom I don’t know and have not read) toward those conservatives who suddenly bolted to Obama: I don’t think anyone holds any animus toward them. Why should one — when the whole point of free ideas is, well, free ideas? (I think a straw poll of the Hoover Institution might well find Obama support far more widespread that the public would dare imagine.)
Everyone is disappointed by reckless spending over the last eight years, and there are plenty of culprits — the Bush administration, the larger popular culture of buy now/pay (or often not pay) later, both the Republican and Democratic Congresses, and the necessities of two wars and the need for homeland security at home.
Deranged email that maverick conservatives and independents get is regrettable, but I think we can all attest that all those in the public zoo get their share of creepy swarms of it, from both left and right. When I wroteMexifornia, angry email was a relief in comparison to the daily obscenity-laced threats, or the occasional public temper tantrums of strangers I encountered in central California.
The points instead I was making were three: one, the attack on Palin was not just an expression of mild disappointment, but often her person was unnecessarily denounced in vitriolic terms with nouns like “cancer” (and worse, well beyond the normal condescension);
Second, most of these issues of the campaign were well known for months, and the VP selection known back in early September, so the sudden rush now to endorse Obama seemed to coincide with a sudden jump in the polls and reflected the influence of perceived momentum;
Third, there is apparently a philosophical difference about what constitutes wisdom in the political sense: while one is impressed that Niebuhr and other thinkers may well be instantly referenced by Obama, that familiarity does not necessarily translate into common sense or ethical judgment (cf. everything from the apparent prior admiration for Wright and Ayers to the wisdom of expanding taxation in times of financial uncertainty), nor does it suggest that Palin’s own story as a working mom, without connections or capital, who pulled herself up through the rough world of Alaskan politics, is not reflective of an equally valuable practical knowledge that is too often ignored.
“Yep. Every week. 11-o’clock service.”
I am baffled why it is racist to inquire about the racist Rev. Wright when Obama himself not so long ago boasted of the value of his friendship with Wright, and sympathetic journalists saw the radical Wright as a sort of proof of Obama’s leftwing fides. And while we are battered by economic news, and Wright becomes a “distraction”, that defensive argument is largely used out of embarrassment, since at one time most in the Obama circle once saw Wright, in the mode of the Ayers friendship and the ACORN patronage, as a definite plus. Only when he became a liability as the race widened was Wright dropped. And by the time Obama had become a messianic figure, any remembrance of Wright at all, in Orwellian fashion, transmogrified into our present smear of “racist.” That was then, this is now. So, for example, we forget that in February 2007, the progressive journalist Ben Wallace-Wells wrote a balanced, but sympathetic article for Rolling Stone about the soon-to-be presidential candidate Barack Obama entitled “Destiny’s Child.” After examining Obama’s associates, world view, and background, Wallace-Wells concluded, I think, in admiration:
This is as openly radical a background as any significant American political figure has ever emerged from, as much Malcolm X as Martin Luther King Jr. Wright is not an incidental figure in Obama’s life, or his politics. The senator “affirmed” his Christian faith in this church; he uses Wright as a “sounding board” to “make sure I’m not losing myself in the hype and hoopla.” Both the title of Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, and the theme for his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 come from Wright’s sermons. “If you want to understand where Barack gets his feeling and rhetoric from,” says the Rev. Jim Wallis, a leader of the religious left, “just look at Jeremiah Wright.”
Obama wasn’t born into Wright’s world. His parents were atheists, an African bureaucrat and a white grad student, Jerry Falwell’s nightmare vision of secular liberals come to life. Obama could have picked any church — the spare, spiritual places in Hyde Park, the awesome pomp and procession of the cathedrals downtown. He could have picked a mosque, for that matter, or even a synagogue. Obama chose Trinity United. He picked Jeremiah Wright. Obama writes in his autobiography that on the day he chose this church, he felt the spirit of black memory and history moving through Wright, and “felt for the first time how that spirit carried within it, nascent, incomplete, the possibility of moving beyond our narrow dreams.”
Obama has now spent two years in the Senate and written two books about himself, both remarkably frank: There is a desire to own his story, to be both his own Boswell and his own investigative reporter. When you read his autobiography, the surprising thing — for such a measured politician — is the depth of radical feeling that seeps through, the amount of Jeremiah Wright that’s packed in there. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Obama’s life story is a splicing of two different roles, and two different ways of thinking about America’s. One is that of the consummate insider, someone who has been raised believing that he will help to lead America, who believes in this country’s capacity for acts of outstanding virtue. The other is that of a black man who feels very deeply that this country’s exercise of its great inherited wealth and power has been grossly unjust. This tension runs through his life; Obama is at once an insider and an outsider, a bomb thrower and the class president. “I’m somebody who believes in this country and its institutions,” he tells me. “But I often think they’re broken.”
So was it racist of Wallace-Wells to bring up Rev. Wright? And if not, why is it now, especially when Obama himself not long ago used to evoke Wright (and others) on his own accord? So, again for example, in a March 27, 2004 interview with Chicago-Sun Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani (the “God girl”), Obama offered the now rather startling admissions:
GG: Do you still attend Trinity?
OBAMA:Yep. Every week. 11 oclock service.
GG: Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?
OBAMA: Well, my pastor [Wright] is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for. I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.
GG: Those two will keep you on your toes.
OBAMA: And they’re good friends. Because both of them are in the public eye, there are ways we can all reflect on what’s happening to each of us in ways that are useful. I think they can help me, they can appreciate certain specific challenges that I go through as a public figure.
Try a Little Tenderness….
Given the faux outrage over McCain’s campaign by an assortment of Obama appendages, and according to this logic that the candidate is responsible for the outbursts of any and all supporters, one would hope then that Obama could get ahold of the more ugly group of his supporters, and take the responsibility for them to cool it—perhaps just a word or two from the Senator about reining in their hate speech to a Sandra Bernhard, or a Madonna, or Whoopi Goldberg, or the hundred or so celebrities in Hollywood who have said some rather creepy things, or to Ludacris, or a warning to Rep. Lewis about cooling the bit about McCain’s campaign and the blowing up of little girls.
Perhaps at some point St. Obama might say something like the following: “Our hope and change campaign has naturally raised expectations; but I appeal to all my zealous supporters to refrain from character assassination of my opponents. So please — no more photo-shopping of Sen. McCain’s picture, or spreading untruths on the Atlantic Magazine website about VP candidate Sarah Palin’s last pregnancy. And, please supporters: do not hack into Gov. Palin’s email, and do not swarm radio stations to silence Dr. Kurtz. Nor is there any reason to sue to remove my opponent’s ads. And above all, my Acorn friends, do not register to vote those who never existed.”
Instead of calls to “get in their face” and talk about bringing a gun to a knife fight, or suggestions of Sen. McCain being “confused” or “losing his bearings” from Sen. Obama, perhaps he might offer just a tiny bit of ethical admonition from on high to restore a sense of civility to this election campaign.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson