Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Under his skin?

Jim Lindgren points out that Senator Obama’s speech last week was more biting and angrier than was Governor Palin’s speech this week. Obama knows that his appeal to the center is based upon him being a different kind of politician--moderate, decent, and genial. Why, then, the anger?

My suspicion is that Senator McCain is getting to Senator Obama. Barack Obama takes Barack Obama very seriously, particularly as an intellectual and as a man with the potential to change things in very important way. Mocking his ideals as mere liberal cum by yah sticks in his craw. Might that also explain his reaction to Governor Palin’s line about community organizers? The kind of work Obama did when he was right out of college is another cliche. In response to the line, Senator Obama’s people pointed to Benjamin Franklin’s work in Philadelphia, creating a volunteer fire department, for example. Hardly the same thing.

A final, unrelated point. Of late, I have been reading John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions, particularly his commentary on Machiavelli’s Florentine history. Adams notes that when people get fed up with factional fighting, they instincively go looking for a single, great man to save them. Is that why the liberal establishment loves Obama so much?

Discussions - 18 Comments

No they go look for founders to quote. Another round!

Obama is an egoist, without cause for such self-regard.

And he also happens to be a bore, whose increasingly dreary mantras are wearing thin even with his most ardent supporters, id est, the media.

To be fair, the theme of the great man who is above faction (or party or special interests), and who will establish purity in the face of pervasive political corruption is at least as central to the message of McCain as of Obama.

Did they really use that argument about Ben Franklin and the fire department? Oh, honestly . . . didn't he do that only AFTER he had already achieved some measure of success and respect in the community as a printer, businessman, writer, and benefactor of the community. In other words, after he (like Sarah Palin) had actually had some responsibility and accomplished something? And of course, this "community organizing" differs in another important respect from that of Obamas in that Franklin's fire department actually put out a few fires. Has anyone noticed what's going on now in the neighborhoods where Barack used to organize, I mean agitate?

Adams notes that when people get fed up with factional fighting, they instincively go looking for a single, great man to save them. Is that why the liberal establishment loves Obama so much?

Or maybe why there are so many Christians?

Adams notes that when people get fed up with factional fighting, they instincively go looking for a single, great man to save them. Is that why the liberal establishment loves Obama so much?

I see no evidence that the Left is tired of factional fighting. In fact, I beleive they want more of it. Especially given Biden's "We'll try George Bush as a criminal" comment.

Please remind me, how did criminalizing your political opponent's work out for Rome and Athens?

Pete is right about the similarity between Obama and McCain.

Mocking Obama's community organizing as such shows a good bit of ignorance, in addition to malice. Earlier we saw the doyen of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, trashed out of ignorance: it was at that time a two-birds-with-one-stone move, since Hillary wrote about Alinsky as an undergraduate. Alinsky was a firm anti-communist, by the way. The Franklin comparison is not so far off the mark: read the relevant pages of the Autobiography, Julie.

Indeed, I just read the Autobiography about a month ago. Like I said, he had a day job. They put out fires. Obama's own boss said he didn't do much in the pages of the NY Times.

Your point is that there were in Ben's day no professional (paid) community organizers? There were no professional politicians either. Or firemen. Or police.

The better parallel between Franklin and Obama would stress Ben's effort on behalf of a lending library.

Just a quick note (it's only barely relevant): There's a great book called "New York Burning" that I'm reading right now and it talks a lot about how early Americans put out fires in the early to mid-18th century in urban areas (and actually briefly mentions a very, very young Franklin). Just in case anyone's interested . . .

You ask why the Obama anger? I have been expecting precisely this response ever since the Saddleback discussion event. At Saddleback what we saw was a pleasant even-handed calm thoughtful deliberator in Obama, weighing pluses and minuses, and giving abstract answers such as the one on "evil." McCain by contrast was nothing if not "executive" -- giving swift, decisive, concrete responses to the same questions.

It was the difference in demeanor at least as much as in the answers which resulted in McCain's overwhelming victory at Saddleback. Obama knows this.

Trouble is, you can't make a slow, deliberative man into a swift executive. Obama saw, I think, that if you can't be decisive, you have to at least be passionate, which means being angry. "Angry" is serious. So ever since then, we would expect to see a more angry Obama. But this is a dilemma.

The problem, to put it bluntly, is that Obama's success so far has depended on his being or presenting himself as a non-threatening African American. Once he becomes "angry," he loses that image, makes the majority audience feel vaguely threatened, and shuts the window must keep open to the majority. Consider one of the most brilliant conservative African Americans to run for public office in our history, Alan Keyes, whose campaigns fail because he cannot get the majority to listen to an angry black man, no matter how eloquent he may be.

If McCain continues to show himself as a decisive executive type in the upcoming debates, Obama may not be able to find a successful way to make himself seem like the energetic Chief Executive he must be in order to close the deal with the American majority.

">">"> Here is an interesting discussion by John Judis of the young Obama as a community organizer and why he quit and decided to go to law school.

dennis, I have been surprised to see a number of Alan Keyes for President yard signs in my area: I mean SURPRISED. I live in a mostly white, mostly Republican, semi-rural suburb in Ohio.

Steve Thomas, that is interesting, but so is this and it has less of the myth about it.

I actually wondered, Steve, why the Obama defenders didn't think of that lending library and use it instead of the fire department analogy. But then I imagined that they surmised that the "library" aspect of it might give voters the mistaken impression that Obama is nothing but the equivalent of a librarian . . . and not even a hot one. And then, too, that library extracted fees from its subscribers, Franklin didn't lobby for federal funding on its behalf (of course, there was no federal funding to be had) and the people who used that library probably actually read the books they checked out.

I'm being too cute and I'm teasing you mercilessly, and you know I like you and respect you, so I am sorry. But in seriousness, this line of argumentation just isn't going to work. I'm sorry your team picked a guy who is vulnerable in this area, but you're going to have to eat it. Community organizer is a made up job title to describe people who go around telling other people how rotten their breaks have been and how they should be angry about it and demand money to soothe the effects of those rotten breaks. Everybody knows this including real community organizers who spend their time doing good instead of talking about it and wouldn't dare dream of calling themselves by that pretentious term. A community organizer may be only one step above a blogger. And I should not be president. I bet we agree about that much!

Julie - I'm not sure what "argumentation" you refer to. Obama himself thinks his experience as community organizer helped shape him, that it is part of his "story." I don't think he would say that it is the equivalent of the story that McCain told the other night and tells in his own memoir. Palin, for her part, offered no argument, only derision. Others have whispered "agitator" or "angry" or "black" or "shakedown."

If this were Eastern Europe, we would be talking about efforts to build "civil society." What Obama did was also like unto union organizing. Another tradition is Catholic, Catholic Workers (as distinct from Catholic Charities), and Catholics working on the streets and in "underclass" neighborhoods have an easier time recognizing what Obama did for a while. In the end, indeed, he came to see the limits of what he was doing, but probably not before he learned something about what he loved and was good at. Call it growth; call it ambition.

Kate, re your response to my note. Given a chance to vote for Alan Keyes, I would. I didn't say no white Republican (or Democrat) would support him; I said his anger turns off the majority. He could not take 50+% of any election. He won 38% in MD in 1988, obviously with some white votes; and even won 27% in his last minute Ill. Senate campaign against Obama in 2004. Alan understands America, especially the moral dignity of the Founding and the moral emptiness of today's culture of death, better than any political figure around today. I am addressing a barrier presented by anger, a certain kind of character weakness, not knowledge or intelligence which he has in superabundance. Obama has risen to the Dem nomination because of his pleasant civility; if he surrenders that in order to show that he is in some way as "executive" as McCain, I say he slams the window that was opened by his amiability.

dennis, I took a group of teens, mostly male and mostly home schooled, to see Alan Keyes at least twelve years ago. They had heard him on the radio, wanted to see him and needed an adult shepherd for the event. They loved him, anger and all, for his qualities that you mention.

Yes, anger can short-circuit a candidate, but it can also be used to bolster and image of righteousness. That is easily seen as self-righteousness and plays differently to supporters than to detractors. Obama's angry righteousness can be played as nuance. Jesus displayed a righteous anger, and maybe that was an image Obama consciously or unconsciously sought to claim. I do not think it played badly with his supporters, how seem to like righteous anger.

Yes, anger can short-circuit a candidate, but it can also be used to bolster and image of righteousness.

Unless it's a woman. Then it's seen as shrill . . .

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