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“Pursue essential purposes calmly” – J. Gould

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat if necessary. We have an interlude of 40 days and 40 nights til the spin cycle winds down on the Pennsylvania Primary.

For the real deciders — undeclared superdelegates — this interval will be a time of reflection. They face one momentous, uncomfortable decision for themselves, their constituents, their Party and their country. No matter how frantic the crossfire gets, no matter the clamor outside their cloisters, they won’t be rushed.

The focus of their deliberations will be Obama first, History second, Hillary third. Below the fold, a look ahead at this period of reflection … and our parts in it.

Hillary is the real deal. Most hold-out superD’s are Democratic “lifers”. Few are naïve to political theatre. They already know she’s nothing like the race-baiting, status-quo-hugging monster the Obamaton hordes are sworn to destroy and erase from history. They also know there will be hell to pay if we make her the nominee.

“History” means big picture history … the story that nobody remembers the beginning of, that we’re all part of, and that nobody will see the end of. They know this decision is high-stakes and high-risk. SuperD’s can visualize more and varied sequels to this episode, and more acutely than most.

Obama is the unknown quantity. He’s a big deal, but is he the real deal? In his meteoric rise, the usual questions haven’t been faced. The usual record hasn’t been demonstrated. Will his bubble simply burst, leaving Wolcott’s puddle of melting iridescence?

For an individual approaching the presidency at a defining moment — not to mention leadership of our Party at a critical juncture — we know precious little of Obama the man, or Obama the plan.

If any seer, scientist, sorcerer or seer came before us making claims as bold as Obama’s, would we sign on readily? Suppose a mysterious stranger approached our governing councils, claiming mastery of a New Geophysics by which the nation could predict earthquakes … or prevent earthquakes … or cause earthquakes to occur at times and places of our choosing.

(Can you honestly tell me the claims for Obama’s New Politics and New Foreign Policy are any less earth-shaking?)

Suppose our New Sorcerer/Scientist strikes a hard bargain and sets a dear price for his transformative contribution. In exchange for these powers we must surrender keys to the kingdom … renounce standard history … abandon decades of infrastructure investment … and drop our guard against a broad swath of known perils.

Wouldn’t a skeptic’s hand or two go up in the crowd? Wouldn’t we want to hear an outline of the theory, or examine supporting data, or maybe see a demo? Wouldn’t we want to hear what the Old Scientists had to say … even despite their confessed inability to exercise such powers?

For the nominating process, this evaluation ends up in the hands of the Democratic Party “lifers” – major elected officials, state chairs and committee members. There will be no knock-out. This contest ends in a referee’s decision.

“They” will decide this. “They” know who they are, and “They” are observing closely and taking notes.

Now, what’s our part? What’s our essential part in this historic period of decisive reflection?

Understand first that BO08 wants to make it a period of horserace reporting (polls, endorsements, second-stage caucus results, onesy-twosy superdelegate gets), punctuated by pointless uproars – short crossfire news cycles over searing contests, gaffes and scandals (maybe even his own) to eat up the clock and keep the spotlight skittering.

Our part, therefore, is to make it an Age of Discovery instead.

How much is known of Obama’s academic record? Surprisingly little. His tenure at Harvard Law Review? Ditto. His work as a community organizer? Not much in-depth reporting available, even of his big voter registration drive. Legislative history? Likewise.

Yes, he’s got “charisma”. Does it have shelf life? Through the convention? Through the general election? Through the transition (if elected)? Past Inauguration Day? How far? How far past his first budget session? How many of the POTUS’s daily dozen directional decisions can be mastered by giving a stirring speech. How fast does the rhetoric get old? What happens when both sides find out what behind those sculpted lines that appeal to both sides?

Yes, he’s got a vision of “a new kind of politics”. What is that, exactly? How does it work? How do we know it does work? What are its preconditions? Are there any conditions under which it might not work? If we wanted to export it to some struggling republic, what would we pack in the kit, and what’s the order of assembly? Are there scholarly papers describing its intricacies? Are there masters ready to share tacit knowledge when we come to a non-obvious fork in the road? What makes it “new”? Why has nobody thought of it before? What are its unintended consequences? Can we institute it unilaterally, or do its adversaries have to buy in voluntarily?

And likewise for the New Diplomacy (which we gather is something of the same, only across greater distances of culture, vital interest, and geography)?

If it’s a Theory of Change election, what’s the theory? (Different disciples have entirely different thrills running up their legs in light of their divergent accounts of his gospel of change.)

What arguments did he make to get where he is now? Nobody was paying much attention back in July. Let’s review.

If we really are “at a defining moment” as he says – shouldn’t someone ask him to define it?

So here’s the task at hand for bloggers in the refuge. Maintain equilibrium. Avoid distraction. Pick your battles. Hew to the essential questions:

  1. Who is Barack Obama?
  2. What has he said?
  3. What has he done?
  4. What does he plan to do?

The focus is Obama, not Clinton. We’ll have occasion to walk back some of the slanderous nonsense that has taken hold in certain big orange circles, but we’ll do this gradually, factually, and in only context of reviewing Barack Obama’s velvet-glove-and-tire-iron campaign tactics.

In the main, let it rain on Brother Obama’s parade for forty days and forty nights. Then let the dove fly down with the olive branch in its beak, and see where the tribes settle out from there.

22 Responses

  1. Yep. I share your skepticism. I have no idea who he is. He is the tofu candidate. Shall we start at his stump speech? Isn’t this where promises get made? And if there is nothing there, well, shouldn’t that be important?

  2. So many starting points, so little time. We might start with the Federalist Society votes that put him over the top in the Harvard Law Review editorial election, and the FS appointments he made as managing editor. Is that his model for the post-polarization, post-partisan Pax Obama he’d institute as President?

  3. Thanks, Ronk, Sounds like a plan. Sometimes I get carried away. Fiery persuasion seems to be my knack but it isn’t getting us anywhere if it just results in more he said/she said. I’ll see what I can find, though I am no lawyer. 😉

  4. I’ve been saving up lots of articles about Obama for quite awhile. The Chicago papers also have archives of information about him on their websites. I’m not sure how one would find out about the Harvard stuff. I’d love to participate though.

    RonK, thanks for the perspective. It’s true, we do have time. There are also other people, like Susan Hu who have been digging up info on Obama for a long time.

  5. BB: If your email address in the comments field is correct, I will send you an invitation to post.

  6. Yes, that’s my e-mail address. I just found a couple of long articles on Obama’s career at Harvard Law. There is also a long Rolling Stone profile that I copied yesterday.

  7. Great!, Invitation sent. I assume I don’t have to tell you about the copyright infringement stuff wrt the Rolling Stone article. But selected passages could be very useful.

  8. I don’t think Barack Obama knows who he is either. Now, that’s fine sometimes, but maybe it’s not fine if he never says “no” to anyone. Can anyone find an instance where he actually *led* by drawing a line in the sand and saying “no” to a person or a group? One where he wasn’t pushed into it by circumstances? He didn’t intend to run for POTUS until he was pushed into it, am I correct – thinking he wasn’t ready? The Wright issue, to me, speaks less to what Obama believes about that rhetoric than it does to Obama’s unwillingness to take a stand and say “no” at some point during those 20 years. I see his campaign now as promising everything to everyone, but in practice we know that’s impossible. If we just rack up all the promises he’s made on the campaign trail, and then ask.. How do you do all these things without saying “no” to anyone?

  9. riverdaughter,

    I haven’t gotten anything from you yet. I’m reading up on Obama at Harvard Law.

  10. He was pushed into it?

    Who pushed him?

    And why?

  11. I don’t think he was pushed to run — I think he was pushing — but Tom Daschle had a long talk with him and suggested that if he waited he’d have to carry the inconvenient baggage of a Senate record.

  12. Today, I printed out and mailed letters to Senator Boxer (my uncommitted senator), Congressman Howard Berman, Speaker Pelosi and Howard Dean telling them that I will not vote for Barack Obama in November if he is the nominee because of the racist, misogynist campaign he has run which I regard as anti-Democratic in nature. And further, that I am going to everything I can to convince all women over the age of forty (the point at which misogyny has stung almost every one professionally) to not vote for him as well. I also said that I cannot support the Democratic party with anymore donations this season if they don’t seat Florida and Michigan fairly and squarely – and that means not giving Obama delegates he didn’t earn. No 50/50 splits. I also said that, as a freelance employee, I am a universal health care voter and that I would rather not have a Democrat elected to office that poisons the water against universal healthcare and that I’d prefer to fight again in four years, than lose for a generation. On the advice of a poster at No Quarter, I sent the Boxer, Berman and Pelosi letters to one of their California addresses rather than DC so that they receive them faster.

    I want to encourage everyone to do it as well. Don’t email. Send actual letters that they have to pay staff to deal with. If Nancy receives thousands of letters along the line I sent, it’ll have a big impact.

    We cannot let Democratic party leaders take our votes for granted – which is exactly what Obama and Pelosi are proposing. Several websites have addressed that they have seen the lines between Clinton and Obama supporters ossifying. We need to make sure that party leaders are aware that’s no fluke. And having to step over a mail bag of letters is the best way to do that. Please join me.

  13. Excellent post RonK.

    We do need to avoid the purposeful distractions. When addressing the Obama supporters I’ll try to find the discipline to keep my comments focused on the task at hand.

  14. Where’s my Recommend button? I’ll figure this new place out sooner or later.

    As for Obama, I don’t have anything against him. He’s a credible Democrat, the recipient of some good breaks (as many or most successful politicians are), and he runs an extraordinarily good campaign–way better than Clinton’s. But he has no more claim on being president than half or more of our Democratic senators, governors, or even congresscritters. To the extent that he seeks to separate himself from that enormous pack on the basis of one speech (and absolutely no follow-up actions, especially from a position of influence in the Senate), and a wholly vacuous emphasis on Hope (with the somewhat sinister kicker that Hope=Trust in Obama), he has my admiration for audacity, but he certainly doesn’t have my backing so long as the alternative is someone who’s tackled important issues, fought back on behalf of her party, and hasn’t claimed mystical status as the sole bearer of our hopes and dreams. In closing, I would like to say that the preceding sentence was wayyyyy too long.

  15. I don’ t know precisely what to look for, but this is an interesting article –


    His deliberateness _ and his proclivity for calculation _ played a role in Obama’s decision about where to worship. DCP had its base in churches, and some members grumbled about why he didn’t have a church home of his own.

    Obama, whose mother treated organized religion with the distance of the anthropologist she was, eventually found Trinity United Church of Christ, a congregation with an activist minister.

    But Obama admits part of Trinity’s appeal was that it wasn’t affiliated with DCP. “If I joined one of the churches I was already organizing, that might have caused some tensions,” he said. “And part of it was there was an explicitly political aspect to the mission and message of Trinity at that time that I found appealing.”

  16. Rich,

    I understood that sentence with no trouble whatsoever, and I agree with you completely.

  17. I didn’t have anything against Obama at first. but I dislike the way he’s running his campaign, most specifically the fact that when anything goes wrong, the blame is immediately shifted to Hillary. does that remind anyone of a certain current president who is never ever to blame for anything? the buck has not stopped in the oval office for seven years now and I don’t think it would in an Obama administration either, if the campaign is any indication. he might have a more inflated self-image than bush, which I would have hardly thought possible.

  18. Daria-g,

    That’s an interesting article. Thanks. I spent some time this afternoon reading about Obama’s career at Harvard. This article elaborates on his community organizing years.

    The biggest thing that seems to stand out about him throughout is his unwillingness to let anyone know what he really thinks about anything. People at Harvard never knew where he stood on anything, but they tended to think he agreed with them. He was a “good listener” who wanted to hear all points of view, but didn’t reveal his own thoughts.

    My question has always been: does this man actually have any real ideas of his own? He certainly doesn’t seem to be committed ot any ideology. He wants to be whatever will be least offensive to the people he wants to please. Yet at the same time, he doesn’t hesitate to use character assassination against his political opponents and he does it in a very passive aggressive way.

    There isn’t any mention of this passive aggressive behavior in any of the articles I read about his time at Harvard law. You’d think Obama would have made at least a few enemies. Either he didn’t or they aren’t talking. The worst I’ve heard is that he alters the truth to make himself look good–in the article you linked and in things I’ve read about the lies/exaggerations in his first book.

  19. Boston Boomer, doesn’t it seem like he’s been very careful to not leave his fingerprints anywhere? there’s really nothing much to see. that might have seemed like a brilliant plan, except when something goes wrong (i.e. Rev Wright) there’s no record to point to to counter-balance. despite his supporters’ claims, I think his campaign has been extremely negative, basically an attempt to paint the Clintons as racist – a ridiculous charge, in my opinion. if he were to secure the nomination, then I guess the focus would be on painting McCain as racist or a war-monger. in the meantime, who and what is Obama? an empty vessel? we’ve had one of those as president. it didn’t work out so well.

  20. The biggest thing that seems to stand out about him throughout is his unwillingness to let anyone know what he really thinks about anything.


    This is another interesting piece, it’s from The New Republic but can’t find on their site, reproduced here –

    Alinsky + Chicago politics but.. Well, to what end?? I can not figure that one out. What does this Change look like? Until now, the end seems to be.. more power? I don’t know.

  21. […] Posted on April 3, 2008 by ronkseattle Three weeks ago I posted “Pursue essential purposes calmly”, suggesting we had a free interval of six weeks to drag the media focus to an examination of the […]

  22. […] Obama’s Double Bind Posted on April 8, 2008 by bostonboomer Awhile back, RonKSeattle challenged us to find out about Barack Obama.  Who is he […]

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