Barack Obama gets it right

| February 26, 2008 | 17 Replies

Earlier this week, the AP reporter Nedra Pickler published an odious story that questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism through insinuation. The entire focus of the story was to imply that Sen. Obama may not be sufficiently patriotic to be president because he doesn’t wear an American flag pin, and because he supposedly didn’t put his hand over his heart during a recent singing of the National Anthem. (No, really.)

The article used what are now standard tricks in the playbook of a hollow and degraded media: using the “some say” technique to pass on right-wing innuendo as if it were serious news, making sure to give “equal time” to rumors and facts, and focusing obsessively on utterly irrelevant trivialities to the exclusion of legitimate and important issues. (Haircuts, anyone?) Until recently, Obama hadn’t been the presumptive nominee, and the media-abetted right-wing attacks had focused mainly on Hillary Clinton. But as he increasingly takes on frontrunner status, it was inevitable that some of this slime would start coming his way.

I’ve written before about why I didn’t intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary (and I didn’t), but I was equivocal about Obama. His voting record is all-around solid progressive; what I was more concerned about was the way he’d handle himself in the general election. Any Democratic presidential candidate is sure to face a barrage of vicious personal attacks. Unlike Clinton – whose voting record I’ve expressed my discontent with, but whose willingness to defend herself was not an issue – Obama seemed more of an unknown quantity to me. Too many Democrats have lost elections by being timid in the face of Republican attacks, running away from their own positions or failing to defend themselves when criticized – or, worse, trying to deflect criticism by aping Republican positions. (A tip to Democratic politicians: When given a choice between real Republican and Republican-lite, conservatives vote for the real thing, and liberals don’t vote.) This incident was one of the first tests of how Obama would handle himself under pressure.

Today Obama responded, and I was extremely pleased to see that he seems to understand very well the game being played here:

“A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor they needed, or were sending troops over who were untrained because of poor planning, or are not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home, or are undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?

“That is a debate I am very happy to have. We’ll see what the American people think is the true definition of patriotism.”

Yes, yes, yes! This is the kind of response I’ve been waiting for so long to hear from a progressive politician – one that doesn’t tacitly concede the principle behind the Republican attack, that doesn’t try to deflect it by acting more like them, but one that exposes their hypocrisy and takes the fight to them on their own turf. I’ve always firmly believed that Democrats could win elections in a landslide if they stopped running away from the mere whiff of criticism and started boldly and fearlessly standing up for what they’re supposed to believe in. There’s ample ground to take the fight to the enemy, as Obama’s response shows.

Given the outrageous injustices that have ensued when the Republicans are in power, the blatant and shameless way they sought and still seek to frighten the public and violate the Constitution for their own political benefit, they’ve given us more than enough rope to hang them with. They are defenseless on weak ground, which is why they attack constantly. But we need a candidate who will point this out, who will make the case with fervor and passion, and who will not be cowed by pathetic attacks from the right-wing rumor mill. After today, I’m far more hopeful that Obama could be that candidate.

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Category: American Culture, Iraq, Media, Politics

About the Author ()

I'm an author, skeptic and computer programmer living in New York City. I'm also an unapologetic atheist, and believe passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they've been given in the past. Since politicians and the mainstream media aren't willing to give us that, it falls to us to take our case directly to the public. Both on my own weblog, Daylight Atheism, and here on Dangerous Intersection, I hope to be able to spread the good news of freethought!

Comments (17)

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  1. stillwaters says:

    I was an Edwards supporter, but switched to Obama after Edwards dropped out.

    I have been amazed at the incredible campaign organization of the Obama camp. The way that they completely take over a state just days before an election is awesome.

    But it's this kind of talk that you write about that truly excites me this year. I have been waiting to hear strong, but reasonable counter-arguments from the Democrats for … well, how long has it been? Since, probably before I was born, with JFK, maybe?

    It's been 28 years since Ronald Reagan, and this is really the first time that I have heard a Democratic candidate speak so forcefully, so eloquently, and so strongly for progressive values. It is truly refreshing. I haven't felt this optimistic about an election … ever.

  2. Dr. X says:

    First, let me say that I am an independent, so I have no ax to grind regarding any specific candidate.

    Let me also say that I feel you are absolutely right about the sleazy tactics that are used against political candidates. I feel this a major reason many qualified persons do not enter the arena.

    However, let's not pretend that Obama is not part of this on-going saga. Politics is a power-grab. His minions are no different than any other candidate's lackeys – they will use whatever means are necessary to grab the brass.

    What specifically has Obama said that makes you think that he can make any major impact on the process? What has his record shown? What record?! He has made a big deal about opposing the Iraqi war from the onset, but unless I'm very mistaken, he was not privy to ANY intelligence information that was used to make the decision to go to war. Come to think of it, neither were you or I. It easy to arrmchair quarterback when we get the highlights from ESPN.

    Words such 'change' have a beautiful tone, but I suspect it just a hollow ring.

  3. I'm almost to the point of wondering if the current problems are due more to the "politics as usual" mentality or to the attitude that this is the only way it can be.

    I have personally never heard someone so regularly err on the side of personal principle rather than Obama. This flag pin situation in and of itself is a prime example. The Republicans are experts in setting up their opponents against emotionally public (political) situations.

    Finally, we have a democrat who doesn't turn tail, faces critiques with solid recourse, and disperses the smokescreens to reveal the revelant core issues that make the criminal politicians shriek and shudder…

    And you have the gall to dismiss it all as just more of the same? So nice of you to foreshadow your own armchair rhetoric with such a bankrupt accusation that we now shourl require people to dig up solid evidence on why we should NOT be pre-emptively attacking other nations in the world!!

  4. stillwaters says:

    Well said, Miguel Picanco.

    That's the point of this post. Obama is NOT the same old, same old. More evidence of this just this morning, when Obama schooled McCain concerning al-Queda in Iraq. Obama is a fighter, fighting for the progressive values that have made this country great.

    Furthermore, I have noticed that Obama seems to be the one making his stand and then defending it with fortitude, rather than baselessly attacking his opponents. In other words, I am not seeing much negative campaigning from the Obama camp. They don't have to resort to such tactics with an optimistic message.

    And no, he isn't the perfect candidate, but he appears to be the greatest one the Democrats have produced in a long, long time.

  5. Dr. X says:

    Show me how Obama's rhetoric is any different that anyone else's! Everyone in the race wants to bring their brand of "change" – but unless it is more than what's jingling in their pockets, it just more of the same.

    Camelot is long gone. Talk has always been cheap, but today's reality makes it almost worthless. Sorry if I want more from my candidates than poetic words strung together at a pep rally. I do not take the word of the local preacher when he says "just believe", so I'm going to wait and hear something of substance before I start knocking back the cocktails.

    As far as dirty tricks, you're deluding yourself if you think that the GOP is the only party that plows the gutter. I said it before, I'll say it again – POLITICS IS POWER! It is an equal opportunity corruptor.

    And as far as the war, are you implying that Obama would not have made a different decision if he had actually SEEN the intelligence?

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Uh oh. Here's a photo of Bush Sr. without his hand over his heart, purportedly during the playing of the National Anthem. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/02/25/does-thi

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Ebonmuse: It is delightful to finally see a candidate stand up for the interests of the citizens rather than supporting monied corporate interests catering to paranoid neocons.

    In this country, we've had a glass ceiling for many years, where Democrats were afraid that they would look weak to the extent that they might resist the irresponsible use of money and weapons. Barack Obama has made the courageous decision to break through that glass ceiling and to have faith in the judgment of the people. He is being rightfully rewarded. Maybe other politicians will now gain the courage to follow suit.

    A big concern still remaining is that the news media is highly consolidated and over-controlled by corporate interests that are often antithetical to the interests of the American People. That's the only reason that, assuming that Obama wins the Democratic nomination, there will be any sort of extended contest with John McCain. This corruption of the media is another important topic that you dealt with here. http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/01/08/how-t

    If the mainstream media were alligned with the interests of most Americans, the general election would have been over before it even started.

  8. Ebonmuse says:

    "Show me how Obama’s rhetoric is any different that anyone else’s!"

    Dr. X, that's what the topic of this post was. I couldn't care less about starry-eyed "change" rhetoric. What I want is to see a progressive politician who will stand up to sleazy attacks and fight back against their purveyors.

  9. Azkyroth says:

    This is a welcome change from the 2004 elections, whose outcome, I think, can be best summarized by Nietzche: "At times, one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid."

  10. Dr. X says:

    Ebon,

    First, let me say that I am not picking a fight, because I find your writings on the topic of religion to be top-notch, and I respect your views accordingly. The only reason I commented on Obama was because I see many of the voters succumbing to the ‘Deer in Headlights’ syndrome. It appears to me that many of the electorate are so desperate to bring about upheaval in Washington that they will latch onto any candidate that doesn’t appear to have much of the government ‘patina’. I’m concerned that, while Obama appears all nice and shiny, he may have very little brick and mortar for foundation.

    That being said, upon further review of the snippet you quoted in the original post, I still have not read nor heard anything from Sen. Obama that deviates from the rhetoric of the other candidates’, nor from the party line itself.

    The most frightening aspect of Sen. Obama’s candidacy is his seemingly naive stance on foreign policy. I, for one, would love it if we could all join hands and buy the world a Coke and a Moon Pie. But a goodly part of the world would prefer to snatch my soda away and run me over with the delivery truck. Yes, diplomacy is an admirable course, and should be attempted at the outset of any difficult situation. But my experience has been that bullies, fanatics, and megalomaniacs don’t tend to negotiate, at least not on the level. Just ask Neville Chamberlain and Joseph Stalin about that one. High level meetings with foreign leaders who are just interested in spouting hatred and hearing their own voices will just lend legitimacy to their rants and credibility to their reign.

    Obama has been adamant regarding his plans to remove the troops from Iraq (not Afghanistan, mind you). Yet recently, when asked if he would continue the fight against Al-Qaida in Iraq, he took the position that, as Commander-in-Chief, he “reserved the option to use whatever means deemed necessary to protect American interest”. So if I have it straight, here’s how this could play out:

    1) In order to fulfill a (read “the”) major campaign promise, he rescinds the deployment orders to Iraq (regardless of the situation on the ground) and our brave soldiers come home.

    2) Because the Iraqi government is unlikely able to muster a viable army and/or security force, factions from virtually every terrorist group in the known universe flood in to fill the void. Disney considers opening a theme park.

    3) Then, despite the fact that a significant portion of the terror surveillance program has been curtailed, (another campaign promise), President Obama gets wind of a ‘threat’ to the US from ________ in Iraq (fill in the terrorist group de jour). He would then consider the option to re-deploy troops back to Iraq (the dangers being compounded, naturally), hopefully squelching said threat. Or maybe he sits down with the terrorist leaders over dinner and a couple of drinks (non-alcoholic of course) and talks them out of their dastardly plans, whichever comes first.

    4) The whole world then lives happily ever after, or at least until December 2012, when we all die in a fiery cataclysm, as predicted by the Mayans. Or Nostradamus. Whatever.

    Of course, there is what’s behind door #2…Obama discovers what many of the newly elected majority members of the House did after they were sworn in. That talk is just moving molecules of air over the vocal cords to make sound. The ideas they convey are only as valid as the information they are derived from. And making blanket statements before assessing all the facts and political repercussions is like marking your drop zone next to a minefield – everything’s good until the winds change.

    Obama is not the Second Coming of FDR or JFK. These men were pragmatist. They wanted peace, but made it abundantly clear that they would not back down in the face of adversity. If change means that we forget these principles, then our position as peacekeepers of the world will continue to erode.

    I think I’ll go spruce up the Y2K cabin, just in case.

  11. Mark Sayther says:

    Dr X,

    Here is why I think Obama's 'style' is significant. To begin with I should say that I am a left-leaning independent.. I voted for Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and other independent party candidates in Minnesota, and Ralph Nader. One of the main things I evaluate in a candidate is how they campaign. I don't vote for liars I don't vote for candidates who won't answer a question straight. I think candidates that 'electioneer' their way to office are fundamentally dishonest. They are not likely to be any different once in office. I expect pragmatic decisions to be made that serve the best interests of this country (or state for state government.) I don't understand why this is so hard to achieve.

    I know Obama will be unable to totally transform how every poltician in America thinks about governing and democracy. It's enough for me to think that he 'gets' it. Democracy is not about lying to people. It's not about slandering people to get yourself a job. It's not about keeping secrets to make it easier to get your way. It's not about bending (or breaking) the law. It's the fact that he seems to be an honest politician who cares about and understands democracy AND he is an inspiring speaker with the ability to move people and *possibly* transform attitudes just a bit is what I think is exciting.

    So is he missing 'Brick and Mortar'. We will find out, but I doubt it. He is almost 50 years old. He's obviously damned smart, he so far has run a much better campaign the the Clintons. I don't believe that you need 30 years of experience in Washington to be President. I really think that this whole line of reasoning is just exploiting a fallacy in people's thinking. Like thinking that someone can't be smart and good looking. Because he is a good speaker and gifted communicator is just that. It's an additional asset, not an indication that he lacks smarts or good judgement.

    Now as far as the foreign policy thing goes, I think this line that you can't talk to your enemies is just dumb, dumb, dumb. Granted there are a few that it's not worth talking to, Al Qaeda being the main one, but very few exceptions outside of that. It's silly and conceited to think that we 'lend legitimacy' to regimes we don't like by talking to them. What do people think, that if we just cover our eyes and ears and wish them away the problems we have with them and their behaviors will just magically disappear? That's far more naive than anything Obama has ever said.

    Iraq is a tough problem, but just because we have enough troops in there to keep a relative lid on the chaos now, does not mean that the Iraqis will be able to learn to work together. The surge was supposed to be temporary and give the Iraqis the space to come to accords on the major decisions that country needs to take. Then it was supposed to be followed by a draw down. Our troops did their job, but if the Iraqis don't want to be a nation together, how long do we stay? We need to continue to work diplomatically to keep Al Qaeda in Iraq isolated. We need to remain ready to strike at them if needed. But it's time to try to disengage. We can't force Iraq to be the country we want it to be. It will be the country they want it to be (or countries) or it will slide back into authoritarianism. By the end of Bush's second term we will have had 3 years of stupidity and 2 years of decent strategy in our occupation policy. If the tactical successes of the surge have not translated into the necessary strategic successes of helping the Iraqis learn to live together as a democratic nation, then we need to move on and find new alternatives. Obama's alternatives (and Democratic alternatives generally) should be tried. Withdrawal with air strikes and special forces activity as needed. Biden's partition plan, whatever. We just can't afford many more years of the same old same old.

    I'm sorry you keep getting fooled by conservative propoganda into thinking that there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq, but it's really not Obama's fault that you are so gullible. But I can see how you would think that Obama is nothing but empty speeches if you are so locked into this false duality in Iraq that you can't see that there are other intelligent options. I believe that Obama is an intelligent man who sees some of these other options and wants to try them. And what gives me even more hope is the fact that he is a good communicator who might be able to cut through some of this intellectual rubbish and open people's eyes a bit :)

    And just for the record, if the election was Clinton v McCain, I'd be voting for McCain despite his stubbornness in Iraq policy.

  12. From what I have seen from Clinton as a person I'm not really thrilled, but I don't understand people who ascribe her devilish personality traits and feel compelled to humiliate her or demean her in any possible way. From what I heard her program is as good as Obama's and I am sure that as president she would still be someone who had the well-being of the nation on her mind unlike some other Republicans here. May I assume that anybody who complains that she is a bitch is a sexist and the same kind of sucker who believed that Kerry was lame and Bush a war hero?

  13. Dr. X says:

    Mark,

    Quid pro quo, I am a right-leaning independent, in the sense that I am a fiscal conservative, but a social moderate. I must also admit I am slightly pessimistic politically, but nothing that a big, fat government contract wouldn’t overcome.

    That being said, I don’t consider myself any more brainwashed by the conservative movement that you imagine yourself indoctrinated by the liberals. I try to examine all angles on an issue, and be as fair-minded as my alcohol-marinated cerebrum will permit. The only time I’m gullible is when a pretty girl tells me how nice I look and I end up buying drinks and changing her flat tire.

    I attempt to keep an open mind, but I am not required to consider every proposal floating in the ether to have equal merit. We tend to get ‘fooled’ when we let emotions override our power to reason. I am certain there are as many alternatives to the issues at hand as there are people on the internet. However, we must endeavor to put aside our passions and focus on those that represent realistic outcomes. The vast majority of anti-war rhetoric is not aimed at finding concrete solutions; it is simply GOP-bashing. The Right is equally as guilty when they impugn the patriotism of those who legitimately oppose the war. The two parties expend enormous quantities of time and energy simply slapping each other around. But if that means that we reach an tenative consensus on critical issues, its energy well spent. Sometimes the will of a majority is not the proper course of action, especially when their will is intertwined with personal agenda. Mistakes have been made on both sides of the aisle, but the continued expounding of such myopic and overzealous views regarding these complex issues does not serve the public good.

    Without doubt, Obama appears to be very intelligent, and I’m sure he is a talented attorney. And this would mean what, exactly? Jimmy Carter has a degree in Nuclear Physics. The problem was neither the Iranian militants nor the members of OPEC bothered to read his resume. We carry on diplomatic communications with any number of regimes we wouldn’t exactly place on our Christmas card list, some of which could be considered downright hostile. But how long should we play the same waltz before crying ‘No Mas’? We had to go to Europe to fight Fascism, blockade Cuba and risk nuclear annihilation to get the Soviets to yank their nukes, put bombs on the ground in Bosnia to try and avoid genocide, conduct full scale military action in Kuwait to beat back Saddam, etc. etc. Even as I pen this, it’s being reported that the UN has passed its third sanction against Iran in an attempt to halt their production of fissionable nuclear material. This, by the way, is the same regime that recently stated that Israel would soon cease to be a nation.

    In my last post, I exalted diplomacy as a great starting point. But if we continue to pretend that talking will bring these maniacs around, they’ll just wait until we put our heads in the sand, then they’ll come ‘round and bite us on the a**. Now is not the time to break open the social science kit and start experimenting with someone who’s foreign policy strategy is little more than teaching everyone the words to ‘Cum ba ya’.

    Experience is a dual-edged blade. Too much may mean you’ve learned how to beat the system, too little may mean you don’t know enough to keep other from doing so. But a candidate needs enough to navigate the vast minefield that is our political system and then be able to lead others through. We live in a country that is split virtually down the middle in terms of political ideology. So it will be imperative for the next President to have enough ‘on-the-job’ experience to recognize the necessity of a more centrist approach. I see the indecision of the blue electorate as a sign that many of them suspect Obama’s positions are far too leftist to get a significant movement established, even within the moderates. And those on the Right will treat him like he just came down with a case of SARS.

    I don’t believe I ever implied that Obama’s gift of oratory was a negative. Unfortunately though, most of us can rattle off person after person whose ability to sway and disarm an audience was matched only by their sheer ineptitude or gross malevolence after achieving power.

    As to his judgment and his ‘Man above the Mud’ mantra, I seem to recall a recent episode involving the junior senator and his long-time fund raiser, a fine upstanding lad from Chicago named Mr. Antion Rezko. The real estate transaction that Obama conducted with this pillar of the community was during the time Mr. Rezko was under investigation for extortion and money laundering. Although Obama has said he regretted his dealings with Rezko (I believe he used the term ‘bone-headed’), he still refuses to disclose the amount of money Rezko helped raise on his behalf.

    Is this what’s known as being ‘above the influence’? Does this not call into question his ability to make a proper assessment of a situation? Most likely it’s all smoke and no fire, but Obama had better hope that Rezko doesn’t turn into Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

  14. I wonder if those who claim that Obama might be just rhetoric and charm are the ones who voted for Bush a second time. Now that might be really amusing. :D Or "Once gullible, always gullible?" :D

  15. Dr. X says:

    I wonder if those who picked Bill a second time thought he'd finally be able to keep his HoJo in his pants.

    For a true independent, what difference does a previous selection make? Each of the party’s platforms has its positives and negatives. You simply have to determine the issues of most concern, listen to the positions of the candidates, and you pick your poison.

    This is why many people detest politics. It reduces down to the “If you don’t agree with me, you’re a moron” mentality. If you believe Obama has the right stuff, vote your conscience. I simply believe many want a candidate that has more tread worn off his shoes, just like most people don’t want a doctor who’s just out of medical school.

    That doesn’t make you gullible, just cautious.

  16. I'm not sure what is worse, cheating on your wife or starting a unorganized war based on faked evidence that took the life of a couple of thousands American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, creating chaos and terror in a country that you supposedly wanted to help, increasing the instability in an already politically sensitive region, etc., etc. etc. Please help me, I have trouble making a decision.

    Those who complain about Obama not having a lot of experience are the ones who had no problems voting for an idiot, liar and coward. Wow. It's really really strange how picky people become about voting for a Democratic candidate, but when faced with candidates from the Republican party it's all good.

    I don't know why independents call themselves independents, most of the time they seem to be closet Republicans (not referring to anybody here specific).

  17. I remember when they started preparing for the war that a friend of mine told me that it was all a sham and I said, no, I can't believe this. So we're all gullible to a certain degree, but I still wouldn't have voted for him, neither the first time nor the second time (not that I'm allowed anyway).

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