Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Friday, June 20, 2008

David Brooks on the Two Obama's

Some of the best analysis I've read lately regarding Obama. A snippet:

And Fast Eddie Obama didn’t just sell out the primary cause of his life. He did it with style. He did it with a video so risibly insincere that somewhere down in the shadow world, Lee Atwater is gaping and applauding. Obama blamed the (so far marginal) Republican 527s. He claimed that private donations are really public financing. He made a cut-throat political calculation seem like Mother Teresa’s final steps to sainthood.

The media and the activists won’t care (they were only interested in campaign-finance reform only when the Republicans had more money). Meanwhile, Obama’s money is forever. He’s got an army of small donors and a phalanx of big money bundlers, including, according to The Washington Post, Kenneth Griffin of the Citadel Investment Group; Kirk Wager, a Florida trial lawyer; James Crown, a director of General Dynamics; and Neil Bluhm, a hotel, office and casino developer.

I have to admit, I’m ambivalent watching all this. On the one hand, Obama did sell out the primary cause of his professional life, all for a tiny political advantage. If he’ll sell that out, what won’t he sell out? On the other hand, global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.

All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo. Republicans keep calling him naïve. But naïve is the last word I’d use to describe Barack Obama. He’s the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades. Even Bill Clinton wasn’t smart enough to succeed in politics by pretending to renounce politics.


Curtis Gale Weeks said...

"private donations are really public financing"

Hah, how ironic. A real koan.

"All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo."

Of course he's not, which is why the silly would-be-partisan attacks made by the GOP will not work.

Incidentally, Brooks is wrong (but much more clever than others trying to paint Obama in a sufficiently negative way; I admire his cleverness and always have.) First, this issue on public financing is not "the primary cause of his life." Second, I'll refer you back to the koan and add to it: Internet donations of $50 or so per person are not the evil specter of "special interests" dominating a presidential campaign.

Incidentally, Brooks comments vis-a-vis Putin relate to my recently expressed thoughts (but old intuition) regarding Obama and FP, only casually touched upon here and especially circuitously here.

Jay@Soob said...

Curtis, the crux of Brook's post isn't the mere subject of Obama "flip-flopping" on the issue of public finance. Rather it's that since his brilliant speech at the 2004 DNC Obama has built himself up as one who defies the dirty old game of poltics. And while he's been masterfully selling this image he has, in fact, proven to be a political shark of the same sorts he publicly rails against.

Depending on who one is and how one thinks this observation isn't at all accusatory nor is it, in realist terms, an absolute negative. Quite the contrary it illustrates that Obama's foundation isn't based on the idealism he preaches (which might get you a spot on the Ed Sullivan show and make young girls swoon but really isn't the stuff of Executive leadership) but has a harder reality to it. It'd be nice to slice through the rhetorical bullshit of "hope" and find some Machiavelli under all that Shel Silverstein exterior. For me at least.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

I'm not sure that he's "proven to be a political shark of the same sorts".

So far, no one else in the history of American politics, at least since the early in the founding, has been able to build up the financial apparatus of a campaign by co-opting so many from "the commons" at $50 a pop.

Indeed, if you look at who has and who has not accepted public financing....I think you need to go back to Nixon before you find anyone else opting out? (Not sure on that, although I seem to recall that Obama's move really is a change, since most have taking the public financing.)

Most references he has made to public financing hitherto were always nuanced enough to allow him to opt out, although there is the one question on a questionnaire where he did bluntly say he'd go the public financing route.

But I think what has happened is this: the GOP and GOP sympathizers, and no doubt many of Obama's supporters, built up the George Washington "I never tell a lie" image of Obama. The Right in particular has referred to "The Savior!" on the one hand and to the "empty suit" on the other. These were always fantasies, but convenient fantasies for attacking Obama. Now the Right gets righteous pointing out that their own fantasies were fantasy: Look! He's a politician, not a savior! (Or in Brook's case, not an empty goo-goo head liberal.)