Straight Talk—Not Obama’s Strong Suit
Is He Turning Out to Be Just Another Politician?
By David S. Lewis
Many are understandably persuaded that presidential candidate Barrack Obama stands head and shoulders above the duplicity and hypocrisy of other politicians. The man’s rhetorical gift so enthralls that he is seen as the reincarnation of Martin Luther King or Gandhi. That is, of course, a tall order, and who can discern the true nature of a man in the context of a political campaign? What we can do, though, is look at the man’s actions and compare them to his words, separating rhetoric from reality.
The Ohio Commercial
While Obama’s star began to lose luster due to his long term devotion to anti-American pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that episode may have eclipsed other realities that sneaked below the radar of political commentary. In Obama’s TV commercial aired before the Ohio primary, for example, one designed to appeal to working class voters, he declared that he does not take money from oil companies, an assertion that sounds courageous and idealistic, exactly the qualities Americans want in a president. On closer examination, however, we find the statement is a deception. While it is technically true that Obama does not take money directly from big oil, the fact is neither does any other candidate because it is illegal. Not only that, Obama has taken $214,000 from oil company executives and their families, who contribute as individuals, usually on behalf of oil companies to circumvent election laws. So, while it sounded as if Obama was boldly declaring his integrity, he was in fact demonstrating a lack of it by trying to deceive the people of Ohio.
The Public Financing Pledge
Those prone to holding politicians to their word will note that Obama, when he was still a long shot for the Democratic nomination, promised verbally and in writing that he would abstain from private contributions to his campaign and accept public financing if he were his party’s nominee and if the Republican nominee agreed to do the same. In the words of Obama’s pastor, though, that pledge has come home to roost now that the Republican nominee, John McCain, has pledged to take public financing. His coffers now brimming, Obama tells us he meant only to have a “discussion” about public financing with the Republican nominee, clearly a falsehood given his pledge on a survey issued by the Midwest Democracy Network and statements he made on the record. Such dissembling, unfortunately, makes an otherwise impressive figure sound like just another politician, rather than the idealist he claims to be.
NAFTA and Guns
In another episode, in order to sway working class voters in crucial primary states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Obama had been campaigning against NAFTA, because NAFTA is blamed for the loss of many blue collar jobs in those states. Yet a Canadian government official revealed in a memo to superiors that an Obama representative had privately assured him that NAFTA would not be in jeopardy under an Obama administration, that Obama’s campaign rhetoric was, well, just campaign rhetoric. In other words, he was deceiving the people of Ohio so they would vote for him.
In the same political vein, playing both sides of the political fence again, Obama assured rural Pennsyl-vanians via brochures that he is a constitutionalist schooled in constitutional law. The message was that he would protect constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms under the second amendment. He is now making that same appeal to sportsmen in Montana. Trouble is, Obama’s voting record is anti-gun, even for purposes of self-defense, and on a question-naire from a 1996 legislative race he endorsed a handgun ban. More recently, he said the questionnaire was completed by someone else and does not reflect his views, yet his handwriting was found on the document. And now he also actively extols the traditions of gun owners in places like Montana, because it has become a key primary state, though he will not take a position, not during the campaign, on the high profile D.C. handgun ban. What does this mean? It means the more one looks at Barrack Obama, the more he resem-bles any run-of-the mill politician who says whatever is necessary to get elected, a skill he undoubtedly learned on the streets of Chicago hanging out with shady characters like Tony Rezko (now on trial for bribery), that town being famous for its political highjinks and corruption, hence the meaning behind the phrase Chicago style politics.
The Rev. Wright Deception
Obama’s pattern continues with Rev. Wright, and it is on this issue that a lot of people miss the point. Race (Obama’s spell binding speech in Philadelphia notwithstanding) seems to have obscured, as intended, the question of Obama’s truthfulness.
When Rev. Wright’s radical tirades hit the airwaves, in which he claimed the U.S, government deliberately inflicted AIDS upon African Americans, and that America deserved the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Obama feigned ignorance regarding types of statements and beliefs he had certainly been immersed in for 20 years. In statements that were incredulous to many, he pretended to have never heard such diatribes before, when, in fact, Wright was quoted in a New York Times article in 2007 as saying that Obama and he had talked about distancing the candidate from the pastor over just such rants should he do well in the primaries, and so Wright was disinvited from an event announcing Obama’s presidential candidacy. In the April debate with Hillary Clinton, ABC’s Charlie Gibson pressed him on this, but Obama said the disinvitation was because of other things Wright had said. In that Wright’s philosophy and political temperament is entrenched, with James Cone’s Black Liberation Theology at its foundation, which claims that Jesus was a black man, that African Americans are the “chosen” people, that whites are bad, and that “What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world," it is hardly possible that Obama had only just heard such statements from his pastor. Indeed, he had certainly heard many such statements because the beliefs behind them are part and parcel of Rev. Wright’s and Obama’s creed, to the extent that Wright’s malicious rhetoric was featured on a DVD sold by his church. So, hoping to get elected, Obama knowingly misrepresented the facts again and his own religious beliefs.
Though Obama’s race speech in Philly was a work of art, and inspiring, the kind that if he is to be president will serve the country well, it also involved some trickery and distraction, the old tactic of playing the race card to generate sympathy. Momentarily hypnotized, many were left wondering what the issue was to begin with, that being: how could Obama have tolerated Wright’s hateful attitudes for so long? Why did he not speak up? Or did he agree all along with his pastor? Given the way Obama carries himself, we accept that he does not despise his country, certainly not white people, in that his mother and the grandmother who raised him were white. He may be a Harvard socialist, he may have consorted with Marxists and the most radical elements in the black community (including bomber William Ayers of the Weather Underground, at whose house Obama held an organizing meeting to kick off his entry into politics), but people don’t see Obama as a radical. They see him as a nice guy. They take him at this word. In Dreams from My Father, he admits to having searched for his black identity, having not been black enough in the inner city sense due to his white upbringing. And so, in Rev. Wright, he surely found a vehicle toward his blackness and his political ambitions on Chicago’s south side. He does not tell us that, but should to earn the respect of the American people—honesty has a way of doing that.
Iraq Troop Withdrawal
Next on the list of Obama’s questionable political positions is his stance on the Iraq war. Think wiggle room, and to such a degree that Obama’s policy, if factoring in his capacity for double talk, could end up resembling Donald Rumsfeld’s. Leaving aside for the moment Obama’s anti-war rhetoric, he reserves the right to manage troops in Iraq according to the manner in which events unfold. While he positions himself as the anti-war candidate rhetorically, spokesperson Saman-tha Powers revealed that withdrawing quickly was merely Obama’s best case scenario. Best case means troops would be withdrawn if things were going well (the Bush policy), and although Obama emphasizes withdrawal, his Best Case policy resembles that of former Defense Sec. Rumsfeld, in that Obama would maintain a “strike force” to ensure security in Iraq. As with Rumsfeld, that would mean relying on a smaller number of troops to ensure stability regardless of military requirements, the very thing that prolonged the war in the first place, and a tentativeness that has prescribed military failure from Vietnam to Somalia.
Hope for Obama
In a broader sense, Obama’s Kennedyesque ability to communicate and inspire may trump these worrisome aspects of his political nature, along with his pandering, a practice employed to some degree by everyone from Max Baucus to John McCain. Some want to believe, though, that Obama is the American Gandhi. And some may choose to believe that, if elected, he will quit playing both sides of the fence and become the guy they believe he must be in his heart. But that’s the devil’s bargain, the one that says let us do evil that we may accomplish good, which renders the bargainer compromised by deceit, sealing his fate through a tragic flaw. Perhaps, though, it’s a matter of degree, and Obama, still new to national politics, can yet raise himself to the level of his own rhetoric. Maybe, like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, he can transcend himself. But, so far, he has done nothing politically courageous, nothing that has not served his desire to be president, or that cuts against the grain of politics as usual. He has not courageously stood against the white majority in the South like Martin Luther King, or like Gandhi in South Africa, who was willing to be physically beaten and jailed in defense of others. Judging by past perfor-mance, in such situations Obama would have simply told both sides what they wanted to hear. He has hardly shown the courage of his likely opponent, John McCain, who literally laid down his body for his principles, a stance that earned him years of torture and misery, permanent deformity, yet the deep admiration and respect of millions. That does not make Obama a bad guy. To the contrary, the importance of his presence in American politics and personal likability can’t be denied. But, so far, his own actions say he’s just another politician, albeit a gifted one.
We look to a time when he ceases to speak from both sides of his mouth, affirming truth when there’s a price to be paid, putting principle above politics. We exhort him to do so (via this text posted on the web), making noble use of his talent rather than dragging it through the mud of political expediency. So far, he’s not doing that. And he knows it—one doesn’t craft such calculated positions by accident.