Tuesday, April 22, 2008


A Wanderer Reprint.

NOTE: Much of this is not new to this Website but divulgences of the Obama and Hillary strategies outlined in the bottom half is.

CHICAGO—No sooner had last week’s Wanderer arrived, carrying my article on Harold Macmillan’s warning about “events, my dear boy, events” being things that can topple the most sure-thing successful political campaign or administration, than a big event happened.

As the political world now knows, Obama spoke on April 6 to a closed-to-the-public fund-raiser in (where else?) San Francisco, to denizens of great wealth. It so happened an idealistic left-wing blogger for the liberal The Huffington Post.com, thoroughly in love with Obama, ponied up the necessary $2,300 to get into the event and brought her tape recorder which she secreted in her jacket. Her love for Destiny’s Tot died suddenly. There in that room-full of affluent lefty worshipers, Obama sounded like the University of Chicago law faculty lounge habitué he truly was for a decade, and which he has successfully kept from the public. The gaffe was not in word choice but in snob content, allowing his anti-middle America views to leak out. She left, posted it and kaboom!

The Truthful Gaffe.

In a drawing room of the Left Coast mansion filled with contributors who nodded appreciatively, Obama said:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that sometime these communities are going to regenerate—and they have not. And it’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

It’s the view the secular Left has had of religion since Karl Marx formed it with his “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” published in February, 1844 and which is standard reading fare in any higher education study of Marxism. It was required reading for me in grad school many years ago. It maintains that “the criticism of religion” for the Left is “the prerequisite of all criticism.” Why? “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion; religion does not make man.” Marx made no bones about it. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,” he wrote, “the heart of a restless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” [italics mine] or, as it reads in chilling German: “Die Religion…ist das Opium des Volkes.”

This snob view endures in the Ivy League university faculty lounges, especially Harvard’s, As a late-blooming (age 49) Fellow of the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1977 I heard it many times but was impervious to it as a conservative businessman but it was a staple with, among others, the elegant John Kenneth Galbraith, the Keynesian economist, he of the lifted aristocratic eyebrow and epigrammatic acerbic phrases. Precisely at 5 p.m. every week day in the Harvard lounge, he signaled the barman who served sherry to him and his colleagues, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Richard Neustadt (the Kennedy school founder) and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Obama’s snide words are worthy of them--or even a snickering Gore Vidal.

To my mind, conservatives should thank God that our long-running presidential campaign season has allowed us to see what this candidate, shrouded in heroic mist, really thinks. One would imagine that he who says his own religious awakening came from hearing Jeremiah Wright’s “audacity of hope” sermon would extend the same courtesy to those hard-pressed in America’s small towns who believe in God. But no, in Obama’s words, they “cling” to religion; they “cling” to guns. They “cling” to racism.

They “cling” to anti-trade sentiment while he has been making hay by fanning the sentiments himself with his anti-NAFTA and anti-Colombian trade speeches. They “cling” to anti-immigration views. (But what of his vote for the Secure Border Act of 2006, designed to block illegal Mexican entry to the U.S. by the up-building of hundreds of miles of border fence? Should we conclude he was a hypocrite?) They “cling” to religion like the founders (most of whom were God believers) who so opposed an established church by writing Amendment I guaranteeing religion’s free exercise.

They “cling” to bigotry he said, as he flattered big time San Francisco wealth by mocking small town attitudes. They “cling” to guns. The founders made a special amendment to protect gun ownership as this former lecturer at the University of Chicago law school fully knows (especially in his own Hyde Park neighborhood where residents don’t live in a gated community as does Jeremiah Wright whose gratis mansion is being built in suburban Tinley Park by his parishioners).

Later, in an attempt to correct himself, in Muncie, Indiana the candidate said with further condescension “Lately, there has been a little, typical sort of political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my home town in Illinois, who are bitter” [Italics mine]. That was not good enough for Chicago’s David Axelrod, Obama’s media strategist, so there came another disclaimer that still refrained from admitting a mistake—the usual politician’s cover-up for a botch: “Obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that.” If? IF?

Obama’s Strategy.

But this isn’t what I wanted to write about at all. What I wanted to discuss was his strategy for winning which, until chaos broke loose in San Francisco at least, was succeeding. That strategy was born in Obama’s mind from his experience as a community organizer. He learned early in Chicago that he had a marvelous way of communicating to people—and he impressed Axelrod, a pietistic liberal ex-Tribune newsman turned multi-millionaire consultant and lobbyist, a Daley loyalist. As Obama spoke to crowds, both he and Axelrod noted several things: (1) When Obama talked in visionary, general terms, he easily carried the day with Democratic crowds and many left his meetings saying “that was the greatest speech I ever heard!” But (2) when he peppered his speeches with 6-point plans as other candidates do, the air went out of his balloon.

Obama and Axelrod reasoned that he should put his 6-point programs on the Internet and stick to making visionary speeches, sauntering up and down carrying a hand mike. The visionary approach is needed to generate a voter revolution, they believe, requisite because as president Obama can’t make the kind of changes he’s advocating with 51 to 49 majorities in Congress. His exciting message might well build a massive coalition of new voters that will sweep him to power and cower the “old bulls” in Congress and force them to see “that there is a mandate for change.” They have a point. But to get his victory he should be a man of the people—not a man of the U of C law faculty lounge. If he can pull that off he can win. If.

Yes, IF.

Now to Hillary and Bill’s strategy.

Hillary, my old neighbor from down the street in my Chicago suburb, has no style, is as tough as an old boot, an old pol-hack, but nevertheless has made a lot of amateurish mistakes along with Bill which contributed to Obama’s rise. For one thing, the Clintons presented her as the “inevitable nominee” which beckoned to ram her down the party’s throat—and it rankled many who sought an alternative. Then she started running too prematurely a general election campaign, picking and choosing among the caucuses to be skipped (big error). Finally neither Hill nor Bill perceived the phenomenal success Obama was having on crowds of new people from the post-Boomer generation who want Boomers like Hillary to hurry up, get old and get out of the way. At least a couple of million—that’s million!--have signed up for him on the Internet; many thousands thronged to see him in rock-star fashion. Their numbers foiled Hillary’s hope to kill off this upstart by Super Tuesday which didn’t work. They so goofed up their approach to him that their only hope now is to convince enough super-delegates that Obama is so gaffe-prone he cannot get elected…seeking to make the supers forget that Hillary has so many personality negatives perhaps she can’t win.

Making Obama the Black Candidate.

After all their grievous political errors, Bill Clinton was the one who came up with the idea that whittled Obama down to manageable size—and it may have been too late (although we’ll see).

He reasoned that Obama’s great mystique was that Obama was capitalizing on his background as Kansas white and Kenya black, of being raised by white grandparents with a fond longing for his absent Kenyan father who skipped out early (hence his first autobiography Dreams from My Father—a racial mix that gave him great credibility. He was winning his crowds on the basis that he understood both sides, underscoring his reputation as a candidate of unity. This has to be knocked down by making him indissolubly the black candidate, Bill reasoned—and he, not his wife, would have to make that point. Besides, he argued, since Obama is a novice in national campaigning, it is endemic that he will make some gaffes that could end his candidacy with the super-delegates—because he is insensitive to Middle America. (Astute observation).

Pinning blackness on Obama in a pro-black Democratic party was a sacrificially heroic thing for Bill Clinton to do since blacks were the only enthusiastic ones who stood by him when scandal plagued his administration over his own sexual misdeeds and continued to revere him. Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison had called him “our first black president” and DeWayne Wickham, the black historian, had recorded that African Americans had higher support for the 42nd president than for Colin Powell or Jesse Jackson (this was before Obama). But Bill resolved to do it anyhow. He has continually suffered from guilt through his sexual daillances that humiliated his loyal wife who, to her credit, stuck with him.

The first thing he did was to say in a television interview that to elect Obama who had little experience in foreign affairs would be a “roll of the dice” implying that Obama hadn’t been sufficiently vetted. Next Bill engaged in a frontal attack. Twirling a hand mike like Obama and strolling up and down at a rally with perfect timing, he said Obama’s criticism of Hillary’s support of the Iraq War resolution was “a fairy tale,” concluding “give me a break!” No one had hit Obama that hard before. Actually, Obama was right. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, then chairman of Senate Intelligence, strongly urged a vote against the resolution and he was one of 22 senators to do so. Hillary was undecided what to do and feared to look weak on national security.

Just as he hoped, Bill’s charges drew black criticism which he had hoped would happen, ratifying his strategy. None other than the Rev. Al Sharpton, the most despised racial racketeer in the country, invited Bill to appear on Sharpton’s radio show. Sharpton’s attack aided by the largely white liberal “mainstream media” made the point Bill wanted--that Obama is the black candidate.

When Obama won heavily in South Carolina, Bill met with the media and said yes, indeed--the last black to carry South Carolina in a primary was Jesse Jackson who like Obama won it with a preponderance of black votes and a minority of white ones. Right he was. Jackson had been so feared by the Democratic white establishment that in 1984 it concocted the Super-delegate formula to counterbalance his ideological excesses in future conventions.

Then Hillary Clinton moved in, as subtle as Mack the Knife with a meat cleaver. On 60 Minutes the Sunday before the March primaries she said Obama was not a Muslim—“as far as I know.” Following which she gushed in a debate with her opponent, “isn’t it wonderful to have a woman and an African American in the race” to which Obama grimaced painfully.

Meanwhile Bill was working behind the scenes. Up popped Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be on a national party ticket, to say that Obama was “lucky” to be black because that’s how he got where he was. To which Hillary decorously murmured: “well, I can’t agree with that” but said no more. At the next rally stop she said—her eyes wide with innocence--“I’m sorry if anyone is offended. We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama!”

Bill Clinton’s argument that Obama might be prone to gaffes then began to pay off. But the first gaffe wasn’t from Obama. It involved fiery, anti-white sermons by Obama’s minister—a story the compliant Chicago major media refused to report—since no editor in cringing, white-owned Chicago media wants to criticize Illinois’ favorite son. But Jeremiah Wright became a big national story and Obama hurt himself with white middle class voters by saying he could no more dissociate from Wright than from the entire black community. Bill’s strategy was paying off but meanwhile his own wife was making her foolish pronouncements.

Hillary’s Over-Imagination.

While Obama’s impeccable façade was crumbling, Hillary was privately falling to pieces. Operating on three-hours of sleep a night, she rummaged through an old bag of exaggerated rhetorical tricks, desperate for anything to win. Earlier she had stunned her staff by putting on a southern accent in Selma, Alabama; dropping her ings in Appalachia, speaking with a cowpoke’s drawl in Wyoming (“concerns that keep ya up at night”), then switching back to deep south cracker in Mississippi.

But these were just stylistic dishonesties. Now came some disastrous flat-out prevarications which would have defeated her were she the nominee at the tag end of the presidential campaign. She was trying to bolster her claim that she has the experience to be president. When Obama’s people pointed out correctly that as First Lady she had no security clearance and was out of the foreign policy loop, she blurted “I helped bring peace to Northern Ireland” a claim that northern Ireland officials were forced to deny. Then “I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo.” But the borders were opened the day before Hillary arrived in Macedonia where she boasted she conducted such negotiations.

To change the subject from that gaffe, she started vividly describing an hair-raising war story—exciting a rapt crowd in Dubuque. She said she risked her life on White House missions in the 1990s, including a hair-raising flight into Bosnia that ended in a “corkscrew landing” and a sprint off the tarmac to dodge snipers. The slogan around the White House was, she said with a verbal swagger, “If a place was too dangerous, too poor or too small, send the First Lady.” But it turns out Hillary wasn’t quite flying into harm’s way that day. She was leading a goodwill tour in March, 1995 that included her daughter Chelsea, then 15, Sinbad and singer Sheryl Crow. She was greeted with a flurry of rose petals and a floral bouquet from a little girl. There was full news coverage of her arrival on video that contradicted her statement—including her autobiography Living History. These things prove Hillary is no natural at politics. Nor even a good liar. Obama for all his Harvard-style elitism is smoother at both.

Let it be said that this early in the game, his gaffes are not fatal, nor are hers—but it continues to look, to me at least, that he will get the nomination. Two reasons. (1) The Democratic party is hugely indebted to its enormous black constituency: it cannot afford to turn him back unless he really detonates, and he hasn’t yet. Rejecting their hugely favored candidate would impel many thousands to stay home on Nov. 4 with grave results all the way down the party ticket. (2) Beyond blacks, Obama has really built a huge army of enthusiasts new to politics, a multi-faceted, wildly diverse coalition—and largely white. To be sure, it’s not all amateurs. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett will help on the economy along with curmudgeonly fiscal conservative Paul Volcker. And on national security, Gen. Colin Powell is sure to follow. Not bad for a first term senator who has served only a half-term.

Political pros are amazed at the quality of the new volunteering recruits……youth, largely white affluent do-gooders, intellectuals, 25-year-old entrepreneurial multi—millionaires…none with a sense of history or identifiable patriotism but who want to push Baby Boomers out of the way. To alienate them by refusing Obama who has the popular vote tallied would be suicidal. The only thing keeping him from the nomination is if he disqualifies himself with a MacMillan-like “event.”

Avoiding a gaffe or horrible “event” that alienates middle America should be easy for anyone—but for Obama it will not be. Axelrod is worried that his candidate is so inured to far-out liberalism and patrician-style radicalism he may not be able to distinguish it. Barring a gaffe or embarrassing disclosure, the White House is his.

The debates are where one looks for gaffes and Macmillan’s “events, events, my dear boy” to decide this nation’s future. If they occur, it’s likely a 72-year old will raise his arm (halfway, as he cannot do more) to take the oath next Jan. 20.

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