Very rarely is an empty suit so vividly displayed.
The Atlantic Monthly today publishes the troubled Andrew Sullivan’s ode to Barack Obama. It is hard to tell who loves Obama more – Sullivan or Obama himself – Michelle is not even in the running. Let’s examine this ludicrous fluff of an article by Andrew Sullivan because it is comprehensive and sure to be seized upon by Obama acolytes as justification for a candidacy that has long since lost its meager initial logic.
In a reversal of Mark Antony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar as written by William Shakespeare – Sullivan’s article comes to praise Obama but instead buries him.
The troubled Andrew Sullivan, in his warped universe of love for Barack Obama immediately declares what the candidacy of Obama is NOT about while also denying that Obama’s candidacy is solely for Barack Obama:
The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals’ and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics. It has little to do with Obama’s considerable skills as a conciliator, legislator, or even thinker. It has even less to do with his ideological pedigree or legal background or rhetorical skills. Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile. But so do others, not least his formidably polished and practiced opponent Senator Hillary Clinton.
Obama, moreover, is no saint. He has flaws and tics: Often tired, sometimes crabby, intermittently solipsistic, he’s a surprisingly uneven campaigner.
A soaring rhetorical flourish one day is undercut by a lackluster debate performance the next. He is certainly not without self-regard. He has more experience in public life than his opponents want to acknowledge, but he has not spent much time in Washington and has never run a business. His lean physique, close-cropped hair, and stick-out ears can give the impression of a slightly pushy undergraduate. You can see why many of his friends and admirers have urged him to wait his turn. He could be president in five or nine years’ time—why the rush?
All comedians and clowns know that timing matters. Shakespeare understood the question of timing in our lives when he eloquently wrote about the “tide in the affairs of men”. According to Sullivan, Obama believes that the fundmental point of his candidacy is timing.
But he knows, and privately acknowledges, that the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now. In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.
Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.
Andrew Sullivan, an unhappy alienated conservative gay Ripublican with too many ridiculous notions to discuss in a brief article, is making the argument that is echoed by Obama and his increasingly cultish supporters. The argument is, again, that Obama represents a “new politics”. The notion of a “new” politics is so fundamentally silly it can only be described as “Biblical” in its silliness.
Andrew Sullivan and Obama supporters and all the propagandists who believe in the concept of a “new politics” should open up the ancient texts. The Bible, describes an always turbulent, always churning “eternal sea”. The “eternal sea” is a metaphor for POLITICS. There is no “new” politics. There is only “politics”. A “new” politics would be equivalent to a river flowing from a lake up to the steep mountain top.
The central illogic and non-existence of a “new” politics however seems to escape Sullivan even as Obama succeeds in selling this debilitating snake oil.
At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.
The traces of our long journey to this juncture can be found all around us. Its most obvious manifestation is political rhetoric. The high temperature—Bill O’Reilly’s nightly screeds against anti-Americans on one channel, Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” on the other; MoveOn.org’s “General Betray Us” on the one side, Ann Coulter’s Treason on the other; Michael Moore’s accusation of treason at the core of the Iraq War, Sean Hannity’s assertion of treason in the opposition to it—is particularly striking when you examine the generally minor policy choices on the table. Something deeper and more powerful than the actual decisions we face is driving the tone of the debate.
Sullivan sounds like a hallucinating priest at a Moonie temple. How does such tripe as this get published: “Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.” It gets worse.
Sullivan traipses through fields too thick for his rationalizations. Ignoring “devil in the details” reality Sullivan pretends we all agree on all issues – it’s the fault of those bad politicians – those bad baby boomer politicians.
On foreign policy issues and domestic issues Sullivan decrys the “hyperventilation” of sloganeering partisans. On foreign policy Sullivan declares that the actual issues are not the central issues “But it is more a fight over how we define ourselves and over long-term goals than over what is practically to be done on the ground.” On domestic policy, Sullivan the policy issues as “underwhelming”. Sullivan believes that the differences between the various parties “the difference is more technical than fundamental.” Sullivan declares that there is a “large consensus” on just about every issue from abortion to gay marriage.
Sullivan, like Obama, has a culprit to blame for all our troubles: “The answer lies mainly with the biggest and most influential generation in America: the Baby Boomers.”
Sullivan, like Obama, has another culprit: Bill Clinton. The origin and “professionalization” of “the battle” Sullivan traces to the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination fights in 1987 and 1991. But it is the presidency of Bill Clinton, “who was elected with only 43 percent of the vote in 1992” as Sullivan reminds us that is to blame for rebooting “the Vietnam power struggle”.
The 2000 elections were bitter, Sullivan writes. True. Then there is this derangement:
With 9/11, Bush had a reset moment—a chance to reunite the country in a way that would marginalize the extreme haters on both sides and forge a national consensus. He chose not to do so. It wasn’t entirely his fault. On the left, the truest believers were unprepared to give the president the benefit of any doubt in the wake of the 2000 election, and they even judged the 9/11 attacks to be a legitimate response to decades of U.S. foreign policy. Some could not support the war in Afghanistan, let alone the adventure in Iraq. As the Iraq War faltered, the polarization intensified. In 2004, the Vietnam argument returned with a new energy, with the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam War record and CBS’s misbegotten report on Bush’s record in the Texas Air National Guard. These were the stories that touched the collective nerve of the political classes—because they parsed once again along the fault lines of the Boomer divide that had come to define all of us.
Sullivan, like Obama, wants to absolve Bush of responsiblity for the current state of affairs. The analysis is bunk. Most Americans and certainly the leadership of the Democratic Party supported the war in Afghanistan. Most Americans were horrified by the 9/11 attacks. Most Americans supported an attack on Iraq. Sullivan is simply lying or he is deeply delusional. More than likely though, he is lying. This is a favorite line of attack by Ripublicans – that Democrats were not united with Ripublicans after the 9/11 attacks.
Sullivan then trashes John Kerry because Kerry was trashed by Ripublican swift-boaters. According to Sullivan, “Kerry was arguably the worst candidate on earth to put to rest the post-1960s culture war…” Blame the victim, Andy.
This is the critical context for the election of 2008. It is an election that holds the potential not merely to intensify this cycle of division but to bequeath it to a new generation, one marked by a new war that need not be—that should not be—seen as another Vietnam. A Giuliani-Clinton matchup, favored by the media elite, is a classic intragenerational struggle—with two deeply divisive and ruthless personalities ready to go to the brink. Giuliani represents that Nixonian disgust with anyone asking questions about, let alone actively protesting, a war. Clinton will always be, in the minds of so many, the young woman who gave the commencement address at Wellesley, who sat in on the Nixon implosion and who once disdained baking cookies. For some, her husband will always be the draft dodger who smoked pot and wouldn’t admit it. And however hard she tries, there is nothing Hillary Clinton can do about it. She and Giuliani are conscripts in their generation’s war. To their respective sides, they are war heroes.
Sullivan plays the fear card in writing that these are extraordinary times due to Islamic fundamentalists, available “destructive technology”, al-Qaeda, Iran, “and the collapse of America’s prestige and moral reputation”. Sullivan imagines another 9/11 type attack and deludes himself that “only Obama and possibly McCain have the potential to bridge this widening partisan gulf”.
After starting his love letter to Obama with “The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama” we are back to “It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person.”
Polling reveals Obama to be the favored Democrat among Republicans. McCain’s bipartisan appeal has receded in recent years, especially with his enthusiastic embrace of the latest phase of the Iraq War. And his personal history can only reinforce the Vietnam divide. But Obama’s reach outside his own ranks remains striking. Why? It’s a good question: How has a black, urban liberal gained far stronger support among Republicans than the made-over moderate Clinton or the southern charmer Edwards? Perhaps because the Republicans and independents who are open to an Obama candidacy see his primary advantage in prosecuting the war on Islamist terrorism. It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person. They are prepared to set their own ideological preferences to one side in favor of what Obama offers America in a critical moment in our dealings with the rest of the world. The war today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy. The war on Islamist terror, after all, is two-pronged: a function of both hard power and soft power. We have seen the potential of hard power in removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. We have also seen its inherent weaknesses in Iraq, and its profound limitations in winning a long war against radical Islam. The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power to isolate the enemy, to fight where necessary, but also to create an ideological template that works to the West’s advantage over the long haul. There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
This tripe is simply embarrassing. Sullivan’s husband must be jealous. Sullivan seems to have missed Colin Powell and Condi Rice. What about their faces? Are Powell and Rice not black or brown enough? All these atmospherics about Obama from the lovestruck pen of Sullivan and Obama supporters are drivel. The reason why there is so much fighting in American politics today is because we are a deeply divided nation on fundamental policy ideas – and these fights matter because they will determine the course of the new American century. It is not a matter of personality, but of ideas.
The rest of Sullivan’s article is fat on the tripe. Obama will be best on Iraq says Sullivan without any actual evidence save Obama’s early self-serving opposition to the Iraq war. Of course, Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war is viewed by Sullivan as a positive even as he wasted most of the essay blaming Democrats for being insufficiently supportive of Bush.
Sullivan, like Obama makes a generational argument for Obama and against Hillary Clinton. “Clinton grew up saturated in the conflict that still defines American politics.” Translated, from Obama worship this means that Hillary has been fighting for progressive values while Obama has been AWOL. For Obama the battle for “civil rights, sexual revolution, Vietnam War. Those all sort of passed me by.” Obama’s weakness on Social Security is admired by Sullivan as is “is openness to bombing Pakistan”.
On religion Hillary is “at once poignant and repellent” according to Sullivan. Earlier, Sullivan posits Hillary as a member of the left divide on religion “between God-fearing Americans and the peacenik atheist hippies of lore” by the end of his essay “her faith may well be genuine” but Sullivan is appalled because “because its Methodist genuineness demands that she not profess it so tackily”.
Obama of course is a saint. Comically, Obama attributes his faith to his mother – a “secular humanist”. Sullivan after trashing secular humanists discovers Obama’s mama is the enemy. Unlike Hillary’s faith, Sullivan does not question Obama’s dubious conversion.
Sullivan’s fawning racism is nauseating. There are plenty of dull, tedious, wonkish African-Americans. Only now, in 2007 has Ripublican Sullivan discovered the Urkel’s in the African-American community. What a shock, not all African-Americans are flashy:
And this, of course, is the other element that makes Obama a potentially transformative candidate: race. Here, Obama again finds himself in the center of a complex fate, unwilling to pick sides in a divide that reaches back centuries and appears at times unbridgeable. His appeal to whites is palpable. I have felt it myself. Earlier this fall, I attended an Obama speech in Washington on tax policy that underwhelmed on delivery; his address was wooden, stilted, even tedious. It was only after I left the hotel that it occurred to me that I’d just been bored on tax policy by a national black leader. That I should have been struck by this was born in my own racial stereotypes, of course. But it won me over.
Like the Ripublican he is, Sullivan sees Obama through the prisim not of civil rights but of “black victimology”. For Sullivan, Obama is sui generis, an original, never seen before “new” man. Obama for Sullivan is a black man who downplays the racial; not a black victimologist nor a black conservative, not Al Sharpton, not Clarence Thomas, not Julian Bond, not Colin Powell, not a post-racial Tiger Woods, not a Jesse Jackson, not identity politics, but yes on identity politics.
Sullivan sums up the case for Obama with this silliness:
The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do. And a Clinton-Giuliani race could be as invigorating as it is utterly predictable.
But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.
We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama.
Obama supporters who quote this tripe should be warned that Sullivan does not have the slightest idea why we support Hillary Clinton for President.
We support Hillary because we do see the great dangers ahead and the dangers we are in. We want Hillary because she has the experience and the fortitude to navigate through the perils we face. We support Hillary because we feel the urgency to reverse course NOW. Hillary shares our progressive vision for America. Hillary will represent a new American face to the world. And Hillary will fight the very people Obama has already surrendered to.
With Hillary we will finally cross the bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton not only talked about, but along with Hillary and Al Gore, built.