Working class Americans were never fooled by Barack Obama. Over 50-years-old voters were never fooled by Barack Obama.
American “Intellectuals” were bamboozled by Obama. Young voters, targeted by an Obama charm offensive, for a while were bamboozled by Obama.
No longer. Young people are turning more and more to Hillary. The intellectuals too are abandoning Obama.
Tom Hayden, cited by Obama as a polar extreme in the Democratic spectrum, recently wrote AN APPEAL TO BARACK OBAMA. Hayden rejects Obama’s central rationale for his candidacy: Obama as “page turner”. Hayden further rejects the “page turning” itself.
Your problem, if I may say so out loud, and with all respect, is that the deepest rationale for your running for president is the one that you dare not mention very much, which is that you are an African-American with the possibility of becoming president. The quiet implication of your centrism is that all races can live beyond the present divisions, in the higher reality above the dualities. You may be right. You see the problems Hillary Clinton encounters every time she implies that she wants to shatter all those glass ceilings and empower a woman, a product of the feminist movement, to be president? Same problem. So here’s my question: how can you say let’s “turn the page” and leave all those Sixties’ quarrels behind us if we dare not talk freely in public places about a black man or a woman being president? Doesn’t that reveal that on some very deep level that we are not yet ready to “turn the page”? [snip]
What I cannot understand is your apparent attempt to sever, or at least distance yourself, from the Sixties generation, though we remain your single greatest supporting constituency. I can understand, I suppose, your need to define yourself as a American rather than a black American, as if some people need to be reassured over and over. I don’t know if those people will vote for you.
You were ten years old when the Sixties ended, so it is the formative story of your childhood. The polarizations that you want to transcend today began with life-and-death issues that were imposed on us. No one chose to be “extreme” or “militant” as a lifestyle preference. It was an extreme situation that produced us. On one side were armed segregationists, on the other peaceful black youth. On one side were the destroyers of Vietnam, on the other were those who refused to submit to orders. On the one side were those keeping women in inferior roles, on the other were those demanding an equal rights amendment. On one side were those injecting chemical poisons into our rivers, soils, air and blood streams, on the other were the defenders of the natural world. On one side were the perpetrators of big money politics, on the other were keepers of the plain democratic tradition. Does anyone believe those conflicts are behind us? [snip]
You recognize this primal truth when you stand on the bridge in Selma, Alabama, basking in the glory of those who were there when you were three years old. But you can’t have it both ways, revering the Selma march while trying to “turn the page” on the past.
This brings me back to why you want to stand in the presumed center against the “Tom Hayden Democrats.” Are you are equally distant from the “George McGovern Democrats.”, and the “Jesse Jackson Democrats”? How about the “Martin Luther King Democrats”, the “Cesar Chavez Democrats”, the “Gloria Steinem Democrats”? Where does it end?
What about the “Bobby Kennedy Democrats”? [snip]
Will you live up to the standard set by Bobby Kennedy in 1968? He who sat with Cesar Chavez at the breaking of the fast, he who enlisted civil rights and women activists in his crusade, who questioned the Gross National Product as immoral, who dialogued with people like myself about ending the war and poverty? Yes, Bobby appealed to cops and priests and Richard Daley too, but in 1968 he never distanced himself from the dispossessed, the farmworkers, the folksingers, the war resisters, nor the poets of the powerless. He walked among us.
Hayden sees what we have written about – Obama utilizes leaders who fought, like Dr. King, then turns around and asserts we need to embrace Ripublicans, not fight for Democratic values.
Earlier this year, Real Clear Politics wrote Obama Outsmarts Himself. The article spoke to the earlier “Obamas” Americans have rejected and why:
Ironically, Obama’s “new” intellectual and reasoned candidacy is part of a long modern-Democratic tradition. And that is both its strength and much of its weakness.
Obama has been fond of subtly comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln — announcing his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, for instance, and equating his relative inexperience with that of Lincoln. Alas, at least politically, the better comparison is to another son of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, who had a similar scholarly approach and promised an end to politics as usual. “Let’s talk sense to the American people,” he said in his 1952 Democratic acceptance speech, which could have been delivered by Obama today. “Let’s tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains.”
The tack has been repeated several times since. Eugene McCarthy, who nominated Stevenson for president in 1960, picked up the torch in ’68, igniting the idealistic, the young, and the intellectuals within the party. McCarthy was then followed by George McGovern in 1972, Jerry Brown in 1976 (who, running at age 38, makes Obama, 46, look like a senior citizen), Gary Hart (McGovern’s old campaign manager) in 1984, Paul Tsongas in 1992, and Bill Bradley in 2000.
The good news for Obama is that all of these Democrats appealed strongly to Independents and young voters. Most were embraced by the press for their attempts to uplift the dialogue; many were even noted for their attempts to write or quote poetry. (The poems of Obama’s youth have surfaced; McCarthy traveled with Robert Lowell, and a book of Brown’s Zen-like proverbs — “Why is the governor like a shoemaker?” — surfaced during his campaign.) Plus, most did better than expected in the New Hampshire primary, a state where more than half the electorate in the Democratic primary now has a college degree. (Oregon used to be a good locale for this brand of candidate, as well.)
But the bad news is that only two such candidates won the nomination, and both were beaten decisively in the general election. Being the favorite of the egghead or wine-and-Brie set (two negative characterizations of this constituency through the years) doesn’t win you enough voters, you see. Thus the famous story about Stevenson being approached by a voter who told him that he had the support of every thinking American.
“Thank you,” he supposedly replied. “But I need a majority to win.”
The same kind of comment echoed in 1968 from Bobby Kennedy, who wryly noted that he had the support of all the “C” students, while McCarthy had the “A” students. [snip]
Already, one can see impending pitfalls of Obama’s thinking-man’s effort. His speaking style, especially in debates, is professorial. Much of his fundraising base is said to be built around his contacts at his alma mater, Harvard Law School. Obama even had his former professor, Larry Tribe, praise him in his first ad.
That’s symptomatic of a larger concern yet to be addressed: all the candidates in the Stevenson tradition have, generally speaking, ranked poorly in the black community and among the less wealthy voters in the Democratic Party. Kennedy swept the black vote against McCarthy. Ditto for Jimmy Carter against Brown, Walter Mondale against Hart, and Bill Clinton against Tsongas.
There was talk in 2000 that Bradley might be different, since he’s more recognizable in the black community, having played for a New York Knicks championship team. But Bradley chose to run as a kind of tweedy Princeton don rather than a former All-American; as a result, he was narrowly beaten by Al Gore in New Hampshire — a state Bradley had to carry, given his profile. The rest of the campaign was a foregone conclusion.
Thus, if Obama doesn’t change his campaign approach to focus more on the concerns of lower-income voters, history has shown us he, too, may soon run out of luck.
Sean Wilentz, the Princeton University professor, strong Democrat, and Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln” (2005) and author of “The Worst President in History?,” about George W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton this past week. Professor Wilentz places this election and Hillary in historical context.
Professor Wilentz turns Obama’s argument about “turning the page” into an argument for Hillary. Obama’s “Kennedy” argument is likewise rejected.
I think Hillary is important because the election really is the culmination of what’s been a 40 year struggle for the Democrats to rediscover who they are. A 40-year struggle against what we’ll call Nixon-slash-Reaganism. And, simply put, she’s in the best position to be a president. Which is to say, she understands how American politics works. She understands the trajectory of American political history for the last 40 years because she’s lived it in a way that the others haven’t, really. She’s seen it at all levels, from Arkansas to Capitol Hill. The country needs someone who can take us beyond this struggle–this long, long fight we’ve been having
You seem to be saying that only Hillary can take us beyond Baby Boomer politics because only she’s lived through it. But Obama’s argument is that he represents a post-Baby Boomer politics, and that he’s not bogged down, like Hillary, in those old conflicts.
I think the whole idea of Baby Boomer politics is the problem. That concept. I’m very disappointed in that. There’s no such thing. You cannot enter this moment and make a new departure unless you understand what you’re departing from. And that’s what she understands. She’s not proposing some sort of vaporous, virtuous new thing that she’s going to conjure out of thin air. American political life doesn’t work that way. She’s not going to go “presto, change-o, everything’s different.” We all know that’s fantasy.
So you don’t find Obama’s meta-arguments against “politics as usual” particularly convincing?
You cannot have a president who doesn’t like politics. You will not get anything done. Period. I happen to love American politics. I think American politics is wonderful. I can understand why people don’t. But one of the problems in America is that politics has been so soured, people try to be above it all. It’s like Adlai Stevenson. In some ways, Barack reminds me of Stevenson.
There’s always a Stevenson candidate. Bradley was one of them. Tsongas was one of them. They’re the people who are kind of ambivalent about power. “Should I be in this or not… well, yes, because I’m going to represent something new.” It’s beautiful loserdom. The fact is, you can’t govern without politics. That’s what democracy is. Democracy isn’t some utopian proposition by which the people suddenly rule. We’re too complicated a country for that. We have too many interests here. You need someone who can govern, who can build the coalition and move the country forward. You hit on something that’s really my pet peeve about the others. Edwards the same way, except he doesn’t condemn the politics of the ’60s, rather he talks about the special interests… [snip]
So it’s a pragmatic argument? That she can get things done politically?
That’s true, but it’s beyond that. Pragmatism is an approach to power. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not just going for half a loaf or knowing when to compromise, although all that is important. Rather, it’s an understanding of the provisional nature of all of our deeds–an understanding that the politics of hope, taken too far, can turn into the politics of dogma. Just as the politics of memory can turn into the politics of fear. Hillary actually reminds me more of what John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy were up to–more than anybody I’ve seen since. More than her husband.
But people always tie Obama to the Kennedys.
God knows why. His philosophy is much more like Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson. He’s that kind of politician, in a post-Baby Boomer sense. If the argument we’re having today in the party is like the one we had in ’68 between the Kennedyites and the McCarthyites, she’s Bobby Kennedy. She’s not Eugene McCarthy. She’s not the beautiful-loser idealist, or the person who’s ambivalent about politics. She loves politics. Just as Bobby Kennedy loved politics. Bobby Kennedy could deal with Cesar Chavez and Mayor Daley. That’s what you need in America.
What people found so attractive about Bobby Kennedy when he ran for president, though, was that despite his toughness he also gave off a sense of vulnerability. Hillary doesn’t seem able to convey that vulnerability, or warmth, or humanness.
Talk to women out in the Midwest who’ve had a wandering husband. It’s not just any woman politician, because they wouldn’t have voted for Liddy Dole. It’s Hillary. It’s what she’s been through. She’s lived a life. But really it’s less to do with people identifying with her than people thinking she’ll get the job done. That’s basically what people want out of politics. We’re not a very ideological country. We’re not terribly into virtue for virtue’s sake. People really just want government to do what it’s supposed to do.
Wilentz on Ripublican Talking Points:
But Hillary excites so much antagonism on the right. If she were elected, wouldn’t it just be four years or eight years of the same old shouting?
You know who makes that argument more than anybody else? Republicans. This is a favorite Republican argument. They say, “We want to run against Hillary. She’s the polarizing candidate and we’re going to take advantage of that. She’s going to rile up our base, et cetera, et cetera.” Whenever Republicans tell us who they want us to nominate, we should nominate her. They’re scared of her. Who else is going to build a coalition?
Edwards would argue that he has rural, red-state appeal. Obama would argue that he attracts independents and black voters.
Look at the state of New York. You have to be able to appeal to lots of different kinds of people. It cuts across racial lines, it cuts across ethnic lines, it cuts across rural and urban lines. She carried every county but two. What that tells me is that all the things that the sophisticates like you and me don’t like about her–her coldness, her dowdiness, all these thing about her that seem uncharismatic, as opposed to the dashing Obama or Edwards–that’s all stuff people like. We don’t get it. They get it. They’re the people who are going to be voting. I’ve seen this disconnect before. In 1998, the chattering classes thought Clinton was toast, but the country was for him.
What do you think of Obama’s and Edwards’ attacks on the Clinton years, things like NAFTA?
There’s a misreading of the Clinton years. This is so weird. You’ve got a popular president, so you’re going to attack him? This is not a good idea. This sort of sounds like desperation. But they’re appealing to an old left-wing part of the party conceit, which is the idea that Clintonism is the equivalent of what they call triangulation. As if triangulation is a political philosophy. Triangulation was a tactic in the aftermath of 1994, after he screwed up big-time in his first term–he was not ready for primetime, in my view. He had his back against the wall. He was reduced pathetically to saying, “The President is still relevant.” He had himself to blame for that, in part. But he was smart enough to deal with political reality. He had to establish a position that was not only independent of the Republican party, but independent of the left-wing of the Democratic party, which wasn’t taking us anywhere–except to doom. Now, I love the left of the party. We need the left of the party. But it can be very frustrating if you’re looking for political success. That’s the problem with being allergic to politics.
Paul Krugman, as we noted yesterday, called Obama a “sucker” and a “fool”.
He is, however, someone who keeps insisting that he can transcend the partisanship of our times — and in this case, that turned him into a sucker.
Mr. Obama wanted a way to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton — and for Mr. Obama, who has said that the reason “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions” is that “politics has become so bitter and partisan,” joining in the attack on Senator Clinton’s Social Security position must have seemed like a golden opportunity to sound forceful yet bipartisan.
But Social Security isn’t a big problem that demands a solution; it’s a small problem, way down the list of major issues facing America, that has nonetheless become an obsession of Beltway insiders. And on Social Security, as on many other issues, what Washington means by bipartisanship is mainly that everyone should come together to give conservatives what they want.
We all wish that American politics weren’t so bitter and partisan. But if you try to find common ground where none exists — which is the case for many issues today — you end up being played for a fool. And that’s what has just happened to Mr. Obama.
Obama is a fool. Only now are American Intellectuals understanding what working Americans knew long ago.