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Parsing the Ayers Allegation

Ben Smith has a piece in The Politico today about the former anti-war radicals whose home Obama visited in 1995 for what Ben calls "an unremarkable gathering on the road to a minor elected office." I think Ben’s a great reporter doing terrific work these days, but the piece makes me uncomfortable.

To recap: The two radicals, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, were part of the Weather Underground group that claimed some 25 bombing attempts in the 1960s, though they were never prosecuted for their role and no one was killed as a result of the attempts (except, by accident, some of the group's own members). Since then, Ayers and Dohrn have tried to rehabilitate themselves, and have succeeded in at least becoming semi-respectable figures in liberal Chicago circles, though they still make a lot of liberals (and non-liberals) uncomfortable. Ayers teaches at the University of Illinois-Chicago and is some sort of progressive education advocate; Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern. In 2001, Ayers told The New York Times he didn't regret the bombing attempts.

First, just a small quibble: Ben says Ayers and Obama were, at best, casual friends. Even that seems to overstate things, though. I don't see evidence of any relationship. The only concrete connection we know of is the meeting, which was attended by a number of local liberals; their contemporaneous membership on the board of a local organization; and a $200-donation by Ayers to one of Obama's state senate campaigns. (Obama also once praised something Ayers had written about the juvenile justice system.) I'm not saying they couldn’t have been casual friends; just that there isn't much evidence for that at this point.

More importantly, I'm just not sure what the upshot is here. There were plenty of inoffensive reasons--that is, reasons that had nothing to do with Ayers' or Dohrn's past--for people Obama knew to arrange the meeting. Given that there’s no trace of support for terrorism or political violence anywhere in Obama's record--to the contrary, Obama condemned Ayers' and Dohrns' past through a spokesman--I just don't see how this tells us anything useful about Obama. Or, to put it differently, the only conclusion that would be interesting--that Obama supports political violence--strikes me as completely implausible.

Ben and I have actually been e-mailing about this, and one of the things we've been going back and forth on is a proper analogy. Let me give you mine (which is really just a modified version of one he proposed): Suppose we were talking about a meeting Mike Huckabee attended during a (fictitious) run for state senate in the early '90s. Let's say the meeting took place in the home of a local pastor, who, back in the '70s, had been part of a radical anti-abortion group that at times attempted, but never succeeded in, bombing abortion clinics. The pastor was never prosecuted and had since become a semi-respectable member of his community, where he also ran an adoption clinic for children of mothers he'd counseled against abortion. 

If Huckabee had once addressed a group of local conservative activists at the pastor's home, would that tell us anything about his views on political violence? Reasonable people can disagree about this. But I don't think it would.

Just one more quick thought: Though it's not the rationale for Ben's piece, you often hear the Clinton campaign say this stuff is fair game because the GOP would seize on it during the general election. (I got an e-mail from the Clinton campaign this morning making that point in reference to this related item.)

I find that argument absurd. Yes, obviously, the Republicans will throw everything they have at Obama if he's the nominee. But raising nasty allegations now only makes them more likely to be taken seriously later on, at which point the GOP will be able to say, in that classic credibility-enhancing way, “Democrats brought this up back in the primaries.”

That's not to say you can't make allegations about your opponent. Just that, if you think something's relevant to his or her fitness for office, you have an obligation to explain why, not simply argue that his general-election opponent will raise the issue. That logic can justify pretty much anything.

--Noam Scheiber 

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2008 7:55 PM with 64 comment(s)


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CharlesFosterKane said:

Well, I'm torn about this post. On the one hand I think it's a fairly scurrilous accusation which I don't want to see getting more air.

On the other, I'm fascinated with 60s politics and radical history (while being very much a centrist myself). The continuing intersection of these people and events and threads are quite interesting.

As for the implications of the story itself. Obama strikes me as a "go-along, get-along" type of guy. His ability to reach out to Republicans is matched by a relative indifference to distinctions on the left. Unlike a Clintonite, who's constantly watching his left flank, Obama doesn't seem to give much thought about whom he associates with (he's a community organizer, used to alliances of convenience to achieve a common purpose). I think conservatives will eagerly dig into everything they can find, every anti-American black radical, every racist anti-Semitic Nation of Islam type, every left-wing extremist academic like Ayers and Dohrn (who is, by the way, pretty repulsive, as evidenced by her Manson quote in '69). Ignoring that he's also associated with conservative Republicans when it suited his cause. In a way, it's of a part with his commitment to talk to "our enemies, not just our friends."

It's fine to go after that viewpoint, but obviously the Right is trying to say he shares these views. That allegation, I think, won't even come close to sticking.

By the way, I tried to think of a right-wing analogy too, though I couldn't think of one (yours is pretty good, though you'd have to say the anti-abortionist tried to hit the clinics when they were uninhabited, since the Weather Underground hit the Pentagon and other targets only after calling in threats -- the Weathermen who were killed in the townhouse explosion were trying to kill people, but Ayers & Dohrn were never explicitly connected to that particular cell or its action). I think the reason that right-wing analogies are harder is because the militant Left came out of, and returned to, an elite, while the militant, violent Right did not, and has thusly been more or less rejected by the conservative elites.

February 22, 2008 8:13 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Oh, and incidentally, that link that the Clinton team sent to you shows that Ayers and Obama don't even agree on merit pay, let alone political violence!

February 22, 2008 8:15 PM

virginiacentrist said:

Ben's piece was a bit over the top, but not terribly inflamatory.

These charges are mainly being hyped by two loathsome individuals: Larry Johnson and Taylor Marsh.

February 22, 2008 8:20 PM

psantillana said:

I'm certain that Ben wrote about it for the simple reason that people would be interested. People are interested in Obama, to put it mildly, and while "The Weather Underground" is kinda stale bread, it's stale radical terrorist bread, so - yeah - go with it! Is the whole thing pretty meaningless and uninformative about anything at all? Doesn't matter! It's not the press' job to educate and inform, it's the press' job to write things that people will read. Yes, it has to be true, but if the prejudicial outweighs the probabive - well, that's not Ben's call, in [what I predict is] Ben's opinion.

February 22, 2008 8:29 PM

ccharney said:

I don't think there's much there there in Ben's story.  What exactly is the relevance to the presidential campaign?  Obama's political mentor invited him to hold a meeting for his state senate campaign in the home of 60s ex-radicals, then supporters of violence but never charged or convicted, and now respected members of the community.   How would this indicate his fitness to be president one way or another.  Ben is a good journalist, but I'm afraid this shows that he has been infected by the "gotcha" mentality too prevalent among political reporters today.  A sensational headline -- and one sure to be echoed through conservative media -- but no real substance.  Disappointing.  

February 22, 2008 8:45 PM

arsonplus said:

This is funny, I was literally just watching that Weather Underground Documentary. They were clowns, who cares if Obama met one of them for 15 minutes 8 years ago -- its not like he voted against Net Neutrality to get a younger dead-ringer for his wife to sit on his lap or anything.

February 22, 2008 8:59 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:


"he voted against Net Neutrality to get a younger dead-ringer for his wife to sit on his lap or anything."

This one's over my head.

What did you think of the WU doc? I thought it was a little too forgiving, but like I said, that whole era & scene is pretty fascinating, so I enjoyed it. Rudd & the guy who owned the bar were the most sympathetic, seemed somewhat chastened by their experience. Maybe it was just that they looked like grizzled, sober old men while Dohrn & Ayers still looked (and sounded) like flakey leftists. Todd Gitlin had some great anecdotes in his Sixties book about the Weathermen. He couldn't stand them (not just on moral grounds).

February 22, 2008 9:09 PM

ryanmacd said:

i once had lunch with my grandfather, who frequently supped with his own grandfather, who had a good friend who was an active militant in the Irish Revolution and participated in terrorist attacks against the British government.

There goes my career in politics!

This is idiotic, really.

February 22, 2008 9:27 PM

parnest said:

Good opportunity, if it becomes appropriate or necessary, for the Obama campaign to restate that he's looking forward, not rehashing the 60's and Vietnam (a trap that ensnared the Kerry campaign). I was at Columbia in '68 (where part of the Weather Underground was spawned). It's been 40 years. The new voters we want to attract are baffled by this stuff, rightly so.

February 22, 2008 9:35 PM

ironyroad said:

The funny thing is, it also plays into the Right's cultural paranoia about the 60s in general.  Whenever conservatives say, oh of course the Civil Rights movement was a great thing and put an end to a century of discrimination, it's mostly camoflage.  The Republican party position back then was much more nuanced and diverse, as there were genuine liberal (in the old sense of the word) Republicans still active.  Conservatives, however, many of whom were still Democrats, saw the music, the Weathermen, the civil rights activists, the antiwar movement, the hippies, the sexual freedom, etc etc as all of a piece.

Conservatives then took over the Republican Party, and reformed it in their image.  The Boomer burden, so to speak, is that two radically different theories of the 60s are available and still crackling with electricity:  the great and glorious decade of authentic upheaval and needed change vs. the bleak and ugly decade of programmed chaos and moral subversion.  Thus the Ayers story plays out more subtly as Obama not in fact "getting beyond" the Boomer struggles of the last few decades -- as he suggests he wants to do -- but rather joining one side of them.

February 22, 2008 9:53 PM

arsonplus said:

That was just a McCain bimbo joke. (but an essentially accurate one unfortunately).

The Doc? It was ok. I mean I enjoyed it but I agree with just about everything you wrote,  watching the footage of Dohrn and Ayers surrender reminded me of why I'm not a huge fan of the Boomers and their unwillingness to let go of their nonsense.  Overall, I didn't think it compared favorably to that Guerrilla: Taking of Patty Hearst Doc that covered some of the same ground but did a better job of conveying the sheer absurdity of it all. WU basically goes out of its way to legitimize, rather than simply explain, their point-of-view.

February 22, 2008 10:01 PM

arsonplus said:

Wait ... is this whole Weather Underground stuff the reason why the Right treats Columbia like the city of Sodom?

February 22, 2008 10:04 PM

jhildner said:

I've got zero patience for Ayers and Dohrn.  The Weathermen and all that shit give boomers and students who were protesting legitimate bullshit a bad name.  For all those who disparage that generation, I point to the outrages that they were facing.  The only reasonable response to Vietnam and to the unreal civil rights abuses of the era was to take to the streets in protest.  But there's no excuse for planting bombs, even if they did call in the threats (what if the threat goes unheeded?; what if someone doesn't get it in time?; how could you in good conscience risk it?), and I don't understand why they didn't do time for it.

February 22, 2008 10:56 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Here's one of those Gitlin anecdotes I was talking about:

"I hearda two of [the Weathermen] at a party, stoned, going on about Chairman Mao having said this, Chairman Mao having said that. 'Where did the Red Book come from' I finally exploded. 'Heaven?' They exchanged a look of stoned knowingness, and rolled their eyes. The blond Jeff Jones, formerly of Antioch College, cherubic as the Southern California surfer he had once been, smiled at me and hissed, 'Yesssss!' Then the two of them cracked up at the straight-man rube.

'They knew they were crazy,' said Carl Oglesby...'Terry Robbins and Billy Ayers had this Butch Cassidy and Sundance attitude -- they were blessed, they were hexed, they would die young, they would live forever, and at their most triumphant moment they would look over their shoulders, as Butch and Sundance looked back at their implacable pursuers, and say more in admiration than in dread, Who are those guys? I believe they thought they looked cutre, and that everybody would know it was basically a joke. The next minute, they were lost in it and couldn't get out.'"

Great book, that. Of course it stopped being a joke when Robbins, among others, built a bomb, studded with nails, to go off at a dance at a military base (even if one considered the Army legitimate targets, what about their civilian dates? Guilty by association? For not being as cool as the Ivy Leaguers who "got it"?). Apologists for the Weather Underground like to mention that they never killed anyone "except for themselves, in an accident" without often noting that, but for their own incompetence, that would not be the case.

February 22, 2008 11:14 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

arsonplus, I see. I thought you were referring to some bill I hadn't heard about banning a website on which men purchased the company of younger women who look like their wives. (Stranger things have happened). I have to say, though, I never picked up on the Cindy-Isman connecion. That is kind of funny.

February 22, 2008 11:20 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

jhildner, I think they got off because of COINTELPRO, the FBI program that violated civil liberties and circumvented the law to get after perceived subversives. The more things change...

February 22, 2008 11:24 PM

nkocz said:

Can I throw out a truly radical idea?  How about if, for a change, we have a national election that focuses on the national condition that we face today?  Why must every election be conducted in some way or fashion throught the lens of the 1960s?  

And this idea from the Hillary camp that  "this stuff is fair game because the GOP would seize on it during the general election" is appalling-- for one, it's allowing the GOP to set the agenda within the DEMOCRATIC nominating process.  How can we concede the terms of debate to them at this early junction?

February 22, 2008 11:46 PM

schrek2000 said:

Noam elides certain facts which I believe are noteowrthy. First, the "meeting" was at the Ayers/Dohrn Hyde Park home and apparent;y was designed for the ill-fated state senator Alice Palmer to introduce Obama as her annnointed successor to Hyde Park notables. (That she later changed her mind about stepping down, decided to run again and was then betrayed by Obama who got her kicked off the ballot is a whole other story and the stuff of local legend.) Second, Ayers was well worth cultivating as a member of a wealthy and prominent Chicago family---he being the son of Thomas Ayers, President and CEO of utility Commonwealth Edison (now retired), a predecessor to Obama's much beloved Exelon.

Third, "their contemporaneous membership on the board of a local organization" according to Politico was a three year co-membership on the board of the Woods Fund that lasted until 2002, well after Ayers' shameful refusal to renounce violence in his 9/11 New York Times interview hawking his memoirs. (And one of the Woods' more memorable grants was a seven figure grant to a purported local housing group affiliated with---who else!---Tony Rezko.) And Noam should tell us if Huckabee's hypothetical pastor remained committed to or had renounced violence, by the way. He leaves that out and I think it would make a difference as to how I viewed that association.

So am I saying Obama is pro-terrorist or thought the Weathermen were cooler than cool? Of course not. But the whole story can be said to raise fair questions about judgment and thoughtless opportunism in the very recent past.

And will it move votes is the key question. Not among the readers of TNR, certainly, and maybe not among the young and smitten. But how about among that 20% in those 12 or15 states that always make the electoral vote difference? How about in Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and on and on. You think the story is as chuckle worthy out there as all you do here? Maybe you're right; but I wouldn't be so cocksure if I were you.  

February 23, 2008 12:11 AM

jhildner said:

CFK:  Interesting, and excellent point about the bomb that was meant to blow up soldiers and their dates.  Unbelieveably disgusting, even with the caveat that Ayers and Dohrn themselves were not, I think, involved in *that* plan.  Still, Ayers's failure to come to terms with the wrongfulness of his actions is chilling and disturbing.  If this story does gain any traction, and I don't think it deserves to, I hope Obama will personally and forcefully condemn the terrorist acts of these "liberal notables" and their failure to apologize for them.

If you're a politician and "community organizer" in Hyde Park, a weird, wonderful place, I guess you're bound to run into these guys tangentially, along with some Nation of Islam types (HQ: 10 blocks south), some church folk with unorthodox ideas, and Tony Rezko.  (Speaking of unorthodox, I read in that recent New York Sun piece about Obama's foreign policy advisors that a Hyde Park rabbi and long-time Obama acquaintence sees the Senator's views on Israel as excessively hawkish.  Why, asks this obvioulsy self-hating Jew, does Obama so steadfastly come to Israel's defense?)

In addition, you'll run into the neo-cons' Ivy League of one -- the University of Chicago -- where Obama taught, which claims a boat load of Nobel Prizes in Economics for its devotion to the classical liberal economic theory of laureate Milton Friedman and friends, as well as the most Fedralist-friendly top-notch law school in the country where Judge Richard Posner developed his controversial law and economics theories, where his son Eric Posner opines on the ridiculousness of international law, where Judge Frank Easterbrook teaches why Thomas and Scalia are right, where Scalia himself once taught, and where Richard Epstein puts forward the extreme libertarian perspective with an ingratiating enthusiasm.  (Notable alumni include Robert Bork, John Ashcroft, and Carol Mosely Braun.)  This is the crowd -- these monsters of the Midway -- that offered Obama a full professorship, and which has the highest regard for him.

With this mix of sotto voce extremists from both sides, co-existing among the gray halls of a vibrant and ornery right-wing university and the flat, tree-lined streets of a vibrant and ornery left-wing neighborhood, it seems fitting that this is the spot where, in 1942, another Nobel laureate, Enrico Fermi, (sotto voce) achieved the first controlled atomic reaction.

They called it the Manhattan Project, but White Sox fans should know that the bomb, and Ayers's dad's 10 nuclear reactors, now Exelon's, which supply fully half of the state's electricty (the other half coming from burning coal), were born on a squash court on the South Side.  (Maybe a Senator from Illinois -- land of Lincoln, corn, and nuclear power -- can be forgiven for declining to write off either ethanol or Fermi's chain reaction.)

But it also seems fitting that this weird place would attract and then produce Barack Obama himself -- a smart guy, an intellectual, schooled in all kinds of ornery who's still, with eyes open, confident, at ease, and hopeful.  (All that's genuine, by the way.)  Hyde Park was the site of America's greatest pageant -- the Columbian Exposition in 1893 -- where the high-minded erected gleaming monuments to classical beauty (and America's emerging confidence) in Jackson Park, and the more ordinary- and commercial-minded erected trivial and infamous amusements steps away on the Midway.  The White City required the Midway's exotic dancers to remain solvent, and it sometimes seems that that spirit -- the unbearably pretty combined with the unapologetically pragmatic -- is what the American spirit is all about.  The country's greatest leaders over the years have been idealists and pragmatists at once, and energetic optimists too.  That's who Obama is.

February 23, 2008 3:07 AM

psantillana said:

jhildner gets it, of course.

shrek, you know there's no there there, but you're hoping the swing voters in MO will hold this against him. Nice.

February 23, 2008 5:10 AM

lymon1 said:

I'd be much more upset about this visit/meeting if it had happened after 2001 --  there was an incident with Dohrn and Ayers concerning an interview they gave the CHicgo Tribune that went beyond the NY Times -- they were quoted joking about their terrorist activities (something they might not have done if the interview was pre-9/11).  After 9/11 it was published and many here were outraged.  Dohrn, a law professor, refused to comment -- her dean claimed that she had renounced terrorism but some alumni couldn't find any such statements, after which the dean said he had heard her do so in private conversations.  

So today, yeah, I'd call it a Radical Chic move, but back then who knows how much Obama even knew about this, and in the "weird wonderful" Hyde Park (as jhinder calls it -- not exactly my description, though it has great bookstores) a liberal professor and/or mover/shaker would have a hard time completely avoiding such people.  I've tried for months to get people on TNR to take seriously Obama's local *endorsements* of some very distasteful pols and refusal to back reform candidates against the machine - I'm sad that none of TNR's writers wrote anything on that but this is getting a lot of attention.

February 23, 2008 6:15 AM

ehcollins said:

Bernardine Dohrn went to college with me and was at the time VERY radical especially after Kennedy was assasinated.Now she is an old progressive in the mode of HRC. So much for dangerous radicals.

February 23, 2008 11:20 AM

ChanRobt said:

What a pitiful apologia.  Ayres and Dohrn were Leftist terrorists.  That they never killed anyone with their bombs was simply luck for them.

If they had been Nazi bombers, would you be writing this piece?

And what was Obama doing anywhere near people with their backgrounds?  For that matter, how can people like this be allowed to teach at any American university?  They weren't simply political dissidents they were pursuing murder.

That a potential president of the United States was trafficing with such people in any way gives great pause.

February 23, 2008 12:42 PM

schrek2000 said:

I can't know if psant is merely a careless reader or is simply being provocative, but I'm obviously not "hoping" voters in Missouri (or anywhere else) vote against the Democratic candidate this fall whether it's Barack or Hillary. I want to win first and foremost and sorry, I'm simply not ready to say that yes, the moon is in the seventh house, that Jupiter has in fact aligned with Mars and that therefore this is conclusively the dawning of the Age of Aquarius....all thanks to the candidacy of Barack Obama.  

As I hoped to make clear, the only "there" that might be "there" is the question of judgment. I do not understand why a young, brillliant pol on the rise like Obama doesn't take one look at toxic characters like Ayers/Dohrn  (much less Rezko) and say "I'm outta here" because I strongly disagree with what you stand for and because being near you could be misinterpreted as saying something wrong about me. But he didn't, and now there are consequences. Anyone who doesn't see the danger here is engaging in willful blindness. But to be clear, I don't know if these issues will prove fatal to a general election campaign if there is one---no one can and I'm certainly not rooting for that---but I worry that many underestimate what's to come.

And yeah, lymon, Hyde Park is "weird (and) wonderful"  so long as you're not poor and/or black. And dude, give up on Obama's multiple failures to back true reform and reform candidates in Illinois. They don't want to hear it....I share your issues but really, right now we're just like the Stevenson supporters in 1960 pointing out how old Joe Kennedy was a crook and that there were serious questions about his kid Jack.

February 23, 2008 12:53 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:


Fantastic post. Are you a Chicagoan?

I see a three-pronged right-wing attack on the horizon. To wit: 1a) He is a typical, unimaginative big-government liberal. Look at past the rhetoric at his proposals. 1b) Not just that, he's a leftie. Look at the company he keeps! 2) He's a typical machine Chicago politicians, with shady connections and cheap tricks littering his past. All this idealism is a smoke-screen for a cynical smooth operator. 3) He's inexperienced (or as the Cornerites like to say, sooo green)...his pitiful naive idealism will get crushed by hard-boiled pols on the Hill and Ahmadinejad (sp?) types abroad. He doesn't even know what type of officer commands a rifle platoon!)

Granted, #2 seems to contradict #3, and doesn't quite sit well with #1a or #1b, so they'll probably have to choose their main line of attack eventually (though I'm sure they'll let all three of these allegations simmer through the summer). I suspect ideological attacks don't really hold water with the electorate this year, and they'll eventually give up on the first attack, though they'll continue to use it amongst themselves to bolster support for McCain. As for the second, even if they can dig up some goods, very little will be able to change the public perception of Obama as Mr. Clean. So it'll be the third, which is pretty much what everyone expected from the beginning. Will McCain be able to get more traction with it than Hillary?

Frankly, at this point (yeah, I know it's February) things don't look too bad for Obama. That is, if the game doesn't change. And it will. Many times over. But hell, we have to something to write about now!

Somebody said that if the story gains traction, Obama should come out with a disassociative condemnation. I agree, with the former caveat. If the story doesn't gain traction, he draws attention to it by condemning Ayers, and it's a net loss for him. Another blog called it his potential Sista Soulja moment, but I disagree: Clinton had no connection to the good Sista prior to his attack, so it was a net gain for him. If Obama said, "I do not support or condone the actions of Leftist terrorists" most voters would not respond, "right on!" bur rather, "wait, who said you did?"

(ChanRobt, as I said in an earlier post, the Left produced extremists who came from the elite and returned to the elite when the playtime with violent mlitancy had grown boring. It is pretty pathetic that they're teaching at a university and rubbing shoulders with activists and politicians in a big city, but Obama has gotten where he is not because he sells his soul for power & influence but because he's willing to go along and get along to get things accomplished. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, but it's a fair criticism for conservatives to make that he's not judgemental enough. I don't think it's fair criticism that he's of a part with the company he keeps - not that you were making that point.)

February 23, 2008 1:12 PM

ChanRobt said:

I just went and read the original Politico piece, and the implications are even worse about the "liberal" Left then I first realized.  And even a bit more troubling about Obama.

That Ayres and Dohrn-- unrepentant terrorists-- are not total outcasts among the Left, and given the amount of respectability that they are given as law professors and accepted political participants-- tells you everything you need to know about the character of the Left.

And that Obama came within a hundred feet of such people is very troubling indeed.  Do we want someone in the White House who was in the least tolerant of unapologetic terrorists?

Again, I ask, if they had been former fascists and who had cause many bombs to be set for fascism, would they be be accepted anywhere in American society?  If George Bush had visited the home of neo Nazi terrorists from the 60s, would that go unremarked upon?

The kind of people the Left and Democrats not only tolerate, but accept socially, politically, and in their universities is repulsive and repellant in the extreme.  That there is not zero-tolerance for the likes of Ayres and Dorhn on the part of the Left and of Democrats is highly shameful.

February 23, 2008 1:19 PM

ChanRobt said:

CharlesFosterKane, your observation that,  "...the Left produced extremists who came from the elite and returned to the elite when the playtime with violent mlitancy had grown boring..." is perfect in the understanding of this phenomenon.

I grew up and still live in precisely that kind of community of wealthy liberals and Leftists.  

What really galls me, is there is a Rightist and Conservative wealthy elite as well.  If one of theirs had gone of in the direction of fascism, and had been an active bomb builder and terrorist on behalf of fascism, that person would be seen as a traitor and would be an outcast, not brought back into the bosom of the class, and treated as merely mildly notorious and given prestigious university positions.

But, I'm saying this hypothetically because I can't come up with an example of someone from the Right elite who became a fascist terrorist.  Let alone was welcomed back afterwards.

It all underlines the lack of judgement on the Left, at the very least.  And it is that lack of judgement that ought to keep Leftists like Obama out of the White House.  Attractive personality though he may be.

I think there is going to be Obama fatigue.  I have now watched several of his speeches.  I've gotten quite used to his rhetorical style, his oft repeated word choices, his mode of delivery and specific way he uses his body in his delivery.

Frankly, there is not enough variety.  I find myself getting bored.  It's possible that his act, if not refreshed considerably, will not hold up for the ten months until November.

February 23, 2008 1:33 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

ChanRobt, see, I don't disagree with your sentiments on the Left. I would note that the Right has an odd and less clear ideological pedigree than the Left. It is made up of both liberterian and authoritarian bents. Oddly enough, is not those closer to fascism but the more extreme liberterians (albeit often with a racist streak) who have resorted to violence - think Timothy McVeigh. But these types of people usually don't come from the elite, but the anonymous masses. It's a different dynamic at play.

One of the reason right-wingers haven't resorted to bomb-throwing is that the avenues to power have not seemed closed off for their aims, which (if we're not talking about the John Bircher types) have been primarily unrestrained corporate growth (I would have said, increased military strength, but I think that's died of somewhat and was more of an ideological Cold War thing). Though the violent lefties came from an elite (well, the lefties of the 60s, the lefties of the 30s are a bit more mixed in their heritage) they had to strike an insurrectionary pose to seek their aims. I know conservatives like to talk about the "liberal elite" but this elite doesn't, and has never, had sway in the corridors of power; they exist more on the margins, in academia primarily. If the goals of the hard right are as I said and the goals of the left are some form of socialism, I think it's fair to say the right has an easier time throwing their weight around.

Though there are few homegrown analogies, think of it like Franco. A fascist in the 30s, but a staunch anticommunist ally following the war. Similarly, those whose goal is to fight the excesses of capitalism see the Ayers/Dohrn types of useful allies. Plus, there's probably a bit of romanticism going around of how those two were Butch Cassidy/Sundance types in the halycon days of late 60s.

Myself, much as these ideological extremes and histories fascinate me, I'd say I'm a non-ideological independent and something of a pragmatist. By the way, I'm not pegging you with the unrestrained corporate growth conservative elite tag by any means, just saying that's one extreme while the socialism of the Left is another. Most of us exist somewhere in between on that spectrum.

I'm typing as I think, so hopefully this isn't too incoherent.

February 23, 2008 1:50 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

I'd like to add that I finally read the Politico story (I thought I had, but turns out, I'd just scanned the beginning). I'm no longer so sure that "leftie" can't be effectively joined to "machine politician" or that the argument won't have sway with voters. Obama's such a blank slate that it may be possible for the Right to make some of it stick, though it's doubtful they'll get it to define him. But he has to do his part too.

Which brings me into agreement with Chan. I think Obama's sticking to one strategy for the primaries, but I 100% agree he needs to take a new tack once that fight's over. The stump Obama is a bit stale. The real one is endlessly compelling, though, I think, and came out more when asked to deal with specifics and interact with someone at the debate. I'd like to see him take the discussion route rather than the speech route (like McCain's town hall meetings). It would be a great way for him to demonstrate his belief in people being responsible for change rather than politicians. Just talking about it is getting old (and I really believe he's capable of doing much more than talking about it). So I'm totally with you on this line: "his act, if not refreshed considerably, will not hold up for the ten months until November." Or at least that it shouldn't.

February 23, 2008 1:55 PM

tomeg said:

Is the Larry Johnson virginiacentrist cites the one who blogs at TPMCafe? I usually don't like what he writes on other topics but it would surprise me if he were out to get Obama.

February 23, 2008 1:55 PM

ChanRobt said:

CharlesFosterKane, very much enjoyed your interesting analysis of the contemporary American Right.  You had some original insights in there which I find intriguing.  There were a few spots where I believe I see it differently (more conventionally?), but let me digest it and get back.

What worries me the most about Obama is the "blank slate" disposition of this candidate.  He may not himself be blank and malleable, but, despite his two books, what do we really know of the man?

I've pointed this out before on these cyberpages, but not only is he new on the national scene (even Bill Clinton as a well known governor was a somewhat established national figure), but, in terms of our national traditions for the presidency, he is new to the nation.

I don't believe we have ever elected a president whose family had not been several generations on American soil (even if as British subjects).  

I will concede that Obama's mother is from the heartland, but with a father who was not only a foreigner, but abandoned ran out on both Obama and the country, Obama is a bit exotic.  

Obama is rendered even more exotic by his sojourn in Indonesia, now with another foreigner father figure, attending a Third World school at an impressionable age, etc.

His subsequent education at Punhahoe and upscale to mainstream elite American universities certainly re-inculcates him into the American mainstream.  But, again, speaking historically, he is very exotic to be elected to the presidency.

We are a nation of immigrants, but we have in the past liked our presidents to have been marinated in the American barrel for at least two full generations.

February 23, 2008 2:28 PM

tomeg said:

Interesting, Chan, that at the same time you are wearying of Obama I find him more stimulating to watch listen. At least, that was how I reacted to his debate performance Thursday. His themes are broad and general and too often self-referential, but he is much better now at stating his approach to solving problems across the range of issues. As a result, I take him to be more a man of action than rhetoric for its own sake. The changes in his style are subtle but I feel he connects with me more now than before. For the first time ("in my adult life") I'm beginning to excited about a McCain/Obama race. If Obama fades then so be it, but I think you may be surprised.

February 23, 2008 2:32 PM

tomeg said:


Intriguing idea about importance of generational seasoning in a candidate for high office. Did/do you have like concerns about our Governator?

February 23, 2008 2:50 PM

ChanRobt said:

tomeg, I agree with you that Obama so far holds up fine in the debates.  It's his speeches that are starting to lose me.  He went way long after winning Wisconsin.  

Some media claimed he purposely pushed Hillary off the air by beginning his speech after she (prematurely, the wrote) began hers.

So, I'll keep watching.  There is a very interesting dichotomy between the pedigrees of Obama and McCain.  The first as I described in the earlier post.  The second man from an old Navy family of distinguished admirals, he himself an Anapolis grad, etc.  

I think I read he had an ancestor on Washington's staff, and some others in the Confederate army.

Yes, I realize this isn't Europe or England and we don't openly take ancestry into consideration.  But, at least at some level, or maybe unconsciously we have wanted our presidents to be unambiguously of American soil.  

Any thought that a president himself might harbor ambivalence about his country or somehow transcending it through some internationalist sensibility is for the average American profoundly unsettling.

As to your question about the "governator," we don't have to worry about him.  Under the Constitution he cannot rise higher than senator, or, of course, be appointed to the cabinet.  Secretary of State Schwarzenegger

February 23, 2008 3:28 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:


Have you read his books? I am currently reading Dreams From My Father, and though I've heard Audacity of Hope (the second one) is standard, if eloquent, boilerplate, this one is really astounding in its honesty, perception, and intelligence. It actually tells us quite a bit about the candidate, far more so than any other political autobiography I've read.

As for your concerns about his international pedigree, I respect your honesty (it's certainly not a PC point to be making) and the stipulation that it's fair to speculate on how "American" someone is, in terms of their instinctive loyalty to the country, if part of their upbringing occurred outside of the country and half of their family is not American. Many may not agree with that point but I would concede that it's at least worth considering. But I don't think it's fair to give to much sway to this viewpoint. We are a nation of immigrants, some more recent than others. I think Obama's diverse background gives him a broader perspective, something extremely admirable in comparison to our current leader's extreme narrowness, without marginalizing the part of him that is traditionally American. Also, part of this uneasiness with Obama's internationalism may be tied, subconsciously (and I'm not trying to accuse you of racism) with race. His book deals with this a great deal. How he struggled with questions of identity, not just because his parents had such different national backgrounds, but as a black man in a largely white community, and later as a mixed-race man in the company of black people who had grown up within the mainstream African-American community. There is quite obviously some ambivalence within the African-American community (no, of course not extending to everyone but widespread) about American and the place of black citizens within it. Evidenced by Michelle Obama's recent comment. But despite the qualms of some of them, African-Americans are just as much Americans as anyone else (same is true of naturalized immigrants).

So while your qualms are legit in terms of instinctive ease, I'd advise you not to give too much credence to them. Obama is an American citizen, his speeches are peppered with patriotic exhortations which seem heartfelt, and he has devoted his political life to (while not denying the place he personally comes from -- black and liberal) tries to include all stripes and backgrounds. Is it a risk? Is it a new step forward into somewhat uncharted territories? Yes, I think so. But that's how change comes about, that's how America has always achieved its best, by being daring.

Now, of course, I know you're a Republican and probably won't be supporting or voting for Obama. I'm not asking you too. But just keep in mind that he's not worthy of any more opposition and skepticism than any other Democrat (from your point of view), in other words based on his positions and personality, not his background.

February 23, 2008 4:16 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Also, I'm sorry if I pinned the viewpoint express too specifically on you; I know you were making a more general point. However, it also seemed you shared the viewpoint to a certain extent (and I'm sure I do too on some level). Hence the response.

February 23, 2008 4:17 PM

ChanRobt said:

Well, CharlesFosterKane, my concern is neither race nor strictly split national origin.  

Colin Powell is both black and of recent Caribbean descent.  But, I wouldn't have a moments concern about his unambiguous loyalties.  (Though I concede some would consider him loyal to a fault.)

With Obama, there is a cocktail of what I'm calling "exotcia" in his background. A father and then a stepfather, both foreign.  The four impressionable years in Indonesian schools.  What may have been a "hippie" upbringing.

All this mixed in with his Leftists politics, heavy investiture with contemporary academia and putative intelligentsia with all its notorious ambivalence about America, descending often to outright hostility.

PC or not, I was not so much trying to put forward my own personal views (or neuroses) as to simply point out that historically, immigrant nation or not, we haven't elected presidents whose families have not been on the soil for a few generations.  

The Kennedy's reveled in their Irishness.  But, jack was the great-grandson of immigrants.  His grandfather was an established Boston pol.  etc.  

And this isn't race, its history, culture, and political traditions.  Kenya and Indonesia are far removed from Ireland.  Or Italy, France, and England.  

If Eisenhower's father were German and had deserted the family when he was a few years old, and then his mother married a guy from Greece, and Ike went to Greek schools from ages 7 to 10, would he not be considered a bit exotic?  Even today?

I don't know if it's racists, nationalist, nativist, chauvinist, or any other thing you want to call it.  For whatever reasons, wrong or right, bad or good, Americans have not put very exotic people in the presidency.

February 23, 2008 4:52 PM

ChanRobt said:

P.S., CharlesFosterKane, I'll make a point of reading his first book.  I hear Obama writes very well.

February 23, 2008 4:53 PM

jm_rice said:

tomeg, I like the native-born requirement in the Constitution in principle, but sometimes you run across people whose loyalty is unquestioned and whose abilites are proven.  I'm thinking of Hamilton, Kissinger (politics aside), Tom Lantos and the Governator.  Schwarzenegger has a splendid record as governor and, based on the record, would probably make a splendid president.  Repeat, "based on the record," and when you don't have much of a record to go on, you look at other factors, which might otherwise be trivial.  For example, when Arnold first ran there was talk about his father's Nazi connections and about Arnold's politically incorrect hands.  Now that he has a solid record, those old bogeymen fade from view.  If Obama had a solid record, considerations like heritage would be less of a factor.

February 23, 2008 5:41 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

I wouldn't call his politics "Leftist" if the implication is far or hard Left. Liberal, definitely. But I don't see any evidence of out-of-the mainstream Leftism.

As for your Eisenhower comment, no I don't think so. I really do think it's the combination of ethnicity & background that makes Obama exotic. If he looked white and had a normal-sounding name, it wouldn't have the same potency. I do agree that he's exotic, but I think race has to be factored into that equation. By the same token, you have to balance that with his non-ideological and post-racial public persona. Yes, that will take some hits in the general but it has some basis in fact and has already caught on with a lot of people.

Your last comment is very correct though, and it will be interesting to see if that fact changes this year. I think it has a good shot at doing so.

And hope you enjoy the book. It will be probably be more forgiving of leftist cohorts and philosophies than you'd like (he befriends and works with with black nationalists in college life & community organizing, sometimes considering the points they make), but while it may not reassure your ideological concerns, I think it will give you a much better idea of who he is and where he's coming from. The sense it gives me is that he struggled with identity and questions throughout his life, as did many people, politicians or not, but he's been honest about it and seems to have figured out who he is.

February 23, 2008 7:26 PM

ChanRobt said:

FosterKane, I will concede that the definition of "Leftist" has moved for a lot of people as both the Democratic party and popular culture have moved Left.  What was once Left is to many people mainstream liberal.

And by the way, I wasn't an Eagle Scout or a Young Republican or a Goldwater Boy.  Pleanty of the people I knew back when wouldn't make good references for the Bush Whitehouse.

But they weren't Black Panthers or Weathermen, either.

All in all, the candidacy of Obama is good and useful for the country.  Whether he will, or deserves to, make it to the Promised Land will be seen in due course.  But, precedents are being set and attitudes shifted whether he is elected or not.

February 23, 2008 8:01 PM

jfeder said:

A very interesting discussion in this string about an obviously talented and fascinating young politician. let me confess up front that i won't support him and plan to vote for McCain in the general election. This is largely attributable to foreign policy issues where I disagree with most of the views posted here. but i think the issues surrounding this candidate discussed here are real enough to gain purchase among a lot of voters. If you start with the fact that he is unambiguously liberal and plans to immediately remove our troops from Iraq' and then add the "exotic" background and the lack of any significant experience in the most important area of presidential responsibility, many people will start to look to see if he has the instincitive support for the country that can be assumed in a McCain. OR is he of the prevalent academic view that the US has largely been the problem and not the solution to world affairs. Is he the type of democrat that would have joined the overwhelming majority of his bretheren and voted against the first Gulf War?  It is those kinds of positions that start to encourage people to look at other indicators of attitude, like his associates,. meetings with unrepentant terrorists etc. People will want to feel confident that in his gut he has enough faith in the american mythology, that he won't be the type to blame america for the 9/11 bombings (I am not saying he is), and will have the confidence to use force if needed. Don"t get me wrong, i think that Ayers issue is lame, but a young, inexperienced 100% "liberal" is suspect to a lot of average folks in state where it matters like florida, illinois, missouri. etc.  That's why Michelle's comment hurts so much. btw i am much more troubled by his long association with a minister who is a wack job anti semite,farrakhjan lover then any of this other stuff. same church for 28 years led by this nut??? imagine if McCain had a klu klux clanner as his confessor. i don't think a statement that he doesn't always agree with minister would quite cut the mustard.

February 23, 2008 8:27 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Chan, I actually disagree. I think the goalpost has moved to the Right. In the 70s, a popular liberal politician associating with radicals wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Today, after a couple decades of Democrats moving to the center, "the era of big government is over", the DLC, running veterans for Democratic office, the Left is out of the mainstream than ever. In fact, I'd argue it's more out of the mainstream than any other part of the spectrum.

Of course, there's different aspects of it. The Democratic Party, in certain respects, is still to the left of where it was before the late 60s (though, in economic terms it's certainly to the right).

But I'd say "mainstream liberal" or at least "mainstream Democrat" is closer to the center than it has been for 40 years.

February 23, 2008 8:41 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

As I said before, I think the crux of the issue is that Obama doesn't give much of a hoot who he associates himself with. Take it or leave it, but I don't think it means he shares their views.

I think it couldn't hurt him to come out (probably later, where it would be more useful) and divide himself from the far Left in some explicit way. He needs a Sista Soulja moment. I don't think it should be this, though, since it lends more attention to a story that's not that big of a deal anyway.

He has made some tough statements on FP (hell, McCain attacked him from his left the other day over Pakistan!) but he needs to actually "take on" the Left in some way. I know that's not his style, but he can do it without being a bully or attack dog, just in a "I fundamentally, philosophically disagree with ___ on ___" Everyone pretty much wants to believe in him, they just need a little push. Give it to them, Barack.

February 23, 2008 8:45 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

jfeder, I believe he has said that about the minister and the church. But like I said before, at least once before November he should come out hawkish or conservative on one issue in a major way (I'm not saying change his position, just make people strongly aware of where he disagrees with the left, and they are there he just doesn't stress them that much. I guess because it's the primary season).

February 23, 2008 8:47 PM

ChanRobt said:

jfieder, your post was great.  

Especially your apt, precise, and telling statement:  "...many people will start to look to see if he has the instincitive support for the country that can be assumed in a McCain."

"The instinctive support for the country."  That is exactly the level of loyalty and devotion to the nation that people want in a president.

It's not wrong or "jingoistic" anymore than a wife expecting her husbands unquestioning, automatic, and "instinctive support".

With people of Obama's style of education and belief system, nurtured in our most prestigious universities, you get the feeling they will stand back and weigh their support for their country against a list of criteria.  A left-brain, measured sort of proposition.

Fears of that sort about Obama and otherleft leaning politicians make me very uneasy.  And from what I'm hearing here, the same for a lot of more or less traditional Democrats.

February 23, 2008 8:57 PM

ChanRobt said:

FosterKane, when I think of "Democrat" I think of JFK or RFK or Humphrey or Stevenson.  

Certainly none of those men would have put one foot into the home of Weathermen.  It would have been instantly disqualifying for the prsidential nomination.  That's obviously not the case for Obama.  

And, in the 70s, the one Democrat to win an election was not McGovern (hardly a Weatherman associate, instead a WW2 bomber pilot) but a Baptist former Naval Officer and atomic submariner, Jimmy Carter.  

Sure, a lot of Boomer kids in the 70s were sort of tolerant of Weathermen and Panthers and such.  Radical Chic and all.  But associations like that didn't win national elections.  Or even the Senate.  So, I'm not sure what your reference point is.

I'm saying the popular culture, and the social culture has in many ways moved well Left.  Plus there is a generation that doesn't remember Weathermen or SLA or Panthers or know what they stood for.  So, it's a little hard for them to get outraged over this.

February 23, 2008 9:07 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Chan, between you & jfeder, I think you've nailed the potential political downside of Obama's obvious intelligence and thoughtfulness. The flip-side is that someone who's been made more conscious of America and what it stands for, rather than someone who was born in to it and takes it for granted (not McCain, obviously, who was deprived of it in the most painful way for 5 years), can be the greatest patriot of all. The way sometimes recent immigrants are more conscious of and outspoken in their love for America than people who've lived here all their lives.

I think Obama exhibited this quality in his '04 convention speech which propelled him to fame. I think he can do so again. Expect another doozy in Denver.

February 23, 2008 9:15 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

You are speaking more of presidential picks and the general public who chooses them than the public face of the Democratic Party or liberalism. One thing Bush has done, is make liberals louder than ever about their support for the country and especially the troops. Call it insincere and defensive if you will (I think it's no more so than the GOP's skin-deep relationship with same), but it's certainly not the stuff of Weatherpeople.

I agree with you on JFK/RFK/Humphrey, but they were all pre-'68 (not literally, as Humphrey ran that year, but he was the last of a breed and was despised by the types who took over the convention in '72). That was the last time the public face of the Dems was as proud-of-America, support-the-troops, and for that matter, feel-good as it is now. Clinton started this shift, but I don't think liberals were really there in the 90s. At least they didn't seem to be at the time (a high school student, I considered myself conservative, in large part as a reaction to the kind of self-satisfied, somewhat sour liberalism I saw all around me).

It's hard to quantify these things, it's more of an impression really and hell, I wasn't around in the 70s or 80s (unless you count preschool) but it seems to me that even as late as the 90s, the Left was far more strident, the cultural wars more pronounced, and that conservative Republicans had an undisputed claim on patriotism and military support that has evaporated.

February 23, 2008 9:24 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Oh, and I keep mentioning the military but I should also pipe up about religion. The conservatives' claim on that has been loosening as well. Interesting that in the 90s, Clinton made a grab for the economic conservatives while today it's the disenchanted evangelicals, red-staters, and veterans who are changing the Dems' public image.

On social issues, think 8 years ago. Gore proudly declaring his support for gun control and making sure to include a "woman's right to choose" in every stump speech. Today Obama, with a supposedly perfect rating from NARAL (unfortunately), never mentions that phrase. References to abortion have become more cryptic than ever, with "women's rights" or even "privacy" (which can be easily confused with civil liberties issues) subbing for "choice." And that debate a few weeks ago where all 3 candidates (unless I'm mistaken, and Edwards was already gone) immediately said "yes" to whether they would press the issue of Ivy League schools getting federal funds without admitting ROTC onto campus. I'm not convinced they'll make it a priority, but it's noteworthy nonetheless how clearly they affirmed what is traditionally a conservative talking point.

As for pop culture, I don't know. Again, abortion is a good litmus test. Dirty Dancing in the 80s, Juno and Knocked Up today. Not a perfect comparison but it seems that the embattled boomer mentality was more prevalent 20 years ago and writers felt a need to highlight the stridency of their counterculture creds. Now I'm not sure where we stand. Socially, pop culture has swallowed and digested what was once subversive. But perhaps because the stridency has vanished, certain assumptions are re-examined. More of an effort is made to embrace and include some form of religion (usually flakey and void of any real content, but whatever). Post-9/11, flag-waving superpatriotism swept up liberals as well as conservatives, and though that's died down somewhat there hasn't been a return to bitter anti-Americanism (not anti-government, but anti-American) that sometimes characterized liberal pop culture products prior.

This would all make an interesting book or essay, I think (and indeed, some have been written, though I haven't read them). But I really do believe in ways small and large, superficial and deep, the Democrats are reclaiming the center. Once again, populism, skepticism, and diversity are being wrapped up in the flag. Which is a good thing, in my book, no matter where you stand in the spectrum.

February 23, 2008 9:39 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

And one last thing (it's a Saturday night in NYC and I have places to go & people to see): you're right about McGovern, being a WWII pilot but he never did much to disassociate himself from the more radical elements of the Left. Hence the "acid, amnesty, and abortion" tag (though I believe Nixon was at least tacitly supportive of Roe v. Wade when it was decided, maybe I'm wrong about that).

February 23, 2008 9:42 PM

psantillana said:

I don't think the exotic thing is going to be a problem because times have really changed a lot. You can't compare this with Kennedy's situation, saying "people freaked out over his being a Catholic, and this is so much weirder" - yeah, but it's all so so so so much weirder now, in general. Plus, you have to understand that Obama has a very very non-weird voice. Voice counts for much more than people realize. All that other stuff is on paper, but voice trumps it.

All of that was boring, I know. But the truth is boring in this case, I think.

Sorry if I misinterpreted you, shrek. I really thought you were in wishful thinking mode with your gloomy forecast.

February 24, 2008 3:20 AM

jhildner said:

CFK:  I think the line of attack will be (a) inexperienced lightweight and (b) leftist in mainstream clothing.  It helps Obama that both of these attacks are very wrong on the facts, and that he's an exceptionally talented politician.

It also helps that McCain has his own demons (and I'm not talking about the lame NYT story but his flip-flops on everything from tax cuts for the wealthy to Jerry Falwell and friends), that McCain loses the policy debate with the voters on every major issue, that given attack (a) McCain offers few specifics as to his goals or his current positions and, in fact, is himself something of a policy lightweight notwithstanding his years in the Senate, that McCain has to defend Bush and the previous eight years in order to defend himself (see literal and metaphorical grovelling hugs), that McCain is an old fogey saying no we can't (on health care, Iraq, jobs), and that McCain's appeal to one of Obama's strongest groups -- independents -- is premised on an impression of him as a maverick truth-teller, a view that is very tenuous today vs. 2000.

In short, I'm having trouble understanding what McCain's *positive* campaign will be.  I've heard his "platitude"-filled stump speech (which offers far fewer specifics than Obama's and is pure lofty rhetoric), and it's pretty good, though he doesn't deliver it all that well.  More importantly, it doesn't go nearly far enough to address these major problems he has.

I'm *not* saying this will be easy for Obama, assuming he wins the nomination (which is also not a given at this point, Jonathan Alter's giving Obama 90% odds notwithstanding), but he'll have a lot of advantages, and he's shown that he's skilled at dealing with what comes his way.  You have to appreciate that Obama has been written off at every stage.  With his recent record of spectacular political achievement, the cries of "Wait till he sees what x opponent has in store -- he'll break like the proverbial doe-eyed goo-goo caught in the headlights" sound increasingly hollow.  He's not Superman, but if he goes on to win one of the longest, toughest, most memorable nomination fights we will have seen, against a strong opponent and long odds, it will be hard to escape the conclusion that, you know, he's actually really good at this.

I also just read the Politico piece in full, and I'm not afraid.  On the whole, it's a fair, well-reported piece.  But the latter portion doesn't quite jibe with the theme set up at the beginning -- that Obama has moved to the center, and only recently and rapidly.  What comes out toward the end is that Obama in fact was *never* on board with the leftist line, and that there's some annoyance and even disillusionment among this would-be damaging crowd that Obama turns out not to be one of them.  As Cass Sunstein points out, Obama didn't *move* to the center to garner wider support.  He's not actually an ideological left-winger in heart or mind -- in fact, the "polar opposite" as he puts it.  This business about not "relitigating the 60s" and all that is really who he is -- he's not from that time.  It was almost funny to me to see him tarnished as having nice words for Ronald Reagan, because what he was saying in that interview is what he's genuinely all about -- trying to make a broad, optimistic, unifying appeal.

He attended a meeting where he was to be annointed the successor to the then-current state senator from the district -- probably not a meeting to miss -- long before Ayers's very public refusal in 2001 to take responsibility for his criminal past.  Someone above accused Obama of "betraying" Alice Palmer, even though she was the one who decided not to give up the seat after losing her congressional bid -- sort of like if Juno had decided to keep the baby.  He, without political tact perhaps but with plenty of skill, put up a hardball fight and won.  The result was that the district replaced a true left-wing activist with someone whose eight years in the Illinois Senate was, according to a Tribune profile, "a study in complexity, caution and calculation. In the minority party for all but his final two years in the Statehouse, he tempered a progressive agenda with a cold dash of realism, often forging consensus with conservative Republicans when other liberals wanted to crusade."

As the Trib's conservative editorial board later wrote when it endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination, on "[r]acial profiling, death penalty reform, recording of criminal interrogations, health care -- when victory was elusive, Obama seized progress. He did so by working fluidly with Republicans and Democrats. He sought out his ideological foes. He listened closely to them. As a result, many Republicans in Illinois have warm words for Barack Obama."  He ain't your father's liberal.

As for your suggestion that it would be possible to tarnish Obama simultaneously with the label "leftist" and the label "corrupt machine pol," I'm skeptical.  Maybe it's just my familiarity with local politics (yes, I'm from Chicago), but "leftist" and "Daley," especially if the Daley in question had the middle name Joseph and was the Daley who was lauded by respectable citizens around the country for having his cops beat the shit out of protestors and reporters in '68, are opposites.  (Did Ayers really advise *him* at any point?!)  Sort of like "leftist" and "Reagan" -- will Obama be tarred by both?  Bring on the incoherent attack narratives!

As for lymon's dogged pursuit of Obama's support (tepid and/or reluctant in some cases) for Richard Michael's modern machine, I would only point out that even in Chicago, patronage-based politics and other corrupt systems are at most shells of their former selves, and Richie Daley may well end up going down as Chicago's most popular (among all demographics) and longest-serving mayor for his pragmatic approach to the city's prosperity, appearance, education, housing, crime, conservation, and culture.  (Reformers may be puking about now, but there comes a time when you have to acknowledge that Richie isn't his dad and John Kass, a fine columnist, isn't Mike Royko.)

Speaking of mayors, Obama, dmonstrating his native hipness, recently said that his favorite character on The Wire was Omar Little -- the notorious, charismatic, savvy (gay) stick-up artist who makes a living robbing drug dealers and survives the bleak landscape that claims so many lives and good intentions by rigorously adhering to his own (sympathetic) code of honor.  It was a good choice -- Omar is hard to resist.  But I wonder if he considered Tommy Carcetti -- Baltimore's mayor on the show the past couple of seasons -- instead.  I see some similarities between the character and Obama.  Carcetti is ambitious and pragmatic, but an idealist as well.  He's a talented politician who didn't come up through the usual channels but instead through a popular, public appeal and a meticulous outsider's campaign along with a little luck (i.e., his adversaries' failure to see him coming).  He gives a great speech, even as he knows that hopes aren't realities.  We see him play games, but we understand that he has to and that his heart's in the right place.  Oh, and he's the wrong color -- white.  On the other hand, The Wire's orthodoxy is unrelenting in its insistence that nothing turns out very well in the end, which spells trouble for Carcetti.  So it was probably wise not to name him.  Still, the country has a whole, thankfully, doesn't inhabit David Simon's Baltimore!

February 24, 2008 4:13 AM

LISAH said:

"The kind of people the Left and Democrats not only tolerate, but accept socially, politically, and in their universities is repulsive and repellant in the extreme.  That there is not zero-tolerance for the likes of Ayres and Dorhn on the part of the Left and of Democrats is highly shameful."

ChanRobt -- exactly, alomg with your comment about the left's lack of judgement. Today's hard left garbage -- the likes of International Answer -- is a parallel to the Weatherman and other left garbage of the '60s. Stinking, rotten, sickening hypocrites....and too damn visible with their "peace" marches and other crap. These bastards give peace a bad name.

That said, I've got no problem with Obama, Clinton, any politician, meeting with them or meeting with anyone else, right, left, center, whatever. That's how you get information, how you learn things.

Problem for me as a Democrat is that with all the info starting to come out on Obama, with the Clinton campaign problems, etc and so forth... look at what the  Republican smear machine accomplished in the '90s, apparently with a lot less in the way of accurate information, at least judging by some of the posts here and other info I've seen ...they're ginning it up again, and they've got too much material already to work with -- and the Democrats still don't have the balls to fight back.

February 24, 2008 11:04 AM

CharlesFosterKane said:


Another great post. Come on over to the "Shame on you" thread, we could use you there.


I agree that groups like ANSWER are garbage, but they are extremely marginal. Whereas the Weathermen had an impact on the public consciousness and a high profile, there's a higher wall between liberals and the Left than there was in the 70s (incidentally, that high wall was there in the 60s too -- the left HATED liberals, and mostly ignored conservatives).

One of the tragedies of the buildup to the Iraq war was that the hardcore Left took over the antiwar movement. It was all about narcissism and trying to relive the glorious days of the late 60s in a totally un-analogous situation. It was pathetic to see (I was in college at the time). I remember one protest where the marchers, after giving long speeches dealing more with Palestine and other sacred causes more than Iraq, paraded into a glass building and lay down on the steps to perform a "die-in." Standing on the outside of the library, looking in at all these people lying motionless on the steps of the building as people passed by outside without even noticing, it summed up for me the ineffectiveness of the whole movement.

February 24, 2008 12:40 PM

LISAH said:

CFK: Yes, the hard left took over the anti-Iraq war effort -- and it's the ANSWER crowd  types  which have been running all these anti-Iraq war marches, which get some real coverage in the mainstream press -- and it's the soft, fuzzy, "liberals" who are doing the marching -- they're being used by the hard left crowd...the hard left may hate liberals, but they sure know how to manipulate them...

ANSWER is hardly "extremely marginal." If nothing else, they're giving the center-left a bad name, much as the Weathermen crowd did in the '60s. They're giving the right-wing smear crowd a weapon to use against the Democrats...and it's not just ANSWER -- It's the United for "Peace and Justice" (what a joke) bunch, the likes of Not in Our Name, gotta quote these clowns in an e-mail and it's all over the ether -- cyber and otherwise...

February 24, 2008 1:12 PM

The Stump said:

Ben Smith and my colleague Jamie Kirchick have made some fair points in response to my item about Obama's

February 24, 2008 2:01 PM

mmathog said:

This was the only question I have ever wanted to ask Barack Obama:

'What sort of conversations have you had with Bernadine Dohrn?'

Thanks to Ben Smith, I know the answer.

February 24, 2008 2:28 PM

CharlesFosterKane said:

LISAH, I just don't see any connection between those groups and the Democrats, on personal relations let alone policies. Part of the reason anti-Iraq marches have not swelled is that they're seen as part and parcel with the hard Left. They also have been a sideshow at best, and have had virtually no impact on the Iraq debate, which has been driven by well-researched books and reports, mainstream figures critiquing the Bush administration, and veterans registering their complex views on the subject. Screaming Code Pink types really haven't made much of a difference, and that's even more true now than it was 4 years ago (when the Vietnam-type context was still sort of in vogue).

February 24, 2008 2:40 PM

LISAH said:

CFK -- yes, agreed...the Answer/UPJ.code pink crowd isn't pushing the debate, whatever their self-important blaring adherents may think they're doing....These clowns make a lotta noise, and the media does cover them becuse, well, noise is what the media concern is the way  the Republican  Rovesters will (mis)use this kind of information -- it's effective dirt to use against either the first black presidential candidate or the first woman (especially the woman who is the second Clinton)....

February 24, 2008 5:00 PM

Wandreycer1 said:

More desperate, tedious, irrelevant garbola thrown in an attempt to make SOMEthing stick.  

Do people realize how ridiculous they appear concocting dark conspiracy theories about 60's retreads moldering in the minds of the greying right wing geritol crowd?  American, love it or leave it you scum bag hippy!  And cut that hair while you're at it!  

Hilarious. Stupid beyond stupid.  But do keep it up, boomers parodying themselves makes Obamas case for him.  More Generation D fun (my students have named boomers like this Generation Dinosaur).

Vietnam man!  Power to the people!  Get the Pigs!  Jane Fonda forever! (insert Jimmy Hendricks Purple Haze riffs).

I can only pray:  Boomer politics R.I.P.

February 25, 2008 7:31 AM

CharlesFosterKane said:

Wandrey, whatever the merits of their politics (which at least make for good reading/viewing), their music & movies kicks ours to the curb and back and then back to the curb for good measure.

February 25, 2008 12:10 PM

Wandreycer1 said:

Oh agreed completely CharlesFosterKane - they made better bongs too.

I will take the literature from the 20's through the 50's over that era, but I don't want care what the candidates think of the Charleston, D-Day or McCarthy, except in the most cursory ways. Certainly not as a basis for an entire belief system. Our poltical culture is toxic beyond belief and needs to be flushed completely.

It also strikes me as criminally lazy - better to haggle these same tired issues than address the real mess in front of us.

But do give me Dog Day Afternoon and Jimi Hendricks any day.

February 25, 2008 1:02 PM

ChanRobt said:

I'm a hard core Boomer and have disliked them myself since 1947.

But, for the record, from a marketing and demographic standpoint, Obama is a boomer.  Born in 1961, well within the Boomer window 1946-1964, which were the child bearing years of the "greatest generation".

What Obama is not, is a "War Baby," the early name for Baby Boomers and would really only include the leading edge Boomers, 1946 thru, oh, 1948.  The ones sired once the GIs knew they would be coming home, or soon after they came home for good.

February 25, 2008 8:59 PM

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