Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Obama is All About Obama

Who is this Barack Hussein Obama? The more we learn, the less we seem to know. The more he shows himself, the more shadows we discover in his character. And he is, practically speaking, the Democratic nominee for the office of President of the United States. I think that indicates the state of philosophical confusion and political incompetence in the Democratic Party.

The executive authority in the United States government is an awesome power. Granted, it is limited by law, fundamentally by the Constitution, and limited also to the federal sphere. Under that constitution, it is also balanced by two other branches of government, as well as by political realities. His greatest power is as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The long vetting process for this office has been a happy development. It means that we are less likely to elect a charming but relatively unexplored golden boy in the flush of media excitement. We have time to sober up, ask the right questions, check under the candidate's hood and make sure that he is "safe at any speed."

In his column the other day, David Brooks exposed a few more Obama shadows. Though not a supporter, Brooks has been a sympathetic but analytical student of Obama from the start. In "Where's The Landslide?," he suggests that one reason that, according to the polls, the American electorate in general has not succumbed to Obamamania and has left the Enlightened One virtually tied with the 72 year old war horse John McCain is that "Obama is a sojourner...There is a sense that because of his unique background and temperament, Obama lives apart. He put one foot in the institutions he rose through on his journey but never fully engaged. As a result, voters have trouble placing him in his context, understanding the roots and values in which he is ineluctably embedded...[V]oters seem to be slow to trust a sojourner they cannot place."

Obama has spent his adult life undertaking serious responsibilities, putting himself in a position to serve people, but never following through to genuine accomplishment. He has always had only the appearance of public service. (I thank Bill Dupray at The Patriot Room for this breakdown of Brooks's points. He just saved me the time of doing it myself.)

This has been a consistent pattern throughout his odyssey. His childhood was a peripatetic journey through Kansas, Indonesia, Hawaii and beyond. He absorbed things from those diverse places but was not fully of them.
His college years were spent on both coasts. He was a community organizer for three years but left before he could be truly effective. He became a state legislator, but he was in the Legislature, not of it. He had some accomplishments, but as Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker wrote, he was famously bored by the institution and used it as a stepping stone to higher things.
Law school professor
He was a popular and charismatic professor, but he rarely took part in faculty conversations or discussions about the future of the institution. He had a supple grasp of legal ideas, but he never committed those ideas to paper by publishing a piece of scholarship.
He was in the law school, but not of it.
He was in Trinity United Church of Christ, but not of it, not sharing the liberation theology that energized Jeremiah Wright Jr.
He is in the United States Senate, but not of it. He has not had the time nor the inclination to throw himself into Senate mores, or really get to know more than a handful of his colleagues. His Democratic supporters there speak of him fondly, but vaguely.
This is very strange behavior. Even if I agreed with his policies (Do we even know what his policies are? They keep changing, depending on who he's addressing.), I would be wary of nominating someone (a) with so little experience in government, and (b) who made so little of what opportunities he has had.

All of this seems to point to Obama himself as the focus of Obama's life. Despite all the "we" of his rhetoric, his life points overwhelmingly to "me," more than we have seen in anyone else who has risen this high politically. One would think that taking the community organizer career route was a choice for service over privilege, but he worked only three years at that and left before he accomplished anything of substance. It was an entry on his political resume. He did the time and got the line. It was all about Obama, all about "me." From an early age he set his sights on the White House and followed whatever intermediate steps were necessary. But he skipped lightly through these steps, avoiding controversy and any real commitment to anyone but himself. Hence, no academic publications. Hence, all the "present" votes, though he did also establish a solidly liberal voting record in his one year of Senate service before he undertook campaigning for president so that radicalized Democratic primary voters would take him seriously.

We see this Obamacentric orientation in his wife, Michelle. Why is she finally proud of America? She told us that the only reason is that America is recognizing her husband's greatness and promise. Her lately discovered pride in America has nothing to do with America and everything to do with Obama.

Maureen Dowd, who loves her Barry Obambi, inadvertently and subtly drew attention to Obama's disturbing self-focus in "Mr. Darcy Comes Courting." She compares Obama to "the clever, haughty, reserved and fastidious Mr. Darcy," Jane Austin's character in her novel, Pride and Prejudice. But my wife tells me (I have not read any Jane Austen on account of a defect in my soul) that, unlike Barack Obama, Mr. Darcy often sacrifices his self-interest either for someone whom he loves or simply for the sake of duty or the common good. Honest students of this admirable Austen character will notice this glaring contrast. Maureen, take note.

Further exploration: Shelby Steele's book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. On that subject, you may consult Steele's TIME magazine article, "The Identity Card," and George Will's disagreement with Steele's assessment, "Misreading Obama's Identity."

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