May 22, 2008

THIS SEASON'S BRITNEY (ONLY NOT PREGNANT AND IN REHAB):

Obama No (Adolph Reed Jr., May 2008, The Progressive)

I’ve never been an Obama supporter. I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. [...]

The Obama campaign has even put out a misleading bio of Michelle Obama, representing her as having grown up in poverty on the South Side, when, in fact, her parents were city workers, and her father was a Daley machine precinct captain. This fabrication, along with those embroideries of the candidate’s own biography, may be standard fare, the typical log cabin narrative. However, in Obama’s case, the license taken not only underscores Obama’s more complex relationship to insider politics in Daley’s Chicago; it also underscores how much this campaign depends on selling an image rather than substance.

There is also something disturbingly ritualistic and superficial in the Obama camp’s young minions’ enthusiasm. Paul Krugman noted months ago that the Obamistas display a cultish quality in the sense that they treat others’ criticism or failure to support their icon as a character flaw or sin. The campaign even has a stock conversion narrative, which has been recycled in print by such normally clear-headed columnists as Barbara Ehrenreich and Katha Pollitt: the middle-aged white woman’s report of not having paid much attention to Obama early on, but having been won over by the enthusiasm and energy of their adolescent or twenty-something daughters. (A colleague recently reported having heard this narrative from a friend, citing the latter’s conversion at the hands of her eighteen year old. I observed that three short years ago the daughter was likely acting the same way about Britney Spears.)

Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz, a Clinton supporter, noted that the Obama campaign advisers have tried to have it both ways on the race question. On the one hand, they present their candidate as a figure who transcends racial divisions and “brings us together”; on the other hand, they exhort us that we should support his candidacy because of the opportunity to “make history” (presumably by nominating and maybe electing a black candidate). Increasingly, Obama supporters have been disposed to cry foul and charge racism at nearly any criticism of him, in steadily more extravagant rhetoric.

The campaign’s accusation that the Clinton team made Obama look darker in a photo or video clip than he actually is—and what exactly are we to make of that as an accusation?—and the hysterically indignant reaction to Geraldine Ferraro’s statement that much of Obama’s success stems from the fact that “the country is caught up in the concept” of a black candidacy are no different from the campaign’s touting its “historic” character. Obama supporters fulsomely attacked even Clinton’s attempts to portray him as inexperienced, which is standard fare in political campaigns. They also charged that she was playing to racism. See most recently Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo’s characterization that she was “disrespecting” black people, a leftover canard from Jesse Jackson’s campaigns (which, lest amnesia overtake us, were also extolled as historic firsts).

The Jackson comparison points to one of Obama’s key contradictions: Like Jackson, he wants to appeal to blacks with the “it’s our time now” line, and to white liberals with that, as well as with the “I’m black in a different way from Jesse” qualifier and the religious conversion rhetoric. A friend said that Obama’s campaign, in stressing his appeal to rapturous children and liberal, glamorous yuppies, offers vicarious identification with these groups, as well as the chance to become sort of black in that ultra-safe and familiar theme park way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2008 7:33 AM
Comments

Well, so Michelle helps explain the decision to get involved with the Daley Machine and Chicago politics.


Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 22, 2008 12:11 PM
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