September 22, 2008

ALTHOUGH MR. DUKAKIS HAD ACTUALLY GOVERNED SOMETHING:

Is Obama Another Dukakis?: Why is Obama so vapid, hesitant, and gutless? (Christopher Hitchens, Sept. 22, 2008, Slate)

There are three possible reasons for such a huge failure on Barack Obama's part. The first, and the most widely canvassed, is that he is too nice, too innocent, too honest, and too decent to get down in the arena and trade bloody thrusts with the right-wing enemy. (This is rapidly becoming the story line that will achieve mythic status, along with allegations of racial and religious rumor-mongering, if he actually loses in November.) The second is that crisis and difficulty, at home and abroad, sometimes make electors slightly more likely to trust the existing establishment, or some version of it, than any challenger or newcomer, however slight. The third is that Obama does not, and perhaps even cannot, represent "change" for the very simple reason that the Democrats are a status quo party.

To analyze this is to be obliged to balance some of the qualities of Obama's own personality with some of the characteristics of his party. Here's a swift test. Be honest. What sentence can you quote from his convention speech in Denver? I thought so. All right, what about his big rally speech in Berlin? Just as I guessed. OK, help me out: Surely you can manage to cite a line or two from his imperishable address on race (compared by some liberal academics to Gettysburg itself) in Philadelphia? No, not the line about his white grandmother. Some other line. Oh, dear. Now do you see what I mean?

Why is Obama so vapid and hesitant and gutless? Why, to put it another way, does he risk going into political history as a dusky Dukakis? Well, after the self-imposed Jeremiah Wright nightmare, he can't afford any more militancy, or militant-sounding stuff, even if it might be justified. His other problems are self-inflicted or party-inflicted as well. He couldn't have picked a gifted Democratic woman as his running mate, because he couldn't have chosen a female who wasn't the ever-present Sen. Clinton, and so he handed the free gift of doing so to his Republican opponent (whose own choice has set up a screech from the liberals like nothing I have heard since the nomination of Clarence Thomas). So the unquantifiable yet important "atmospherics" of politics, with all their little X factors, belong at present to the other team.


Mr. Hitchens is wrong in one important particular here--the post-Clinton Democrats aren't even status quo but reactionary. They--like the post-Blair Labourites--stand athwart History hollering for Third Way reforms to be stopped and rolled back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 22, 2008 12:36 PM
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