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The Obama Kool-Aid Report

Let us now come forward and speak the truth. Barack Obama's much-anticipated speech on Saturday was ordinary, at best. Very ordinary.

Come on, now. Tell the truth.

I've seen a lot of speeches in my day; I'm a C-SPAN geek and I've particularly follow presidential campaigns closely since Carter-Ford. Let us now tell the truth:

Barack Obama gave a very ordinary speech, at best, one that would be instantly forgettable if not memorable only because of how ordinary it was.

Read it for yourself. Watch it for yourself. And tell yourself the truth.

Grade Inflation
The ChicagObama Sun-Times didn't see it that way, of course. But with a front page headline "08-BAMA" I wasn't sure if this was a newspaper or a campaign brochure. If only the paper's editors would take Obama's advice and retreat from cynicism, which is truly the quality that animates its Obamamania.

Here is how the Sun-Times pundits graded Obama's speech.

Lynn Sweet: A. "Speech was well-executed marriage of substance and style." Frankly, I found both missing. But I'll get to that later. The real question here is: Should a political reporter really be grading a candidate's speeches? Sweet is saying, in effect, "Yes, I approve."

Mary Mitchell: B. "Too middle-of-the-road." In other words . . . BORRRRING! And lacking both substance and style.

Carol Marin: A. "It was fluid, fluent, poetic, passionate, and smart." Carol, Carol, Carol! They got to you too! If this is your version of poetic, you've been listening to Illinois pols too long. A Joe Biden appearance on a Sunday morning news show has more poetry than this.

Jennifer Hunter: A. "It was a thoughtful and passionate speech." Though (at a mere 21 minutes) "slightly too long (because it was so darn cold outside)." Please.

What would it have taken for the Sun-Times geniuses to have issued, say, C's? I mean, really? It reminds me of stories newspapers do about parades and air shows. They never write, "Gee, the parade really sucked this year." There is a built-in presumption that the story will be "positive," and I'm afraid that's what is at work here too. The Sun-Times was going to love this speech, unless Obama got up there and started railing about whitey.

Hunter, in particular, isn't going to deliver a lot of incisive reporting or political insight as she follows Obama around and produces, as I assume she will (and if she doesn't she's an even bigger idiot) a book in the end. If she loved this, look out. And she'll get plenty of access because of it.

By the way, she's the publisher's wife.

Depth Charge
"Obama has built his campaign less on his track record and more on the brash promise that he can do something great," the Sun-Times editorial page said on Sunday. "But if he gets elected president, it won't be because of his experience - it will be because voters believe in the depth of his potential."

Call me crazy, but I prefer to elect a president based on the depth of his or her accomplishments. It may be a unique moment in history to elect someone like Obama, but it's also a moment in history not ripe for throwing the dice.

Deep End
"He has barely been tested in the hardball waters of national politics and media scrutiny," the Sun-Times editorial page says.

Because the Chicago media swims in softball waters, and has left it up to the national media to do the vetting of the hometown presidential candidate.

Daley's Man
"The Daley administration in Chicago is one of the most corrupt in history, roiling with federal investigations, convictions of top aides, convictions of Outfit-connected mayoral cronies, scandals costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. And amazingly, the uncynical Obama endorsed Daleys' re-election bid," John Kass wrote on Sunday, in the true must-read on Obama's big day.

Truth Squad
As usual, the Tribune offered a more credible account than the amateur hour over at the Sun-Times. In Christi Parsons' front-page story, her fifth paragraph said this: "But as Obama departed immediately for Iowa, the raucous crowd and frenzied applause of the morning quickly gave way to difficult questions. Voters at a town hall meeting in Iowa quizzed Obama about everything from the Iraq war and North Korea to education funding and race relations."

Thank you, Tribune, for telling me something I didn't know and advancing the story.

Parsons' account continued inside the paper under the headline "Iowa Event Offers Obama Dose Of Reality." And isn't that what newspapers ought to offer their readers?

Hawkeye State
* "I was underwhelmed, frankly," Gilda Boyer of Cedar Rapids told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "He needs some work."

Michel Stone of Cedar Rapids agreed.

"He doesn't have the energy of Hillary Clinton," she said. "He needs to talk more about what he would do."

"The first-term senator's lack of cynicism may come from not having spent much time in Washington, Obama later told The Gazette."

As opposed to the eight years he spent in Springfield working for Emil Jones.

* You can see him speaking in Waterloo here.

* In Ames, the thin-skinned Obama blamed the media for his image of being a man of style over substance. "The problem is not that the information is not out there, the problem is that's not what you guys are reporting on," he told the nearly 50 reporters in the room. "You've been reporting on how I look in a swimsuit."

Then he autographed copies of the Men's Vogue issue in which he sat for a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz.

Faint Praise
The Tribune's Michael Tackett drank the Kool-Aid too, declaring that Obama had passed an important first test. And what would it have taken for him to have "failed?"

Even unintentionally, those who come to praise Obama end up burying him, if you read closely.

"The words from Sen. Barack Obama as he formally announced his campaign for president on this frigid Saturday morning were not particularly new," Tackett wrote. "They included the familiar menu of Democratic causes."

It was "how he put the words together" that impressed Tackett.

After recounting the intense media interest in the event, Tackett writes that "no specific policy that he addressed sets him far apart from the other Democrats seeking the nomination."

Tackett then turns to noted plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin to inform us that Abe Lincoln thought that character and judgement were more important than experience. Tackett apparently didn't ask Goodwin how voters are to assess character and judgement in candidates who have rarely been in positions in which those qualities have been tested.

Nor did Tackett ask Goodwin what it says about Obama's character and judgement that his political mentor is Emil Jones, that he single-handedly got Alexi Giannoulias elected treasurer, that he endorsed Rich Daley, Todd Stroger, and Joe Lieberman, and that he exchanged favors with Tony Rezko.

But again, even those who want to praise Obama can't quite finger what he's about. "[T]he generational appeal, potent as it may be, also seems a bit fuzzy," Tackett allows.

Yet, Tackett still found "the impression" of Obama's event "compelling."

A reading of his story, though, finds the stagecraft and symbolism compelling; not the speech or the man.

The Ex Factor
"Nobody had better Washington resumes than Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld," Obama tells Frank Rich of The New York Times.

1. Not true. These guys were lame holdovers from the 70s. Tons of people had better resumes.
2. It's not that experience is everything, it's that it's a signifcant factor among many. It's not either-or.
3. It's not just a resume; it's the quality of experience. George W. Bush has been president for six years, and he's still not qualified. Jim Webb, on the other hand, is - and not just because he gives a good speech, but because of both his broad and deep life experience. And it certainly doesn't hurt that he was once the friggin' Secretary of the Navy.
4. If George W. Bush would have had more experience, he wouldn't have had to turn to Cheney and Rumsfeld to run his administration.

Black America
Perhaps my perception of Obama's speech was influenced by what I watched just before it - and found incredibly compelling: Live coverage of the annual State of Black America - where Obama's candidacy got a mixed reaction.

There may be a lot of people still put off by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, but talk about charismatic, articulate speakers with deep wells of intellect and wisdom . . . and you know who really impressed? Cathy Hughes, founder and president of Radio One.

So watching the milquetoast Obama was a bit of a letdown.

MIA Media
The New York Times account also described a heretofore pussy press:

"Still, for all the excitement on display, Mr. Obama's speech also marked the start of a tough new phase in what until now has been a charmed introduction to national politics. Democrats and Mr. Obama's aides said they were girding for questions about his experience in national politics, his command of policy, a past that has gone largely unexamined by rivals and the news media, and a public persona defined more by his biography and charisma than by how he would seek to use the powers of the presidency . . .

"Mr. Obama has not gone through a full-scale audit that will now come from Republicans, Democrats, journalists, and advocacy groups."

Because it's not as if the Chicago media would want to do a full-scale audit of one of its United States senators, much less one running for president. They want to be friends with the guy.

From The Hart
The Times account also included Gary Hart responding to Obama's contention last week that the Democrats' problem has been too many plans, not enough hope:

"That's nonsense. It posits that it's either-or. Who's saying you can't talk about hope? I'm not talking about white papers. I'm talking about one big speech about 'How I view the world.'"

Indeed. And what candidate hasn't run on hope? It's hard to find one - though it's hard to find one who has run only on hope.

New Old Politics
"In his run for the White House, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is just as dependent on attracting campaign money as his opponents," NPR reports. "A look at Obama's list of political contributors offers few surprises. It is largely a mainstream group of regular contributors to Washington politicians.

"Ken Silverstein, who recently profiled Obama in Harper's Magazine, speaks with Scott Simon. Silverstein says that, based on his contributors, Obama does not look like a politician preparing to challenge the status quo."

True New
If Obama really want to fundamentally change the nature of our politics, and be a uniter transcending ou "small politics" and our supposedly divided nation, he'd run as an independent - or with a Republican running mate - instead of being such a staunch party man whom Emil Jones, Todd Stroger, and Bill Beavers can always count on. Talk about small.

Small Difference . . .
. . . between Hope and Hype.

Book Report
The Tribune's David Mendell is writing a book about Obama, due out in four or five months.

From an October 2004 Mendell article:

"The votes Obama has cast over his nearly three terms in the General Assembly give voters a sense of what kind of legislator he might be as he attempts to graduate from the Illinois Senate to the U.S. Senate.

"At the same time, they provide ammunition that Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes hopes to use against him. Since Keyes has never held public office, he has no comparable record for Obama to critique . . .

"A bountiful history of legislative votes can be a curse and a blessing for a candidate at election time. As much as his Democratic and Republican opponents have used Obama's record against him, Obama himself has used his Springfield experience to his advantage by touting legislative achievements in television advertising."

So experience counts when you want it too.

Altered Narrative
Tribune, Feb 10: "During the first part of his eight years in the Illinois Senate, Obama labored in the Democratic minority, which gave him little opportunity to pass laws or have much influence in legislative action. But Sen. Jones and the Democrats took over control in 2003, and Jones began to put Obama in charge of important committee work."

Mendell's 2004 account was less charitable:

"Perhaps nothing has been more helpful to Obama's Illinois Senate career than his ties to Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who has allowed Obama to take the lead on high-profile legislation and remain neutral, or fade to the background, on thorny issues."

A new kind of politics?

And Kirk Dillard, the Republican state legislator, is crowing about Obama now, but here's what he had to say in 2004:

"He's shown a tendency to work on non-philosophical issues, but he has been nowhere near the middle of the road, despite how he is trying to portray himself now," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale). "Even though I have sponsored major legislation with Barack and I like him personally, clearly he is soft on crime and borderline socialist on health care."

Everybody wants to get close to power. Elbows are flying.

60 Minutiae
Notice how the Daley re-election campaign bought ad time in the minutes before Obama's turn on 60 Minutes? It's a new kind of politics.

Meanwhile, Steve Kroft couldn't come up with a single original question to ask Obama. There was the obligatory "rock star" mention, questions about America being ready for a black president, his teenage drug use, and if he's "black enough," you know, the standard script.

There are other questions to ask - and not just about Daley and Stroger. For example:

1. So you're saying Howard Dean was right about the war. Do you think he should have been the nominee?

2. What would you do about North Korea?

3. Why did you vote in favor of the border fence with Mexico?

4. When you say you've been in Washington long enough to know its ways must change, weren't you also in Springfield long enough to know that its ways must change? Yet, you were a loyal machine soldier. Please explain.

5. You're now calling for a date-certain to remove American troops from Iraq. But you've previously stated that you didn't believe in a date-certain. Are you just shifting with the winds?

War Winds
"Though Mr. Obama, the junior sentator from Illinois, was a vocal critic of the Iraq war during his time as a state legislator and as a Senate candidate in 2004," the Times reports, "the level of his criticism lowered when he arrived in Washington. In his first year in the Senate, he delivered one speech on Iraq, calling for a phased withdrawal by the end of 2006. But last November, Mr. Obama revised that time frame, saying the drawdown should begin in four to six months. Legislation he introduced late last month calls for redeployment to begin no later than May 1, with a goal of removing all combat brigades in Iraq by March 31, 2008."

Moneyball
"Politics has become a business, not a mission," Obama said in Ames, Iowa, according to a Sun-Times report.

Just above the story "Obama Raises $1.5 Million At End Of Frenetic Weekend."

-

More Beachwood Obama coverage:

* JUST IN: Obama Speaks.

* Lincoln vs. Obama.

* Barack Obama (D-Daley).

* The Trouble With Obama.



Permalink

Posted on February 12, 2007


MUSIC - They Flirted With Disaster.
TV - A Quincy Top 10.
POLITICS - The Traitor Who Is A Great Patriot.
SPORTS - Gambling At The Grate.

BOOKS - Scientists Gone Rogue.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - A People's History Of Uptown.


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