Barack Hussein Obama: The Fickle Adulation of the Media

Senator Barack Obama has been a media darling since at least August. And the right wing is already starting its smear campaign against him. Much has been made of his middle name, “Hussein.” (See Wonkette.) I saw him on C-SPAN addressing voters in New Hampshire, where the press asked him if his middle name would be a problem in a presidential campaign. His response was pretty savvy, I thought. He said something to the effect of “Anyone who sees my name as a strike against me already has so many other strikes against me that it’s a moot point.” (No, this is not an exact quote.) He’s good at turning words around like that.

Here are some interesting Obama links.

BBC News Washington Diary, Dec. 13 —The next president: One of the responses to his New Hampshire talk. A common theme among these responses is “Lookout Hillary.”

Everyone, including George Will, talks about Obama as the Hillary alternative.

The Washingtonian.com compares the two, saying that:

In key ways, Clinton and Obama are opposites. Clinton is a pragmatist who takes the existing framework and figures out what she can accomplish in the “real world.” She tends to focus on policy bit by bit rather than reaching for a larger message. Obama, says Lu, his legislative director, is a dreamer more likely to ask, “Why accept the way it is as the way it is?”

And more interestingly to the Gen Xer, he positions himself as a post-baby Boomer, whereas Hillary is clearly a Boomer candidate.

“To some degree—and I say this fairly explicitly in my book—we have seen the psychodrama of the baby-boom generation play out over the last 40 years,” says Obama as we’re driving through ravishing acres of corn and soy. “When you watch Clinton versus Gingrich or Gore versus Bush or Kerry versus Bush, you feel like these are fights that were taking place back in dorm rooms in the sixties. Vietnam, civil rights, the sexual revolution, the role of government—all that stuff has just been playing itself out, and I think people sort of feel like, Okay, let’s not re-litigate the sixties 40 years later.” He rattles off some of the familiar dichotomies—isolationism versus intervention, big government versus small. “These either/or formulations are wearisome,” he says. “They’re not useful. The reality outstrips the mental categories we’re operating in.”

The Harpers article is called Barack Obama Inc. the birth of a Washington machine, and it discusses some of the corporate interests that have invested in him, including the Illinois-based Exelon Corporation, which is a nuclear power-plant operator.

But for the rhetorician, the article makes the interesting point, and one made by plenty of other people, that his DNC Keynote launched his national career, the video of which can be found on American Rhetoric.com

Here’s his Oct. 23 Time article and a pic of the cover. From this article I learned the interesting bit of trivia that his mother got a PhD while on Food Stamps.

“I had to reconcile a lot of different threads growing up–race, class,” he told me. “For example, I was going to a fancy prep school, and my mother was on food stamps while she was getting her Ph.D.”

The media coverage of him (at least the positive media coverage) likes to paint him as a post-Boomer who can’t be pigeonholed. (This is a lot like the way they treat Tiger Woods, actually–except for the post-Boomer part.) Some people, however, seem to think the media affair with Obama is premised on White Liberal Guilt.

Asks one right-wing pundit: Do Democrats really want Obama to take them on a U-turn back to the left? Behind the Obama Bounce, Real Clear Politics, Dec. 14.

Peter Brown, a pollster, writes:

Putting race aside, Obama is at best a more charismatic version of the kind of losing Democratic candidates we have seen in recent decades. The only Democrats elected president since 1960 have been Southerners, and the most recent ones, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were able to convince voters they were ideological moderates.

Peggy Noonan, as eloquent as ever, writes:

What Sen. Obama has, what he is, what he becomes. But right now he seems part of a pattern of lurches and swerves — the man from nowhere, of whom little is known, who will bring us out of the mess.

SOME OTHER OBAMA LINKS

For the rhetorically minded, here is a transcript of a commencement address he gave last year. He’s amazing.

On the Issues: A list of his voting record and quotes from him concerning contemporary political issues. There are some great quotes in here, especially under the Principles and Values section.

An example of his quick wit and ability to turn a phrase can be found in a long and insightful article in the New York Magazine:

Having a candid memoir already out there on the bookshelves also couldn’t have hurt. In Dreams From My Father, published nearly a decade before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama freely discusses his youthful experimentation with marijuana and cocaine, and he uses the word shit—as a verb—on page four, a vivid and unambiguous choice. Did he know he’d be running for higher office when he wrote that? “No,” he answers, then peers intently at me over the rims of his sunglasses. “But I have used the word shit before.”

From the Dec. 6 Harpers, on his rhetorical ability:

It was a rousing speech, and Obama is probably the only member of Congress who could have delivered it with any conviction or credibility.

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