“Palin Is Like Obama”

December 20, 2009 at 12:51 am (By Amba) (, )

Phrased like an Althouse tag (though I don’t know if she’s ever made it a tag), a meme I picked up on before Sam Tanenhaus of the New Yorker:

The fascination with Palin owes something to the way that her cultish aura mirrors, or refracts, the aura that surrounds Barack Obama, the other political figure who comfortably inhabits the nexus of politics and celebrity. It has become fashionable to ridicule Palin as a tabloid creature, but it was not so long ago that Obama was being depicted as the chum of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Even now, the nimbus of celebrity clings to him, often with deflationary effect—for instance, during his recent visit to China, when at times he seemed less the leader of a major diplomatic mission than an attractive student ambassador, genially exporting good will and posing for photographs. When CNN intercut its evening coverage of Obama’s trip with Palin’s first bookstore appearance, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the two mise en scènes seemed eerily equivalent.

For the moment, Obama and Palin divide the electorate, and are bound by a strange symmetry [my point exactly]: born in the nineteen-sixties, the only candidates from outside the Lower 48 ever to grace national tickets, and the beneficiaries of powerful social movements that they were too young to have participated in (civil rights in Obama’s case, women’s liberation in Palin’s). Just as Obama, with his “post-racial” affect and his Ivy League pedigree, made an older African-American political figure like Jesse Jackson seem the relic of a vanished era, so Palin—with her lustrous mane and form-fitting skirts, her coddling of her infant son in the full glare of TV cameras—presented a new model of the spontaneous woman politician, free of the overmanaged self-discipline that constrains Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Enthusiasts of either one who disagreed or criticized me for comparing them were focusing on content; I was focusing on form.  They are similar and symmetrical containers for antithetical contents:  avatars of the two poles of a riven America.

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Ich Bin Ein Berliner

November 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Due to a trick of German grammar — you don’t use the article when you announce your nationality, profession, or other official identification — this bold rhetorical move by President John F. Kennedy was often mischievously translated as “I am a jelly donut!”  (Sugar-dusted berliners are to Berlin as hamburgers are to Hamburg and frankfurters to Frankfurt.)  OK, he should have said “Ich bin Berliner.”  (Except since he wasn’t literally a Berliner, Wikipedia says his usage was correct, and what’s more, Berliners themselves don’t call jelly donuts berliners.)

But the small endearing error, if it even was, didn’t diminish the symbolic power of the June 1963 statement, or the arc it made with President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” 24 years to the month later.  The Berlin Wall went right through our hearts.  It divided the very heart of a divided world; it was the metaphorical Iron Curtain made literal.  There could have been no more tangible evidence of communism’s breathtaking sense of entitlement to its citizens’ very lives, of the prison it was or the walls and snipers that prison needed.

I saw it on its first birthday, not long after my 16th.  August 13, 1962.

My marvelous high school German teacher, W. Gregor Heggen, led a trip to Germany for his students every summer.  American teen-agers lived with families in three locations — Paderborn, Herr Heggen’s hometown; West Berlin; and Esslingen, in the south, near Stuttgart — as well as in youth hostels, and we were taken to see marvels of historic architecture and art:  Romanesque, Gothic, and Rococo cathedrals, famous altarpieces.  When we arrived in Berlin we had just spent a month of total immersion with families in and around then-bucolic Paderborn, and our German had begun to swim.  As a city kid I immediately recognized Berlin as a great metropolis — it throbbed with that urban intensity — but a schizoid and feverish one, with a tourniquet cutting off its circulation.  The West was a show window of capitalism, pumped almost artificially full of colorful commerce and adventurous architecture. The East — we were led in through Checkpoint Charlie, “Achtung!  Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin!” — was drab and gray and limp.  Tall, ugly buildings that looked like file cabinets for storing working parts (I would later see their clones in Romania) alternated with bomb craters and rubble that had never been repaired since World War II.  The palate doesn’t lie:  a little cart sold ersatz chocolate-coated ice-cream bars that tasted like cardboard.  We were given fistfuls of propaganda leaflets about how the evil capitalists were the heirs of the Nazis.

The Wall was the sobering shock of my young life.  My letters home (I still have two from Berlin, if I didn’t somehow leave them behind after the fire) had been adolescent prattle; their tone suddenly changed.  We got as close as we could to the Brandenburg Gate, where wooden viewing stands peered over the rather low grey barrier into a no-man’s-land of barbed wire coils scanned by snipers.  On the first anniversary, we went to a section where whole rows of houses had been conscripted into the barrier, their windows bricked up.  Wreaths lay on the sidewalk at the feet of metal crosses marking where people had jumped to their deaths rather than lose their freedom, their families and friends.

Obviously, I had no clue that my own destiny would be all about that barrier, what lay on the far side of it, and the lives and loves severed by it.  But it made a stunning and indelible impression.

The sight of the graffiti-infested Wall being dismantled by sledgehammers in a party atmosphere at the end of 1989 was therefore personal to me.  I would have liked to have one of those little pieces of it they were selling as souvenirs.

For those of us whose lives were dominated by that divide, the aftermath of its collapse has been bewildering.  A world that was starkly black-and-white was shattered into a hologram of little yang-yin droplets.  Suddenly good and evil were both everywhere.  That was actually a salutary challenge; far worse was the don’t-look-back amnesia that seemed to fall on the world, rendering the whole seventy-year ordeal irrelevant. I wondered how J felt, seeing the bulldozer that rolled over and crushed his entire childhood world suddenly simply vaporize.  How could a monolith that had had such vast and terrifying power, that destroyed so many lives, just crumble to dust and blow away?

I am beyond embarrassed, I am mortified that President Obama isn’t attending the 20-year commemoration of the Wall’s destruction.  Why?

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Race: Danger or Distraction? Bomb or Bomb Scare? [UPDATED AGAIN]

September 11, 2009 at 12:54 am (By Amba) (, , , , , , )

Tonight on MSNBC I heard a parade of Democrats, including Ron Reagan, saying solemnly that they thought Joe Wilson’s “outburst” last night was about race, that such incivility would not have been directed at a white President.  (Bush II was booed in the same chamber.)  I had to turn it off.  I blew my stack on Twitter, because it seemed to me they had all received their talking points and were setting up a story line in which opposition to Obama’s health care plan could only be motivated by racism.  Makes me nuts.

(UPDATE II, Sunday the 13th:  James Pinkerton nails Maureen Dowd doing her duty for the cause:  “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.” Pinkerton comments:

The cultural elites can’t have it both ways: They can’t simultaneously trash the middle class–labeling reasonable skepticism of Obamacare as “racism”–and then expect that same middle class to simply take the elites’ word for it that Obamacare is a good idea.

And I agree with Pinkerton’s terse prognosis:  “bad politics. It’s not going to work.”)

This led to a fascinating conversation with my brother David (True Ancestor), that I’m reproducing here, starting with Twitter.  (Still can’t bring myself to say “my tweets.”  I’d prefer a George Carlinesque “brain farts.”)

Sometimes I wonder if Obama was elected largely because his race is such a convenient way of ending an argument and silencing debate.

Tremendous barrage of “it’s race, it’s race” on the Left’s pet channel MSNBC today. A concerted campaign–this is how they plan to pass HC??

To get back to the subject of liberal Dems browbeating on “race” theme–I am disgusted beyond measure. This is exact flip side of Birtherism

My own bro falls for & perpetuates the “it’s race” meme re: Joe Wilson http://tinyurl.com/ljsvnt I bet a very liberal white prez wd get same

Here my bro’s so right tho: “I see signs all around me that people are pissed off and paranoid, self-righteous and self-absorbed.”

Please pause here and read David’s post.  It’s a very good and very thoughtful expression of the alarm that is the theme that has sincerely gripped many liberals (and David, as you can see, is no ultraliberal), just as alarm at loss of freedom to an overweening State is the theme that has sincerely gripped many conservatives.

I would have been astonished no matter who called the President a liar, and no matter who the president happened to be. But because Barack Obama is an African American man, in a room populated mostly by white men, it seemed to me that a little bit of mob mentality spilled over the decorous bounds inside of which presidential speeches have always been safely held. The fact that Joe Wilson hails from South Carolina added to the chill in my blood.

I don’t consider rough politics out of bounds. I don’t consider Barack Obama beyond reproach. I don’t consider all Republicans bad people (I vote for them sometimes). But moments like this disturb me deeply. It makes me wonder anew whether the animus against Barack Obama is heightened because many cannot stomach the thought of a black man being president.

I commented:

On the other hand, Obama’s race is very convenient for Democrats. No one can criticize his policies without being suspected/accused of racism. (I’m not suggesting that Joe Wilson’s incivility was legitimate criticism. I doubt it was a spontaneous outburst either. More likely it was a bid to be on the 2012 ticket.) That’s THE big theme on MSNBC today (as much a propaganda organ of the L as Fox is of the R). That so sucks — it’s one of the tactics that makes people feel like something’s being put over on them by trickery, thus aggravating the paranoia.

A lot of conservs on Twitter, and NOT crazies, are saying Wilson shouldn’t have apologized (in their wishful fantasies at least), because they believe the president WAS “lying” (illegal immigrants WILL be covered de facto because there’s no test) and somebody had to say it. These people are in a sincere (if well-fanned) panic about “statism,” and I think THAT has zero to do with Obama’s race.

David responded:

First of all, saying that Obama’s race is convenient for Democrats takes nothing away from the very real peril of racism, and the very real possibility that it may be playing a role in the way Obama is confronted, and the way he was confronted last night.

Furthermore, all leadership, in all eras, in all countries throughout time, have sought to take advantage of the convenient. That this is no different doesn’t make it less real or any less ominous. To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation, and that could do less damage to the perception and the effectiveness of leadership in Washington. Racism is a flame that can be fanned. Last night, I felt the heat. Like a fever, it was a heat that chilled.

My concern was not aroused by any talking head on any network with an ulterior motive or an agenda; it arose as I watched the event unfold in real time, unadorned by commentary. Not only that, in what little commentary I watched afterwards (a bunch of talking heads on CNN, followed by Larry King’s interview of John McCain), the issue of race was never brought up.

Second, the non-crazy conservatives to whom you refer believe the president was lying; I believe they are wrong. There are reasonable interpretations on both sides, pointing to the fact that weaknesses in the legislation could allow illegal immigrants to be insured. Most of the CNN panelists I saw, and stuff I’ve read today, said they felt that could and likely would be addressed in upcoming negotiations. Whether or not Obama was lying does not make what Wilson did OK, any more than yelling invective at Bush, Bush II or Reagan at a similar (or any) occasion would have been OK.

If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

I answered (warning:  I get a little vulgar):

To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation

It’s not a matter of viewing it “cynically.”  Of course there is racism out there.  What’s frustrating is that no one can criticize Obama without being accused of it!!  That makes him, in a weird way, bulletproof (I know how ironic it is to use that metaphor, and I’m still worried about assassination attempts myself).  And he and Democrats are willing to take full advantage of it.  It means that his being black is, after all, an obstacle to his being an effective president, because of variants of race-ism on both sides.

I believe that while one edge of the hysteria about Obama is racist, much more of it is ideological, and that part would be much the same directed at a white liberal.  Christ, look at the insane attempts to destroy Clinton, who wasn’t even that much of a liberal.  Just a Democrat.

Which leads to the insight that Republicans are just as willing to fan fringe racism to get power back as Democrats are to fling accusations of it [to hold on to power].

In this climate, those who are, in fact, trying to mount a sane and civil opposition (Gingrich, Pawlenty, some of the others with counterproposals to the public option) can hardly even get heard.  Everyone’s walking around with a (metaphorical) hard-on, with adrenalin in full flood.  It’s very scary.  But Democrats are fanning the flames in their own way, because it will let them off the hook if Obama fails.  You must consider how creepy it is to have legitimate policy disagreement blamed on racism.  Wouldn’t that make you paranoid if the roles were reversed?  It would look like a diabolically clever way of silencing debate and ramming through an agenda.  Even if you believe in that agenda, getting it done that way will have too high a cost.

I’m scared sick too, I just think there’s blame to go around.  Dangerous times.


If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

Jeez, I’M not arguing that “somebody had to say it,” or that the president was lying!  I’m trying to tell you why Wilson might have been angling to be on the 2012 ticket!  Some people were saying he was a hero (until he apologized), and that’s not about race at all!  The hysteria about immigration and “statism” was in full cry on the Right before Obama was a gleam in the Democratic party’s eye.  The point I’m trying to make is that the Democrats are so fixated on getting the public option (and I’m not sure Obama is, but he’s captive of the base) that they are going about this in a way that feeds into it and aggravates it, as extremes so often do incite each other.

David replied, in response to my first just above:

Yeah, you hit on it. It’s the whole hard-on for battle that’s got me a little on edge. It seems there’s almost a bloodlust. How can you can negotiate when you just want to murder the person across the table.

Do you really feel that “no one can criticize Obama without being accused of” racism? I feel like he’s been roundly, and in large part justifiably, criticized for his handling of this issue, among others. His approval ratings haven’t been bulletproof, nor should they have been. I don’t read as much as you do, but I simply haven’t seen any “legitimate policy disagreement based on racism.” In either direction. (Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

I’m still naive enough to believe that if you have real debate, you will not be able to stymie it with fear. But you don’t have to look too far back in history, or too far afield, to see how naive that belief might be.

And in response to my second:

I see your point. And I’ll predict this right now: he’ll [Joe Wilson] narrowly lose his reelection bid; he’ll claim to have been bullied by Emanuel into making his apology; he’ll become a champion of the victimized right; and he’ll wind up on the 2012 ticket. It may all have been choreographed, soon after Obama became that gleam in the eye you mentioned.

So I said:

Wilson’s already claiming that his own party’s leadership made him apologize, that it wasn’t from the heart!  “Grassroots” Republicans are as mad at their own party’s elite as they are at Democrats.  People like Peggy Noonan who disdained Sarah Palin are toast, with them!

No, I don’t mean that no one legitimately criticizes Obama without being accused of racism, but if you listen to MSNBC (the left’s Fox), today they paraded one person after another pushing that line — including Ron Reagan.  It’s as if they got their talking points/marching orders, just like on the R when everyone starts parroting whatever Rush said that day.  Wherever it’s coming from, it’s a stupid ploy, because it makes reasonable people feel like they’re being had.  It’s a huge diversion/distraction from the question of what kind of healthcare policy we should have, and what better kind we can manage to get to given our disagreements.


Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

Oh, definitely!  Definitely.  Nothing was more cynical than his appointment.

There are people who are doggedly (blue doggedly?) trying to have a real debate; they’re just being drowned out.  Too many people don’t have a taste or a hunger for substance any more, only for emotion.  To continue the hard-on metaphor, lots of people are looking to be jerked off.

And David (thankfully changing the metaphor) said:

That’s what happens on the eve of a conflagration. The tinder is dry. A few sprinkles here and there are no match for the lightning.

UPDATE: The plot thickens: David sends “more on Joe Wilson” (presented as evidence for the prosecution?):

Allegedly member of a far-right group called Sons of Confederate Veterans, and one of only 7 SC Republicans who went against his own party and voted to keep the Confederate flag flying over the Statehouse.

(If you follow the link, you’ll see that the SCV is actually split into two warring factions, one that is innocuous and one that is virulent.  No word on which one Joe Wilson is or was a member of.)

Does that change the equation?  It does change the 2012 equation, I think.

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Obama and the Real World

June 8, 2009 at 1:28 am (By Amba) (, )

The president should read this. Except he won’t get it till after it happens to him.

Some may say it already did, and he’s just setting up our enemies, talking past leaders to amass capital in world public opinion, laying the groundwork for a big “OK, no one can say I didn’t try the high road.  NOW . . .”, that he’s got plenty of Chicago mean up his sleeve.  That the campus idealist is his preferred veneer, the way the Texas rancher was his predecessor’s.

We’ll see.

(H/T:  Sisu)

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Cheney Vs. Obama

May 22, 2009 at 5:22 pm (By Amba) (, , )

This will sound weird, but what really bothers me most of all about Obama is that he looks like a kid.  His physical type is that of a permanent smart-ass teenager.  In much the same way, what bothered me most about Bush was that he was small, “too small for the job.”  Like Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with the sleeves of the wizard’s robe overshooting his hands.  In both cases, the physical seems to stand for something beyond the physical.  In different ways, neither man had the gravitas, the weight, for the job.

Bush could be humble, and he could be smug — sure he was right without caring to know much.  Obama can be “open” and searching, but arrogant — sure he knows a lot and that that’s more important than being right.  They typify the two inadequate responses so far to the flood of new information from science, IT, and globalization:  just letting it all go by and not move you an inch, or letting yourself get carried away from all solid ground. Rigidity and floppiness.

But this post was supposed to be about Obama vs. Cheney.

The one thing you sure can’t say about Cheney is that he lacks gravitas.  He’s a heavy dude.

I commented on Twitter that the reason, or one reason, I think Obama is retaining so many Bush policies is because he’s really afraid of getting the blame for another terrorist attack.  And he will, if it happens.  We’ll never really know the backstory of the long hiatus without attacks, or of an attack if one happens.  We do know that al Qaeda takes long, patient years to prepare, and we suspect that they don’t want to do less than match or, better, top themselves.  If there is an attack, we’ll never know if it would’ve happened regardless of who was in the Oval Office.  It doesn’t matter.  The human brain in fear seeks bright, clear explanations, and under those circumstances the Republicans’ will be better.

A terrorist attack on Obama’s watch would in one sense be a ripe fruit falling into the Republicans’ lap.  No, I certainly don’t think they’re hoping for it.  I do think their worldview leads them to expect it, and if it happens, it will vindicate their worldview.  It doesn’t matter if the reality is more complicated than that.  Complexity is a luxury.

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