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Tilting at Windmills

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July 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE PARADOX OF OBAMA....Ryan Lizza writes in the New Yorker this week that although Barack Obama has written extensively about himself, "his life in Chicago from 1991 until his victorious Senate campaign is a lacuna in his autobiography." Lizza spends 15,000 words filling in that gap, and concludes with this:

Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago's churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. "You have the power to make a United States senator," he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.

Discuss.

Kevin Drum 6:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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Comments

Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary.

Does anyone actually hold to this misconception, or is just another rhetorical strawman conjured up to make an article more exciting?

Posted by: PeakVT on July 13, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

FYI, slightly nitpicky of me, but there's no "selection panel" for president of the Harvard Law Review. The president is elected by the membership.

Posted by: Dude on July 13, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Did you see the cover they're running that story behind?

New Yorker cover shows Oval Office with Obama as tribal African, wife as afro-70s-woman with machine gun, Osama on the wall, and flag on fire?blockquote>

It crosses perhaps every line there is. I'm thunderstruck

Posted by: southpaw on July 13, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

The meme of Obama as a wild man is one embraced and pressed by the right. Obama has been artful in keeping distance from the radicals.

Posted by: dan robinson on July 13, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to discuss why Mark Halperin seems to be taking over for Drudge in pimping the GOP line. His "the Page" took as the major headline from this story that Obama once threatened to kick some other legislator's ass. Angry black man? And half the day he had blazing headlines about Obama addressing La Raza before adding in small type that McCain is talking to them tomorrow. And to top it all off, he -- alone in the press -- decided that McCain "won" the week with an article in Time that manages not to mention Phil Gramm, Viagra v. birth controll, or the fact that Grandpa doesn't use email....

Posted by: Teresa on July 13, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think Lizza was trying to find a way of pointing out Obama is another hack politician without actually calling him one. So the construct he used was "He's not a revolutionary like people say" instead of "he's not a progressive, 'new kind of politician' like people, including himself, say."

It's kind of funny watching Obama being unwrapped in front of peoples' eyes. Take away the skin color and you have a garden variety Democrat, with two unremarkable years of experience in the Senate, running for president at the most challenging moment this country has faced since the Cold War ended. It's one of those things that might work out fine, but why on earth would any sane person, let alone more than half the Democratic Party and the nation, want to take that risk? Ah well, too late now.

Posted by: MG on July 13, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

PeakVT -

"Anti-establishment revolutionary" seems a fair characterization given Obama's own proclamations of hope and change.

what bothers me most is Obama campaigning to refill Hilary's coffers after her foray into the unpossible. If Obama had an agenda to implement, it seems his focus would be on how to maximize his resources for the challenges ahead, not spread 'em around to (self-) defeated challengers.

Yep, Obama's the cool kid in school after helping Hilary recoup all the beer money she wasted on that awesome kegger that lasted from March-June.

Posted by: A Different Matt on July 13, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

To be honest our country is facing such problems that it doesn't take a total revolutionary to fix the problems. 80% of the country sees that we have them. It is an out of control, out of touch, out of ideas conservative movement that has brought us to the brink of the abyss. A return to common sense will take us most of the way back. I think Obama realizes that and that's why he decided to run this time. There's also the issue of his candidacy (being an African American) is already revolutionary enough - I don't think America is ready for too much change at any one time.

Posted by: reader on July 13, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

To the best of my knowledge, none of us -- as progressives -- believed Obama to be "an anti-establishment revolutionary." But many of us believed (and STILL believe) that in this totally crazed world -- where people can take umbrage at a "New Yorker" cover page steeped in irony but not get themselves out on the streets to demand the impeachment of those two sanctimonious bastards in DC ( uh, that's W and Cheney, for those of you who have doubts) -- he represents the best hope for redirecting our national enterprise.

If he can't, please tell me who could?

Posted by: jwinct on July 13, 2008 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on July 13, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Dear MG, I suppose perspective really is everything after all. Your glass half-empty candidate is to me a clear-eyed, fact-oriented pragmatist who, upon looking closely at his new colleagues in Congress, saw people who needed some direction. He identified HRC as his real opponent, built from scratch a campaign designed to exploit her weaknesses and is now the presumptive nominee. He has a clear understanding that in order to put Americans to work, we need to invest heavily in infrastructure repair and rebuilding. In addition to getting that past due work done it puts to work the blue collar workers in all of the communities across the country. That takes pressure off of the banks because people aren't being required to go into foreclosure which in turn means that we don't have an ever growing homeless and rampant crime problem due to people desperately trying to feed their children. Where does he get the money to pour into the infrastructure? From winding down the mess in Iraq. By finishing the job in Afghanistan. By dealing once and for all with the absurd subsidies the government pays daily to the medical insurance industry whose only real function is to continue to milk the public. Seems to me, if anyone is guilty of "garden variety" thinking or action, perhaps it would be you.

Posted by: Neuyawker on July 13, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Anti-establishment revolutionary" seems a fair characterization given Obama's own proclamations of hope and change.

You missed the point entirely. Leaving aside whether or not Obama is claiming to be an anti-establishment revolutionary, or whether it is necessary precondition to "hope and change" (think about FDR for a second), Lizza is claiming that this misconception is out there in the public. I want to know who is holding to it, if anyone.

That whole paragraph is a near-perfect example of TNR's schtick. I'm so glad Lizza has brought it to a new venue.

Posted by: PeakVT on July 13, 2008 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Of course he is conventional. No other type of politician can be elected president. And he will be elected president.

Posted by: keith g on July 13, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like this is another one of those Rorschach Tests you once wrote about Kevin. Obama is or is not your bicycle....

Posted by: keith on July 13, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. The New Yorker trumped the Lizza piece with the cover...

Posted by: Petey on July 13, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

It needs to be said that he is above all of this.
Barack Obama said to The Nation Magazine's Katrina Vanden Heuvel when she met him--
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Consolidate, drill down. Include.

After the fear-mongering white house criminal conspiracy of the past 8 wretched years, and the GOP evasive, monopolizing Senate and House--let it go. Give it time.
We do need a change.

Posted by: consider wisely always/a different voice on July 13, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

It's all part of his super-secret plan to force through the New New Deal once he's elected! Sh!

Posted by: JD on July 13, 2008 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly, check out that cover...yikes!

Lizza fronts a plethora of generalities and what appear to be personal opinions or observations. But concerning the wrap up, I do believe Obama was one of the few who actually did not vote for the war, not sure how that falls under "not defining". This pundit is a fucking toadie to the max.

Posted by: benmerc on July 13, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Congratulations to Mr. Lizza for so successfully refuting an argument that someone made, but only Ryan's head.

Posted by: gregor on July 13, 2008 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

And we need a new New Deal. In the Senate in Illinois he showed an interest in the poor and disadvantaged--the earned income tax credit to help the working poor, aspects related to videotaping of confessions during police custody, lobbying reform, ethics reform/honest leadership, voter intimidation reform, and Iraq War deescalation

Posted by: consider wisely always/a different voice on July 13, 2008 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of clueless, thats my other middle name. I love myself, alot.

Posted by: Lardy Pasty Dood on July 13, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Actually I think Lizza sounds pretty much dead on. There are lots of folks in the country who aren't as aware of policy details as Left Blogostaners, who really think Obama is gonna change things. As one person interviewed by the Times put it when his hero dumped our Fourth Amendment rights, "It's important not to get swept up in `Is Obama posturing?' ... It's self-evident that he's a different kind of candidate." So don't bother him with facts. Change, here we come!

This will be another in a series of standard reactions by the American public to every event of importance: short-term outrage, occasioning single-step actions, which fail, leading to widespread disillusionment, and a return to the status quo ante.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on July 13, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Obama brings change simply by having a D after his name.

Illegally invading Iraq, lying to Americans to do so, war profiteering, and torture should be used to destroy the R brand -- at least outside of its racist wingnut base. None of these war criminals will ever be brought to justice for their actions, so the destruction of their party or an assassin's bullet is the only justice we can hope for.

Obama is adequate change, which should be enough of a reason to vote for him.

Posted by: Gonads on July 13, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Because of its length, and the relatively small font in which it appears online, Lizza's piece will be commented on here mostly by people who have not read it.

That's unfortunate, because Lizza's is a revealing and very well-researched account of the period that shaped Barack Obama as a politician. Obama in Illinois defined himself mostly by his relationships, not his personal causes or the interests of his immediate constituents, let alone his ideology. He was creative and resourceful with respect to matters touching on his own advancement, diffident with respect to government policy.

To me, the most revealing line of Lizza's entire piece was "according to his friends, Obama does not delegate campaign planning." No doubt this is partly because he is better at campaign planning than anyone he knows. Certainly Obama's Presidential campaign has been exceptionally well-organized -- as well organized as any Presidential campaign in the last 20 years, with but two exceptions.

Those exceptions were George Bush's campaign in 2000 and his reelection campaign in 2004, both of which were real triumphs of campaign tradecraft. This coincidence, and Lizza's piece overall, point to what I consider the most worrying thing about the prospect of a President Obama. It isn't the fact that he is a fairly conventional interest group-driven Chicago liberal -- I don't share many views with people like that, but their political opponents have had the run of the federal government for almost eight years and done very badly. Nor is it Obama's flexibility, though Lizza depicts this as a quality Obama has displayed mostly in maneuvers to advance himself personally. Once one is President, there isn't a lot more such advancement to be sought.

In an age when the business of the permanent campaign has come to overwhelm and dominate the business of government, what worries me most about Barack Obama is the amount of his personal dedication to the permanent campaign. The skills required of a successful President are very different than the skills he has displayed so far. Obama has had to work harder, and for a longer period of time, than Bush did to advance himself in politics -- but the end of that work has been his own advancement and very little else, as it also was for Bush.

Obviously, Bush and Obama are very different in several respects; it is at least possible that Obama as President would use the planning skills and evident zeal for orderly organization he showed in his long march through Illinois politics to create a more effective and less balkanized administration than Bush's. The biggest reason to doubt Obama will do this is that he has never done anything like it before, not in government and certainly not in Washington.

Obama has mastered the skills needed to succeed as a Presidential candidate; time and again he has shown the ability and single-minded focus needed to organize groups of patrons and supporters content to consider their mission accomplished when the votes were counted and their man -- Obama -- elected. It may be that only people with that kind of ability and focus can succeed in modern Presidential campaign politics. The question for Obama, as it was for Bush, is, "what else is there?" Once he becomes President, working in an environment where the skills that got him elected are worth very much less than they are in the campaign, what can Obama do? What battles will he fight? What risks will he run? How much like a permanent campaign will his administration be? How much authority will he end up ceding to subordinates we do not know now, who have in specific policy areas strong views that Obama himself may not?

We don't know the answers to any of these questions. Lizza's piece suggests that there may not be any way to find out, not until Obama has been President for a couple of years anyway.

Posted by: Zathras on July 13, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

consider wisely always/a different voice:
Problem is, FDR and LBJ didn't get where they did domestically by playing patty-cakes with their opponents. They ruthlessly crushed their opponents. Is Obama willing to do that to the Republicans? I haven't seen any evidence of that yet.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on July 13, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind that there are still some Americans who believe that a black man running for high political office is an "anti-establishment revolutionary" by definition.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 13, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

About that "Obama as revolutionary" meme.

Maybe it has something to do with the kind of crap excreted by people like Thomas Sowell, where he says that, unlike Obama, "Senator McCain has not spent decades aiding and abetting people who hate
America." (here)

The right wing propagand machine has no morals, no principles, and no limits on the lies they are prepared to tell to further their agenda - see, e.g., the cover for that New Yorker issue.

Posted by: capitalistimperialistpig on July 13, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand the premise. Why would you go to the autobiography of any active politician for information?


Posted by: B on July 13, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

After the past 7.5 years of the Bush administration's determination to operate outside of the law, the not surprising fact that Obama works within the system is actually a great comfort to me. Not to mention that his evident long term pattern of mastering the rules then kicking his opponents' a$$e$ with them is almost uniquely satisfying to an old bean counter like me. People who believe there are rules to the game have been quaint anachronisms for a while now. Maybe they are about to come back into style. Not holding my breath, but yes, I've at least GOT HOPE.

Posted by: bluewave on July 13, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is no empty suit "who has done nothing" as the lie from the dextro-Wurlitzer is trying to spread around (the defining meme, like "Gore is a snooty liar" or "Kerry is a traitorous elitist" etc.) Here are some links about Obama's accomplishments, typed out to avoid flagging:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/30/us/politics/30obama.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

http://wizbangblue.com/2008/01/13/obamas-illinois-record-of-accomplishments-and-working-with-the-other-side.php

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

Posted by: Neil B. ♪♪♪ on July 13, 2008 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary.

By the definition she's apparently using of "anti-establishment revolutionary" there is no misconception about Obama being one- she's just making it up. Rather, Obama was a grassroots activist. Thousands of us liberals have done that work, and it's more likely that you jin an existing institution instead of "tearing down" something (don't know how she thought that one up) to get involved. All in all, I'd say most liberals can't event do activism without some suggestion/guidance from someone else, and definitely do not start new things on their own.

When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago's churches,

So what?

. . .because they were the main bases of power on the South Side.

Where does she get that one from? Doesn't she mean "because they were the ones who already had a good activism organization set up there"? Is that just her own interpretation of his motives when she says "...because they were the main bases of power on the South Side"? Sounds like it. I can't imagine Obama writing, "I was so ambitious to become president, I got involved with church groups, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side."

At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel.

So what? Without knowing more about what the "appealing" consisted of, there is nothing wrong here. The sentence she wrote could just as easily mean that by using persuasive speech, he won the conservatives over to seeing the necessity of pursuing his liberal agenda as it could mean that Obama promised them concessions.

In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them.

So what?

"You have the power to make a United States senator," he told Emil Jones in 2003.

So what?

In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers.

So what?

In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.

So what?

What are liberals supposed to want him to have done in order to have our desire for a reformer satisfied? Are we supposed to have wanted him to have spent all his time in Chicago sitting in an organic garden in the middle of a ghetto? That's not an organizer's or a leader's job, that's a worker's job.

Obama did all the thing it takes to become a powerful politician. The reforming part is supposed to come now, once he's gotten to the top-- he's not supposed to single-handedly transform America into a place where Democratic and Republican peers or co-workers never play cards together. Hopefully the Republicans haven't intimidated him into working for them yet, though. We've seen plenty of Dems melt in crucial moments before.

Posted by: Swan on July 13, 2008 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

By the definition she's apparently using of "anti-establishment revolutionary" there is no misconception about Obama being one- she's just making it up. Rather, Obama was a grassroots activist.

And that's the conception people have of him and what the media always says he was.

Posted by: Swan on July 13, 2008 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

and it's more likely that you jin an existing institution instead of "tearing down" something

Should be "join" not "jin."

Who is it that she expects to have wanted Obama to tear something down? I think she's just making that up. Liberal activists can hardly do anything withouut taking advantage of the institutions that are already in place. Sure, sometimes there is a need to start something new, but it's a lot more likely a successful leaders like Obama would make his bones and learn the ropes from experienced liberal activists than that he would re-invent grassroots activism in Chicago on his own.

Posted by: Swan on July 13, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, maybe McAncient is more of a "paradox". There's a great thread at Cosmic Variance now (http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/07/13/i-will-have-that-down-fairly-soon-getting-on-myself/) about his ilbiteracy.

Posted by: Neil B. ♪ ♪ ♪ on July 13, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Bush was the goddamn anti-establishment revolutionary. Obama's the guy tasked to lead the cleanup of W's domestic and international mass bowel discharge. The change Obama is promising and, God willing, will be able to implement will merely bring things back to some semblance of normal, not to create utopia.

Ryan Lizza is a snot-nosed little punk. And the current editors of the New Yorker have encapsulated everything that is wrong with the contemporary progressive movement in their choice of cover. A complete, freakin' disgrace.

Posted by: lampwick on July 13, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Leaving aside whether or not Obama is claiming to be an anti-establishment revolutionary, or whether it is necessary precondition to "hope and change" (think about FDR for a second), Lizza is claiming that this misconception is out there in the public. I want to know who is holding to it, if anyone."

You want specific individuals to take responsibility for the impressions of the many summed up in a magazine article written for a broad audience? You want Steve Carmichael in Dearborn Michigan to speak up for holding that Obama's an "Anti-establishment Revolutionary?" Or you want the writers to find people who agree that Obama represents characteristics inherent to anti-establishment revolutionaries? Stuff like Joe Klein's Conscience mentions - some people find being black and in power revolutionary. Some people find the idea of a community organizer comming into national office revolutonary. What are you going to do, call them or their scribe a liar? A propagandist? A scoundrel? How is an author supposed to go about engaging the public without engaging the masses in an abstract sense? All the while grounding every premise, every starting point in unequivocal, indisputable fact?

Enlighten me to the ways of rhetoric, oh enlightened one. And clue me in to your “point” that I'm so clearly clueless about.

Posted by: A Different Matt on July 13, 2008 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

Granted, there are some liberals who Ryan Lizza's kind of stuff appeals to, even if most of us have too good heads on our shoulders to fall for specious attempts to tear the reputation and support of one of our best leaders down (basically the same as attempts to derail liberal morale for organizing in the general election).

There are small, cowardly people who always like to see the strong attacked, just because (for totally incorrect reasons) it makes them feel better. Like, maybe a 5' 2" Indian-American woman who is a spoiled brat with a gigantic ego is jealous of how successful and famous Obama is-- just because he's not a 5' 2" Indian-American woman. Well, the world cannot be forced to fit everybody's fantasies, and that kind of thing is certainly not what being a liberal is about.

Obama is our leader as far as our politics' being represented in the machinery of the official American political system. Support him, and attack the works of hacks like Ryan Lizza. If Obama gets turned to the Republicans' side, we'll find out soon enough as his policies begin to change or, by his words and actions, he begins to derail his own Presidential campaign. But in the meantime, we should not help out Republican journalist-trolls like Ryan Lizza just because you have a neurosis or a complex.

Posted by: Swan on July 13, 2008 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

A different Matt wrote:

You want specific individuals to take responsibility for the impressions of the many summed up in a magazine article written for a broad audience?

No, the person you are quoting apparently wants the article to be based on more than Ryan Lizza's lie.

Posted by: Swan on July 13, 2008 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

If the Democratic Party were a soccer team, it would be made up of players, a good half of whom regularly score goals against their own side, out of a mixe of sheer incompetence and a desire to 'make a point'.

It doesn't matter if your name is Larry Johnson or Ryan Lizza or Ben Smith or Joe Liebermann, it's the same freakin' thing.

Posted by: lampwick on July 13, 2008 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

So empty suit?

Posted by: MNPundit on July 13, 2008 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Not my leader, pal. Not anybody's actual leader, far as I can tell. In order to be a leader, you need to actually, you know, lead. On something. Anything.

And Ryan Lizza is a he, not a she.

Posted by: gyrfalcon on July 13, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

The revolutionary purity folks need to give it a rest. Basically the blockquote Kevin provided lists a whole lot of groups and institutions that a certain type of liberal reflexively identifies as "not us" and then says that Obama associated with them. Thus it is implied that he is "not us" either.

It's the same as when republicans in primary campaigns claim their opponent has an ACLU membership or drives a volvo. Stupid in-group politics.

Remember how Bush campaigned in 2000. Remember all the "compassionate conservative" crap. Think of how galling that must have been to movement conservatives. And yet, when he got the presidency he delivered for them....

Posted by: Adam on July 13, 2008 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

What Obama brings to the White House is having been on the other side of the American Dream - where you are called names because of the color of your skin. Where you aren't born to privilege as the son of an admiral - like John McCain, or a rich Texas oilman - like George W. Bush. Where you have to work twice as hard to get half as much recognition as the rich snots you go to Harvard with. Where people hate you without ever having met you, due to the racial characterisitics of one parent.

That is no paradox. That is living in a society where discrimination is still the rule, not the exception.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 13, 2008 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

Problem is, FDR and LBJ didn't get where they did domestically by playing patty-cakes with their opponents. They ruthlessly crushed their opponents.

Depending on your definition of "opponents", that could be wrong. For example, FDR compromised with Southernerson racial issues (including declining to support anti-lynching legislation and exempting agricultural workers from some legislation) to make the New Deal coalition possible. He defused potential enemies, a pragmatic path that I approve of, but which others count among the sins of FDR.

Posted by: Anthony on July 13, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

That is living in a society where discrimination is still the rule, not the exception.

I remember a little story that CNN did during the primaries about one Michelle Obama's college roommates. Turns out when the roommate's mom found out Michelle was black, she tried to get her daughter moved. This went on for a year, all without Obama's knowledge, and the story only saw the light of day because of her and her husband's accomplishments 20 years later.

Nobody should be subjected to this type of treatment, and yet the Obamas managed to do pretty well for themselves. Now they're not radical enough? Last week they weren't liberal enough. Before that Michelle wasn't likable enough. Not experienced enough. Not tough enough. Not American enough. Not serious enough. Not Old enough. Not black enough.

LEAVE BARACK OBAMA ALONE!!!

Posted by: enozinho on July 13, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

At last, the truth about Obama is being exposed. There's more to come and he isn't the second coming of Kennedy by a far shot.

Posted by: Noel on July 13, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't find the article to be negative at all. It is the story of an outsider making it big in Chicago and Illinois politics.

Obama worked hard, and learned from his mistakes. He developed supporters and mentors, and got things done within the system. He is a pragmatic liberal with well developed political skills. Not perfect, but very, very good.

Posted by: bob on July 13, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Ryan Lizza must be a racist, because everyone else that said the same thing between February and June turned out to be racists. Or so I was told.

I was also told that Obama was againt the war and never would have voted for the war. Even though even Obama admitted he may just have voted for the war had he actually been in the Senate at the time.

Jebus Kevin, where the fuck were you? Perhaps you should have been reading TalkLeft and the other racist blogs instead of pumping your own horn.

Posted by: jerry on July 13, 2008 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone actually hold to this misconception, or is just another rhetorical strawman conjured up to make an article more exciting?

Nothing more than a strawman.

My favorite bit of internet hyperventilating these days is "See! Obama is a politician!" Well, duh, dumbfucks. He's a U.S. Senator and a major party's presidential candidate.

Posted by: on July 13, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

So Kevin - had you seen the cover when you linked to that story or not? Little bit of a problem there...

Cranky Observer

Posted by: Cranky Observer on July 13, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

The cover of the New Yorker is very well done. Thank god and the flying spaghetti monster for Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Stephen Colbert, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and millions of other Americans with a wry sense of humor, the ability to laugh, the ability to be self-reflective, and a love of free speech.

Very ironic and appalling actually the a blog that names itself "Americablog" would somehow find this cover offensive.

Posted by: jerry on July 13, 2008 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is a fraud-- "Change you can believe" is a lie-- there is no change at all. His flipflop on Fisa shows what an empty suit he is, willing to chuck what's left of the Constitution for the sake of trying to get elected. Screw Obama and his ObamaBots.

Posted by: elbrucce on July 13, 2008 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

The cover stinks; stinks absolutely. All the artists and politicians jerry just named worked with words and did so brilliant. When you heard or read a quip, you got it; maybe you were or weren't offended, but you knew the person was good at what they did.

This cover, on the other hand, sucks. It's like an effort by a freshman art major, jacking off on video to protest society's taboo against masturbation. Except in this case, in addition to being pointless, unfunny, and ineffective, it also manages to insult the Obamas (What's next? If this was good, why not a cover with the bleeding form of Obama tied to a whipping post while McCain lashes him? Ha ha! Brilliant!). In addition, it hands the bastards on the other side a gripping and memorable image, a flag to rally round, a cause for amusement and cheer.

Tell me, what was the joke that Ambrose Bierce told about corrupt politicians that was adopted by most venal one of all as a campaign slogan? Which of the episodes of Steven Colbert is played 24/7 in Tom Delay's office? Which of George Carlin's performances gets passed around at the annual convention of Christian Evangelicals?

Which of the New Yorker covers will become an eternal favorite of all the crazies, the lunatics, and psychopaths on the right?

THIS ONE!

Posted by: lampwick on July 13, 2008 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

MG stole the words out of my mouth.'

Shit, Kevin, a number of have known this as much in advance as the likes of you as the same number of us knew well in advance of you -- and advance of it -- that the Iraq was/was going to be a clusterfuck.

Newyawker... He's been riding for six years the coattails of a 2002 speech that he himself admits was given in part for political reasons.

Pragmatist? No, opportunist.

"Anonymous," you're right about voting a choice.

The name is Cynthia McKinney.

As for Lampwick and all the other "my Democrats right or wrong" ENABLERS, you're the problem, not any mythical "purity czars."

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 13, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Rich snots" at Harvard? Get a clue, please. True 50 years ago, not now, not in Obama's time. Familiarize yourself at least minimally with actual facts before you slime, hokay?

Posted by: gyrfalcon on July 13, 2008 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

This wasn't directed at me, but if I may comment..

As for Lampwick and all the other "my Democrats right or wrong" ENABLERS, you're the problem, not any mythical "purity czars."

Oh no. The faux Psychological Dysfunction talk.

For me - it's not "Democrats, right or wrong". But it is "The world is not perfect and one side is clearly worse than the other". It's dicey, I understand that. But being smugly satisfied about reaching some far off ideal while McCain marches into the White House is just not an appealing vision for me.

Posted by: Miss Otis on July 13, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like almost nobody commenting here has actually read the article. It's not primarily negative at all--its a very well researched piece of reporting on how Obama rose in Chicago politics. I don't think he comes off badly at all.

It's one of the best articles I've read in the campaign season. Lots of new reporting and and very well written. It's too bad so many people on this board feel the need to vainly vomit uninformed talking points all over the internet.

Posted by: PG on July 13, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Socrates was an enemy of democracy who conspired with the Spartan-backed junta that took over Athens near the end of the Peloponnesian war.

His most famous pupil, Plato, was an aristocrat with an even more intense hatred of democracy who devoted much of his writing on politics to dreaming up utopian totalitarian schemes.

(See The Trial of Socrates, by the great liberal journalist I. F. Stone.)

So be careful who you name yourself after, gadfly, if you count yourself a lover of small-d democratic ideals.

Posted by: lampwick on July 13, 2008 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

You're right of course lampwick, images and art is just too dangerous for the masses and I should never have considered it to be worthy of first amendment protections or capable of expressing politically worthy speech.

Posted by: jerry on July 13, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

That's an utter and complete canard, jerry.

This has nothing to do with censorship. The picture is out there; no one is questioning their right to publish.

The deal with free speech is that you get to oppose it with free speech! That's what people who are angry at this are doing.

So much for your strawman arguments. Now here's the main point:

This is a slap in the face to the Obamas, and a flag to rally round for the bastards on the other side, all in order to send a message - what message? That people are smearing Obama? I think I knew that! That the smears are worthless? I think I knew that. That's they deserved a definitive artistic treatment? Well, that's something I didn't know!

Thanks, New Yorker!

Posted by: lampwick on July 13, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

As for Lampwick and all the other "my Democrats right or wrong" ENABLERS, you're the problem, not any mythical "purity czars."
Posted by: SocraticGadfly

I'm curious if you have any family or friends dying in Iraq right now? Because you're voting to keep them there for another 100 years. They'll probably have better health care there, though, so it may not be all bad, despite the bombings and occasional wartime atrocity.

But seriously ... McKinney is absolutely a viable vote, and not at all emotional masturbation on your part.

Posted by: Gonads on July 13, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

The question is not Is Obama A Politician? But is Obama a Good Politician?
For the first time, with the FISA vote, it occurred to me that Obama might not make a good president. It startled me to think that, but I figured out why.
1. You don't break promises. In order to do that, you don't make that many. Barack made a public promise. He broke it.
2. You don't piss off a constituency. Any constituency. If Obama ha done what clinton had done--not made a thing of it, but voted against it, the bill would still have passed, the telecoms would have their immunity, and while there would be a person or two who would have said 'He should have done more!" he'd be fine right now.
3. You don't cave--or be seen as caving. Barack is the presumptive presidential candidate. If he's going to support this bill, have him up on the podium with Reid and Pelosi and Hoyer, saying we think this is a good compromise. Instead you had the Congeesional Dems emerging with this bill, saying It Is A Good Thing. Obama is then seen as following. It's much worse that he's following something so awful, but it's bad enough that he's following here at all.

My reading of this is that the Powers That Be really really really wanted this bill, and before the election, to bury what's been going on. The thing they didn't count on was the primaries going on for so long. They couldn't have brought the bill out in the middle, because Hillary would have made it a defining issue, and Barack would have no choice but to oppose it as well, and strongly. Had he not, Hillary would now be the nominee. Even if she ate a dead rat on stage, she'd be the nominee.

So they came out with the bill just weeks after he secures the nomination--and before the convention. And they tell him, support the bill or else. A good politician would have refused, and instead offered that he'd lay low on it, and that would be enough. A good politician would say IYou are going to help me become president and not force me to piss off my netroots. All you want is this bill. I won't stop you--but youare not going to make me eat shit in public with a smile on my face and say it's chocolate ice cream.

But he did nomne of this. He broke his promise, he pissed off a constiturency, and he caved.

And his defendders are saying 1) the issue isn't important; 2) the constituency isn't important ; and 3) Caving is what a politician does.

I disagree with all of those defenses. But the overarching thing of Barack Obama's political savvy is one that even these don't address, and it may be the most significant.

Posted by: pbg on July 13, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

I used to think Obama wasn't a good politician, either ... until he kept fucking winning.

Then I reconsidered.

Posted by: Gonads on July 13, 2008 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that if Obama had made FISA an issue, it would have been stopped in the House or Senate.

There is nothing new about Lizza's article, there was a very similar article written by a Chicago reporter, Todd Spivak, that "grew" up in Chicago politics with both Obama and Axelrod. http://www.houstonpress.com/2008-02-28/news/barack-obama-screamed-at-me

lampwick, this is not about censorship, it's worse than that. It's about self-censorship, and declaring art and speech as offensive when they are not, and why? Because you think that the wrong people will use them wrongly and wrongly interpret them in some wrong fashion so we must declare them to be offensive.

Ya know, it didn't take the New Yorker to create Michael Savage's bigoted caricature, and even without the New Yorker, Michael Savage and his buddies are going to do just fine.

Posted by: jerry on July 14, 2008 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

No, it's simpler than that, jerry. It's about not sucking as an artist. It's about self-censoring the suck, or censoring the artist who submits the suck.

It's about not throwing four balls in a row against the opposing team's weakest hitter.

It's about not shooting your best friend in the face.

It's about not sucking at what you do, when what you do is important.

Posted by: lampwick on July 14, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

What the fuck is a lacuna and who even talks like that?

Posted by: Cindy Vega on July 14, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

What the fuck is a dictionary?

Posted by: thersites on July 14, 2008 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

Cindy Vega wrote: What the fuck is a lacuna and who even talks like that?

It's like an empty hole or empty gap.

Ryan Lizza uses a word like lacuna (or someone suggests to him to do it) and then we're all supposed to think he's smart and take him seriously when he writes (what would otherwise more obviously be) an obfuscating propaganda piece designed to sow dissension and political apathy among liberals-- that's what's going on.

Posted by: Swan on July 14, 2008 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

WOW, this all cracks me up...suddenly there seems to be some remorse, or at the very least, some actual critiquing of Obama...not so much when all you "guys" were about getting the shrill bitch off the stage...be careful what you wish for!!!

Posted by: Dancer on July 14, 2008 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

We will, DANCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: on July 14, 2008 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

>In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.

Obama: Out in 16 months.
McSame: Still there after 100 years.

Discuss.

Posted by: bartkid on July 14, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Jeebus

Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.

Obama certainly had no trouble tearing down the 4th Amendment in order to accommodate AT&T and Verizon. So I have to wonder how much more corporate accommodating does Obama plan to do? Is Obama going to accommodate himself to every criminal act Bush got to do, seeing as how anti-establishment that would be to shake up things?

Posted by: Me_again on July 14, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

The article says Obama is a gregarious follower that can’t lead, that figures – so he really is another Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: Me_again on July 14, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

O's a gutless wonder, but that's better than a gutsy moron.

Posted by: buddy66 on July 14, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers.

Liking him more all the time. Reminds me of a line from John Nance Garner's bio.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 14, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Swan: It's like an empty hole or empty gap.

As in: Swan has a lacuna in his head.

Posted by: the wisdom of swan on July 14, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

This comment:

Judging by the reaction to Obama’s most recent decisions—his willingness to support legislation to modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, his rightward shift on interpreting the Second Amendment, his decision to “refine” his Iraq policies—some voters will be crushed by this realization and others will be relieved.

What others?

When it came to FISA the only "others" that got relieved were AT&T, Verizon, various other telecoms and the Bush Administration.

I never though I would hate Obama as much as I do now. Yeah, he’s an operator all right, but he is no longer a rock star anymore, that's for damn sure. I don't like listening to Obama talk now anymore than I like listening to Bush, and Obama has gotten preachy in condescending kind of way ever since the FISA Bill. There isn't anything you can believe with that guy. Obama says he is a progressive but even Obama doesn't seem to know what he is, other than an opportunist.

What a jerk!

Posted by: Me_again on July 14, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Ryan Lizza doesn't exactly sound like Obama's friend here. Sort of a repeat of Howard Dean's last days that Lizza wrote about too. Lizza doesn't say Obama will lose but it's not exactly a good vibe.

Posted by: Me_again on July 14, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

bartkid -
"Obama: Out in 16 months."

Obama himself states - "Well, maybe not so much..."

Obama is no more for ending the war in Iraq than any other mainstream politician.

Posted by: Corner Stone on July 14, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Ryan Lizza the guy they had covering the HRC campaign who compared her to Freddy Kruger?

Posted by: cyndie on July 14, 2008 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Jerry Thanks for mentioning the Todd Spivak article. A couple of people here are citing Barack Obama's efforts in the Illinois State Senate. Todd's article provides more info on them - and it's even been acknowledged in the MSM that Barack Obama actively takes credit for the work of others. Most of the information in Ryan Lizza's article has been written in other publicatons - but I find the spin somewhat more positive in that it took skill, persaverance and hard work to achieve what he has - and these are the first quotes I've seen form Toni Preckwinkle.

Still, I feel the exact same way Zathras on July 13 feels. The primary result of Barack's efforts is Barack's advancement - and no committment to specific policy issues or the public good is evident. I don't think he'll be different as President and if he can be different. We didn't get anything different from George Bush than his biography indicated, which is why I wouldn;t bet on Obama operating too much differently. Why would he?

Much

Posted by: Mary Ok on July 26, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Jerry Thanks for mentioning the Todd Spivak article. A couple of people here are citing Barack Obama's efforts in the Illinois State Senate. Todd's article provides more info on them - and it's even been acknowledged in the MSM that Barack Obama actively takes credit for the work of others. Most of the information in Ryan Lizza's article has been written in other publicatons - but I find the spin somewhat more positive in that it took skill, persaverance and hard work to achieve what he has - and these are the first quotes I've seen form Toni Preckwinkle.

Still, I feel the exact same way Zathras on July 13 feels. The primary result of Barack's efforts is Barack's advancement - and no committment to specific policy issues or the public good is evident. I don't think he'll be different as President and if he can be different. We didn't get anything different from George Bush than his biography indicated, which is why I wouldn't bet on Obama operating too much differently. Why would he?

Much

Posted by: Mary Ok on July 26, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Jerry Thanks for mentioning the Todd Spivak article. A couple of people here are citing Barack Obama's efforts in the Illinois State Senate. Todd's article provides more info on them - and it's even been acknowledged in the MSM that Barack Obama actively takes credit for the work of others. Most of the information in Ryan Lizza's article has been written in other publicatons - but I find the spin somewhat more positive in that it took skill, perseverance and hard work to achieve what he has - and these are the first quotes I've seen form Toni Preckwinkle.

Still, I feel the exact same way Zathras on July 13 feels. The primary result of Barack's efforts is Barack's advancement - and no committment to specific policy issues or the public good is evident. I don't think he'll be different as President and if he can be different. We didn't get anything different from George Bush than his biography indicated, which is why I wouldn't bet on Obama operating too much differently. Why would he?

Much

Posted by: Mary Ok on July 26, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

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