Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Memo to Obama

Tip O'Neill is credited with saying "all politics is local," a statement brilliant in both its accuracy and its pithiness.

I think you can go a step further: all politics is personal.

Few Americans vote based on the results of sophisticated processing of policy-related information. Instead, they vote on their gut and their heart.

Barack Obama, you are slowly losing my vote.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not becoming a McCain convert. I am just decreasingly enthusiastic about you every day, as I see you waffle, compromise, and become more Bush-like in your rhetoric and press relations.

Sure, I'll end up voting for you (more than likely), but right now that feels more like a "Not McCain" vote than anything else. I think back to how I felt about your candidacy in the late months of 2007 and what I thought about you as far back as 2004 and I can't really tap into that excitement anymore.

And that, Senator, is your fault.

My qualms are three-fold. If you or anyone with a voice in your campaign cares, feel free to read them. Feel free to email me. More than anything else, feel free to stop trending the way you have been since at least April.

1) "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"

I'm not sure if you are starting to remind me more of George Bush or Bill Clinton. Either way, this isn't a compliment. I'll start with Clinton, whom I loathe. Somehow Bill Clinton has this reputation among left-leaning citizens of being a good president. I think that's because they associate with him as a victim of the right-wing attack machine. Republicans are bad, thus Clinton = good. That's nonsense, of course. Clinton was a terrible president. He accomplished nothing of substance, allowed his personal life to become a national distraction while the right-wing ushered in an era of irresponsible deregulation and fiscal mismanagement, and - worst of all - signed off on and proudly claimed credit for legislation that was consistently more conservative than his immediate predecessor, George H.W. Bush.

Current President Bush, too, is loathsome, more so for his hostile disingenuous than his stupid decisions (at least Clinton's disingenuous came with a smile, though his "triangulation" and "spin" were equally dishonest ways of communicating with the mass public).

Barack, you have started to do this, too, with your adoption of Bush-like press relations (most evident in recent reports of your campaign's punishing reporters not on the plane, refusing to tell reporters where they are heading next until the plane has lifted off, refusing to distribute pool reports to anyone not on your side of things, etc.). You've also resorted to the worst kind of "explanations" and barely-honest claims concerning what you really meant when you said something or how your pandering moves right-ward are actually liberal and so on. The only silver lining I see in this -- and trust me, I really had to stretch -- is that you seem to be so bad at this kind of mendacity that it couldn't possibly come naturally (a la Clinton). So that tells me your instinct isn't to lie. It also tells me that, instead, it has been a clear decision. Which is about as bad.

2) Your move to the middle has coincided with a rapid deterioration of your perceived advantage. Coincidence? I think not.

Who are you, Senator? The knock on you that you were a mystery hidden beneath vague promises of hope and change is starting to ring true, though perhaps not in the way people expected. Since you began your cynical and ill-advised move to the middle, you've expressed support for the ridiculous FISA bill, the moronic Supreme Court decision about the DC hand gun ban, changed courses on offshore drilling, and espoused a handful of straight-up Republican positions. Who are you trying to win with this strategy? Do your advisers really not tell you (or believe themselves) that every movement rightward loses support from the left, and that steps rightward aren't guaranteed to win you support with the crowd you are trying to woo. For evidence of that, look at your recent decline.

Apparently when you and your advisers were taking notes on the Kerry campaign in '04, you only paid attention to the swift-boating. Although you've done a decent job responding to McCain's lunatic claims, you need to remember that the 527 crowd is not the only reason why Kerry lost. He also lost because not enough Americans believed in what the guy was selling, and a big part of that lack of faith was because they couldn't figure out what his opinions were. Sure, Karl Rove was an evil genius at playing the "flip-flopper" card, but it wouldn't have worked as well if Kerry hadn't, well, flip-flopped in his previous policy stands and early campaign rhetoric. You, sir, take flip-flopping to a new level. As every week brings us a new instance of you adopting a new conservative dimension to your position on another major issue, the end result isn't increasing swing voter comfort levels with your earlier reputation for being a progressive. The end result has clearly been and will continue to be a rising discomfort among progressives and left-leaning voters with who you are. We just had 16 years of image-conscious presidents assuring us they were something that history shows us they were not. Offering more of the same is not a solid sales technique, as your campaign so presciently pointed out during the primary season.

3) My own experience in Parma.

Much of Northeast Ohio is excited about your visit to Baldwin-Wallace College today. For a while, so was I. So much so that I decided to drive down yesterday to your Parma office, where a campaign email told me to go, and pick up a ticket. I got there an hour or so after the office opened, and there was a crowd of maybe 20 people standing in what maybe was a line. I didn't see anyone outside who looked like a voice of authority, so I went inside, where another dozen or so folks were. I saw an in-charge looking guy giving a couple other people tickets, so I walked over. After the two received theirs, I asked if I could have one. The in-charge guy looked at me -- and I mean looked, like I was being evaluated for fitness to attend -- and then said he was sorry, that they had run out. Before I could respond, a woman and four girls of late high school/early college age walked over and interrupted. They asked if they could volunteer for the next day's events and he said they could, and instructed them to join a group of others that were waiting outside for instructions from the volunteer coordinator. I said, "Oh, I'd love to volunteer, too." Again the look of appraisal, followed by a smug "We aren't accepting volunteers."

So, let's review. Handed out two tickets right in front of me, then told me he didn't have any. Then told 5 women they could volunteer, immediately after which he told me they weren't accepting volunteers. Why might this be the case? I don't know. The man and woman who did receive tickets were Latino and African-American, respectively. Though perhaps the man was the mayor of Parma and the woman was the leader of Ohio Lawyers for Obama or some big-time bundler or something. Perhaps the women were really members of B-W's Vote for Obama group and the older woman was their faculty advisor. Perhaps.

But that wouldn't explain the evaluative gaze he cast upon me both times before rejecting my request. Maybe something about the way I looked indicated something negative. After all, I did have shorts and a t-shirt and a corduroy cap on. I also wear glasses. Maybe that's bad. Maybe the tattoo did it. Maybe I wouldn't add to the portrait of diversity Obama's handlers clearly try to posture behind him when speaking. Maybe my male presence would upset the PUMAs the campaign is trying to reassure. Maybe lots of things.

But the fact is, I drove to Parma, asked for an opportunity to observe my chosen candidate speak, and was rejected with a sneer and a pair of lies from some hack advance guy. I just didn't add to the vibe they were trying to create, so I couldn't get in the room. When I asked him if it was just my bad luck that the two folks in front of me happened to snag the last tickets and if the women that had interrupted me happened to fill the last 5 volunteer slots, he said, "Yep" in the most sarcastic way you can imagine. I stated that this was all bullshit and walked out, noticing that the volunteer group was entirely female, and started driving back to Cleveland while doing a slow-burn.

I cannot ever know what was in the guy's mind, but I can tell you what it felt like: racism. Don't get me wrong - I'm not coming even close to conflating my denial of a ticket to a speech with Jim Crow, or anything remotely like it. Being born into a position of demographic privilege (i.e., white and male in the USA), I haven't come across that kind of hostility nearly as often as my friends who have minority backgrounds have. In those rare instances when I do experience it, it is a shock and a sharp pain. I'm especially shocked to receive the treatment from the campaign that prizes itself on its post-racial composition and offers a break from the cynicism of the past. I also want to say that I don't think the guy refused to give me a ticket or let me volunteer because he doesn't like people of my race. Instead, he was most likely implementing a stupid policy, designed to maximize a certain image, and did so in an incredibly clumsy (yet simultaneously hugely arrogant) way.

I sent a text message to a couple of my friends about this on my drive back, one being my best friend from grad school, who also happens to be African-American and has been a civil rights activist for years. He was shocked and angered, too, but noted with disappointment that Obama's team has increasingly been working like a tightly-controlled machine, walling the candidate off from the public and taking a ruthless tack toward dissent suppression, and that this is really starting to upset liberal and identity group activists.

I am smart enough to know that Barack Obama wasn't the one who sneered and rejected me. But I still feel the burn of one of his representatives doing it, and doing it so clearly in the name of politics. Like I said at the beginning of this post, all politics is personal. That moment in Parma became a milestone for me, and in the fall when I go to the polls I'll probably not only still feel the sting, but also that sting will probably be more powerful and fresh in my mind than the positive feelings I have also had, like when I watched his 2004 speech or when I saw Arcade Fire play at a rally for him or when I went door-to-door in a super-shady neighborhood before the Ohio primary or when I first realized the transcendent role he could play in our future.

A transcendent role that is increasingly unlikely as he adopts Clintonian and Bush-like approaches to politics and, one would expect, governing.


The Scribe said...

that "in-charge" fellow sounds extremely rude and judgmental. :( what an ugly encounter. i'm so sorry you had to experience that, especially as you went out of your way to try to be involved in the event. :(

dylanite said...

Great perspective on Obama's shifting as of late... I'm wondering whether he will do more pandering (as with the oil-drilling compromise) and frame it as "this is how I can lead as a uniter," which will probably just confuse people... Meanwhile, McCain is just going to the extreme of silly with the Paris stuff and his robotic "listen, friends" mumblings getting older than him. ...BTW, what an utter dumb-fuck at the event office! I just can't believe that, total absolute bullshit.

Christine said...

Hi. Ralph Nader. Have you watched An Unreasonable Man? The Democratic Party needs to learn that when they start drifting toward the middle, their more progressive members will, with good reason, look elsewhere. I have been slowly coming to the realization that maybe I'm not even a Democrat anymore.

That experience you had at B-W was crazy.