May 10, 2008

Barack Obama as Eric Hebborn

An excerpt from my new American Conservative article:

How did such a smooth operator as Barack Obama mishandle so ineptly the roadblock that he had to know stood between him and the White House: his intimate two-decade relationship with his far leftist minister, the erudite and articulate Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.? And what, if anything, can he do to repair the damage?

As I asked more than a year ago in VDARE.com, "Why has Obama tied his fate to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a tactless race man who is the living opposite of the myth Obama is trying to project about himself?"

Obama's candidacy is based on encouraging white voters to assume naively that his mixed race ancestry means that he is somehow genetically programmed for racial and political moderation. Indeed, in his long-postponed denunciation of Wright on April 29th, the reeling Obama made explicit the amusingly eugenic thinking implicit in Obamamania:

"That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings."

This kind of fantasizing about Obama was embarrassingly widespread before television finally began paying attention to Wright in March. For example, back on December 30, 2007, conservative columnist George Will enthused about how he can just tell that Obama must share Will's views on race:

"Obama seems to understand America's race fatigue, the unbearable boredom occasioned by today's stale politics generally and by the perfunctory theatrics of race especially…The political implications of this transcendence of confining categories are many, profound and encouraging."

Yet, if I could see from reading pp. 274-295 in Obama's 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance that Obama's spiritual mentor would be campaign trouble, why couldn't Obama? You might think that such a cool-headed vivisectionist of other people's political and racial fantasies would have guessed that his surrogate father-figure wouldn't let him get away with misleading the public about the ideological comradeship that led Obama to Wright in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Obama's self-pity keeps him from being as cold-eyed an analyst of himself as he is of others.

Normally, Obama is to the average politician as the great art forger Eric Hebborn was to the run-of-the-mill counterfeiter. Hebborn tried to follow a moral code of his own devising. On 17th Century paper, he would sketch in the style of, say, Rembrandt, but he would not forge Rembrandt's signature. Hebborn's view was that if Sotheby's was foolish and greedy enough to talk themselves into hoping that they were buying a Rembrandt drawing, well, that was their fault, not his.

Similarly, Obama prefers to mislead without lying outright. He likes to obscure the truth under so many thoughtful nuances, dependent clauses, Proustian details, lawyerly evasions, and eloquent summarizations of his opponents' arguments that his audiences ultimately just make up little fantasies about how he must agree with them. Rather like Hebborn, Obama seems to feel that he's not to blame if the press and public want to be fooled.

Sadly, though, Obama has lied repeatedly, and artlessly, about Wright's Youtube sermons, asserting that he had never heard such things and they were being taken out of context. The day after Wright's National Press Club barnburner on April 28 exploded these excuses, Obama pathetically claimed, "The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago." ...

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

22 comments:

Wanderling said...

I can't believe you called Wright "articulate!" That is almost like calling him a "boy." Next time write "erudite and outspoken." I don't want you to be the guest of honor at a closed-coffin funeral!

dearieme said...

My wife has a little experience in local politics. All political parties, in her view, attract some near-lunatics. It's what happens (at least in Britain). The sane members of opposing political parties can discuss the issue and agree that they recognise the personality types involved. I dare say Obama exploited Wright's barmy and nasty ideas to advance his career and, as you suggest, to still his inner demons. Still, Obama hasn't drowned a girl yet, or acted as a bagman for a corrupt spouse, or lied about military service or Global Warming. By Democrat standards he is, as Senator Biden observed, "clean". Compared to the preposterous Kerry, or W, he's surely a good candidate. Maybe not good enough, but time will tell.

daveg said...

Steve, I love your stuff, but barring a huge gaffe directly from the mouth of Obama, he is going to be our next president.

McCain has absolutely zero chance.

Everything we are reading is completely academic. The neocons have absolutely destroyed the Republican party.

See you in 2012.

Concerned said...

"As a candidate, Obama will do what he has to do to win. My argument is not with him--but with the national political media pack that refuses to look closely at what Chicago is. They're fixated on what it was, and they think it's clean now.

And they've spent years crafting, then cleaving to their eager and trembling Obama narrative, a tale of great yearning, almost mythic and ardently adolescent, a tale in which Obama is portrayed as a reformer, a dynamic change agent about to do away with the old thuggish politics."

http://weblogs.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/blog/2008/05/obama_unstained_by_chicago_way.html

Carol said...

Steve,

I am disappointed in you. Obama has so mis-handled the Rev. Wright affair that he has managed to beat the annointed candidate for the nomination and become one of fewer than 100 people ever to win the nomination of a major political party for president. ANd, because the Republicans have nominated such a weak candidate, Obama's mis-handling of Rev. Wrigt has the potential to make him the next U.S. president.

Born Again Democrat said...

I must say I am getting nervous. Is it hubris -- Obama's believing that he can talk himself out of any contradiction, no matter how big the stage? A little like Bill Clinton maybe?

There is a long piece on his Chicago background in the NYT, which is also disturbing.

OTH, where he finally comes down, in terms of policy, seems to be invariably pragmatic and moderate and intelligent. That counts for something doesn't it?

tommy said...

Stanley Kurtz has an interesting article which again belies claims that Wright's radicalism was only rarely on display:

Wright founded Trumpet Newsmagazine in 1982 as a "church newspaper"--primarily for his own congregation, one gathers--to "preach a message of social justice to those who might not hear it in worship service." So Obama's presence at sermons is not the only measure of his knowledge of Wright's views. Glance through even a single issue of Trumpet, and Wright's radical politics are everywhere--in the pictures, the headlines, the highlighted quotations, and above all in the articles themselves. It seems inconceivable that, in 20 years, Obama would never have picked up a copy of Trumpet. In fact, Obama himself graced the cover at least once (although efforts to obtain that issue from the publisher or Obama's interview with the magazine from his campaign were unsuccessful).

One of Obama's advisors was also caught telling a whopper. Apparently, the New York Times didn't feel the need to vet the advisor's claims before running with it. Failing to scrutinize the Obama campaign seems to be a popular pastime with the MSM.

But hey, at least the NYT hasn't sunk to the abysmal standards of CNN's "breaking news" quite yet!

Born Again Democrat said...

If Obama is a hypocrite, is it because he was a moderate trying to pass himself off as a radical, or because he is a radical trying to pass himself off as a moderate? I woult vote the former.

testing99 said...

Steve, Occam's Razor says, Obama is neither that smart nor able to look outside his own narrow upbringing. He might have known Indonesian Muslims in his childhood, various hard-Left radicals (like his own Mom), various African leftists and failed Big Men, and the successful variants on South Side Chicago.

Unlike Bill Clinton, however, he does not know average Americans. Did not think, honestly, Wright or Ayers or anything else would have been a problem. He's never had wide exposure to average people, particularly "typical White Persons" who don't fawn over him for being both Black and able to speak standard English.

Why would he? Nothing in his narrow, anti-American past would have had these guys (Wright, Ayers, etc.) a problem. It wasn't on the South Side. Or with the Media in the tank for him against Alan Keyes.

Obama is not smart. He's not informed about what the broad swath of Americans will and will not tolerate. He doesn't understand Joe Average (Clinton mostly did). He did not really understand the problem, that Wright would show up, at some point, if nothing else by being dug up by opposition.

It's not as if Obama has had tough opponents roughing up his candidacy. He's never faced tough scrutiny. He probably projected his Senate run onto the Presidency run.

mnuez said...

How did such a smooth operator as Barack Obama mishandle so ineptly the roadblock that he had to know stood between him and the White House: his intimate two-decade relationship with his far leftist minister, the erudite and articulate Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.?


You certainly know more about Obama then I do so perhaps I should defer to your expertise but on the odd chance that your obsession with him has distorted your view I should note that I'm not at all certain about the accuracy of referring to Obama as in any way more of a "smooth operator" than any other politician. If anything, he comes across as far more genuine and honest than the average politician. I realize that you yourself occasionally note this but in that case, what exactly do you mean by "smooth operator"? That he's shrew in conducting his career or his campaign? I'm not certain that this is the case either and it would appear that his 20 years with Wright ought to be evidence for that (rather than being held up as some a supposed exception to his general smooth-operatorness). Obama got damn far in part because of luck. He's a brilliant (and not terribly immoral) black man at a time when all of the forces are aligned for him to be able to benefit from being one. Where pray tell do you see evidence of any sort of extraordinary deviousness or shrewdness?


Similarly, Obama prefers to mislead without lying outright. He likes to obscure the truth under so many thoughtful nuances, dependent clauses, Proustian details, lawyerly evasions, and eloquent summarizations of his opponents' arguments that his audiences ultimately just make up little fantasies about how he must agree with them. Rather like Hebborn, Obama seems to feel that he's not to blame if the press and public want to be fooled.


Again - I don't get where you see forgery or dishonesty. A man as easily misunderstood (by the masses of morons) as yourself ought to recognize that Obama isn't purchasing any particular canvas upon which to detail a misleading truth,,, he's speaking in the nuanced manner that intelligent, sincere and thoughtful people speak. The fact that the masses are asses and will misunderstand him (both to his benefit as well as to his detriment) shouldn't be a concern of his. Should pandering to the lowest common denominator be what we want from our politicians?

Again, you know far far more about Obama then I do and I regard your opinions of him seriously, but with regard to the matter of his supposed shrewd dishonesty I have to say that I see the exact opposite (within the range of sincerity that a politician
>could
survive in, that is).

mnuez

PrestoPundit said...

"Obama prefers to mislead without lying outright"

This is an over generalization. Obama prefers to mislead anyway that works. Often this involves lies and untruths. Other times it doesn't. Obama doesn't really care one way or the other.

Obama's endless lies and untruths, small and large, are to numerous to document, but folks like Nice Deb have begun the thankless work of doing so anyway. She stopped not because she ran out of lies and untruths, but from exhaustion.

R J said...

Very well said.

Jeff said...

Steve-

While you've been mining Dreams from my Father for a while, the focus of your criticisms seems to have shifted somewhat.

In the past, the implication seemed to be that underneath the veneer, Obama was essentially an angry black man, and that if put in a position of power, he would betray the whites he reached out to by letting the black people do whatever they wanted".

Now, perhaps sensing that this kind of angle doesn't work quite as well in America as it used to, or just by fear of the scarlet R, you've shifted to using the book as a testament to Obama's underlying emotional instability, as if it reveals him to be a person of dangerously strong mood swings, liable to crack under pressure.

I doubt this will work for you, or anyone you care to pass your ideas on to. First of all, Obama has made it clear that while he still stands by the overall message of the book, and is well aware that it will be mined for political reasons by people such as yourself, the voice is that of a much younger man, and no longer his. This may be difficult for you to understand, but many might well see his willingness both to deal with those important and charged issues of race in America as a young man and apparently move past them as an adult a sign of maturity, not weakness.

Second, given the events of the past few months, you'll have a hard time convincing anyone that Obama is prone to emotional swings. He has suffered several scandals recently, any one of which would have finished off a lesser man. Throughout it all, he has been unflappable, and as May 6th has shown us, unscathed. Even Chris Wallace, drilling him with the toughest questions Rove could muster, could not raise his ire or pin him into a vulnerable position.

In a way, its reassuring to see people like yourself grab at these disparate, occasionally contradicting narratives in attempts to frame Obama negatively. He is both an empty suit, and a liberal with bold, dangerous ideas. Both a teflon politician who has mastered the art of skillfully saying nothing, and an angry black liable to hurt America with profoundly radical thinking. Both a hippy fantasizer that believes everyone can just get along, and, in the opinion of a National Review columnist, a man who shows a profoundly paranoid "us vs. them" mentality.

But even with all that has been written, you have yet to find your silver bullet. And worse still, contradicted by what came before, each new tack seems less convincing and on the mark than the last.

Its grabbing at straws. It shows you don't really understand what you're up against, or just how formidable an opponent he really is. While I wasn't so sure 6 months ago, I'm beginning to suspect he will make short work of you and people like you this year.

Bill said...

Good insight. Hebborn's success drew mainly on others' tendency to see what they want to see, and his skill only made it that much easier for them.

But do you think Obama, as a mixed-race politician, actually needs all that much skill to achieve the same effect? He has a huge advantage in not having grown up like most other mulatto Americans of his age; he avoided the ghetto until he was a grown man and reaped the benefits of acculturation into the majority.

Hebborn was a queer, half-Gypsy cockney Londoner who rose to prominence through raw talent. Obama, despite the tragedy of his father, has lived a fairly privileged and fortunate life.

tommy said...

I see Obama as self-absorbed, insecure, and opportunistic, like many other politicians, but he's too smart to take Wright's nonsense very seriously.

The annoying thing about Obama isn't that he possesses a unique evil, but that he is presented as someone who is unlike "those other politicians." In truth, he is typical of the breed. Our media has given the Great Mulatto Hope such an easy ride that his head has swollen enormously. As a result, Obama is too confident in his ability to paper over controversy with glib language and posturing.

But the thing I personally dislike most about Obama is his lack of creativity. As has been written before, his leftism isn't argued but assumed. The senator from Illinois brings new charisma to the same old ideas. And as smart as he is, Obama has never sincerely questioned his mother's beliefs. His self-absorption renders him imperceptive and his liberal politics makes him no less a conformist.

Anonymous said...

Powerful insight from Tommy!

Regarding this pro-Obama, Steve-critical poster:

"In a way, its reassuring to see people like yourself grab at these disparate, occasionally contradicting narratives in attempts to frame Obama negatively. He is both an empty suit, and a liberal with bold, dangerous ideas. Both a teflon politician who has mastered the art of skillfully saying nothing, and an angry black liable to hurt America with profoundly radical thinking. Both a hippy fantasizer that believes everyone can just get along, and, in the opinion of a National Review columnist, a man who shows a profoundly paranoid "us vs. them" mentality."

I think Steve actually did a quite artful job of portraying the complexity of Obama's character. Here you are trying to distort Steve's characterization of Obama into the contradictory extremes you mention, whereas Steve has always made clear that Obama alternates between these tendencies with ambivalence. Steve's portrayal says what can be said within the limits of available knowledge and is very candid and penetrating actually.

Tommy said it well too. He's a self-absorbed insecure guy who found some comfort in black "authenticity", he's a master of self-portrayal as a result of his remaking himself into the "authentic angry black man" from his white Hawaiian-Indonesian beginnings, and as a result of years of worrying about how he is perceived, he has political deflection skills. Like the other poster said, he probably has no real contact with white americans, average people, so he doesnt know how to market himself to them and maybe earnestly did not understand how big a problem Wright would become for him. He is probably dumb enought to have believed what his mother told him.

poor richard said...

"I see Obama as self-absorbed, insecure, and opportunistic, like many other politicians, but he's too smart to take Wright's nonsense very seriously."

That is just the problem. Wright's views are not to be dismissed, because they resonate with a significant part of African-Americans. This is not a matter of wine and cheese party conversation. The LA riots or even day to day crime statistics bear witness that this sense of entitlement to the fruit of other people's labor is a real danger to our society.

America is moving far away from its Cold War era security. Americans need more from a leader than "thoughtful nuance" when currency is faltering, wars are being lost, and a major demographic shift is taking place.

Forget words for a moment. You can judge a man by the friends he keeps. Take a look at who Obama has allowed to surround him. These will be his cronies when he is in power.

jeffjrstewart said...

Keep considering him dumb, emotionally ambivalent, confused and out-of-touch at your own peril. You guys really don't seem to understand what you're up against.

Anonymous said...

McCain has absolutely zero chance.

I'm not so sure.

Steve didn't seem to like this sentiment on other posts, but I'll repeat it again: when white Americans turn on the TV and see Reverend Wright shucking and jiving at the National Press Club their physiologic reaction is the same as if they had opened their doors and saw a tiger outside. (If you saw TV footage of whites during Freaknik in Atlanta you'll know what I mean.) They will vote for McCain reflexively, out of instinctive self-defense.

Obama is Senator of Chicago. America is Branson, Missouri. I don't disagree that McCain is bloody awful but Obama, the Reverend Wright, and the bellicose, attitude-with-an-attitude Michelle Obama are downright alien to the hausfraus and insurance agents who will decide the election. I think it's more likely Obama will suffer the fate of that well-meaning socialist who ventured out of his cold, communal, Scandinavian state only to discover the rest of the country liked sunshine and low taxes. I speak of course of Walter Mondale. We'll see.

--Doug.

David said...

Steve's very first post analyzing Obama was, as I recall, speculating about Obama may have had an emotional depression. That shifted slightly to how complex he was.

Since then, Steve's portrait has only blossomed to capture the complexity of this character in a masterly manner.

There is no one and only reservation about Obama that is true; there are several reasons to think poorly of him, as there are several reasons to think poorly of McCain.

McCain is an old whore who has been around and is a known quantity. But what did we know about Obama?

We know more now. And we will continue to learn, because of inquiring minds.

That makes some people uncomfortable, because it has uncovered some uncomfortable truths about their man, and will continue to do so.

As to "contradictions" in Steve's portrait - the contradictions are in Obama, Steve is merely describing them. Don't attack the messenger.

Svigor said...

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,355238,00.html

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright may have stepped down as pastor, but the Trinity United Church of Christ may continue to haunt Barack Obama.

Newsmax reports the new Senior Pastor, Otis Moss, has called biblical patriarch Abraham a pimp, said Noah and Moses were thugs and said Jesus had a "soft spot for thugs." Moss has also praised late rapper Tupac Shakur as a prophet despite his profanity-laced lyrics that glorify violence and a criminal record including assault and sexual abuse.

Cybercast News reports another pastor as the church, reverend Reginald Williams, has written in the church bulletin that the Pentagon trains Latin Americans to become terrorists and the major TV networks are run by right wing racists who see blacks as subhuman.

The Obama campaign has not yet responded to our request for a comment.


Heh. Always in motion, is the future. But, I think Obama will get his ass swiftboated to tatters and McCain will cry crocodile tears all the way to the White House in his limo with the "Good Cop" vanity plates.

shorter daveg said...

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The Jews made it fall!