Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech

I watched Obama's speech given in response to the furor around the statements of Obama's preacher-mentor, Jeremiah Wright. The speech is an enormous straw man meant to obfuscate and distract from the real problem.

Let me sum up Obama's problem in a paragraph:

Barack Obama, like most Democrats, is a New Leftist. As such he believes in many ideologies such as multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism. The most controversial idea held by New Leftists is anti-Americanism. This leftist anti-Americanism is not a problem within the Democrat Party, but It is the one belief that Democrats must hide more than any other in order to be elected President. Obama's preacher has made outrageous anti-American statements. People wonder if Obama agrees with them; they wonder why he did not break with Wright years ago. For a Democrat presidential candidate even to be suspected of anti-Americanism is catastrophic problem, one that is probably fatal to most politicians.

In his speech Obama did not attempt to answer the problem -- it is so profound and dangerous that Democrats will not even name it. Instead, he changed the subject and made a speech about race.

The suspicions about Obama's anti-Americanism will linger. People don't want the Commander In Chief to be someone who can listen to a nutjob shout, "God damn America" without breaking relations with the man. Obama has lost those Democrats who are not anti-American leftists. They used to be called Reagan Democrats; come November 5, 2008, if Obama is the Democrat candidate, they will be called McCain Democrats.


Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

When I was thinking of how to describe the speech, I used the phrase red herrings but, in the back of my mind, I had straw man. Of course his followers will not see what a fake Obama is.

Grant said...

Hmmmm… So Rev. Wright is a product of his environment. He is a victim of historical injustices. His hatred is the logical outgrowth of America’s longest running, and most deeply divisive contradiction.

It sounds to me like Obama agrees completely with his Reverend. His entire speech today set out to demonstrate that the hate-filled, irrational spoutings - the chickens - have come home to roost. It's not Reverend Wright's fault that what came out of his mouth made absolutely no sense and flew in the face of decency and justice, it's America's fault. Obama is certainly "Wright" about that.

Myrhaf said...

Damn good point, Grant. Obama is making excuses for Wright and trying to pass it off as the result of America's racist history.

Cal said...

Given his target audience -- white voters who want to believe -- I thought it was the "best" possible speech that he could have given. It made me think: this guy can be really dangerous, because if he is President, he can probably sell things to the U.S. public that Hillary never could.

As one editorial put it, this was Obama's "I did not inhale" speech. I think it was that, coupled with a guilt-inducing: "you did what I did". His message was: yes, this preacher was a racist, just like my white granny, and like many others with whom you too associate, dear listener. So, let's call a spade a spade, let's tell these people they are wrong and guide them right, but they are still our friends and family, FWIW.

Wolfgang said...

Myrhaf, Obama is not a "New Leftist" as you write: He is a religious Leftist. Believe me, we have many politicians here in Germany who are "New Leftists", but no one is like Obama. It seems to me that Obama represents the selfsacrificial aspects of christianity.

Myrhaf said...

The question is, are Christians and New Leftists mutually exclusive? Can one be both? Or do we need a new name for them?

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

A lot of New Leftists are non-Christians but still religious. Their religion is New Age nonsense - gurus etc.

Grant said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I took Myraf's use of the term "New Leftist" to mean someone who is explicitly collectivist and explicitly religious. That is entirely new in American politics.

Yes, the religionists have always been, essentially, collectivists; but there never was a distinct, secular leftist movement which argued for socialism until Europeans intellectuals exported it. And once they did, running from say, The Progressive Era until the end of the Cold War, they were never pressured to justify their socialist ideology on anything besides short-term, utilitarian grounds.

That is what is so scary about the likes of Obama and Huckabee. In the wake of the discredited, libertarian defence of individualism by the GOP and the demonstrable unworkability of the mixed-economy, backed into a corner, they are beginning to expose and exploit the socialist underpinnings of religious America - and they are having success with it!

Anonymous said...

I have found it necessary to reject the suggestion by some commentators that it is the Republican Party that provides the exclusive "home" for Religion in America.

In America, the entire Progressive program -- from the late 19th Century through to the present day -- has been firmly rooted in the Christian tradition. In fact, I would say that, at its core, Progressivism is Applied Christianity (Christianity in combination with a kind of Syndicalism). Father Coughlin's vile pronouncements, and those of most of the earlier Progressives from Croly to Wilson and beyond, provide a transparent illustration of the point. Barack Obama is, indeed, a religious Leftist. And far from being something "new", he is quite typical of what Progressivism has been all along both in terms of its religious foundation (despite the attempts of more recent adherents to distance themselves from it) and racialist dimension (I am in agreement with Jonah Goldberg that the Progressive program is eugenic by its very nature).

Grant said...


It's true that there has always been an element of piety among American leftists; but when asked about the proper foundations for government, they claimed it to be solely the province of reason. In fact, because they took the very reasonable position that there should be a seperation of religion and government, they left has always been the stronger defender of that particular liberty between the two.

Similarly, it's true that there has always been an element of rationalism in the explicitly religious segment; but when asked what reason they had for being defenders of patriotism, individualism, and capitalism, they always deferred to faith. They still do - and, seeing their success with it, that is why the liberals are beginning to coopt the tactic.

Listen to Obama's speech; he defends his Presidential campaign - and the thorough collectivism it embodies - from blemish not by denouncing intolerance as irrational bigotry, as liberals have always done in the past, but by embracing the black community's alleged hatred of America in the arms of Christian compassion. He reminded everyone that this hatred was born in a religious context - black churches - and so, as a religionist himself, the average white American is supposed to understand it as a cultural (as opposed to individual) problem, but to forgive it as an act of religious virtue. This whole phenomenon of being at once unabashadley collectivist, and simultaneously pointing exlicitly to religion for it's justification, is what is entirely new. At least in mainstream American political discourse.

Billy Beck said...

"The question is, are Christians and New Leftists mutually exclusive?"

Absolutely not. Actually, the best evidence exhibit here is Rodham. Go study her Methodist background.

This is important: historically, the term "New Left" turns on Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" denouncing Stalin in 1956. This event completely shattered the Left in the West for about a decade. It was the advent of the "68'ers" that demonstrated that the Left really had their feet under them again. (A useful reference here is David Horowitz's "Radical Son -- A Generational Odyssey", 1997.)

You can use that term to denote something else if you want to, but you're running counter to reasonably established and importantly useful conventions if you do.

This is the other essential element that make my case for Rodham as evidence.

Monica said...

Aaaaaa men to that brother. There is no way I could in good conscience vote for Obama after that nonsense. As Gus van Horn said, either he didn't have the courage to stand up to Wright, or he agrees with him. Both are terrible.

If Obama is the Dem candidate, I will be an "anti-McCainite for McCain."

Anonymous said...

"This whole phenomenon of being at once unabashadley collectivist, and simultaneously pointing exlicitly to religion for it's justification, is what is entirely new."

With respect, this is simply untrue and one has only to consider Prohibition, for example, or the entire Wilson presidency (1912-1920) from which it sprang to see it.

The vast majority of the American Progressive, collectivist, Fascistic programs and arguments of the first decades of the 20th Century were steeped in an explicitly religious (read, Christian) rationale. In my study of the period, this is one of the very things that distinguishes American Progressivism from the related strains of secular Marxist and/or quasi-Marxist theory that were beginning to be put into practice in Europe.

Woodrow Wilson's Princeton-era, pre-Presidential writings get straight to the point in this regard: American Progressives like Wilson understood that the American people would NOT countenance the kind of straight Hegelianism of their German mentors without a quick chaser of The Sermon on the Mount to wash it down. Appeals to the "brother's keeper" aspects of religious faith have, consequently, been their stock in trade from the beginning. I would go so far as to say that it is the key to the "success" of Progressivism in the United States.

What was "new" was the jettisoning of explicitly religious rationales for the Progressive approach during the 1960s in the rise of the New Left. What the New Left forgot was what their predecessors knew from the start. The consequence was the rather phenomenal rise of the Religious Right to counter it.

Barack Obama's appeals to religion are, therefore, a RETURN to the original American Progressive ideas. Much of his speech could have been lifted word-for-word from one of Woodrow Wilson's own(although the Race bits would have been quite reversed in the racist Wilson's case).

Incidentally, contrary to the popular notion that things like Prohibition were the the "brainchildren" of the political/religious Right of the time, these were wholly consistent with the Progressive Democrat Wilson's war socialism from which they emerged.

Grant said...


In my study of the period, it was Teddy Roosevelt who was the father of the Progressive Movement. Teddy Roosevely was a Republican - which meant that he ostensibly stood for free enterprise and individualism - regardless of any religiousity the party possesed. In fact, he was the quintessential Republican: Independent, practical, and not terribly concerned with intellectual matters. He built an entire mystique of individual heroism into his persona. San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. His explorations of the American West and his African hunting safaris meant that he was the first President with a "log cabin" story.

Let's not forget what Roosevelt is most remembered for: Trust Busting. None of the rationale for his vigorous use of the Sherman Act was explained away as faithful implementation of Christian "share the wealth" egalitarianism. Instead, it was presented as sound economic policy; designed to save free enterprise from itself. The myth that competition is the motor of a capitalist economy continues to this day in the popular thinking about the issue.

The same attitude prevailed when Progressivism reached it's denoument during the Presidency of Teddy's cousin, FDR, and his "Alphabet Soup" during the Depression. These were not promoted as "faith-based initiatives" or proof that is really does "take a village", but as practical policies designed to jump-start the economy and to ward off Communism. Neither were they criticized as the seeping of private, religious sentiment into public policy - however sympathetic the Republicans might have been towards that sentiment -but were derided as the first steps of a Bolshevik invasion.

All of that was an extremely individualistic and Romantic, unChristian way of presenting oneself even though the minor rubric and actual policies of both Roosevelts were the exact opposite. But people don't pay attention to, and they certainly don't remember, innocously pious speeches and complex policies. They remember what they are told to remember: That Teddy was a paragon of rugged individualism and a stallwart of fair play. That FDR saved the economy and was a war hawk on par with Churchill, the "Bulldog of Britain." Obama has no need to create this image. Being a "community organizer", being willing to "engage" our enemies, and having come from a diverse, but sufficiently WASP, background is the right combination in contemporary American culture to win a high percentage of the popular vote.

I haven't studied the Presidency of Wilson as closely, so I will concede that everything you say about him is valid. However, in the greater scheme of historical events (as indicated by the two significant Progressive Presidencies which bookended his own), I do not ascribe as much weight to his words and deeds as you do. But even Wilson - who you rightly identify as the most "Obamaesque" in persona of the past Presidents, was still beholden to the predominant, secular values of his day. In what was unarguably his most significant action while in office, Wilson brought American into World War I not to "Make the world safe for Christianity", but for democracy.

America is, obviously, far more socialist than it ever was during the Progressive era - and yet, in terms of population percentages, it is still just as religious, albeit it in a much more polarizing fashion.

Anonymous said...

"America is, obviously, far more socialist than it ever was during the Progressive era . . ."

Obvious to whom? I would agree that the socialism (Fascism?) of today has of a "kinder, gentler" face, but would disagree that it is "more".

While it is true that Republican Teddy Roosevelt was the first Progressive president, that he created his own political party formally called the "Progressive Party" (1909), and that he did not generally wed his brand of Progressivism to explicit religiosity (his recommendation on the Phillippines excepted), he was not the originator or "father" of Progressivism in America. Rather, TR was the product of the Progressive ideas of his late 19th Century milieu and education.

In view of what I interpret to be your underestimation of the Woodrow Wilson administration, you don't seem to to understand that Wilson happened to be one of the most prominent Progressive intellectuals and educators of that time. He was no Progressive "small fry"! His book, Congressional Government (1885), and other writings were extremely influential and quite widely read. (Wilson's book was also one of the first to attack the separation of powers aspect of the U.S. Constitution, a point which was perfectly consistent with his collectivist, anti-individualist point of view.)

You may recall that another literary "blockbuster" of the time was Richard Bellamy's "Looking Backward" (1888) which is generally viewed as the seminal Progressive novel (only Uncle Tom's Cabin had a wider readership during the 19th Century). What you may not know is that this author's cousin, Francis (also a Progressive) was the author of the Pledge of Allegiance and, as a preacher, delivered a widely read sermon entitled, "Jesus the Socialist". There was nothing unusual or "extraordinary" about these views: they were reflections of commonly-held thought at the close of the 19th Century in America. And for these men, as well as for Wilson, their Progressivism was inseparable from their deep religiosity.

As the newly elected, Democrat President in 1913, Woodrow Wilson remarked:

""The Bible ... is the one supreme source of revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and spiritual nature and needs of men. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. . . .

"America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture."

This last speaks directly to the motivating force behind Wilson's Progressivism and I find it ironic, then, that Wilson is considered a hero to the modern "liberal" who would hold that religion and religious faith have nothing to do with policy recommendations that find their genesis in Wilson's own.

As for FDR, who was never accused of being an original thinker, if you are familiar with the nature of the the Woodrow Wilson administration (Jonah Goldberg in his new book, Liberal Fascism, refers to the Wilson administration as the first Fascist regime in history and I agree), I think you will be struck by the fact that almost every one of FDR's New Deal policy initiatives was modelled on those put into place during Wilson's presidency, a point which FDR acknowledged openly. The difference was one of scale and not substance.

And one last point -- and this is also something not taught in history books today -- while there was general opposition to Bolshevism during the 1920s and 1930s in the U.S. (with the exception of certain prominent Marxist intellectuals), Fascism was generally viewed positively -- Mussolini and, to a certain degree, Hitler himself were something like media darlings throughout the 1920s and 1930s. They were even admired to a certain degree. The similarities between the policy initiatives of Mussolini, Hitler and FDR -- in particular the economic corporatism peculiar to each of their systems -- were understood at the time if not today.

Mr. Obama's acknowledgement of the religious foundation for his socialist views is not new. It is in line with much of the Progressive intellectual tradition going back over 100 years.