Blogs > HNN > If Obama were a saint ...

Mar 15, 2008 8:26 pm

If Obama were a saint ...

After I finished speaking at Everett Community College yesterday a student challenged my generalization that politicians use myths to trigger emotional responses from voters."But some politicians are idealistic," she said."Yes, some are," I answered. But she was obviously distressed by my response.

It's only a guess, but I would bet she's an Obama supporter. She wants to believe the best about her candidate and wants to believe he's different.

But why would he be different? Doesn't he have to deal with the same system all other pols do? Doesn't he have to face the reality of voters who are often too ignorant or too distracted to pay attention to politics, which in turn leads them to play on myths?

Let's suppose he actually is different.

Wouldn't a different politician have ....

1. Told voters we can't get out of Iraq quick?
2. Told his pastor off and switched to a different church after the pastor began saying the harsh things he's said about America (we deserved to be hit on 9/11)?

[ ABC News] Sen. Barack Obama's pastor says blacks should not sing"God Bless America" but"God damn America." The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is"inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own"terrorism."

3. Risked boring voters with details about his health care plans rather than continually employing high-flown rhetoric full of generalizations? (He might, for example, have taken the approach Ross Perot used in 1992 to educate voters about the national debt.)
4. Told voters they have a responsibility for the death and destruction in Iraq--after all they voted for Bush in 2004? Now THAT would be a fresh burst of candor!

Of course, he did none of these things. And he didn't for a very good reason. He's a politician. And while he may be a cut above the ordinary species--and I think he is--he's no saint. People who think he is are in for a big surprise should he make it to the White House.


Obama has taken to the Huffington Post to explain his relationship to Pastor Wright. Obama says:"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church."

I don't find Obama's statement that he was unaware of Wright's crazy statements until recently credible. ABC News reports:

[Wright] told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

Is it possible that Obama didn't hear about this? Somebody should immediately check the Chicago press to find out if the pastor's comments were reported in the media.


Obama was on Keith Oberman's show tonight to explain his relationship with Pastor Wright. Once again Obama used the excuse that Wright was like an uncle who on occasion says foolish things. The analogy is misleading. An uncle is somebody one is stuck with. Obama was not stuck with Wright. At any point Obama could have broken with him.

Oberman might have asked Obama about this. He didn't. He went easy on Obama.


Questions about Obama's saintedness are in the end irrelevant to the main question before us as a country: whether he would make a good president. But Obama has left himself open to attack by the way he has presented himself. He almost begs people to take him down a notch by claiming to be superior to ordinary politicians. This is the downside to his candidacy. And it's repeatedly tripping him up. He and his supporters keep making claims that are patently designed to reinforce the Obama myth.

Take the issue of race that has cropped up in the last few days. Obama claims he's moved beyond race and wants to move the country beyond race. And he attacks Hillary Clinton for allegedly using race to undermine his candidacy. But race wasn't injected into the campaign by Hillary Clinton. Race was there from the start. Given our history race is always a part of American politics. In this particular election race is a factor for the very reason that Obama has succeeded in appealing to white voters. He's not THE black candidate for president as, say, Jesse Jackson was. But his blackness was never wholly irrelevant whatever claims were made for his candidacy allegedly transcending race. People responded to him enthusiastically in part because he is black. As I wrote a month ago, a white senator with Obama's limited resume never would have been taken seriously as a candidate. That is what Geraldine A. Ferraro was presumably alluding to in her clumsy newspaper interview.

I remain convinced that Obama is an extraordinary politician and might even make a great president. But by presenting himself the way he has--as a mythical figure--he has opened himself to constant questions and these from people who are disposed to like him, as I am.

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More Comments:

Randll Reese Besch - 3/30/2008

Should be treated as such so we should stop building bases and massive infastructure for the occupation and leave. Pay reparations for the damage caused. Since 1990.
None of the candidates have addressed this issue this way.
True,candor on any issue seems to produce loss for the candidate. Who do we blame for that?

HNN - 3/17/2008


I don't expect candor from politicians. The price for candor is too high in politics. That's why pols lie, deceive, and hedge. THAT'S POLITICS.

Do I want pols to be candid? Sure I do. But I am unwilling to give them a free pass simply because they have been candid. That's the equivalent of giving them a pass when they "take responsibility" for some mess that's happened--the newest dodged of the besieged pol.

My objection to Obama has been that he claims to be different. But he's not different. He's only a little bit more candid than other pols.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/16/2008

In other words, you call for greater candor from political candidates, on the one hand, and, on the other, you reserve the right to attack them for what their candor acknowledges. I think you've just demonstrated why you're not going to get more candor from political candidates.

HNN - 3/16/2008

Hi Ralph,

1. I agree that Obama would concede he's no saint. My posts have addressed the myth of Obama. The myth, sold by his machine, is what Americans are voting on.

2. I'd like to see politicians leveling with the country. THAT really would be refreshing. Hillary should say she made a blunder in voting for the Iraq War resolution. Obama should say straight out that he has mischaracterized his own anti-war record (he opposed the war resolution but later said if he had been in the Senate he doesn't know how he would have voted). Americans would appreciate candor. And even if they reject candor thse politicians could go to bed at night knowing they had spoken the truth.

3. Getting out of Iraq is going to take patience. A careful withdrawal will be required over perhaps two or three years. Move quickly, as Obama is promising, and we risk setting off a major Middle East conflagration.

This damnable war is a mess. It cannot be the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, as so many allege, and be easily finished, as so many want.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/16/2008

Would you, pray tell, explain what *are* the conditions under which American troops can leave Iraq. We've heard it explained that the troops cannot leave Iraq during a recess in the violence for fear that it will return; and we've heard it explained that American troops cannot leave Iraq during violent times because they must combat the violence. So far as I can tell, all of this rationalization is used to justify imperial claims. It stains our historical reputation, stretches our military forces beyond their capacity, and drains the American economy.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/16/2008

Since the war in Iraq is both George Bush's and Hillary Clinton's war, it would be even more astounding to watch your candidate tell "the voters that they have a responsibility for the death and destruction in Iraq."

Ralph E. Luker - 3/16/2008

There's more nuance to Obama's candidacy than you ever acknowledge, Rick. I think that he'd agree with both of us that he is no saint and that political conditions don't call for one in the White House.