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Obama as Political Animal
July 14, 2008 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Making It, in which a young, black, upstart politician rises through the Chicago political scene by having his opposition stricken from the ballot, turning against his endorser, and redistricting himself into a fundraising monster.

While we're debating the New Yorker's incendiary cover, it would be tragic to ignore what may be one of the most intriguing piece of political reporting this year. In the article, Ryan Lizza chronicles Barack Obama's rise in Chicago politics, from his campaign for the State Senate (where he is first endorsed by incumbent Alice Palmer while she tries to run for the House, who later tries to oust him from the primary once her congressional campaign sours), his time in the notoriously corrupt state capital, to his failed campaign against Bobby Rush for the Illinois' 1st Congressional district. It's a fascinating read.
posted by Weebot (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like this New Yorker profile better.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:12 PM on July 14, 2008


The whole "having his opponent stricken from the ballot" thing sounds really nasty till you notice that all he did was point out that an awful lot of the relevant signatures getting her on said ballot were, uh, forged.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:19 PM on July 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


The Obama camp should be grateful that the cover is (stupidly, but Remnick should've known better) creating such a controversy, because it's certainly diverting attention from the content of the arcticle.
Then again, the people to whom this might matter, or sway their vote, wouldn't have read the article anyway. E.g.back in the summer of 2000 or so, the New Yorker article on G.W. Bush that just took him to pieces; I read it and thought, 'whew, once all the Americans read this, there's no way they'll vote for such an imbecile!'
I was soon to learn otherwise.
posted by Flashman at 5:25 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm... so, Flashman: You think the content of that article reflects badly on Obama?

Funny, a guy I know in Chicago, who knows Obama from way back, told me all this over a year ago and he thought it was a good thing.
posted by lodurr at 5:30 PM on July 14, 2008


Well, Obama's image as some kind of saintly dainty guy who floats above all the muck and mire of politics is worrying people who think he's to "soft" to take on the republicans. Of course, that mattered more during the primary.
posted by delmoi at 5:39 PM on July 14, 2008


OK, to tell you the truth, I haven't yet RTFA, but I according to this post, and other commeters elsewhere (ok, it was only Gawker), the article isn't entirely complementary. And for that matter, what I said is open to ridicule, as certainly because of this hoo-ha more people will be reading the article.
Anyway, I should not have spoken out from a position of such ignorance; this much I grant you.
posted by Flashman at 5:42 PM on July 14, 2008


PAGE 1 OF 15

I'm torn. It might be a good article or it might an overly long, over wrought verbal torrent.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:06 PM on July 14, 2008


As has been pointed out upthread, the whole fracas over getting Alice Palmer's name stricken from the record is the source of a lot of tension in Obama's little Chicago world of politics, but it's totally mundane and was nothing more than pointing out forgeries on her petition to re-enter the race.

Frankly, I'm happy to have a Democrat who cares about WINNING and then, once in office, trying to do good things. Not, as has been the Democrats' wont, to be first and foremost a stellar person and then crossing one's fingers, hoping that the good people of America will elect him/her.
posted by billysumday at 6:07 PM on July 14, 2008


The (somewhat oversimplified) upshot of the article is that Obama is an extraordinarily ambitious, hard-working, strategically shrewd politician who has mapped out his career from a relatively early age and (with the exception of one failed campaign) succeeded at pretty much every step. This reveals him to be an exceptionally good politician, but one with almost no legislative track record. And far from an 'outsider' driven by the force of new ideas, he is a political pragmatist who has spent far more time devising brilliant campaigns, against significant odds, than actually legislating or governing. At this point, I'm not sure whether this makes him look better or worse.

BTW, here's a "Fresh Air" interview with the author of the piece.
posted by googly at 6:08 PM on July 14, 2008


15,000+ words. Better consumed over the course of several bowel movements, methinks.
posted by skammer at 6:08 PM on July 14, 2008


Er, stricken from the BALLOT, not stricken from the record.
posted by billysumday at 6:09 PM on July 14, 2008




Fair enough. I may have overstated that somewhat.
posted by googly at 6:54 PM on July 14, 2008


googly beat me to it, but I will say that I thought "Fresh Air" piece was surprisingly good.
posted by ZakDaddy at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2008


Bah, premature click. I was going to say that I might even read the article.
posted by ZakDaddy at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2008


Reading between the lines, the point of that article is that Barack will be president one day. Whether that's good or bad is another question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:59 PM on July 14, 2008


I personally have voted for Obama in as many elections as I possibly could, and will continue to do so till my dying day, barring the complete transformation of his political character into the likeness of jesse helms.
posted by Freen at 8:22 PM on July 14, 2008


PS: Not in spite of, but because of many of the things pointed out in this essay. Knowing how to run a shrewd campaign is the only way you'll get a chance to actually implement any of your policies. Chicago Politics is an old, creaky, stubborn engine that spits out daley after daley after daley, and the fact that he got a foothold, particularly coming from hyde park ( which regularly didn't get it's snow plowed because the alderman didn't toe the party line) is somewhat of a political miracle.
posted by Freen at 8:25 PM on July 14, 2008


I like this New Yorker profile better.

Of course you liked it better, it was published on May 7, 2007, more than a year ago, before he reversed himself on major stances like campaign financing, the death penalty, handguns, and Iraq - and voted to help shred the 4th Amendment.

I think it's going to take major frontal attacks by teh GOP to bring Obama down, because he continues to be revered and rationalized for by his base, who are now using cognitive dissonance to convince themselves that even though he flip-flops more than a circus seal, and has yet to take a consistent stand on core issues that have taken him this far.

Obama's duplicitousness is going to upend him in the general campaign. Obama doesn't resonate in a way that engenders trust; he resonates in a way that offers hope.

Hope is a funny thing. People often cling to it in hard, desperate times, because it's all they have. Sooner or later hope wants a payoff, or it begins to extinguish.

America is near bottom at the moment (relative to the last 50-or-so years). Hopelessness reigns among many constituencies.

Every reversal by Obama chips away at the hope he has engendered. He's standing on thinner ice than he thinks, because the GOP is working beneath him with a blow torch, moving ever closer to the point where Obama is simply going to sink, because he's run out of any ability to sell hope, in all its undefined glory.

Tarnished hope doesn't sell; that's a lesson that the Obama campaign is going to learn the hard way.
posted by MetaMan at 11:43 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read the whole article and personally thought it was fascinating, well-written and worth reading. To say it reflects positively or negatively on Obama is simplistic - it's a history and a character study, and it's a suitably complex portrait.

whew, once all the Americans read this, there's no way they'll vote for such an imbecile!'

This is the gist of what my freaked-out fellow liberal co-workers were saying this morning, but I'm not sure if the New Yorker's regular readership actually consists of swing voters, or anyone who is seriously considering *not* voting for him. maybe that's optimistic, or just plain wrong, but how many people in Ohio, Montana, Indiana, New Mexico, etc. actually read it? I always assumed it was consumed more or less entirely by arugula-eating latte-sipping coastal elites (like me.)
posted by Muffpub at 11:45 PM on July 14, 2008


How did Obama reverse himself on the death penalty?
posted by Wood at 11:47 PM on July 14, 2008


I'm torn. It might be a good article or it might an overly long, over wrought verbal torrent.

It's the New Yorker. Which is really more likely?

I think it's going to take major frontal attacks by teh GOP to bring Obama down, because he continues to be revered and rationalized for by his base, who are now using cognitive dissonance to convince themselves that even though he flip-flops more than a circus seal, and has yet to take a consistent stand on core issues that have taken him this far.

Flagged as "same old stupid talking points."
posted by oaf at 4:11 AM on July 15, 2008


Oh, hey, it's MetaMan! I wonder what this thread is about.

Proposed: every person to use the term "flip-flop" in reference to anything but footwear for the remainder of the election season gets dragged out behind the shed and beaten mercilessly. If you are so deeply entrenched in party politics and voting in lockstep that you think it's an indicator of malfeasance or unfitness to govern to change your stance on a subject when the facts surrounding the issue change, then you are absolutely beyond hope. I bet Pat Buchanan is still on the '08 ballot--there's a guy who won't have changed his mind on anything; go vote for him. Otherwise, maybe you should, y'know, vote for the guy who changed his voting patterns to try to be representative of changing opinions of the people who elected him.
posted by Mayor West at 5:46 AM on July 15, 2008


MetaMan: Of course you liked it better, it was published on May 7, 2007, more than a year ago, before he reversed himself on major stances like campaign financing, the death penalty, handguns, and Iraq - and voted to help shred the 4th Amendment.

Read for a rebuttal of just about every point you've made. But more generally, I think anyone so hopelessly idealistic as yourself could do well by reading the intro to the piece:

Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama, as Ryan Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.
posted by jckll at 6:14 AM on July 15, 2008


The more I learn, the more I like this Obama guy. I'm glad to see him normalized. Seems like a decent guy to me.
posted by cashman at 7:04 AM on July 15, 2008


Of course you liked it better, it was published on May 7, 2007, more than a year ago, before he reversed himself on major stances like campaign financing, the death penalty, handguns, and Iraq - and voted to help shred the 4th Amendment.

No, actually I like it better because it was published on May 7, 2007 and discusses how Obama often disappoints supporters who expect him to be more all-or-nothing partisan than he ever is, because his top priority is unity rather than parity.

But I guess getting you to read the damn thing is a little much to ask.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2008


from TNY article:
"Obama, it turns out, is a politician. In this respect, he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to succeed, from the Father of His Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes—very much including Obama, as Ryan Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same."

Yeah, I read that. So? And how does what you quoted make Obama "different" from George Bush, or anyone else, in theory?

Obama isi a smart guy; his rhetoric soars with a power that few before him have exhibited; he inspires crowds who are hungry for change, after eight years of drooling cretin fascist politics.

I understand all that, but what about the _difference_ between what Obama says, and what Obama does? What about the stunning tack to the right following the primary (he was already to the right of Hillary on many issues during the campaign, but the press suppressed that)? What about his voting up on the FISA item, something that would have absolutely enraged Obama supporters if Hillary has done it during the primary season (as it is, Hillary voted against it - good for her).

What Obama supporters now glibly claim is that Obama's reversals, modifications, reevaluations, etc. etc. are "normal", but that Obama is still "different"

Obama supporters appear to want it both ways. All I'm doing is pointing that out.

There is no condemnation of Obama; there is only pointing up the truth about the man. He's not evil, or the devil. He's not "different" either, like he says he is, and that oh so many of his followers want to believe he is.

So, what we have is a classic case of pure cognitive dissonance, writ large, by those Obama supporters who have invested belief in the man, but failed to take him to task for reversing _core_ positions that won him the primary (and that he castigated his opponent for) in ways that improve his posture in the general election. It's a smart move on his part, but how does it resonate with his "different" and "change you can believe in" memes?

What worries me is that Obama's reversals have come so stunningly fast, and been so thoroughly rationalized by his supporters. There is something revealing about that.

How is it revealing? To draw a metaphor, it's revealing in the way that American Idol watchers can claim that Paul Potts is as gifted as the late, great Luciano Pavarotti.

We've migrated in America to "politics lite", and seem more impressed with first impression tropes than the depth of things. It's part and parcel of our current general failing as a nation.

I won't vote for McCain, but I see more leadership in some of McCain's positions (many in directions that I oppose) than Obama. Certainly, on issues like campaign financing reform and immigration, McCain showed far more leadership and courage than Obama has ever shown, ever.
posted by MetaMan at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2008


Actually my point was that Obama's recent controversial decisions weren't stunning reversals and tacks towards the center, but represent the sort of thing Obama has always done, as was pointed out in The New Yorker over a year ago, because he values unity over parity. I'm not saying that these decisions are normal in the sense of 'normal for a politician' but normal in the sense of 'normal for Obama.' The article which you claim to have read contains the following paragraph:
Obama has staked his candidacy on union—on bringing together two halves of America that are profoundly divided, and by associating himself with Lincoln—and he knows what both of those things mean. He calls America’s founding a “grand compromise”: compromise, for him, is not an eroding of principle for the sake of getting something done but a principle in itself—the certainty of uncertainty, the fundament of union. “I would save the Union,” Lincoln wrote, in a letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” “I like to believe that for Lincoln it was never a matter of abandoning conviction for the sake of expediency,” Obama writes. “Rather . . . that we must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty that God is on our side.”
posted by shakespeherian at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2008


shakespeherian, I'm not questioning Obama's motives; he's not evil. I'm questioning his actions, and the deft way he uses those actions to move himself forward. One of those actions is the unbelievably effective way that he uses his rhetorical gifts to suck people in, and then abandon them. That, and his manipulative use of race in the recent primary have made me very suspicious.

I've read I think here (but maybe somewhere else) that Obama has a strong reputation for using people to achieve a goal, and then he leaves them flat behind. That's consistent with what he did with his left-progressive base in the primary.

What _really_ bothers me about Obama is that he - on the one hand - seems to be for stuff that I support, but on the other hand goes about achieving more power in that direction by often abandoning the rungs of the ladder that got him to his current height, and violating key core values along the way.

Obama is trouble, in the way that a very skilled con-man is trouble.
posted by MetaMan at 11:15 PM on July 15, 2008


So why is it that Obama's actions bother you more than those of other adept politicians?

Could it be that he's not meeting your expectations? And if so, why would you expect him to?
posted by lodurr at 5:42 AM on July 16, 2008


Why would Obama not be meeting someone's expectations right now? Because he is the man who keeps running on a CHANGE platform. "Yes we can!" (CHANGE) implied.

There was no hint that change meant changing direction on earlier positions that secured him his party's nomination.
posted by LiveLurker at 6:43 AM on July 16, 2008


Did he change his positions, or did he change what you thought were his positions?

And let's just suppose that it's possible for a human being to learn something new that invalidates a former position: Would it make more sense to stick to the former position, or adopt a new one that's consistent with what you've learned?
posted by lodurr at 7:55 AM on July 17, 2008


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