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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Chances

The Anchoress pegged it early on:
These are not “racist” or “sexist” gambits being played by Wright or Steinem, but appeals to emotion, and appeals to emotion are too often used to gloss over a lack of substance, or so I have been told by my correspondents on the left, lo these many years, as they accuse the GOP of governing on “fear,” (because terrorism is not a real threat).

And while the victim card appeals to emotions, it tends to noisily set off rage in those who listen and perceive themselves as being identified as the “enemy.” So everyone gets emotional, everyone starts yelling, and no one is listening or making any sense.

The victim card is an odd card to play in a presidential race; victimhood in and of itself seems like a strange theme for either presidential candidate to embrace. “Vote for me; I’m the bigger victim and this qualifies me to…”what, exactly, lead the wailing?
Yup. So aside from the anger that "God Damn America" generates in most Americans, most people are going to react with a subliminal worry about victimology in a presidential candidate. The reason why Obama has been getting more votes from men is that Hillary's supporters have been slapping down the victim card with such regularity. It's noxious, and it certainly inspires no confidence whatsoever.

In today's speech, Obama addressed Wright's "God Damn America" sermon head on:
...the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
He also tried to address victimology in the black community:
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
We'll see if this goes far enough. I disagree that we are in a racial stalemate. Obama did point out that Wright's picture of America was flawed, and that we have made great progress. Through most of the rest of the speech he moves uneasily in and out of stereotypes and reality. There are plenty of people who are too lazy to work and who try to get on some government welfare program in order to avoid that unpleasantness, and the truth is that allowing unrestricted immigration is driving down wages for the working class. Attributing reasonable worries to isms is a bad error.

As far as I can see, Obama didn't fully put away the victimology problem in his speech today. He may even have strengthened the case with some of his later comments. So everyone's going to have to take a look at this man and decide for themselves whether he is infected by it. I don't think he does exude it. But if he isn't infected, why would he let his kids sit in a church and listen to it? (Maybe he wants them to have contact with it, and compensates by home teaching? This is plausible.)

And Michelle Obama's comments do run along the lines of Reverend Wright's victimology theology, which is going to worry a lot of people. Here's the passage of the speech that most concerns me (here Obama is quoting from his book about his reaction to his early experiences in this church, and the Rev. Wright's preaching):
I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild.
How well does this square with "Jesus was a black man"? It's quite possible that this is what Obama might have heard, but it is apparently not quite what the Reverend Wright was preaching. It is very true that both the Old and New Testaments are extremely relevant to the human condition today. In the encounters with the stories of the lives, trials, decisions and fears of human beings thousands of years ago we really do encounter truths about human beings. Israel's failed experience with a government of judges, for example, is very relevant to the judicial activism of today.

Same thing with Epictetus. But I don't have to claim Epictetus was a woman in order to experience his relevance to my life. That's what is perverse in Wright's teachings. You can't shove the other person out in order to bring yourself into the picture. If you have to do that, there is something wrong with your psychological makeup. You haven't grown up. Obama's Ashley anecdote does seem an effort to address the issue by implication, but why not say it explicitly?

The questions about Obama's psychological maturity are what he really has to face. He's relatively young, very inexperienced, and it is reasonable for the voters to care a great deal about his fundamental character. It's fine to be hopeful and optimistic. We could use a heaping load of that in our leaders. We also need that optimism to be deeply infused and engaged with reality - otherwise it's just wishful thinking. And yes, some of Obama's comments about sitting down to talk to certain world leaders do strike me as wishful thinking.

A president infected with victimology would be a disaster, and I think that is precisely what is causing Hillary problems.

The average American, immigrant or non-immigrant, is not into the victim thing. By "average", I mean not part of the university/elite/idiocracy crowd. The average American has faced at least one of these circumstances
Most of those who have won through the difficulties have explicitly faced and rejected the victim thang. See, most of us can make out a case that we are victims in one way or another. You are a minority, you're a woman, you weren't born into a rich family, you are a recent immigrant, your mama didn't love you, Dad walked off and left the family, your wife/husband screwed around on you, you were stricken by some illness, your husband died, the factory closed and you lost everything, the bank closed and you lost everything, your kid is sick, etc, etc. The list of victim cards just rolls on forever!!! Sooner or later, life gives each of us a victim card. Play it and you're sunk.

The thing is, once you succumb to the victim mentality you are forever handicapped. You can never get out. I personally have a tremendous allergy to victimology, and that's because I want so desperately to survive as the most functional person I can. Believe me, I have to fight off the pity, I have to fight off the "poor-you" crap. I have to fight off the insistence on pain medication, because I really can't sustain my mental activity if I take pain-killing drugs. Too much brain damage. I choose to be conscious, in pain, happy and functional, and it is a choice. I have a very nice life in many ways, and it is grounded on all of my good fortune (the Chief, great family, good friends, the mercy of God, great doctor) AND refusing to be a victim. You've got to step out and meet life halfway.

So I know how crippling accepting the victim ID is. I don't trust anyone to lead this country who's involved in it at all. What I got out of Obama's speech is that he hasn't fully made that choice. I don't think he's into it, but the problem is that he hasn't made the choice, and apparently he is sitting in a church, and allowing his kids to sit in a church, that preaches it. He hasn't had to reject victimology. He was born into an upper middle class family and hasn't faced significant adversity (the Obamas' taxable income in 2006 was over $990,000). Both he and his wife got very good educations and are very fortunate people. It's only people like the Obamas who can afford the flirtation with victimology. The rest of us, who are down on our hunkers, can't. Is he here with us, or is he off hobnobbing with the professors who couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel?

Whichever luckless person is elected to the presidency is going to find himself or herself exposed to extreme adversity. That's certain. Reading Obama's speech made me wonder what his choice about victimology will be when he has to make it. I can't tell. All that stuff about rejecting black America is misleading. No one expects him to reject black America. What the people of the US want to know is whether he rejects the ideology behind the dysfunctional portion of black America. He knows that it is dysfunctional:

What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
But does he understand that the necessity for each person to explicitly reject it in their own lives? It's an either/or. Nor can you help a young kid who believes the world is against him or her by going on about how the world is stacked against him or her! It's not just black kids! It's half of everyone!

There really is no middle road - and this is more than just a black issue. It's a Maureen Dowd issue, it's a feminist issue, it's a Democratic issue. The Democratic party has spent quite a bit of time fostering victimology in the past few decades. It is the worst thing it has done to this country, and it is one of the major reasons why so many individuals are hesitant to vote Democrat. Obama needs the Independents, and to get them he has to explicitly eschew defeatism (victimology) and wishful thinking. He dances around it here, but does not quite close the sale.

Victimology has seeped right through our country. The conservatives aren't immune, no matter what they say. Read, for example, this rather whining article by Lawrence Kudlow on the topic of Bear Stearns being the sacrificial lamb:
Did Bear Stearns really need to go down in flames? It's a question that needs to be asked, and my answer is no.

Of course, I don't know the value of Bear Stearns's assets, and whether they could have served as collateral for private or government loans. So I cannot be entirely certain that my answer is correct.
Well, geeze man, if you don't know whether the company was flat broke or not, then why are you answering no? This starts out bonzo stupid and does not improve. Read it, if you are a conservative. This is the idiocracy in action, and it is an ugly spectacle. Here's a hint: if you want the privileges of a bank, you better be prepared to be shut down when you can't meet your obligations, which Bear couldn't.

The left has very fair criticisms of our current financial leadership. Many of these chiefs of finance are idiots. They expect the truck drivers to carry their losses. They really do want privatized profits and socialized losses. They are more than willing to stagger out in public waving their "poor me, whoda thunk" cards pleading for bailouts. They're probably wondering why the American rock stars aren't holding "Bank Aid" concerts already.

Our chickens are truly coming home to roost, on both the right and left. But those chickens are feathered not by racism, but by a pervasive failure to accept responsibility for the highly foreseeable results of one's own actions. Sorry, bank presidents have to accept responsibility too.

The majority of the American public sees the BS and is tired of it. It is time for politicians, bankers, rich people and the like to show accountability right along with criminals and dopers. That's what people thought they saw in Obama. They thought they saw a new consensus. They thought they saw a man with one foot in the reality pond. Eliot Spitzer just got dumped for this reason. People want the same rules to apply to everyone.

Read the speech. Obama makes many good points, but I think he has to confront the issue very directly. His major problem here is that the speech addresses victimology in too confined a fashion. Too narrowly. The American public is trying to figure out whether this is a nice guy who has not quite grown up or whether he's really got both oars in the waters of reality. A lot of his social program is not even remotely possible, so he really needs to engage social reality head on in meaningful ways.

It's rather obvious that large sections of our society DON'T engage with reality. It's also obvious that they are costing us a pretty penny. Any society can only carry so many whiners on its back.

One thing for sure. This speech convinced me that he's head and shoulders above Hillary. He really is more flexible, more realistic, less self-righteous, and less reflexively defensive toward criticism than she. But does he have a strong enough character to sit in the hotseat and take the flak? The next president is going to need tremendous psychological maturity to achieve much.

Regardless, the man is good for the Democratic party, which is more than you can say about a lot of Democratic politicians.

Brings back memories. Carter was a victim; Reagan was not.

Carter was fired after one miserable term in office.
Yup. And it was miserable!!
I guess I see that speech a good deal more cynically. Senator Obama can't repudiate Wright directly because to do so would be to destroy his authenticity on the left -- and he can't ignore Wright lest he be tarred as sharing Wright's views. Either would be poisonous to his general election chances. The speech was masterful, but settled nothing precisely because he can't settle this with a speech without fatally alienating one of the groups he needs in order to be elected.

Let us not forget that the Senator and his family have attended that church for a number of years. As a would-be leader of the country, he had an obligation to address that "profoundly distorted view of this country" and he did not do so until it was made public and plain just what he was condoning by his silence.

As you say, he has some things going for him: he's gifted and he thinks outside the usual box. He's not burdened with Senator Clinton's scorched-earth warfare mentality and enemies-list thinking. He lacks McCain's grit but also McCain's stubbornness and temper. He might well be the least-bad choice available. Sadly, that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for taking the helm when sailing into a storm.
What an excellent essay and thank you so much for writing this.

I thought Obama's speech was excellent. But I also was left with a feeling that he could not make up his mind. The truth is that he has been exposed to Wright's teaching for over 20 years. That is a lot of years to hear a victim mentality message filled with anger and hate. Now Senator Obama has his children sitting under this same kind of philosophy. Why??? If he disagrees with his political views and voices them frequently in his sermons, why have your children exposed to that? His wife's anger came out loud and clear. That is in itself a cause to worry since she would be the First Lady. We all know that women have tremendous influences over their husbands.

Mama, I agree with you. Every person that I know has a story to tell. We all could take the route of victim-hood. Where would that lead us though? It can only lead us to despair and hopelessness, self-pity and total blindness. Dr. David R. Hawkins addresses this issue often in his writing. Thank you that you addressed it so clearly here as well.

In order to hold the office of President of the United States it will take a lot more then being an excellent orator and a charismatic figure. We need someone who has his feed solid on the ground, dealing with issues head on, and who certainly is not infected with a victim mentality.

I hope you are feeling better! :-)
Viola - yes, I emerged from the blanket chrysalis this morning pretty much over it. The scorched-earth immune system left me tired but well.

I wrote this because you asked the question. I think I won't vote for Obama. This worries me too much. The next president will be exposed to a lot of unpleasantness. It may be that only McCain can remain functional through it.

I hadn't even realized how wild Wright's positions are. Among other things, he's been pushing the ideas that AIDS and drugs are governmental efforts to keep blacks down. This is so sick. Obama is going to lose a lot of black support over this.

John, Obama can't repudiate Wright because he wrote in his book about how much of an influence Wright was upon him.
Frankly we have several sets of issues to confront. One is that the echos of the Civil War are still there. But for the first time since the founding of the nation, they are almost without substance.

There is the wrapping of everything in the flag. If you criticize the nation for its failures, if you are less proud because of idiot leaders or destructive social practices, then you are not patriotic. All the while the guys waving the flag make out like bandits quoting capitalism when destroying US citizens jobs or selling our enemies factories and knowledge.

There is setting one citizen against another to stay in power.

Once back in the bad old days of 'welfare moms', I figured that the costs of welfare was less than 2% of the budget while 15%-20% went to subsidize business, so I am not real concerned about victimization.

Yes the fat cats claim god like powers when times are good and rake in vast salaries, then claim that the fates are against them when it comes crashing down.

But as anyone who really knows human nature, it is rare for a human to be honest in the way they present themselves to the world. Calling it victimization is rather stupid in my opinion. It is a sin as bad as 'victimization' is claimed to be.

Face it, folks are greedy and vain and one just has to live with that.
"He might well be the least-bad choice available. Sadly, that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for taking the helm when sailing into a storm."

I could never vote for a president who has FOR TWENTY YEARS attended a church where a predominant message not only victimology, but anti-Americanism ("G*d D*n America").

The fact that we've come to a situation where a serious candidate has consistently tacitly accepted this for decades speaks volumes about a decline in standards. How and why would America even consider electing a president who has accepted and via consistent donations supported anti-Americanism for twenty years?

Unbelievable. From Reagan's shining city on a hill to a dungheap in 20 years.
Vader, a lot of my friends, black and white, are first-gens. That is, they are the first generation to get the education, the first generation to escape.

The difference in the lives of people who concentrate upon what they can do vs the lives of people who concentrate on what life has done to them is immense. Life is honeycombed with unfairness by its very nature. It is human beings who create the structures of law and society that aim toward creating a more just world.

Victimology is so darned lethal because it teaches the individual to focus upon what the individual cannot control vs what the individual can.

So I totally disagree with your last sentence. This is the most toxic strain of our public discourse. It's one thing to look at what's wrong to see what one can do about fixing it. Everyone has the personal and social duty to do that.

It's another thing to look at what's wrong globally in order to generate a narrative that denies responsibility. Obama seems to be trying to straddle the whole issue in this speech. No one is responsible for all of their individual circumstances, good or bad. By the time we get to be middle-aged, most of us carry considerable responsibility for our circumstances.

I think he's good for the party because he is bringing out these issues, and because he personally has a lot of strengths.

Yes, people have a tendency to be greedy and vain. People also have conflicting urges to be generous, loyal, kind and forgiving. You have to call to the best in the population as a way of combatting the worst. We are stuck being human beings, but we are not stuck being dysfunctional, nasty, bigoted, hopeless human beings.
A wonderful essay MoM.Thank you.If you know any Liberals who need more victim cards,send them my way.I got a deck of unused ones I would be happy to rent out for 2 euros a day per card.
Anon - try financial types! They are rapidly sorting themselves into various classes. I bet you could flog those for an ounce of gold each.
Again, very well said in regards to Vader's comment. Also, thank you again for sharing your opinion on Obama's speech. I appreciate that!

I think it is this very humanness that inspires some to become criminals and murderers while yet others are inspired to become the best that they can be on this earth...realizing that the very circumstances dealt them can be the key for transcending them.

Vader, with respect I would like to say that there are many who were born greedy and vain and yet have found a deep conviction to be better than that because of a higher vision of something greater than themselves. The potential for goodness and kindness in human beings is immense!
I am still waiting for his Bill Cosby speech. Remember how badly Cosby was hit for speaking the truth? We've got Michelle Obama telling us how awful charter schools are, when they can offer low-income kids a chance at a world class education. She's also telling black folks to ditch good paying corporate jobs and go back to being schoolteachers and social workers. We've got a couple that should be up there talking about how good America has been to them and yet they don't seem to be able to acknowledge it.
I will say one thing for Senator Obama - he talks on an adult to adult level - a far cry from the daddy to his children tone of the current President. Obama also talks in rational complete sentences which is also an improvement.

I am not convienced however that talking to Americans as adults is a good way to get elected. Mr Bush may be more representative of America than Mr Obama.

(BTW: I am a grumpy old cynic and admit my bias)

Disagree with your conclusion that Obama rama is good for the Democrat Party. He should be taken off the national stage and go back to Chi town.

The guy is a chamelion or a sociopathic politician. He's a glib a prevaricator and seething below the surface. (he and his wife)
They're yuppies, handed everything as quotas, and clueless. He has zero experience to be Pres.

She makes her seething angry comments to OH women whose with $37k income.

She was handed a $200k raise (makes over $300k/yr.) for her minority diversity business at the hospital (he was on Ill. state sen. health cmt. )

Those two with that huge home, huge income. She has a pers. trainer.

Wright was his chosen mentor for 20 years. ( twenty years of Wright's influence and speaking) He and wife exposed their small children to that guy's speaking and phil.

(& a modern Plutarch)

Obama was raised in Hawaii (what a tough life. He could have used Hawaii as his home base. He was well liked and almost married a wealthy girl there too.

Further, he went to upper middle class schools on the quota path all the way.

His parents were screwballs, lefties, mixed race, and both deserted him in their own way.

Post Sciprt

Clarification re seething underneath:

He has been exposed to black militancy persons,ways and philosophy close at hand for twenty years.


Further, it was revealed his web site had a link to mod.Blank Panthers.
And, I purposely remained silent regarding what is we're thinking re these other countries could do to U.S.
But does he have a strong enough character to sit in the hotseat and take the flak? The next president is going to need tremendous psychological maturity to achieve much.

Unfortunately, the other choices look unpromising: Hillary still can't admit she made a mistake (though she finally admitted she wished she had that vote back) and the last Clinton admin gave us NAFTA, the DMCA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall - abominations all.

McCain seems only half-bright, plus he's Republican - and the whole executive branch needs to be disinfected of the Bush neo-con, theocrat, regulation-is baadddd crowd and I don't trust McCain to do it. Plus there is that whole Keating thing to make you wonder who has bought and paid for him.

Obama is too liberal - he's completely as wrong as wrong can be on gun control, for example. He's wrong on immigration too, but so are the other two.

But at least he's got a brain. I was pretty impressed with the speech. I think it took guts and I think he did it well.

It is distressing to think that he routinely exposes his kids to Wright's rantings, though - that had not occurred to me before and it truly disturbs me.

Anyhow I'm voting to disinfect the executive branch (Dem for pres) and hopefully for some good old-fashioned gridlock (Republican for everything else). It will be the first time I've voted republican for anything in 20+ years.
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