Evolution of One Man's Disillusionment with Obama
pre-2007: I'd heard of him because of The Speech, of course. Not the race speech at Philadelphia, but the one he gave in '04 at the Democratic Convention that was refreshingly bipartisan. It's no small matter for anyone to be firmly ideological and yet cool in their rhetoric, yet this fellow with the odd name pulled it off remarkably well. He seemed to have admirable self-control and a gracefulness, but most of all he was a Democrat who liked and respected religion. Here was the Democrat who might have a great and positive influence on an increasingly secular party. He also looked to be a fearsome opponent for conservatives down the road.
Dec 2007: All things being equal between two candidates, a good proportion of white voters would choose a black over a white. Why? Simply because if you can make 20% of the population elated while not having to give up a thing (i.e. the candidates are equal) why wouldn't you? In this election we had a black candidate running against a woman, a man inexperienced but seemingly of good character against a woman of more experience but weak character - so perhaps they were roughly equal (depending, of course, on your weighting of character versus experience). I never thought women "needed" a woman president as much as blacks needed a black president since blacks feel more aggrieved and - I thought - tended to vote more monolithically for blacks than women do for a woman.
I learned recently that blacks don't vote monolithically for blacks unless they are Democrats - see Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell elections as proof. I'd also thought the reason the media never cared that a black women (Condi Rice) ascended to a job of great power was due to anti-conservative bias, but now I see it could also be simply that blacks themselves don't care. At least since the LBJ administration (and despite Lincoln), the Democrat party seems to be for blacks what Catholicism was for many Irish Catholics in the old days: more about loyalty and self-identification than an understanding of what they identified with. Ireland was Catholic because England was not and because the Church was their ally in the past; blacks are liberal because the majority of whites are not and because in 1964 a liberal Democrat was in power when the Voting Rights Act passed -- all this despite the irony that the Democratic party has done more to hurt blacks than any institution during the last forty years. (Aside: is Ireland rapidly becoming pagan in part because peace with Britain in Northern Ireland has taken away some of the allure of cultural Catholicism?)
late-Jan 2008: I was taken aback - and sharply to task - by black writer Shelby Steele who said that he would be "disappointed with the American people" if they elected Obama because of his race.
It was not that I was going to vote for Obama, given the Senator's heartless position on abortion, but the positive feelings I had towards him seemed naive at best after watching Steele's series on NRO television. (Links here and here.)
Feb 2008: Michelle Obama made comments, twice in different speeches, about how this was the first time she was ever proud of her country. That took me aback, perhaps disproportionately so given that Dylan saw it as no big deal. But for me it seemed to reflect the typical congenital liberal defect: the lack of gratitude. If she actually meant it, it seemed a stunning lack of thankfulness for all that is good in this country, including the fact that poverty in America would be called wealth in most of the world. We all lack gratitude of course, but I thought you'd at least have the good sense to fake it if you're going to run for office. Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue and all that.
Apr 2008: Reverend Wright controversy erupts. I'd already heard B.O. had a controversial pastor, but it didn't matter to me until the details became clear. Twenty years there. Spiritual father. Baptized the children. This wasn't just a casual connection in the way many Catholics have with their parish.
And then the specificity of the controversial statements was jarring. The worst was hearing that the U.S. government was involved in creating H.I.V. in order to kill blacks. This was a potent combination of ignorance and paranoia, and Obama was exposing his children to this? Why not firebomb the White House if it was doing such a thing? Not unlike most people, the Wright controversy was the turning point in my disillusionment with Obama. Ayres, his wife, and then Rev. Wright - Obama seemed to surround himself with people who were on the continuum between dislike and hatred of America.
May 2008: The worst was over now even as Obama dug himself a deeper hole. The fact that twenty years could go by without Obama being repulsed by Wright's rhetoric is reminiscent of the famous scene in Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked! that there is gambling going on in this establishment." Similarly Obama's "surprise" at Wright's antics have a similar level of disingenuousness.
Then too Obama's response to the Wright controversy was political and nakedly ambitious. His white grandmother's comments were held up as some sort of equivalent to Wright's racism. Obama left Trinity UCC in stages, more in response to political heat and personal pique than principle.
So if you're going to dance with the devil in order to make it in Chicago politics then don't you have to pay the piper if you try to go national? On the other hand, all politicians who aspire to be president are embarrassingly ambitious, so it's hard to discount Obama merely because of where he grew up, in a place where you had to "play the game" by attending a Wright-like church. But Obama simply doesn't have a long enough record in the national arena to know how much radicalism is indigenously his and how much was simply a temporary front. Based on his associates, his voting record, his first book (which sounds socialistic/communistic) one could say that much of it is indigenous. Peggy Noonan notwithstanding, my head & gut tells me Hillary would've made a better president.