Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Obama Style

The Obama Style
By Jerome Grossman

The Almanac of American Politics writes about Barack Obama, “Politics always seems to have been on his mind. In 1992 he worked on voter registration for the Democratic ticket. In 1996 he ran for the state Senate and was unopposed in the decisive Democratic primary. Next came a political misstep: in 2000 he ran in the primary against First District Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush...... Rush was endorsed by Bill Clinton and won 61% to 30%......... In October 2002 he made a public statement opposing the Iraq war resolution. ' I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. “I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I am opposed to dumb wars.............. “Perfect. Obama clearly understood the dangerous situation. He was absolutely correct in resisting the drive to war.

Obama was not a native of Chicago but his wife was. Given his political ambitions, it was easy to understand why he joined the largest African - American church in the city; a church led by the most charismatic pastor, Jeremiah Wright. For twenty years Obama attended, grew close to Wright, absorbed his sermons, and asked him to officiate at his marriage and the baptisms of his daughters. Whether or not Obama agreed with Wright in his attacks on racism in America that also included AIDS as an American conspiracy, class warfare rants, awards to anti-Semite Farrakhan, and "God damn America" diatribes, Obama did not object or even try to modify the pastor's actions and rhetoric. And he did not leave the church and the associations that have helped his political career. Was that the political compromise?

Obama has proven repeatedly by his actions and his rhetoric that he is a natural conciliator so his failure to try to modify the explosive situation in his church is unsettling. There is a parallel in the way he acted out his undiluted opposition to the Iraq war. Once elected to the U.S. Senate, one would have expected that he would have used his position to advance his deeply held views on this matter of life and death for so many Americans and Iraqis, the way freshman Senator James Webb of Virginia did, as Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and African-American Congressman John Conyers of Michigan do, day by day, bill by bill. Obama did nothing wrong. His votes on Iraq were fine, no complaints there, but he did not seize the initiative, there for the asking, to insist, to dramatize, to demand, to be a center of dissent on Iraq. Was that a political decision to stay with the party consensus while exploring a run for the presidency? Is this the pattern of Obama's political style: political safety in a swirl of brilliant rhetoric and analysis but avoiding decisive action? Is politics always on his mind? At the church in Chicago, at the Senate in Washington, it was and is a question of leadership.


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