Sam Smith

Today’s report includes a number of disappointing and disturbing items about Barack Obama, namely his retreat from previous positions on NAFTA, campaign financing and illegal wiretaps. They are not, however, totally surprising to those of us who had early seen in Obama a mirage, a point he himself made in ‘Audacity of Hope’: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

Although readers have already written to complain about these stories – one even accusing us of swiftboating Obama – the Review will continue to publish such stories as there is no advantage for citizens to engage in the sort of fantasies that created the Obama myth in the first place. While your editor has opinions, and expresses them perhaps more often than necessary, it is also true that the primary purpose of the Review is information and not confirmation.

From the start it was clear that Obama hads some good and bad qualities. He was intelligent, empathetic and apparently not particularly corrupt – at least in the financial rather than intellectual sense. On the other hand, he was the child of a Chicago Democratic machine where one job seeker once asked at a ward headquarters who had sent him. “Nobody,” he admitted. He was told, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

Nobody has yet explained to us who sent Obama, a man who only four years ago was just another state senator, albeit one the powerful had chosen to be among them. Nothing in his record, or even his trite evangelical rhetoric, explains it adequately.

The shifts in Obama’s positions within days of cinching the Democratic nomination illustrates why such skepticism was not misplaced and why, as a principle, it is better to support politicians you know something about rather than Tony Robbins type missionaries who make you feel good but don’t tell you the details until after the primaries.

That said, we are nonetheless left with Obama who, among the candidates who might possibly win, is the only one with a sufficient intelligence, reason and sanity to qualify him for the office, who would best appoint a not insignificant number of new Supreme Court justices, and who, on a good day, might actually do what needs to be done.

John McCain is, by a number of reasonable counts, an extreme conservative – a few disparities notwithstanding. More important for our survival, however, is that he is an ill-tempered, belligerent and unstable figure whose personal excesses in language and viewpoint might be most kindly explained as long term post traumatic stress syndrome, for which sympathy, but certainly not one’s vote, is owed.

As for the other alternatives, such as Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney, both their supporters and critics would do well to accept both the inevitability and limits of their role and influence, and stop blaming each other for their own problems.

In other words, no Democrat has the slightest claim to be cross with Nader, given that their party has not lifted a finger to reach his constituency over the past eight years and that while Obama has already made it clear that while he might name a Republican to his cabinet, Nader can expect no such honor. It is a basic rule of politics that if you want someone to love you in November, you should be nice to them in May.

On the hand, neither does it help for Nader to grouse about those Greens and other progressives who decline to support his cause. He is, to be sure, far more qualified as a national hero than, say, John McCain. But he fails to grasp that one of the characteristics of sainthood and other forms of nobility is that they are not a majority position. Even Jesus did not scold the unconverted. Politics is a form of gambling popular with the masses, while higher callings must accept as a given that they tend to attract disciples in the low two digits or votes in the high singles.

The real way to fulfill Nader’s righteous goals or to keep Obama from his increasingly less than righteous ones is to create a constituency that functions for more than the few months before a national election. The real opposite of hope is not failure but action, actual results rather than unfulfilled promises.

Yet such a progressive movement doesn’t exist today. In the meanwhile, however, one thing we can do is assemble the best facts we can about our situation even if they intrude on our fondest fantasies. That is one of the purposes of the Review: not to depress, annoy or deactivate you, but to help the reader move beyond the illusion of hope into a real world where people actually do things to make things better rather than just dream about it. The first step is to know what the hell is really going on.

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