To understand why Obama isn’t doing better, examining political issues only takes you so far. Here are some non-political problems that belong in the mix.
Sam Smith, 2012 – I plan to vote for Barack Obama despite considering him a pretty lousy and reactionary president. I’ll be doing this because I don’t consider presidential elections a choice of leaders but of battlefields. I also believe that in such elections, poker is a better guide than virtue. Obama is the best bet for a lousy hand.
That said, with eight months left to go, I’d like to get something off my chest while it’s still relatively safe to say things like this. I not only don’t like Obama’s politics, I don’t like him all that much either. And I’m convinced that I’m not alone and that a major part of Obama’s problem is not political but personal.
I was reminded of this watching that video of Harvard law school student president Obama lecturing his classmates. I was surprised that even at such a young age he was so preachy and didactic, albeit combined with the occasional and thoroughly scripted moment of light humor. It is as though he has gone through his entire life standing behind a virtual pulpit and teleprompter, where he berates, grates and irritates.
There are several things wrong with this: for one thing it carries the subtext – you might call it critical speech theory if you were at Harvard Law – that the listener is not as bright as the speaker and, for another, it gets boring pretty quickly. Obama typically assumes the role of a professor, which leaves the listener in the position of a student rather than of a fellow citizen.
While the view of many towards Obama is driven by antipathy towards his ethnicity, I suspect there are many more, like me, who hear in Obama not the voice of blackness but of Harvard Law School, a robot of rigorously rehearsed rationality who seems somehow incapable of normal conversation, passion or beliefs.
It is the sound of otohbotoh – on the one hand, but on the other hand. It is the sound of data without dreams, of citations without soul, of examination without empathy, and anecdotes seemingly pulled from a TV commercial rather than from real life.
I also sense in Obama the character of someone who from an early age was told repeatedly that he was greater than, in fact, he was. This narcissism occasionally spills out, such as in comparisons of himself with other presidents or speaking of what he is going to do without any reference to Congress’ constitutional role in the matter.
Obama grew up in a culture in which data, legal details, management procedures, and presumed process takes precedence over what is actually accomplished. His administration reflects this in a two thousand page healthcare bill and a prescription for a national electronic health database with so little concern for privacy. And soon, his solicitor general will be defending this bill before the Supreme Court, arguing the superiority of a commerce clause that only lawyers can love over the rest of our Constitution. But, in the end, esoteric legal arguments don’t change many votes.
Further, to exercise the aforementioned skills, it is necessary that the federal government become a haven for law and business school graduates, data demons and process pushers. We’ve been headed this way a long time, and Obama is only the most recent and most exaggerated of the lot, but you get little sense he values anything that stems from actual experience, pragmatic suggestion, or advisers who are wise, inspired, or sensitive. He doesn’t even seem to like to talk with people from the Hill.
Further, if Obama and his wife have any sizable number of friends not dependent on power and political circumstances, it is a well kept secret. People without unpowerful friends are people to be careful of.
Finally, Obama is not honest. Not in a slimy way, like, say, a former Arkansas governor, but in an intellectually manipulative fashion. He frequently seems to be attempting to dredge up some verbal slick trick that will get him through the evening news, but it just reinforces the idea that he is not someone you can count on. It began with his presidential campaign, which portrayed him as a liberal, which he certainly wasn’t.
Progressive Review, 2009 – As we have noted, one of the unanswered questions about Barack Obama is how a young politician of such little achievement got so far so fast – from state senator to president in four years. Bill Blum provides new light on the subject.
To understand this phenomenon, it is important to recognize that if a young Obama was vetted or otherwise used by the CIA, it was not all that unusual. From the 1950s on, the agency repeatedly interfered in the education of the talented young by recruiting or co-opting them for its own purposes. Yale’s Skull & Bones Club, for example, was a classic case of a recruitment camp for future intelligence types. The purpose – for the short run – is more information, and – for the long run – a supply of US future government officials whom the agency trusts and can use. And it often begins with a bright college student an insider thinks might fill the bill. . . .
Bill Blum, Anti-Empire Report – In his autobiography, “Dreams From My Fathers”, Barack Obama writes of taking a job at some point after graduating from Columbia University in 1983. He describes his employer as “a consulting house to multinational corporations” in New York City, and his functions as a “research assistant” and “financial writer.” The odd part of Obama’s story is that he doesn’t mention the name of his employer.
However, a New York Times story of 2007 identifies the company as Business International Corporation. Equally odd is that the Times did not remind its readers that the newspaper itself had disclosed in 1977 that Business International had provided cover for four CIA employees in various countries between 1955 and 1960. The British journal, Lobster Magazine — which, despite its incongruous name, is a venerable international publication on intelligence matters — has reported that Business International was active in the 1980s promoting the candidacy of Washington-favored candidates in Australia and Fiji. In 1987, the CIA overthrew the Fiji government after but one month in office because of its policy of maintaining the island as a nuclear-free zone, meaning that American nuclear-powered or nuclear-weapons-carrying ships could not make port calls. After the Fiji coup, the candidate supported by Business International, who was much more amenable to Washington’s nuclear desires, was reinstated to power.
In his book, not only doesn’t Obama mention his employer’s name; he fails to say when he worked there, or why he left the job. There may well be no significance to these omissions, but inasmuch as Business International has a long association with the world of intelligence, covert actions, and attempts to penetrate the radical left — including Students for a Democratic Society — it’s valid to wonder if the inscrutable Mr. Obama is concealing something about his own association with this world.
Colony Net, 2008 – In an effort to shore up his foreign policy credentials during the primary campaign, the junior senator from Illinois – then in a tight primary contest with Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania – bragged about the time he had spent in Pakistan. He argued that Clinton’s foreign policy “experience” consisted only of quick photo ops, while he had spent “quality time” with “real people.” Not only that, he had actually gone on a partridge-hunting trip near the Pakistan city of Larkana. His partridge-hunting apparently impressed the gun owners of Pennsylvania very little, inasmuch as Clinton won that primary by 10 per cent.
Eager to impress the Pennsylvania crowd with his “foreign policy experience” and knowledge of guns, Obama thus let slip the fact that he’d been to Pakistan. (It is believed that he made two trips to Pakistan.) There must have been more to that trip than meets the eye, however, because the candidate has said virtually nothing about it since. You won’t find anything on the Obama campaign site. . .
Astute readers may have begun to wonder how a struggling young college student with a divorced, middle-class mother managed to fund a three week trip to Pakistan. . . But Barry Obama-Soetoro was off shooting partridges in Pakistan, hosted by a young man named Muhammed Hasan Chandio. Chandio’s family owned a substantial amount of land in the region, and Obama apparently met him while both were students. (Chandio is currently a financial consultant in New York, and a donor to the Obama campaign.). . .
Another of Obama’s hosts in Pakistan was Muhammadian Mian Soomro, Obama’s senior by about 11 years, son of a Pakistani politician and himself a politician, who became interim President of Pakistan when Pervez Musharraf resigned in August of 2008. Soomro has said that “someone”? personally requested that he “watch over” Barack Obama, but will not name that individual . . .
A trip to Pakistan is no doubt more than a jaunt to a Florida beach. Few Americans would consider traveling there now, thinking it to be a dangerous place. In 1981, when one of Obama’s possible two trips there occurred, it was less safe. Because of the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, millions of Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan, which was under martial law. The Afghan “mujahedeen” fighters had bases in Pakistan, and they moved back and forth to fight the Soviets. . .
In the early 1980s, Pakistan was one of the destinations Americans were prohibited from visiting – it was on the State Department’s list of banned countries. Non-Muslims were not welcome, unless they were on official business, formalized through the embassy of the country of origin. The simple truth is that no young American would have a reason to or be able to visit Pakistan in 1981, unless he was on official government business of which the State Department was aware. . .
Adding to the mix is the fact that Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, had visited at least 13 countries in her lifetime, and had worked for companies that required travel to Pakistan. Her employers appear to have included the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, Women’s World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. Note that USAID and the Ford Foundation have (allegedly) been used as covers for CIA agents. . . .
Obama also was one of eight students selected to study sovietology by Columbia professor Zbigniew Brzezinski who, if he wasn’t a CIA official, was as close as you can otherwise get. Brzesinski is now a member of Obama’s inner circle.
Progressive Review – If the Obama Pakistan story sounds somewhat familiar, it may because the Review was one of the few places that reported one of Bill Clinton’s similarly interesting trips:
“1960s: Bill Clinton, according to several agency sources interviewed by biographer Roger Morris, works as a CIA informer while briefly and erratically a Rhodes Scholar in England. Although without visible means of support, he travels around Europe and the Soviet Union, staying at the ritziest hotel in Moscow. During this period the US government is using well educated assets such as Clinton as part of Operation Chaos, a major attempt to break student resistance to the war and the draft. According to former White House FBI agent Gary Aldrich Clinton is told by Oxford officials that he is no longer welcome there.”
And it is worth noting that, when you throw in the Bushes, we have had a quarter century of presidents with unusually close ties to the CIA.
A final factor from Obama’s past that may help to explain his current difficulties is that he learned his politics in Chicago. Political style doesn’t come only from ideology, but from culture. Different places teach people different ways of being politicians.
For example, Jack Kennedy learned his politics in Boston, where there was a long Irish tradition of friendly leadership across difficult boundaries.
Chicago, on the other hand, is the place where a precinct captain once said to a vote, “What are you doing here? We’ve already voted you.” And where a candidate ran on the slogan, “Vote for Fred and nobody gets hurt.” The traditional payoff for power in Chicago was unquestioned privilege. That’s why Mayor Daley was so mad when a bunch of rowdy, rude activists messed up his town at the 1968 convention. And Chicago columnist Mike Ryoko once suggested that the city’s motto be, “Where’s Mine?”
Obama has the feel of a successful Chicago politician. He’s gotten his and he doesn’t think anyone should challenge it. The only problem is that America is a little more complicated than Chicago.