Beast of the Month - July 2008
Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential Candidate
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”
Barack Obama regarding Reverend Wright on March 18, 2008, giving the black community fair warning
The economy is tanking, Iraq is a fiasco, and George W. Bush is even more hated than Nixon was in the worse days of Watergate. Even more telling, in three special 2008 Congressional elections so far, Republican strongholds were lost to Democrats: in both Louisiana and Mississippi (hardly progressive areas) and the seat held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Given these facts, and given John McCain has proven himself to be a clueless jackass over the last year and a half, it should be the Democratic Party's game to lose the White House in 2008. The conventional wisdom is the only way Dems can blow it is by running a stunningly incompetent campaign.
That the party of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson has continued to be the mainstream representative of the working class over the past century - for better (FDR's New Deal) and for worse (George Wallace's racist segregation demagoguery) - makes this pretty significant. And while The Konformist would agree claims the Democratic Party represents the common man become flimsier each election cycle, it’s also true they come way closer to feigning these concerns than the GOP ever could, especially after eight years of Shrub. At the very least, the Democratic Party gets its votes from the poor and middle class over bread and butter issues, so must provide their base something in order to quell an out and out mass rebellion. From this viewpoint, an era where Democrats control the White House tends to be better than when Republicans are in charge, a viewpoint supported by history.
At the start of the year, Hillary Clinton seemed a shoe-in to win the Democratic nomination, and, in the process, the White House. Unless some stunning surprise happens before the Democratic convention, that isn't going to be the case. And for such a stunning upset victory, Barack Obama, The Konformist Beast of the Month, deserves a lot of credit. Just as much, it says something about Obama's admittedly appealing attributes. They were on wide display four years ago in Boston during the Democratic convention, when he gave a star-making speech as keynote speaker. The last time something like that was seen was twenty years earlier by then New York Governor Mario Cuomo. But while Cuomo wasted higher office opportunities playing Hamlet, Obama decided to seize the moment and go for gold while the iron was hot. The end result is a campaign that has captivated the media, and put an African-American man in the finals for running the White House.
It's not just talking heads who have been caught up in the Obama circus. On the frivolous side, numerous celebrities have joined, including George Clooney, Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and Oprah Winfrey. (Then again, considering the last two major endorsements Oprah has done were for phony "autobiography" writer James Frey and dubious New Age scam The Secret, this may be a bad sign.) And as far as lightweight arguments go, The Konformist will take a movement that includes Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls over endorsements by Sly, Arnold and Chuck Norris. (The male Konformist editorial staff particularly appreciates Halle Berry plug for Obama, where she bluntly declared: "I'll do whatever he says to do." Of course, if she said that about one of us, it would lead to the greatest celebrity home porn video ever.) More substantive is the following he’s achieved among the young and African American communities, groups previously politically marginalized and apathetic. Whatever the hype behind Obamamania, the excitement he inspires is authentic.
That said, has there been a more shallow presidential campaign than that crafted for mass consumption by Team Obama? As Walter Mondale asked in 1984: "Where's the beef?" But beneath the empty slogan chanting of "Change" and "Hope" there really is little there there. Indeed, part of Obama's appeal is his vague, tofu-like blandness wrapped in admitted charisma, which even supporters concede has made people see in him what they want. But it seems with Obama, the public will soon be stuck with the tofu-like negatives of an inferior protein source that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
It doesn't help that media reporting has been so sycophantic during the campaign. He's already been on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine twice, which is more airtime than they've given Coldplay. (Talk about tofu-like blandness, but that's for perhaps another Beast of the Month.) The fluffy, inane coverage of Obama as a rock star makes one wish for the days of hard-hitting political analysis given by John-John's George magazine, back when "politics as celebrity worship" was at least novel. There hasn't seen this much empty "news" reporting on a man who may run the White House since, well, since George W. Bush eight years ago. Perhaps this is because Obama, like Bush before him, has become the recipient of records amount of cash from the rich and powerful, especially from Wall Street.
Despite this, he's been supported by a bizarre cheerleading by most of the progressive set. MoveOn.org, DailyKos.com, HuffingtonPost.com and BuzzFlash.com have wagged their pom poms like he's some perfect mixture of JFK, RFK and MLK - only even better! Along the way, they've joined an increasingly nasty campaign to demonize Bill and Hillary in the ugliest of fashions, practically accusing the pair of plotting to murder Obama in a political coup after Ms. Clinton invoked the RFK assassination in June 1968 to show the history of late-running campaign battles. What makes this stranger is these same outlets have long overly lionized the Clintons as the paragon of Democratic Party virtues. The conventional wisdom is Hillary's support for the Iraq War did her in, and there is some truth to that. Still, while Obama brags about his supposed strong opposition to the quagmire, opposing it while representing a primarily black Chicago state congressional district hardly showcased noble bravery. Mr. Clinton probably put it best in January while speaking at Dartmouth College:
"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, numerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say that, when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you're now running on off your website in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?' Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Slick Willie was blasted in the media for this statement, but there isn't a single lie in it. So it seems the main raison d'etre for the Obama campaign success is an easily uncovered hoax, if only the mainstream press had done their job and actually asked Obama some basic questions. (That Bill was basically calling out the korporate media on this one may partially explain the outraged response.) And it seems the smearing of Bill & Hill have less to do with Iraq than the progressive set being seduced by a cult of personality.
Given the lack of investigation of Obama by establishment mouthpieces, and given the flimsy resume he has as a man applying for Leader of the Free World, the right wing has filled the information vacuum with its predictably ugly displays. The general talking points of this smear campaign are that he's a radical black man and a closet Muslim who secretly hates America. Oh, and by the way, did we mention his middle name is Hussein and his last name rhymes with Osama? Thanks to these attacks, Obama's negatives have crept up, and his campaign has launched a Website, with the clever title of FightTheSmears.com, to battle these attacks. The Konformist supports his fight on dishonest attacks, as it would be a shame for him to lose the White House over what he is not. But while hack jobs by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity proliferate, another picture is presented by other critics of Obama, an image of a smug, narcissistic opportunist of the worst sort. It can be found on Websites such as HillBuzz ( http://hillbuzz.blogspot.com/ ) and No Quarter ( http://noquarterusa.net/ ) - two sites, it must be noted, run not by right-wingers but rather Democrat supporters of Hillary Clinton disgusted by his campaign in the primaries.
These are not sore losers who need to "get over it" - an actual quote by Obama in a Congressional meeting over what female supporters of Hillary must do. (Charming that the Obama campaign incorporates GOP catchphrases popularized during the 2000 election swindle as their own.) They are offended in no small part by the accurately perceived sexism used by Team Obama and its supporters in the Democratic race. Any YouTube search can confirm the crude discourse presented by Obama shills such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann & Chris Matthews. (Of particular note is Olbermann's solution to the supposed problem of Hillary refusal to end her campaign early: "Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.") Meanwhile, NPR political editor Ken Rudin cracked on CNN that Hillary was like "Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, she's going to keep coming back, and they're not going to stop her." And then there's this lovely quote with no subliminal intent from Obama himself: "I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal."
Beyond this criticism of Obama is the analysis of more left-wing Websites such as BlackAgendaReport.com. Tellingly, while Black Agenda Report, as its name applies, covers news and politics with a radical African-American critique, it shows little sympathy for their fellow black man in Barack. From their view, the Obama hype is a dangerous mass duping of the black community by a barely concealed fraud.
Ironically, it is African-Americans that fueled Obama over Hill. Without them, while Obama dominated the Yuppie vote, he would’ve been trounced among blue collar workers, who are more plentiful than latte-sippers among Democrats. Blacks, however, represent a sizable percentage of the Democratic vote (nearly one in five) so Team Obama began a push to take over the demographic, which Hillary was actually leading in last year (in no small part thanks to Bill, the most beloved politician in black America over the last twenty years.) They did this with a whisper campaign of race-baiting smears that would do Karl Rove proud. Tellingly, they developed a memo of talking points accusing the Clinton campaign of playing the race card, the same talking points that then began to dominate the chatter class. Meanwhile, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., an Obama campaign co-chairman and son of the previously most successful black presidential candidate ever, had this to say about Hillary's emotional outpour that helped propel her to victory in New Hampshire: "Those tears also have to be analyzed. They have to be looked at very, very carefully in light of Katrina, in light of other things that Mrs. Clinton did not cry for, particularly as we head to South Carolina where 45 percent of African-Americans will participate in the Democratic contest, and they see real hope in Barack Obama." Bill's own "fairy tale" quote was used against him, distorted to imply some racist connotation. The end result of the sleazy strategy: Bill Clinton morphed in the mainstream media's presentation from the best friend in politics to Black America to a virtual closet Klansman, and Obama captured over ninety percent of the black vote.
The mainstream media tries to present white working class opposition to Obama merely as an issue of race (as though Yuppie liberals are above any racism in their own right.) Of course, The Konformist concedes racial dynamics among American voters can't be dismissed. But it seems what makes the Obamaheads go crazy over Barack is precisely what turns off Joe Blue Collar. Hip campaigns and repetitive slogans may satisfy those with disposable income, but those struggling want something that actually helps them survive in tough times. These voters were courted and won over by Hillary, who, like her wonky husband, actually seemed concerned about their plight and offered concrete agenda to help. Obama, meanwhile, merely sniffed they were bitter people clinging to guns and religion and went back to his vague generalities.
Any serious research of the Obama campaign proves the working class to be a shrewd judge here. Paul Krugman, the New York Times liberal economist, is one of the few mainstream voices to look under the hood at Obama’s economic agenda, and he’s responded with utter disdain. Despite his following among the progressive set, Obama's economic agenda is to the right of both Hillary and John Edwards. Two case studies are revealing, on the issues of healthcare and the subprime crisis, issues that are of highest concern to the working class base. It is telling that while both Edwards and Hill laid out plans to provide universal health coverage, Obama's would still leave fifteen million uninsured by most estimates. Meanwhile, though both Edwards and Ms. Rodham proposed a moratorium on foreclosures and a freeze on ARM loan rates, Obama offered no such help to bitter subprime victims. This shouldn’t be a surprise when one learns the leading economic advisor for the Obama campaign is Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor. Though he is on the "left" side of the U of C economic school, in a department made famous by ardent free market guru Milton Friedman, this means little. Goolsbee has pushed for all the right wing economics that Obama has cheerfully embraced, and has also taken one position Obama has yet to publicly support: the privatization of Social Security. Two other often cited Obama economic advisors, Jeffrey Liebman and David Cutler, have taken the same right-wing (or as they prefer to call it, "centrist") positions. It should be no surprise that Obama also used right wing talking points to bash Edwards and Clinton's plans during the primaries. Given these positions, it’s hard to believe the African-American community would back his candidacy if he were white.
The punch line is though Obama is quick to whine victimhood of racism whenever he's in a corner, he is paradoxically the one black politician who has gone out of his way to deny racism is a problem in modern society. Indeed, a major theme behind his campaign has been his election as president would prove we live in a post-racial society, where racism is a relic of the past. In a speech at Selma, Alabama, he declared that blacks were "90 percent of the way to equality," implying his election would provide the final dime in the battle. In fact, he and his mouthpieces in the media seem to argue the only way he can lose the 2008 contest is by racism. It appears the only person Barack Obama thinks is still suffering from racism in the USA is Barack Obama himself.
This stands in stark contrast to the political careers of Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton. Whatever their faults (and certainly both have many) they are black leaders who dedicated their lives to siding with the poor and disenfranchised. And yet, though they are often vilified in the most racist of language (often labeled as "racial pimps" in discourse) neither would claim blackness is their greatest impediment to political victory, but rather their radical message of social justice. That there is no profound message behind Obama's marketing ploy explains why he reaches for the race card, as nothing else about him is threatening to the political establishment. After all, Al Jolson in blackface is about as progressive as Obama.
That said, the election is still the Democrats to lose. Still, it’s important to note the only time Obama has won a national office, his GOP opponent was the absurd joke candidate Alan Keyes. Yuppies, blacks and the young may be enough to win the Democratic nomination, but can it win in November? There's a reason Hillary drubbed Obama's ass by 41 points in West Virginia, and no, it isn't racism. This was the message behind Thomas Frank's 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas?, that the Democrats needs to connect with the working class poor by a populist message of economics to combat cultural conservatism demagoguery. Instead of courting the BoBos (Bourgeois Bohemians) that are Obama's base, the Democrats should be creating WoBos, working class folks who identify with Michael Moore, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen. Hillary, like her husband before her, was able to connect precisely with these voters because, for all the Clinton's "centrist" leanings, they actually believe in the ideals of the New Deal and, in the case of her husband, delivered over 22 million jobs in eight years while creating record budget surpluses. This is why every Red state the Democrats need to flip (including Ohio and Florida) Hillary won, along with California, Texas, New York and any other big state aside from Obama's home turf in Illinois. With the voters that Democrats need to win behind her and the states the Democrats need to get 270 electoral votes in her corner, it appears the Democrats have bet on the wrong horse.
And this is before the Republican slime machine has started any Swiftboating. While the Clintons have had their skeletons examined closer than any other politician after the White House years, Obama is still an untested, unknown entity. Already the public has been exposed to his controversial ties to sleazy real estate swindler Tony Rezko and his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and his sniveling evasive response in both cases doesn't inspire confidence. Meanwhile, there are rumors of a purported video of Barack's wife Michelle ranting about "Whitey" being the cause of the world's ills in front of a group of African Americans (which, if true, shows even she doesn't believe his "post-racial" baloney.) Obama has denounced the rumors on FightTheSmears.com, but HillBuzz has already uncovered a photo of an event in June 2004 where Ms. Obama appeared with Louis Farrakhan's wife, an event that seems to jibe with the rumored tape. The rumor claims GOP operatives already have the tape, and are waiting to unleash it in October as an election surprise. Needless to say, while The Konformist may not dispute the reputed sentiments, they probably would not play too well in Middle America and would essentially hand the election to McCain.
In some ways, an Obama defeat is better than the alternative of Obama winning. Author Webster Tarpley has written a powerful expose of Obama, titled Obama - The Postmodern Coup. (A little disclosure here: yes, as Obamaheads will quickly exclaim, Tarpley is indeed a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, and perhaps that will lead some to distrust his work. Fair enough. But say what you will about LaRouche and Tarpley, they do their homework, and this book - like Tarpleys's previous unauthorized biography of George H. W. Bush - is a rigorous examination of Obama and his links that reveals what the establishment press has ignored.) Tarpley identifies the missing Mr. Big when it comes to Obama's foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who isn't satisfied with mere war in the Middle East like the Neocons, but rather desires a Cold War sequel against Russia. And as the saying goes, sequels almost always suck. Z-man even wrote about this in a 1998 book titled The Grand Chessboard, where he outlined that control of oil in the Caspian Sea would be the major imperial power battle of the 21st century. (Guess he's been proven wrong on that one.) To support Brzezinski's strategy, already two political coups have been staged in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, where charismatic politicians backed by millions from US financiers ran slogan heavy, substance light campaigns that caught the masses up in a political frenzy. (Sound familiar?) Both movements are now heavily unpopular in their nations, as the right-wing neoliberal economic agenda they secretly pushed via the hysteria have hurt their people's working class. Hmm...
Okay, just because the ugliest elements of the Democratic Party in both economics and foreign policy are behind Obama doesn't mean he supports their whole agenda. Maybe so, but beyond ideology, he's proven consistently over the past year when it comes to fighting about issues, "Obambi" caves when the going gets tough. His opportunism may be immense, but his spine is virtually non-existent. Quickly after wrapping up the Democratic nomination, he immediately went to work betraying the progressive base that supported him: backing Bush's notorious "faith-based" initiative, siding with the most reactionary Supreme Court justices on the death penalty issue, rejecting to limit fundraising for public finance after long promising he would. And then there's the big two: voting for a FISA bill (which he had promised not only to vote against, but filibuster) that retroactively shielded telecoms from punishment over their criminal alliance with the Bush Administration, and stating he was willing to "refine" (i.e. "reverse") his position on pulling out of Iraq. These last two even caused the Obama cult among progressives to denounce his moves and wonder if they've been hoodwinked. (Answer: yes, you have.) Meanwhile, though most of the mainstream media treated these moves as a "shift to the center" in reports, even an Obama toady like Bob Herbert of the NY Times couldn't help but call it what it was: "He’s lurching right when it suits him, and he’s zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that’s guaranteed to cause disillusion, if not whiplash."
Anyone watching Obama's handling of the Reverend Wright fiasco should've seen this coming. After all, whatever one thinks of Reverend Wright's controversial comments (and there was nothing Wright said that The Konformist could disagree with) he was Obama's pastor for 22 years, a man who married him to his wife, a man who even inspired the title to Obama's bland bestseller The Audacity of Hope with a sermon. Considering that history, Obama should have been expected to stand by Reverend Wright. In fact, Obama personally denounced Wright during his "More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia in March that left yuppie liberals gushing. (Here's the quote in case you missed it: "We've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.") Then, after two Wright speeches in April caused a media uproar, he completely disowned his association with the preacher, though Wright never bad-mouthed Obama in any way. Oddly, while the latte-sippers were in a hissy fit demanding the denouncement, it was conservatives who called it what it was: throwing someone from the bus.
If politics is a battlefield, going to war with a decided coward seems to guarantee political defeat in shifting the frame of debate. It seems possible an Obama presidency of duplicitous surrendering may shift the United States even farther to the right than Dubya ever could. From that standpoint, perhaps McCain clueless leadership for four years while he's pooping in his granddad diapers, followed by a Hillary victory in 2012, may be better in the long run.
In any case, we salute Barack Obama as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Barry!!!