May 27, 2004
Politician With a Halo
This New Yorker article, essentially a hagiography of an Illinois politician, brought out in me a cynicism about the American political process I didn’t even know I had. The politician in question, Barack Obama, is half-black, grew up in Middle America, rose from modest circumstances to become a star at Harvard and teach law at UChicago, and claims to want to practice clean, civil, on-the-issues politics. Why am I so skeptical of this guy? Some grafs:
Abner Mikva told me, “Barack is the most unique political talent I’ve run into in more than fifty years. I haven’t been this excited about a candidate since Adlai Stevenson first got me into politics.” As an illustration of Obama’s gifts, Mikva said, “I’ve seen him speak on Israel in front of a Jewish audience—a very, very tough crowd. And he was incredibly thoughtful, saying, basically, ‘There are a lot of people in that area, with lots of different interests and points of view, and they all have to be taken into consideration, and we can’t just rally around Sharon,’ and so on. And the crowd was just wowed. I’ve fluffed that question so many times myself—and I’m Jewish. Kerry fluffed it on ‘Meet the Press’ the other day. But Barack managed to make those people who disagreed with him feel comfortable with the disagreement.”
This is a regular theme with Obama: supporters who disagree with him. The two big Chicago daily papers both endorsed him enthusiastically in the primary, even though they disagreed with him on major issues—his opposition to the war in Iraq and, in the case of the Tribune, his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
This seems to be a pattern in Illinois. Paul Simon was the most respected political figure in the state for decades. He was a liberal Democrat who came from a conservative downstate region where his name remains political gold. The universal explanation for Simon’s near-universal popularity is “integrity,” and this spring I heard the word a lot from people discussing Obama.
It’s page after page of this stuff. And here’s another schoolgirlishly fawning offering from The New Republic.
The article ends with a segment about Obama’s opponent in the race for the Illinois Senate, Jack Ryan. Ryan seems like a total blowhard — pretty boy, silver spoon, hired the sleaziest campaign strategist ever, has swipes at Obama all over his site, supports the Federal Marriage Amendment — in short, Worst Ever.
Still, all I can think of Saint Obama is, “Yeah, OK, whatever. I bet he’s killing babies on the side or something.” I’m just wondering if this reaction is
a) my rootless cynicism about all things political
b) a sad commentary on the state of democracy in America
c) a backlash against the article’s relentless positivity about its subject
d) all of the above?