A moment of high drama

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat; whether you support McCain, Clinton, or Obama; everyone ought to agree that Obama’s candidacy is truly historic. At this moment, Exhibit “A” is the high drama playing out over the past several days between Obama and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The first black candidate to become a legitimate contender for the presidency was inevitably going to stir up strong feelings about race in America. White voters were bound to wonder, Is he anti-American, like some black politicians? (Or maybe he’s under the influence of anti-American black leaders.) Black voters were bound to wonder, Will he betray the black community in order to make his candidacy palatable to white people?

Meanwhile, political opponents were bound to stir the pot and make the racial tensions as difficult as possible for Obama to navigate. I think it’s reprehensible that a fellow Democrat has jumped onto the bandwagon, but Obama was inevitably going to weather this storm on route to the presidency.

It’s not personal to Obama:  the first black candidate who was a legitimate contender was going to be a catalyst for racial tensions to boil over. Hence the potency of the Wright issue. Andrew Sullivan expresses it perfectly:  “The only way past this is through it.”

At the worst possible time for Obama — after the discouraging loss in Pennsylvania; less than two weeks before crucial primaries in North Carolina and Indiana — Wright has embarked on a public relations campaign. Initially Wright was conciliatory; but his campaign quickly became a self-justifying, finger-pointing circus act in which Wright reiterated many of his most indefensible remarks. Josh Marshall has aptly summarized it as a “kick Obama in the groin-athon.”

Yesterday, Obama decided that enough is enough.

“The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that’s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought, either. …

We started this campaign with the idea that the problems that we face as a country are too great to continue to be divided, that in fact all across America people are hungry to get out of the old, divisive politics of the past. … And the reason our campaign has been so successful is because we have moved beyond these old arguments.

What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and, I believe, an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for.

And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks, but what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say that I find these comments appalling, I mean it.

It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am. And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign’s about, I think, will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.

Whether or not you think Obama’s remarks are sufficient, I think we should pause to recognize that this is a moment of high drama in the astonishing history of the United States of America.

Serious racial divisions exist, out of sight but always ready to boil over at a time of crisis. It’s easy to be cynical about the political process, but it’s a relatively safe forum in which to address such tensions. Obama’s campaign has the potential to be cathartic with minimal risk that it will lead to violence.

For my part, I think Obama has handled the whole controversy judiciously. Critics will say that he was slow to respond. But remember, Obama is performing a high wire act here! If he had been too quick to disown Rev. Wright, the black community would have seen him as a sellout. If he had been unwilling to disown Rev. Wright, even after the latest outrages, white Americans would have felt that Obama was unwilling or unable to stand up for America against its detractors.

There is no perfect time to disown a spiritual father figure. But I believe this was the right time to do it:  and Obama seized the opportunity masterfully.

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Canotage!

An interesting article that came up on Digg. Has the Canadian government made a deliberate attempt to sabotage Barack Obama?

Ian Brodie was probably exhausted. “Budget day” was winding down and prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief staffer had spent weeks negotiating a deal that would stave off an election challenge from the Liberal opposition. Now he was standing around chatting with reporters from CTV who were enjoying a rare bit of face time with the normally inaccessible Mr. Brodie. These were the circumstances in which an off the cuff remark would create an international crisis.

One of the reporters asked Brodie about the anti-NAFTA rhetoric emanating from the Democratic primary campaign. Naturally this was of great interest to Canadians as the US is their single biggest trading partner. This, according to the Canadian Press, is how one of the reporters present described Mr. Brodie’s response:

“He said someone from Clinton’s campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt … That someone called us and told us not to worry.”

It was a devastating blunder. When it got out that Hillary Clinton was telling Ohio voters one thing, and the Canadian embassy something else, it would be politically damaging for her campaign. But the fact that this information emerged from the Canadian embassy, albeit indirectly, violated the most fundamental canons of diplomatic confidentiality.

It’s an interesting piece, with twisting and turning ends that could only be the result of international diplomacy. This opening leads into a story that involves Harper and co. using this gaffe to their advantage, covering up the slip-up by turning the story head-over-heels right smack into Obama’s trail. As some Diggers are commenting, it’s this kind of story that makes the general population steer clear of political news.

Still, the story has some merit, and certainly makes for a juicy conspiracy theory for both countries, since it directly affects the election campaigns, and involves a Prime Minister who beat down his opposition over the fact that they were corrupt. To find any actual evidence that the PM and his men were directly trying to harm Obama’s campaign would be huge, albeit nigh impossible, the way Harper keeps his posse’s mouths shut.

I find it endlessly amusing that the whole story is based on the premise that it’s benefitial to Canada to have NAFTA still in place, though. It may be and probably is a sound assumption on the part of the author that Harper wants NAFTA to remain, but in that case it’s a misstep by Harper, by me. NAFTA has restricted us in trading with other countries, like China, and the US endlessly throws around their weight to convince Canadians that they should be compensating for losses to US industries, without compensating in the same manner themselves. To sell our resourced to the higher bidder may be less moral — probably along the lines of what Harper is thinking — but it would make more economic sense.

Still, if we accept that Harper wishes ties to the US to remain close, we can figure NAFTA is key to this, and he would want Clinton to win. It’ll probably be in vain, since Obama’s holding strong, but we’ll see if this factors in later  on!

McCEconomics

John McCain is on the wrong side of the two most urgent issues facing the USA today. First, the Iraq war remains wildly unpopular despite the partial success of the surge. Second, McCain’s economic policies are not going to withstand scrutiny.

McCain “is now selling tax cuts mostly for high-income Americans (and corporations) as the solution to the economic problems of low-income Americans.”

The economic package he has laid out embraces many of the tax policies he once decried: extending Bush’s tax cuts he voted against, offering investment tax breaks he once believed would have little economic benefit and granting the long-held wishes of tax lobbyists he has often mocked.

Now there’s this, as reported by Talking Points Memo:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Now, my friends, I’ll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you’ll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So — OK? Sign up. OK.

You sign up. You sign up, and you’ll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can’t do it, my friend.

McCain’s point was, Americans wouldn’t be willing to pick lettuce in the heat of the Arizona summer even if you paid them $50 per hour to do it. Josh Marshall wonders,

Does this guy have any idea how much money ordinary Americans make or don’t make?

… US labor statistics say the actual wage for this work is about $10,000 per year. And at that wage — which, let’s be honest, we all reap a benefit from in the form of cheap lettuce prices — no wonder Americans are unwilling to do it.

With a follow-up post from TPM here:

My name is Kevin Flynn, I am the legislative/political director for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. … I was at the legislative conference when McCain lost his cool and began this tirade. …

Our president (and myself since I worked in the field as well) was struck dumb because our members (not unlike those of the other trades represented in the crowd) work 8-12 hours each day in the heat throughout the country bending over and laying 80 lb concrete blocks, heavy stone & marble, brick, and working in hellish conditions worse than the Arizona summer.

Your original point was correct, John McCain is clueless when it comes to the economy or the experiences of ordinary people who work for a living.

Bring on the general election! Between Iraq and the economy, I think McCain is highly vulnerable, once people start paying attention to what he actually stands for.

100 years in Iraq

Random thinks Obama has intentionally twisted one of John McCain’s statements on Iraq.

McCain notoriously said that U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for 100 years, adding, “That’d be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being harmed.”

Politically, it was a very foolish thing to say. The Iraq war is extremely unpopular:  indeed, a new Gallup poll reports that opposition to the Iraq war is at an all-time high. Americans want U.S. troops to come home sooner rather than later.

Barack Obama and the Democrats are going to make sure that this statement sticks to McCain. As for McCain’s proviso, “as long as Americans aren’t being harmed” — Talking Points Memo gives us McCain in his own words, before pointing out how weak that escape clause is.
 

Only white voters matter?

We keep talking as if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter that Obama gets 92 percent of the black vote, because since he only got 35 percent of the white vote, he’s in trouble. Well, Hillary Clinton only got 8 percent of the black vote. …

It’s almost saying black people don’t matter. The only thing that matters is how white people respond. And that’s what bothered me. I think I matter.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.) expresses his dismay with Hillary Clinton’s campaign of attrition.

It’s a fact: Obama respects working class people

In a new Gallup poll, 25% of respondents say that Barack Obama looks down on working class Americans.

Actually that result isn’t so bad. John McCain scored 24%, and Hillary Clinton “won” this contest with a decisive 32%.

Nonetheless, the charge seems to be hurting Obama in the Democratic nomination process. For example, read Noam Scheiber‘s interesting analysis of suburban Philadelphia from a socio-economic perspective. Here’s a soundbite:

The biggest reason Obama didn’t perform as well as we’d have expected in the affluent, educated, politically-moderate Philadelphia suburbs is that they’re not nearly as affluent and educated as we’d assumed.

Both McCain and Clinton have derided Obama as “elitist”. Related insults include “arrogant” and “out of touch”.

In response to Obama’s detractors, I’d like to offer an excerpt from Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father. Note:  Obama was being raised by his (white) grandparents during the time he describes here.

They had sold the big, rambling house near the university and now rented a small, two-bedroom apartment …. Gramps had left the furniture business to become a life insurance agent, but as he was unable to convince himself that people needed what he was selling and was sensitive to rejection, the work went badly. Every Sunday night, I would watch him grow more and more irritable as he gathered his briefcase and set up a TV tray in front of his chair, following the lead of every possible distraction, until finally he would chase us out of the living room and try to schedule appointments with prospective clients over the phone. Sometimes I would tiptoe into the kitchen for a soda, and I could hear the desperation creeping out of his voice, the stretch of silence that followed when the people on the other end explained why Thursday wasn’t good and Tuesday not much better, and then Gramps’s heavy sigh after he had hung up the phone, his hands fumbling through the files in his lap like those of a cardplayer who’s deep in the hole.
 
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Meanwhile, McCain

Most of us were paying no attention to the Republican primary in Pennsylvania. But Michael Crowley points out:

More than 117,000 people — or 16 percent of the GOP electorate — took the trouble to cast votes for Ron Paul tonight. And Huckabee got about 11 percent, leaving McCain at 74 percent. (That’s with 94 percent of the vote in.)

Evidently McCain still hasn’t sealed the deal among Republicans. Perhaps that’s why, with all the advantages he has right now, McCain still can’t break through the glass ceiling of 45% support nationally. Ross Douthat comments:

By all rights, this ought to be a peak time for McCain’s numbers — not the peak, necessarily, but certainly a high point. His right-wing critics are making nice with him, his favorable ratings are sky-high, and his opponents are too busy driving each other’s negative ratings upward to spend any time (or money, more importantly) putting a dent in his halo. …

Yet even with all this going for him, McCain’s poll numbers are bumping up against the same 45 percent ceiling that they’ve been hitting since December. If the election were held today — a pretty good day for McCain, all things considered — he’d probably lose to Obama, and might lose to Clinton as well.

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