Sunday, March 23, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Adams

I know what all of you are thinking: When's John going to get us another 1,500 or so words about Barack Obama? And how are we supposed to function in the meantime? Well, we're almost there. The post should go up late tonight or tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I just thought I'd say a quick word about the HBO miniseries John Adams, and that word is: boooorring.

I'm pretty sure the moment of America's break from Britain was a dramatic one, but you wouldn't know it from watching this snoozefest. It's the visual equivalent of a high school textbook. It has stilted dialogue, unnecessarily tilted and annoying camera angles (presumably to make up for the lack of action otherwise), and a whole lot of uncomfortably faked British accents.

I watched the first two episodes with friends last night, and I think that's all I need. I'll probably pick up David McCullough's book, which inspired the series, soon. McCullough is sometimes criticized for making history too commercially appealing, but surely that's a lesser sin than presenting the Continental Congress in a way that makes four viewers yawn simultaneously.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why, why, why Barack? Why did you promise to deliver us to the promised land? Why did you promise to be a uniter, rather than a divider? Why did it all have to come crashing down? Unfortunately, your actions of the past 20 years speak louder than your words and eloquent speeches alone will not rescue you from your past come November. Please, please do not tell us that you were unaware of the nature of those sermons for twenty years. He was your spiritual advisor, your mentor. There has been a deafening silence, as your supporters attempt to craft a justification. Is there not another soul here who is sickened by those sermons and brave enough to speak out, or is everyone so invested in this candidacy so as to silence all debate?

7:39 PM  
Blogger Kraig said...

I'm loath to say too much since this is John's blog and I'm sure his post will eloquently cover the Obama/Wright issue, but I will share a few thoughts.

First, nothing "silences all debate" more than lobbing anonymous, antagonistic bombs that don't really bring up any new arguments and that don't seem to do much more than express a certain schadenfreude enjoyment.

As to your suggestion that it's impossible for Obama to not have known the nature of Rev. Wright's sermons, you're right. It's impossible. Good thing he admitted as much in his speech. There is danger, however, in characterizing the "nature" of 20 years of sermons on the basis of about 5 minutes of YouTube clips. I have little doubt the Reverend said many things that would be considered similarly offensive that just don't happen to be on video, but I also think it's a little silly to generalize that what we've seen is the obvious norm. Twenty years is a long time. In fact, if my math is reasonably correct, that's about 600 hours worth of sermons. If you want to judge one man on the basis of his association with ANOTHER man whom you've judged on the basis of 5 minutes of speech out of 600 hours of speech...then go ahead?

I'll make this simple. The only valid argument being made by those who want to keep at this story is that the best thing a leader could have done in that situation is to have said something to his pastor--regardless of whether he was present or not. And that's a good point. A perfect man would have expressed his disagreement, sought change, and then either continued to seek change or leave the church. Obama is not perfect. The question now becomes, was his continued association with Wright so horrible a mistake in judgment as to suggest he wouldn't be a good president? If you're a supporter of Obama, your bias is obviously going to suggest that it's not a big enough mistake to overwhelm the numerous other positive qualities he's bringing to the table. If you're not a supporter, then quite obviously you're gonna run this one up the flag pole. But if nobody is perfect--any nobody is--then what mistake isn't too big or too wrong to disparage an entire campaign? Is it better or worse than, say, Hillary claiming she was under sniper fire when she went to Bosnia as First Lady (even the comic/actor Sinbad doesn't remember that and he was on the same flight)? It is better or worse than, say, John McCain completely confusing his Sunnis from his Shiias while on a trip to promote his foreign policy experience?

Obama rejected Wright's words. Wright's words and tone have not been apparent in any of Obama's words, actions, or policies. And rather than throw his pastor under the bus, which would have been the politically savvy thing to do (lord knows Hillary would have backed over him, too, if it were happening to her), he instead chose to start a serious, nuanced dialog about the very issue underlying ALL of this. You don't have to vote for Obama, but you absolutely cannot label him as "just another politician." To do otherwise is, in all honestly, either ignorant or disingenuous.

I'm Kraig Smith. And I approved this comment.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, but mark my word: Obama is finished. American voters are, unfortunatley, not interested in a nuanced dialogue

10:51 PM  
Blogger Kraig said...

On that point we may be able to find some agreement. :)

11:01 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I'm not sure. Obama's poll numbers have bounced back after his speech last week. Anonymouses -- anonymi? -- might not be interested in nuanced debate, but less than 50% of the public (ask Bill Clinton) is necessary to become president.

The thing is, Americans are going to have to come to terms with nuance to vote for any of the remaining candidates. Hillary Clinton? "I voted for the war, but I'm running as anti-war candidate against a military hero?" That's nuanced. John McCain? "I'm running as a maverick independent but I've had to compromise with the religious right in order to be a viable candidate?" That's nuanced.

Anyway. More in the morning.

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While, I, as well, agree with many of the eloquently worded statements above, however, I am also very concerned with the prospects for the dems. Given the overall animosity towards Hillary, one would think that Obama would have already captured the nomination. The overall election should also have been a slam dunk, but polls show McCain running almost a dead heat with both Clinton and Obama. Even though Bush was practically incoherent during the debates in 2000, he was still very popular. I'm afraid that McCain will enjoy similar support from the average American who would rather not engage in nuanced debates regarding race, etc. I would also refer you to the writings of Shelby Steele (sp?) for further arguments of the difficulties of an Obama candidacy. Ultimately, I believe Americans will steer clear of any candidate who is perceived as supporting anti-American propositions no matter how grounded they are in reality.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Jamal said...

I hate to go "off topic" and talk about the topic, but you should read the Adams book. I did and enjoyed it, as I have with two other books he's written. So I'd like to hear your thoughts on it and his style of historical writing. As for Obama, well you know I stand firmly on his side. His speech was brave and anything but typical. And you are correct that "something is happening." His speech has provoked churces around the country to talk more openly about this silent divide, and in neighborhoods too. At least some of America is responding to elevated appeals. We'll see. But his numbers went down dramatically before the speech and back up at the same pace right after.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

I kinda like the show and the politicking that went on to get to the declaration.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, there has indeed been more thoughtful conversation recently. In particular, the Trinity United Church of Christ Easter sermon was especially thoughtful in its reference to a "modern day lynching."
Did the Obama mutual admiration society here somehow miss that memo.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Saxo philologus said...

The condescending remarks about how Americans aren't interested in "nuanced" political discussions are really pretty nauseating.

I will certainly grant that most people don't have the time or the inclination to immerse themselves in the specifics of health-care policy, the federal budget, or foreign policy. For that reason I think a great many people vote for the candidate who they think shows the best judgment, whatever his or her specific policy prescriptions.

One could certainly call Obama's speech on race "nuanced." One could also call it disingenuous, weaselly, or worse. It seems entirely clear that Obama joined Reverend Wright's church as part of an effort to identify with his constituents on the South Side of Chicago, and that seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But he cannot claim to represent the parishioners at Wright's church, with their paranoid-delusional fanatasies and hateful race-baiting, and at the same time talk about transcending race and getting past the black pathologies of victimization and conspiracy-mongering.

Obama may be smarter than your average politician, but in trying to thread the needle between Jeremiah Wright and mainstream American values he looks very much like a typical politician unwilling to take a stand against the prejudices of those who support him.

In any case, let us (please) have less talk about how "nuanced" voters (re: smart people) support Obama.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Le Chat said...

kraig - with regard to the comment that calling Obama "just another politician" would be "ignorant and disingenuous," I would like to quote a comment from Rev. Wright made during an interview with Jodi Kantor from the NYT back in April of 2007:

“If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Mr. Wright said with a shrug. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

That sounds pretty "political" to me. If Obama knew this was potentially problematic nearly a year ago, why did he initially try to diffuse the recent uproar over Wright's comments by claiming to never have been present for any of those comments?? It was only when the uproar wouldn't die down, that he finally decided to use at least some honesty and make his "big" speech about race, which frankly, was very politically calculated given the timing. I would have had a lot more respect for it if he had bothered to address the issue earlier in the campaign out of a motivation to legitimately broach the subject of race and fear-mongering, rather than the motivation of damage-control.

Obama IS a politician? Why do you find that so threatening? And if he isn't "just another politician" as you claim, what is he???

12:55 PM  
Blogger JMW said...


I just posted something that I hope addresses a lot of this. But I did want to single out something you said... "he cannot claim to represent the parishioners at Wright's church..." Did I miss the moment when Obama claimed that he represented all of them? And is that his job? Why does this issue -- important as it is -- suddenly turn Obama into a church's pastor? He has absolutely no obligation to represent those parishioners, and I find the suggestion absurd.

You're right about nuance. Without saying that I think Americans ARE interested in nuance (I watch cable news, so I won't be backed into defending the public's appetite for nuance), I never mean to imply that smart people would automatically support Obama. I don't believe that. I think smart people can also support McCain. :)

2:01 PM  
Blogger Kraig said...

Le Chat,

You make some good points, so I'm happy to try and address them as best I can:

First, you try to suggest that Obama admitting that he "might have to distance himself" from Rev. Wright is a rather political thing to say. And maybe it is (hard to say without the full context). But I tend to care more about what politicians actually DO, not say. And in terms of what he did, he was decidedly unpolitical. He distanced himself from Wright's comments, but did not distance himself from Wright the man. That's rather astonishing, I think. The playbook for crisis management would have been to destroy the Reverend, deny ever being present during anything even remotely controversial, and just change the subject. As I've said before, that may have been the smarter thing to do. After all, here we are still discussing an issue which is, by and large, more of a negative story for Obama than a positive one. And yet he did the opposite. He did not destroy Wright. He did not deny being present during controversial sermons. And he has not changed the subject. That's refreshing.

You next call Obama out for not being more aggressive early on when this story broke--accusing him of only reacting when it wouldn't go away. There is some validity to this complaint, but it's also valid to say that there's no reason for him to do so UNTIL he has to. Why? Well, obviously, one reason is political. Yes, I said it. Political. I've never said Obama wasn't a politician. I never said he wasn't ambitious. All I said was that "he's not just another politician." That doesn't imply that in every instance he goes against the grain, or defies all conventional wisdom. It simply means that, on balance, he's doing things differently. Does it mean he doesn't engage in damage control? Of course not. Does it mean that people associated with his campaign won't ever say things negative from time to time? Obviously not. But it does mean he doesn't consistently overstate his record (Hillary) or shamelessly pander to voting blocs whose interests he can't pretend to represent (McCain).

But back to the point you make about the timing. I can see why you think it's calculating to have the "race" speech come only as a response to the Wright crisis, but I think that's a little unfair. There was little doubt race would become an issue at SOME point (and if you want my opinion, just wait until October when I fear it could get ugly), and I suspect--though I don't know--that much of this speech was written, or at least conceived of, quite some time ago. It's not really the kind of speech you knock out over a weekend, you know? In any event, there seems little benefit to have made race an issue early on. One could argue, and I do, that simply having a black President will make huge strides in bridging the race gap---but that's not a very smart platform. You try to get elected for your ideas and your leadership qualities, not the color of your skin (or gender). As important as race is, it's not a dominant issue in politics---UNLESS you have a black candidate. People want to talk about Iraq and the economy--no matter what your race may be. To have a major platform speech on race is a distraction---UNLESS it becomes necessary. And, obviously, it became necessary. There is some calculation in there, but I think it's the good kind, not the twiddle-your-thumbs-evily-like-Mr.Burns-kind.

I get the backlash against Obama. He has been deified by many. I hate that. Believe me, I really do. I don't think he's a savior. I don't think he's without flaw. And I don't think this is the only "scandal" he'll encounter. I only elected to throw my support behind him when Bloomberg decided he wasn't going to run. That said, I find him becoming a stronger candidate as the race wears on, and his response to the Rev. Wright incident is a good example. When a crisis strikes, I want a leader who can thoughtfully address the situation--simultaneously seeking to diffuse it, understand it, correct it, and if necessary, take responsibility for it. To me, that's what Obama did.

And now I see John posted--

2:29 PM  
Blogger lmha said...

Of course, I have the advantage of being a few days late on this thread, but all the better to gloat with this:

March 28, 2008
PRINCETON, NJ -- Today's Gallup Poll Daily tracking update finds Barack Obama with an eight percentage point advantage over Hillary Clinton (50% to 42%), this gives him a statistically significant advantage for the first time since before the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy.

Sigh. Yep. Americans just aren't as dumb as they are made out to be.

2:53 PM  

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