Barack Obama: Fixing souls, and the details are a downer

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The New York Times’ William Kristol wrote in his column “It’s All About Him” that Barack Obama’s “moral vanity” is the reason why the freshman senator and presidential candidate no longer wears a flag pin. Obama said:

“You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

Kristol’s response:

“Leave aside the claim that ‘speaking out on issues’ constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin. But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good – too patriotic! – to wear a flag pin on his chest.”

Obama’s wife Michelle has said in campaign speeches on behalf of her husband this:

“Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.”

She’s also said this:

“Barack Obama … is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

Kristol’s response:

“So we don’t have to work to improve our souls. Our broken souls can be fixed – by our voting for Barack Obama. We don’t have to fight or sacrifice to help our country. Our uninvolved and uninformed lives can be changed – by our choosing Barack Obama. America can become a nation to be proud of – by letting ourselves be led by Barack Obama.

John Kennedy, to whom Obama is sometimes compared, challenged the American people to acts of citizenship and patriotism. Barack Obama allows us to feel better about ourselves.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henniger had a few good observations about Obama’s “stem-winder” speeches s in his column “Obama at the Top.”

Calling Obama’s comments on the night of the Potomac primaries “tiresome,” Henniger wrote:

“The speech was classic Obama. Beautifully written and beautifully delivered, the words soaring to the rafters…Still, about halfway into this (very long) speech, the feeling was hard to shake: This is getting hard to listen to. Again and again. …

The conventional critique of Sen. Obama has held that his pitch is perfect but at some point he’ll need to make the appeal more concrete.

I think the potential vulnerability runs deeper. Strip away the new coat of paint from the Obama message and what you find is not only familiar. It’s a downer.

Up to now, the force of Sen. Obama’s physical presentation has so dazzled audiences that it has been hard to focus on precisely what he is saying. ‘Yes, we can! Yes, we can!’ Can what?”

Henniger writes that Obama’s message is –

“…largely negative, illustrated with anecdotes of unremitting bleakness. Heavy with class warfare, it is a speech that could have been delivered by a Democrat in 1968, or even 1928.”

Henniger edited the speech (Obama’s words in italics) –

“‘Our road will not be easy . . . the cynics. . . where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits . . . That’s what happens when lobbyists set the agenda. . . It’s a game where trade deals like Nafta ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart . . . It’s a game . . . CEO bonuses . . . while another mother goes without health care for her sick child . . . We can’t keep driving a wider and wider gap between the few who are rich and the rest who struggle to keep pace . . . even if they’re not rich . . .’

Here’s his America: ‘lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.’

It ends: ‘We can cast off our doubts and fears and cynicism because our dream will not be deferred; our future will not be denied; and our time for change has come.'”

Henniger sums up:

“I am not saying all of this is false. But it is a depressing message to ride all the way to the White House… People not yet baptized into Obamamania may start to look past the dazzling theatrics to see a vision of the United States that is quite grim and could wear thin in the general election.”

This article first posted in April.

©2008 John F. Biver

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