Getting to know Barack Obama

Back in the spring Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote about what she called the media “hysteria” over the questions posed during the Pennsylvania Democratic debate in late April, and in her column she raised two points: 1) the “delicate treatment” Barack Obama receives from the media and 2) the ensuing argument over “what is and is not a substantive issue in a presidential contest.”

“Moderators Charles Gibson’s and George Stephanopoulos’s offense was to ask questions Mr. Obama didn’t want to address. Worse, they’d continued to press them even when the displeased candidate assured them these were old and tired questions…

The uproar is the latest confirmation of the special place Mr. Obama holds in the hearts of a good part of the media, a status ensured by their shared political sympathies and his star power. That status has in turn given rise to a tendency to provide generous explanations, and put the best possible gloss on missteps and utterances seriously embarrassing to Mr. Obama.”

Rabinowitz notes, as an example of the media’s delicate treatment, how several CNN panelists have been seeking to explain Obama’s recent remarks in San Francisco about bitter small towners who cling to guns and religion. Concerning the “bitter” remark, as well as those from Obama’s pastor, Rabinowitz writes:

“These issues – the unanswered, the suspect – which outraged press partisans have for days attempted to dismiss as trivia and gossip, largely forgotten by the public, are unlikely to be forgotten, either today or in the general election, nor are they trivial. This, Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos clearly understood when they chose their questions. Mr. Obama’s answers told far more than he or his managers wished…

We are at the beginning of a contest likely to repeat itself through November: between that part of the press prepared to put hard questions equally, and all the rest, including those who’ll mount the barricades when their candidate is threatened with discomfiture. Let the wars begin.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer weighed in as well on the question of whether certain issues are trivial and thus “distractions.” Obama and his defenders have stated that such silliness must be resisted. Krauthammer writes:

“Why? Because Obama understands that the real threat to his candidacy is less Hillary Clinton and John McCain than his own character and cultural attitudes. He came out of nowhere with his autobiography already written, then saw it embellished daily by the hagiographic coverage and kid-gloves questioning of a supine press. (Which is why those “Saturday Night Live” parodies were so devastatingly effective.)

Krauthammer notes that Obama campaigned “on a platform of transcending racial divisions” while contributing $26,000 to a church where the pastor incited “race hatred.”

“What is Obama to do? Dismiss all such questions about his associations and attitudes as ‘distractions.’ And then count on his acolytes in the media to wage jihad against those who have the temerity to raise these questions. As if the character and beliefs of a man who would be president are less important than the ‘issues.’

Regarding Obama’s friendship with unrepentant terrorist William Ayers, Krauthammer writes:

Would you maintain friendly relations with an unrepentant terrorist? Would you even shake his hand? To ask why Obama does is perfectly legitimate and perfectly relevant to understanding what manner of man he is.

Such “distractions,” Krauthammer says, are “the things that most reveal character and core beliefs.”

In her column “Obama’s Hurdle,” Linda Chavez explains why so many of these issues are important as voters get to know Barack Obama.

“Obama’s record of accomplishment is slim. He served two terms in the Illinois legislature, where he did almost nothing to distinguish himself… He has spent nearly half his time as a U.S. Senator running for president and has scant legislative achievements to his credit.

What Obama does have is a sharp mind, a gift for inspiring rhetoric, and a talent for raising lots of money. But he also has a propensity to choose his friends and allies poorly and to be unwilling to extricate himself when those relationships turn troubling.”

Chavez concludes her column with this summation:

“Most Americans know very little about the young senator from Illinois. He speaks eloquently about his love of America, so why does he gravitate towards those whose hatred of America is even more palpable?

It’s a fair question, which voters will be asking in November — and it has the potential to trump whatever electoral advantages Democrats now think they have. The Democrats are counting on Americans’ disillusionment with the Iraq War and worries about the economy to propel them to victory no matter whom they nominate. But it may not be as easy as it looks.”

This article first posted in April.