Jay Reding.com

The Banality Of Hope

Barack Obama’s campaign is one of the most banal Presidential campaigns in decades. It isn’t that Sen. Obama is a dumb man—quite the opposite is true. Yet his campaign is about the most gauzy and indistinct principles: “Change we can believe in.” Change is meaningless. Turning the US into a Hinduist theocracy would be “change.” Forcing every male above the age of 30 to wear tube tops 365 days a year would be “change.” Just being for “change” boils down for being for nothing in particular. Obama is avoiding taking sides on critical issues because if he did he’d have to enter the fray, and then he’s lose many of the advantages that have taken him this far.

Barack Obama Official small.jpg

There’s a reason why Barack Obama is running such a banal campaign—because Barack Obama is not a post-partisan uniter, but a doctrinaire liberal. In fact, he was recently determined to have been the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007. Obama is intelligent enough to know that being open with his views would ensure his defeat. There are more self-identified conservatives than self-identified liberals in this country. No outright liberal candidate has won the Presidency in the United States since Lyndon Johnson. The most successful Democratic politician of the last 25 years (and now Obama’s biggest enemy) was Bill Clinton, and he ran not as a liberal but as a Third Way “New Democrat” who would not expand government but “reinvent” it. Obama’s campaign is not based on his record because his record would put him at odds with most of the country. Instead, Obama has wisely decided to make himself appear “above the fray” and run on meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in” and “yes we can.”

Obama also clearly has to deal with the issue of race. This puts Obama in a difficult position. He cannot emulate the race-baiting politics of a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. He needs a broader base of support. At the same time, Obama is presenting two different faces to white voters and black voters. This South Carolina radio ad makes the disparity clear. The tone of that ad is specifically targeted to black voters. For a candidate that is trying to bridge the racial divide, this ad plays into the politics of racial division.

It is hard to argue that Obama’s different approaches aren’t tactically wise. Black voters and white voters have very different views of the nation, and Obama probably couldn’t get away with running the same ads to both communities. Even though that approach is understandable and politically smart, it still puts into question whether Obama genuinely wishes to bridge racial divisions in this country, or whether he’s making a political choice. Sooner or later Obama will be forced to reconcile these two public faces, and when he does it could compromise both.

Ultimately, what makes Obama so troubling is that he’s putting out the political equivalent of junk food. His silky-smooth and tasteful rhetoric is ultimately full of calories, but has no nutritional value. A President must make hard decisions. They must not only talk about “change” but about facing down the real issues that effect the lives of voters. The American public deserves something more than smooth talk—they deserve real and substantive answers. Will Barack Obama continue to govern along the same far-left liberal lines as he has voted in the Senate? How will Barack Obama deal with the threat of terrorism? How will he deal with the impending insolvency of Medicare and Social Security? Talking about “change” is not an answer. Saying “yes we can” is not an answer. The American people deserve real substance, and Senator Obama is feeding us empty calories.

Obama’s appeal is not difficult to understand. There is something refreshing about a candidate willing to use the spirit of American optimism rather than wallow in the pessimism and division that has become all too common with Presidential candidates these days. At the same time, mere optimism isn’t enough. Obama has been called the Democrats’ Reagan, and in some ways that comparison is apt. However, Reagan’s rhetoric was optimistic but substantive. Reagan was a surprisingly deep thinking and had a lengthy history of speaking out on particular issues and years of executive experience. Barack Obama has none of those things, and being a Senator or less than one term and a state legislator before that does not adequately prepare one for the highest office in the land.

Despite Obama’s ethnic background, he is running a “white bread” campaign. By failing to address the issues he is charting a politically wise course, but one that fails his duties as a Presidential candidate. The American people deserve specifics, and Barack Obama is giving us banalities. It is one thing to have the audacity of hope, it is another to be politically brave and take the risks involved in being forthright with the American people. Obama is inspiring, he is a wonderful orator and he is certainly intelligent and capable. However, that is not enough to qualify him to be the President of the United States, especially not in such a crucial time. He brings many positive things to the table, but not the requisite experience to lead. The heart of leadership is not in telling people what they want to hear, but in taking positions and defending them. Barack Obama has not done this, and that is why he is not yet suited to be President.

11 responses to “The Banality Of Hope”

  1. Mark says:

    “Barack Obama’s campaign is one of the most banal Presidential campaigns in decades.”

    Not entirely fair. His stump speeches are hollow and empty, if oratorally on-target, but his debate performances are more substantive and wonkish….and he does not attempt to hide his liberalism in that context. It’s also ironic that the term “banal campaign” is coming from a supporter of a party where every mainstream candidate invokes Ronald Reagan’s name at least once as the answer to every single question asked of them.

    “In fact, he was recently determined to have been the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007.”

    Funny how the National Review redefines whoever the pending Democratic nominee for the next election is as “the most liberal member of the Senate”. How many “most liberal Senator of the year” designations can those guys hand out before you start questioning their motives?

    “Obama also clearly has to deal with the issue of race.”

    Impossible. No matter how much Obama tries not to be “the black candidate”, the media will insist upon playing the race card at every turn. That’s why it will be a long and ultimately divisive campaign if he’s the nominee and why I seriously doubt he can win.

    “This South Carolina radio ad makes the disparity clear. The tone of that ad is specifically targeted to black voters. For a candidate that is trying to bridge the racial divide, this ad plays into the politics of racial division.”

    I’m on a dialup internet connection this weekend so I can’t listen to the ad, but color me skeptical that he’s attempting to invoke racial polarization when any black candidate with a smidgen of political savvy would know that’s a ticket to certain defeat. That’s why the Clintons are trying to derail him with race-baiting of their own.

    “Ultimately, what makes Obama so troubling is that he’s putting out the political equivalent of junk food. His silky-smooth and tasteful rhetoric is ultimately full of calories, but has no nutritional value.”

    Yes, better that we play it safe and stay the course with the party whose substantive rhetoric includes citing Ronald Reagan and 9/11 every other sentence.

    “However, Reagan’s rhetoric was optimistic but substantive. Reagan was a surprisingly deep thinking and had a lengthy history of speaking out on particular issues and years of executive experience.”

    Reliving the 80s every five minutes is not sweetening the deal for Americans skeptical of signing on for a de facto third term for George Bush, particularly when you’re attempting to pass off “There you go again” and “morning in America” as the crown jewels of American political rhetoric. Ronald Reagan is a dead guy who was President 20 years ago….and his actual record on most issues stands in direct contradiction to the fawning nostalgia of conservatives. The more you lionize him in lieu of a forward-thinking campaign, the worse you’ll get defeated by voters under 35.

    “Barack Obama has none of those things, and being a Senator or less than one term and a state legislator before that does not adequately prepare one for the highest office in the land.”

    So Fred Thompson’s extra three years in the Senate made that much of a difference for him, huh? Or being a one-term Governor of Massachusetts? Or a five-year Governor of Texas with decades worth of substance abuse issues? Or a Governor of California a decade before getting elected President? The “experience” meme is a form-fitting gimmick used by both parties at their convenience given the candidate they’re trying to sell in a given year. That you would sink so low as to exploit that yourself against Obama is as sleazy as when Terry McAuliffe or Ed Gillespie try to get away with it.

    “Despite Obama’s ethnic background, he is running a “white bread” campaign.”

    Now who’s playing the race card?

  2. Jay Reding says:

    Not entirely fair. His stump speeches are hollow and empty, if oratorally on-target, but his debate performances are more substantive and wonkish….and he does not attempt to hide his liberalism in that context. It’s also ironic that the term “banal campaign” is coming from a supporter of a party where every mainstream candidate invokes Ronald Reagan’s name at least once as the answer to every single question asked of them.

    His debate performances are slightly more substantive, but not by all that much.

    As for Reagan, he ran a far more substantive campaign than Obama did, and had far more of a record on substantive political issues than Obama.

    Funny how the National Review redefines whoever the pending Democratic nominee for the next election is as “the most liberal member of the Senate”. How many “most liberal Senator of the year” designations can those guys hand out before you start questioning their motives?

    National Review didn’t produce the rankings, the non-partisan National Journal did. (The original article is here.) Their methodology is based on the Senate votes taken, not on any other factors.

    Impossible. No matter how much Obama tries not to be “the black candidate”, the media will insist upon playing the race card at every turn. That’s why it will be a long and ultimately divisive campaign if he’s the nominee and why I seriously doubt he can win.

    The Clintons are certainly trying to do that, but it isn’t working. Obama’s appeal does cross racial lines, he appeals to blacks and to upper-class white liberals. He can’t easily be marginalized in that way, or he’d never have made it that far. Not to say he can never be marginalized, but so far the Clintons’ attempts to do so have failed.

    I’m on a dialup internet connection this weekend so I can’t listen to the ad, but color me skeptical that he’s attempting to invoke racial polarization when any black candidate with a smidgen of political savvy would know that’s a ticket to certain defeat. That’s why the Clintons are trying to derail him with race-baiting of their own.

    I don’t think he’s going for polarization as much as sending a message designed specifically to appeal to black voters.

    Yes, better that we play it safe and stay the course with the party whose substantive rhetoric includes citing Ronald Reagan and 9/11 every other sentence.

    The Republican debates have been far more substantive than the Democratic ones, and to try and parody the GOP’s rhetoric in that way doesn’t work. Then again, I agree that the ghost of Reagan comes up too many times.

    Reliving the 80s every five minutes is not sweetening the deal for Americans skeptical of signing on for a de facto third term for George Bush, particularly when you’re attempting to pass off “There you go again” and “morning in America” as the crown jewels of American political rhetoric. Ronald Reagan is a dead guy who was President 20 years ago….and his actual record on most issues stands in direct contradiction to the fawning nostalgia of conservatives. The more you lionize him in lieu of a forward-thinking campaign, the worse you’ll get defeated by voters under 35.

    I won’t necessarily disagree. What Republicans need to do is not invoke Reagan’s name, but his principles.

    So Fred Thompson’s extra three years in the Senate made that much of a difference for him, huh? Or being a one-term Governor of Massachusetts? Or a five-year Governor of Texas with decades worth of substance abuse issues? Or a Governor of California a decade before getting elected President? The “experience” meme is a form-fitting gimmick used by both parties at their convenience given the candidate they’re trying to sell in a given year. That you would sink so low as to exploit that yourself against Obama is as sleazy as when Terry McAuliffe or Ed Gillespie try to get away with it.

    Experience really does matter. More important, executive experience matters. Leading large organizations is significantly different from being part of an organization. That’s why Senators tend not to get elected President and Governors do. The function of the Executive is different than the Legislative Branch in this country, and it requires a different set of skills. Obama doesn’t have those skills. For that matter, Hillary’s claim to them is equally tenuous. If the only criterion were executive experience, Romney would be the strongest candidate. (McCain has some, but if I hear that “I led for patriotism not profit” line once more I swear I’ll throw something at the TV…

    There’s nothing “sleazy” about talking about experience. It is a serious and substantive question to ask of a candidate for President. It is one of the most important qualities a President can have, and Obama has never led anything larger than a classroom.

    Now who’s playing the race card?

    Just mentioning race is not “playing the race card.”

  3. Mark says:

    “As for Reagan, he ran a far more substantive campaign than Obama did, and had far more of a record on substantive political issues than Obama.”

    I don’t know exactly how old you are, but I’m sensing you a similar age if not slightly younger than me…and in 1980 and 1984, I was too busy playing with toy cars and watching “The Fall Guy” and “The A-Team” to have been wowed by the substance of the Reagan campaigns. But from what I’ve seen replayed on C-SPAN, there was no shortage of cleverly cloaked platitudes in his campaign rhetoric. As for Reagan’s more extensive record, bear in mind that record included, among other things, pushing for liberalized abortion laws in CA.

    “He can’t easily be marginalized in that way, or he’d never have made it that far. Not to say he can never be marginalized, but so far the Clintons’ attempts to do so have failed.”

    Moreso than the Clintons or the Republicans (if Obama becomes the nominee), it’ll be the media that will ultimately (and for the most part inadvertantly) marginalize Obama based on race, framing every aspect of his own campaign and the opposition campaign within the context of race. I’m an Obama supporter, and I expect to be annoyed with the media’s certain invokation of race at every turn. Ultimately, it’s not gonna hurt him if he can’t keep Chris Matthews and his ilk from obsessing over the race factor for the next nine months.

    “The Republican debates have been far more substantive than the Democratic ones”

    That’s highly debatable. Few would agree with that assessment based on the debates we saw this week where McCain acted like a smug winner unable to contain his ferocious contempt for Willard. Even McCain’s own advisers told him he needed to step up his game from Wednesday night.

    “What Republicans need to do is not invoke Reagan’s name, but his principles.”

    As I touched upon last week, Reagan’s principles were themselves far from consistent with the textbook conservatism that his posthumous groupies of today would like us to believe. He didn’t cut spending by any serious margin, he raised taxes (Bush II ended up being a far more consistent antitax ideologue than The Gipper ever was), he undermined the conservative commitment to states’ rights by strongarming them into compliance with his nanny-state wish list via withholding highway funds, and he happily signed the last amnesty bill for illegal immigrants. That inconsistency actually puts him closer to most of the current “flawed” Republican candidates than the “perfect conservative” they all selectively recall. If Ronald Reagan was running as the Republican nominee of 2008 based on his own record and without the nostalgia, Ann Coulter would be threatening to vote for Hillary if Reagan was the nominee just as she is now with McCain.

    “That’s why Senators tend not to get elected President and Governors do.”

    Senators tend not to get elected for a number of reasons, including the tendency for off-putting “insider” speechifying that comes with lengthy tenures in legislative policymaking, and of course the career’s worth of having to take sides on votes that can later be used as a millstone around one’s neck.

    And are you suggesting that had Obama decided to run for Governor of Illinois in 2002 rather than Senator in 2004, he’d have the same level of “leadership skills” as Romney or George W. Bush circa 2000? I don’t buy the “we have to nominate Governors” canard. If Tom Vilsack was the Democratic nominee, he’d be laughed off the stage by Republicans for having no foreign policy experience. It’s a double-edged sword exploited by whichever campaign decides to run on “experience” in a given election.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    And are you suggesting that had Obama decided to run for Governor of Illinois in 2002 rather than Senator in 2004, he’d have the same level of “leadership skills” as Romney or George W. Bush circa 2000? I don’t buy the “we have to nominate Governors” canard. If Tom Vilsack was the Democratic nominee, he’d be laughed off the stage by Republicans for having no foreign policy experience. It’s a double-edged sword exploited by whichever campaign decides to run on “experience” in a given election.

    It would help. Bush was governor of Texas (a state bigger than many countries) for 6 years before running for the Presidency. Romney had significant private-sector executive experience before being governor of Massachusetts.

    In order to be an effective President you have to learn how to delegate, how to work with the bureaucracy, and how to manage. The Legislative Branch doesn’t teach those skills because they’re not necessary to being a good legislature. Governors have to learn those skills or they don’t make it.

    Had Obama run for governor (and won) in 2002, he wouldn’t be running for President today—he doesn’t have the skills necessary to be a good executive, and all the flowery rhetoric in the world can’t make up for a lack of experience. His political career would have ended very quickly once he had to make decisions rather than speeches.

  5. Mark says:

    “Had Obama run for governor (and won) in 2002, he wouldn’t be running for President today—he doesn’t have the skills necessary to be a good executive”

    What is this speculative smear based upon? Considering the majority of Illinois’ Governors are in prison and the current one is an indictment-in-waiting, all Obama would have to do is not commit a felony and he’d be Illinois’ most popular Governor in a generation. The fact that he opted to run for Senate instead of Governor necessarily equates to “not having the skills necessary to be a good executive” in your mind?

  6. adb67 says:

    Jay, I would not use GW as an example of how being Governor makes one qualified for the Presidency. Even my most conservative friends think he is a complete dud in every perspective. Its said that he was the best choice for President, cuz he has been a disaster and the reason myself and all those other republican friends of mine consider his Presidency one of the worst (not as bad as idiot Carter) in recent History. Its made worse by perhaps the worst congress in recent american history as well.

  7. Jay Reding says:

    Mark:

    What is this speculative smear based upon? Considering the majority of Illinois’ Governors are in prison and the current one is an indictment-in-waiting, all Obama would have to do is not commit a felony and he’d be Illinois’ most popular Governor in a generation. The fact that he opted to run for Senate instead of Governor necessarily equates to “not having the skills necessary to be a good executive” in your mind?

    It’s not a “smear.” Being a legislator and being an executive take different skills. What the other Governors have done is immaterial—Obama doesn’t have the skills to truly lead. He’s a great orator, and his optimism is a much-needed change, but he doesn’t have the requisite experience to manage a bureaucracy. You can’t deliver speeches to a group of department heads and get anything done, you have to know how to manage, delegate and sometimes control. Obama has never had to do that before. He’s not once in his life run in a competitive race like this one.

    Obama’s appeal is entirely superficial. He’s not ready to lead, and the Presidency is not the place for on-the-job experience.

    adb67

    Jay, I would not use GW as an example of how being Governor makes one qualified for the Presidency. Even my most conservative friends think he is a complete dud in every perspective. Its said that he was the best choice for President, cuz he has been a disaster and the reason myself and all those other republican friends of mine consider his Presidency one of the worst (not as bad as idiot Carter) in recent History. Its made worse by perhaps the worst congress in recent american history as well.

    Which is your opinion, and you’re entitled to it. I don’t think Bush is a great President, at least not in his second term and almost entirely not on domestic politics, but he did manage to get a sizable amount of his first-term agenda passed, he won reelection and his unwillingness to bend on the war has had a profound effect on the world—especially if you buy the conclusions of the last NIE on Iran.

    The proof is in the pudding. Bush may not be popular, but he’s managed to outmaneuver his opponents on several occasions. He managed to call this Congress’ bluff on war spending, he beat Kerry, and he’s made some significant headway in his early administration.

    The problem with Obama is that he doesn’t really stand for anything. Change is a meaningless concept. We don’t need a President who tells us what we want to hear, we need a President capable of getting things done. Obama has no track record of legislative achievement, and beyond his surface appeal there’s just not that much there. He gives a great speech, but that will never be enough to be an effective President.

  8. […] Reding gives one of the most complete shreddings of Barack Obama out […]

  9. Mark says:

    “Bush may not be popular, but he’s managed to outmaneuver his opponents on several occasions. He managed to call this Congress’ bluff on war spending,”

    It’s pretty damn easy for the President to “outmaneuver” Congress given the Constitutional advantages of being in the executive branch, bully pulpit and all. Has there ever been a situation where the President has NOT outmaneuvered Congress?

  10. Jay Reding says:

    It’s pretty damn easy for the President to “outmaneuver” Congress given the Constitutional advantages of being in the executive branch, bully pulpit and all. Has there ever been a situation where the President has NOT outmaneuvered Congress?

    It happens. Remember that Congress has the power of the purse, which gives them a huge amount of political leverage. That’s how Congress forced Reagan to sign onto the Gramm-Rudman Budget Enforcement Act despite his disagreements with the bill.

    I’d argue that No Child Left Behind is another case in point. By the time Ted Kennedy got through mucking with the bill it became nothing like what was promised in Bush’s campaign.

    In theory, you’re right, the President should have the advantage. However, Congress can make the life of a President very difficult, and a President has to keep on Congress’ good side if he or she wants to get anything done. Never underestimate the power of the purse in terms of setting the agenda.

  11. adb67 says:

    All we need do is look at the current Bush budget proposal and the state of the economy and realize what an inept economic manager he has been. We are facing record deficits in part due to complete fiscal mismanagement by the administration. For pete sake he is talking about limiting spending and is increasing the defense budget another 8 percent. The man is absolutely clueless……you cannot run the government with these types of deficits and expect the economy to thrive. Why cant people, even those of us who voted for Bush, accept the fact that they is clueless….utterly and completely clueless….