One Thing I Like About Obama ...
April 29, 2008, 11:41 PM
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... is that he prefers, all else being equal, not to lie.

Some politicians are like Chevy Chase's character in "Fletch." They'd rather make up lies than tell the truth, for the same reason that a composer likes to make up music—that's what they're good at.

In contrast, Barack Obama's preferred mode is the intellectual puzzle. He likes to bury the truth in there somewhere under so many dependent clauses, thoughtful nuances, and "I have understood you" gestures that most people give up trying to decipher what he's saying and just make up little fantasies about how he agrees with them. Obama's view seems to be that it's not his fault that the press and public aren't as smart or hard-working as he is.

Unfortunately, with his back finally to the wall over Rev. Wright, Obama is reduced to common lying in answer to Sen. Howard Baker's question during the Watergate hearings: "What did the [candidate for] President know and when did he know it?"

"You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago."

The fascinating question is why Obama insists that the person who has changed is Jeremiah A. Wright, not Barack Obama. Why not just say, "Well, we've both changed over the years, in opposite directions"?

The person Obama has to disown to be elected President is not Rev. Wright but his own younger self, the one who carefully chose Rev. Wright out of the dozens of black South Side ministers he met as a community organizer.

Why won't Obama admit that he's matured into moderation? As I pointed out a week ago, he's going to need to do a speech along the lines of, "Yeah, I used to be a radical, but then ... I had kids!" But he hasn't come close to that yet.

Clearly, part of the problem is that that would demolish his carefully crafted myth that racial moderation is in his "DNA" (as he asserted today).

Another problem Obama has is that he's strongly emphasized his connections with Rev. Wright and Trinity Church in his campaign materials aimed at Christian voters. My guess is that Obama is a secular nonbeliever who just plays up his church membership for political gain and because its racialist aspect fills the hole in his soul left by his father's abandonment of him, helping him feel "black enough." But that's left him in the ridiculous position of asserting that he went to Trinity all the time, just not, through some amazing statistical coincidence, on the days when Rev. Wright did what Rev. Wright does.

Yet, there may be other reasons for refusing to disown his own younger self. Perhaps fear of his wife? Mrs. Obama made herself into a social lioness among Chicago's elite, which may help explain the family's inability to build up any savings until very recently, despite averaging over $200,000 income per year from 1997-2004. Perhaps Mrs. Obama, deep down, is worried that she sold out, so Trinity remains a symbol to her that she's still keepin' it real.

Or perhaps it's Obama who is appalled by his own selling out of his youthful radicalism?

That touches on a different question about who Obama is: Is he the cold-blooded political operative who destroyed the career of a beloved elder stateswoman by having her nomination signatures disqualified to win office for the first time in 1996? Or is he the sensitive, self-absorbed literary artiste who recounted the mild buffets that fate has dealt him with so much anguish in his autobiography? Clearly, he's both, but it's hard to get a sense of the balance within him.