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“That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.” — Michael Corleone, The Godfather
Michael Corleone, like Senator Obama, was the new man, the pinnacle and fulfillment of Western Civilization. He would save us from the simplistic brutes of yesteryear. Instead, like a French or Russian revolutionary, he became that which he despised.
Michael was naive regarding the world around him, regarding actions and unintended consequences. He was a sideline critic, an armchair general who theorized about how the doers of deeds could have done them better. When in the arena himself, he understood and adopted his father’s ways.
He was also naive regarding himself. Michael was always his father’s son. His brutishness was simply expressed in more civilized contexts. Long before assuming power, he was firm, dominant, and always got his way. He was sure of his righteousness only because of a naivete regarding the darkness in his own soul.
Part is weakness of character. When the stakes got real, he chose interests over ethics.
Which brings us to, as one Salon author put it, “that dreamy African-American senator who opposed the war in Iraq who looked so magical eight years ago.”
Obama’s foreign policy naiveté collided with the real world’s complexities. Not being George W Bush may win you a Nobel Peace Prize, but it doesn’t liberate the world into a kinder and gentler state.
His journey from the senator who would unite the nation to the president who tore it apart combines all three problems. Ryan Lizza writes of the character flaws
“In early October, 2007, David Axelrod and Obama’s other political consultants wrote the candidate a memo explaining how he could repair his floundering campaign against Hillary Clinton. They advised him to attack her personally, presenting a difficult choice for Obama. He had spent years building a reputation as a reformer who deplored the nasty side of politics, and now, he was told, he had to put that aside. Obama’s strategists wrote that all campaign communications, even the slogan—”Change We Can Believe In”—had to emphasize distinctions with Clinton on character rather than on policy. The slogan “was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight,” the memo said.
President Obama has always had a masterful style to character assassination. Nobody does mocking and derisive better, while maintaining an “above the fray” pose. “You’re likable enough” was a masterstroke.
But perhaps Lizza is mistaken when he presents this as a big moral dilemma. Lizza notes that “His ascent from law professor to President in a decade was marked by a series of political decisions that undercut some of his claims on the subject of partisanship and political reform.”
Obama was always a manipulative politician with a gift for character attacks. Indeed, these skills allowed him to win our highest office. They were on full display in his great unification speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention — the speech that rocketed him to national fame — declaring “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America … there’s not a black America and white America … there’s the United States of America!”
“Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?” is a cynical and manipulative way to imply that your political opponents are cynical manipulators.
“John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies …” was a nice way of hinting that maybe Americans were being sent to die for corporate oil profits. Likewise, Obama’s claim later in that speech that Kerry “… will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us” was a nice way of using faith as a wedge to divide us.
Perhaps, once in office, President Obama found the politics of hope and bipartisanship to be more challenging than he expected. But perhaps he has always been cynical, mocking, and manipulative. Or, as he put it:
… As we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.