Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Silence of the Lamb

Whatever happened to Barack Obama?

Does it strike anyone else that the about-to-be-anointed One has been a non-presence for, oh, the past two months, at least?

Maybe he doesn’t want to rain on her swan song?

It’s not just that he keeps losing by ever-more-epic proportions. It’s not just that he’s “wheezing across the finish line.” It’s not just that he hasn’t articulated an arresting or interesting policy position in living memory.

As a test, ask any Obama supporter to name one innovative idea the good Senator has proposed in this campaign. Then ask them to name one policy proposal of his that is more thoughtful, detailed and progressive than the comparable position of Hillary’s. But I digress.

What’s striking is that he seems to have faded entirely. He emerges every once in a while to respond to an attack by McCain – or, recently, to resign from his spiritual home (which, we were led to understand, he could no more do than he could cut off his ties to his African American roots). But he hasn’t picked a single issue and made it his own. His entire plan for the GE seems to be: “I’m the Democrat, and so you can just take it for granted that those Democrat-like things are what I want.”

If this were a play, Obama would be the guy standing off to the side, waiting for the actual drama to finish up. At best he’s Fortinbras, and nobody in the audience has the slightest interest in him. He’s even stopped sending thrills up Chris Matthews’s leg. This is a play with a great tragic heroine (or villainess, depending on your rooting interest), and she owns the stage.

That makes sense, of course, because for most of the media and the Obamanauts, this play has been Kill Hill. If Obama then wins, well, that’s fine – but Job One will have been accomplished.

And it is simply the case that Hillary is a much more forceful and riveting person – both intellectually and emotionally. She stirs feelings of far greater intensity, pro and con. And even at that, it feels to me that something more is going on here. He seems to have run out of steam, out of ideas, out of a role to play.

In any event, he could hardly be playing this phase – ever since he became the front-runner, by the end of February, and now in the endgame of the primaries – more ineptly, less like a leader. He’s been content to watch the passionate Hillary supporters be dissed and dismissed in ever-more-derisive and sexist ways by his supporters in the media and blogosphere. He’s been content to push “the rules” at the expense of democratic principles, and let Donna Brazile continue to drag the Democratic Party into the sewer of disenfranchisement – for what? Basically, to be able to kick that much more sand in Hillary’s face. And most egregiously, he has encouraged the toxic, deeply misogynist lie that Hillary advocated his murder.

In every real contest, there are no timeouts. Even if it seems you can coast for a quarter, there’s an opportunity cost – especially for someone whose brand has yet to be defined. And failure to define yourself, for a politician, is an unpardonable sin, a demonstration of dispositive incompetence.

If he really had this thing wrapped up – if no number of Hillary blowouts after February was gonna persuade the Party to choose her – then a real leader would have been working all that time to shape the “new” party that would encompass the constituencies she represents. A real leader would have been making serious efforts to address their issues – or at least to learn about them. A handful of patronizing head-pats for Hillary’s campaign and career don’t come close to cutting it. A real leader would have… led.

He hasn’t. He couldn’t have been more passive – almost invisible. Even when he speaks, it’s the same old “hope and change” song and dance. I wonder if his speechwriters have changed more than the thank-you intros in a month.

Quite a way to show your stuff, as the next leader of the world.


Unknown said...

It seems to me that the Democratic party elites have two goals: to purge the Clintons and their constituents and to forfeit the presidency, so as not to be blamed for what's coming. Also, Clinton would make them work for policies that would go against the wishes of their corporate backers; it would be much easier to put the responsibility for their inaction on a Republican president.

Therefore, I am considering voting for Obama (if he hasn't destroyed himself by them). It would serve them right.

Unknown said...

But, seriously, I'm not voting for him.

Falstaff said...

Heh. Good one. Be careful what you campaign for, because you might get it, eh?

As I said in one of my earlier screeds here, the Dems are crawling their way back toward being a functioning institution... but they're not there yet. A Congressional party, yes. But not to shoulder actual responsibility. I choose to be hopeful that that will come in 2012.

David Berger said...

Sadly, the Clinton campaign's political malpractice had a lot do do with this. She nicely recovered after South Carolina, and more than held her own on Super Tuesday (winning MA against expectations, blowing him out in CA, etc.) But it turned out the campaign had no plan for the rest of February. Obama's win can be directly attributed to the stunning margins he rolled up in VA, MD and WI. If HRC was able to keep those numbers in check, she wouldn't be playing such massive catch-up in the last three months.

Say what you will about this campaign but sexism, misogyny, etc. doesn't explain the poor political decisions the HRC campaign.

Falstaff said...

I would say that they both made mistakes. To err, after all, is homo politicus. But in the end, Clinton's mistakes were (a) correctable, and largely corrected, and (b) less significant vis a vis her electability when it will really count.

My point in this post -- and a couple of the prior ones -- is that Obama's campaign has essentially collapsed. For the past two months, he's been running out the clock, and it doesn't seem to be because he's got some clever strategy to unveil once he's the official nominee. He actually is an empty suit, not a leader -- and that has now become visible. The Democratic Party -- in the persons of the superdelegates -- may still be too averse to power and to winning to do the rational thing here (i.e., to accept its role as adult supervision, and field the strongest candidate)... but that doesn't change the collapse of Obama as a candidate and an idea.