Barack Obama and the Culture War

The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy feature on Barack Obama. Much of the article deals with how he campaigns in Virginia and in rural areas which have not voted Democratic in decades. Here are some excerpts.

Obama answered a question about what he would do for rural areas, but then added on a comment regarding what is often a reason for lost votes in rural areas:

“One thing I want to make clear while we’re on this topic of rural America,” he said, looking around the gym. “There are a lot of folks who come up to me and say, ‘You know, Barack, I like your economic plan, and I’m tired of George Bush, but you know, I got my N.R.A. mailing, and I’m worried you’re gonna take my gun away.’ ” Obama likes to do this — to momentarily inhabit the mind of some composite character and act out his side of the conversation — and he was met with knowing chuckles.

“I just want to be absolutely clear, O.K.? I just don’t want any misunderstanding when you all go home and you talk with your buddies, and they say, ‘Oh, he wants to take my gun away.’ You heard it here, and I’m on television, so everybody knows. I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.

“So if you want to find an excuse not to vote for me, don’t use that one!” Obama said, eliciting laughter and cheers from the crowd. “It just ain’t true!”

Obama’s style of campaigining was contrasted with Bill Clinton’s:

…Obama has differentiated himself from recent Democrats by conveying a sense of inner security that is highly unusual in a business of people who have chosen to spend every day asking people to love them. He does not seem like a candidate who’s going to switch to earth tones in his middle age or who’s going to start dressing up in camouflage to rediscover his inner Rambo. Obama is content to meet the world on his terms, and something about that inspires confidence.

And yet that same lack of pathetic neediness may in fact be a detriment when it comes to persuading voters who, culturally or ideologically, just aren’t predisposed to like him. I once heard a friend of Obama’s compare him with Bill Clinton this way: if Clinton sees you walking down the other side of the street, he immediately crosses over to shake your hand; if Obama sees you coming, he nods and waits for you to cross. That image returned to me as I watched Obama campaign in Lebanon. Clinton wouldn’t have wanted to leave that gym until every last voter had been converted, even if that meant he had to memorize the scheduled sewer installation for every home in Russell County. Mark Warner, a similarly tenacious glad-hander, went to rural Virginia again and again because, deep down, he needed to change people’s perceptions of who he was. Obama doesn’t connect to the world that way, which is probably why his campaign has always preferred big rallies to hand-to-hand venues. Obama gives the impression that he’s going to show up and make his case, and if you don’t fall in love with him, well, he’ll just have to pick up the pieces and go on.

The article discusses how race is an obstacle for Obama, along with the usual cultural problems liberals have when going up against the conservative media. Obama s specifically pointed out the harm done to Democratic candidates by Fox:

…I’m trying to do this in an environment where the media narrative is already set up in a certain way. So it’s hard to not be dropped into a box.”

He reminded me that back in March, for instance, he accepted a spontaneous invitation from a voter in Altoona, Pa., to bowl a few frames, and it turned out Obama was basically a god-awful bowler. Some commentators gleefully used this deficiency to portray him as out of touch with the common man, in a John Kerry-windsurfing sort of way. (Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, used the word “prissy.”) To Obama, this brought home the bleak reality that, as a Democratic nominee, he was going to be typecast, fairly or not.

“I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls,” Obama told me. “If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right? Because the way I’m portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?

“I guess the point I’m making,” he went on, “is that there is an entire industry now, an entire apparatus, designed to perpetuate this cultural schism, and it’s powerful. People want to know that you’re fighting for them, that you get them. And I actually think I do. But you know, if people are just seeing me in sound bites, they’re not going to discover that. That’s why I say that some of that may have to happen after the election, when they get to know you.”

Shake Up At MSNBC

Poor MSNBC has always been on the bottom with respect to cable news. For several years it attempted to be a conservative Fox News imitator, believing that’s where the money was. It never did a very good job of it and conservatives never had any reason to leave Fox. After Keith Olbermann became a hit they finally realized that with conservatives dominating the broadcast media, and with CNN having turned into the Conservative News Network(although far less biased than Fox) after Ted Turner left, there was money to be made with offering a home to liberal viewers.

This never worked out too well either. More Democrats wound up watching the convention on CNN than on MSNBC (with Republicans still sticking with Fox). Having Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews anchor political coverage was often more interesting than the other networks, but it was, to be mild, journalistically flawed. This especially proved to be a problem as the reputation of MSNBC also affected the reputation of NBC. The New York Times reports that Olbermann and Matthews are to be removed as anchors for the remainder of the coverage of the election.

From an entertainment point of view I am a little disappointed. MSNBC was often the network to turn to when the actual news was slow. It certainly could not be called objective journalism but it was the next best thing to having Jon Stewart as anchor. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to have a serious anchor and mix in personalities such as Olbermann and Rachel Maddow for commentary from the left, Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough for coverage from the right, and I’m not exactly sure what Chris Matthews might be good for beyond random screaming.

For now the plan is to have David Gregory anchor the coverage the nights of the debates and for election night coverage. There will be episodes of Countdown both before and after the debates. Other nights liberals will also have Rachel Maddow, whose new show begins on Monday.

Susan Eisenhower Joins Other Republicans in Endorsing Obama

Much as already been written of the symbolism of Caroline and Ted Kennedy, daughter and brother of John F. Kennedy, supporting Barack Obama. Not only is Obama now carrying the torch of the Kennedy years, he has also received the support of the family of the president who preceded Kennedy. Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower, has endorsed Barack Obama for president:

I am not alone in worrying that my generation will fail to do what my grandfather’s did so well: Leave America a better, stronger place than the one it found.

Given the magnitude of these issues and the cost of addressing them, our next president must be able to bring about a sense of national unity and change. As we no longer have the financial resources to address all these problems comprehensively and simultaneously, setting priorities will be essential. With hard work, much can be done.

The biggest barrier to rolling up our sleeves and preparing for a better future is our own apathy, fear or immobility. We have been living in a zero-sum political environment where all heads have been lowered to avert being lopped off by angry, noisy extremists. I am convinced that Barack Obama is the one presidential candidate today who can encourage ordinary Americans to stand straight again; he is a man who can salve our national wounds and both inspire and pursue genuine bipartisan cooperation. Just as important, Obama can assure the world and Americans that this great nation’s impulses are still free, open, fair and broad-minded.

While Eisenhower was a president from an era with plenty of problems of its own, it was an era before our current cultural wars and partisan divides. While there remains talk of Reagan Democrats, there were also Democrats who crossed over in previous elections:

The last time the United States had an open election was 1952. My grandfather was pursued by both political parties and eventually became the Republican nominee. Despite being a charismatic war hero, he did not have an easy ride to the nomination. He went on to win the presidency — with the indispensable help of a “Democrats for Eisenhower” movement. These crossover voters were attracted by his pledge to bring change to Washington and by the prospect that he would unify the nation.

It is in this great tradition of crossover voters that I support Barack Obama’s candidacy for president. If the Democratic Party chooses Obama as its candidate, this lifelong Republican will work to get him elected and encourage him to seek strategic solutions to meet America’s greatest challenges. To be successful, our president will need bipartisan help.

Susan Eisenhower isn’t the only Republican who is supporting Obama. Richard Wolffe has written about Republicans for Obama for Newsweek:

Eisenhower is one of a small but symbolically powerful group of what Obama recently called “Obamacans”—disaffected Republicans who have drifted away from their party just as Eisenhower Democrats did and, more recently, Reagan Democrats in the 1980s. They include lifelong Republican Tricia Moseley, a former staffer for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, the one-time segregationist from South Carolina. Now a high-school teacher, Moseley says she was attracted to Obama’s positions on education and the economy.

Former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough, who anchors MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” says many conservative friends—including Bush officials and evangelical Christians—sent him enthusiastic e-mails after seeing Obama’s post-election speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “He doesn’t attack Republicans, he doesn’t attack whites and he never seems to draw these dividing lines that Bill Clinton [does],” Scarborough told NEWSWEEK.

Many Democrats support Obama because of his ability to bridge the partisan divide. For some this is because of their own reservations about the current hyper-partisanship, while for others it might simply a pragmatic desire to nominate the candidate who can redraw the red/blue state map in favor of the Democrats.

While Obama represents bridging the partisan gap, Hillary Clinton has become the candidate who represents a return to the old partisan fights. Some of her supporters see this as something favorable, as they attacked Obama for merely mentioning Ronald Reagan in an accurate historical perspective.

Taylor Marsh has become one of the most extreme proponents of Clinton, who attacks Obama at every opportunity with a Rove-style disregard for the validity of the attacks. While Democrats should see it as favorable that a Democratic candidate can bring in Republican votes, Marsh’s response to Obama’s Republican support is “Oh no,” and she searches for a punchline. Those commenting on her blog go along with her idea that obtaining the support from anyone except a die hard Democrat must mean he is betraying their cause. That is a perfect mind set for remaining a minority party forever.

Democrats Right In Denying Fox Legitimacy As A News Organization

We’ve come to expect right wingers like Tim Russert to echo the Republican Party line on debates, but it was disappointing to see a moderate site give some credibility to their memes. In discussing the boycott of debates hosted by Fox News, Joe Gandelman writes:

While those who advocate nixing Democratic debates list some intriguing reasons why, hopefully they also can see this decision’s potential impact — and the precedent. Some non-Fox types will conclude that the Democrats are afraid of getting tough questions in hostile territory (this is similar to all the Presidential candidates that now only invite blogs that they feel are already on their own side — “friendly blogs” — in on conference calls). And the stage is now set for in some future year Republicans refusing to debate on MSNBC or CNN.

It’s not a good precedent for candidates to pick and choose which networks they will appear on for debates. Unless we want totally polarized news media as well (and some will argue we are getting there…).

The decision not to give Fox News legitimacy by allowing them to cover a debate has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding tough questions. There are plenty of conservatives working for the other networks if that was the concern. Fox News should be avoided as in the past they have utilized such coverage not only to attack what is said, as opposed to providing objective coverage, but to also distort the Democrats’ message. If they responded with honest disagreement then there could be a source of dialog. Instead they concentrate on what Taylor Marsh accurately describes as “cheap shot theatrical diatribes.”

The problem is also misrepresented in raising a Republican refusal to debate on MSNBC or CNN as analogous. While MSNBC has improved with the addition of Keith Olbermann, this is the network which had moved so far to the right that not long ago they had a quota system to ensure that there were more conservative guests than liberal ones. They still have people like Joe Scarborough to keep the debates conservative friendly. CNN moved dramatically to the right since sold by Ted Turner, with people like Wolf Blitzer pushing the Republican line.

There is another fundamental difference. NBC and CNN are news organizations with a conservative bias, but this bias is not universal in their news. In contrast, Fox has crossed the line where they should not be considered a news organization at all. Fox was established specially to promote one party’s agenda and this agenda dominates both their commentary and news. Fox News should be considered in the same class as right wing talk radio or Air America, not CNN or MSNBC. When the Republicans hold a debate on Air America, the Democrats should consider returning to debate on Fox.

Barnicle on Scarborough: Bush is Delusional

There’s been quite a bit of excitement in the blogosphere today over Joe Scarborough’s comments on Bush last night. Actually this is nothing new, considering how Scarborough previously asked if Bush is an idiot on his show. Scarborough also gave his opinions on Bush in an Salon interview last August. Still, it is of interest to hear Scarborough say what we all know, and to have others he is interviewing agree. It is worthwhile for the rest of the country to hear Mike Barnicle report that Bush is delusional.
Crooks and Liars has the video and the transcript follows:

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, the Democratic frontrunner for 2008 takes her pre-campaign campaign to “The View.”  But first, stop the presses.  George W. Bush says America is not winning the war.  Yes, those words coming from the man who‘s decided the only way to turn things around in Iraq is by sending in more troop,  Despite being told by the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell and the man running the Iraq war, General Abizaid, that sending more troops to Iraq would only get more Americans killed.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that on the same day that Mr. Bush ignored his top generals‘ advice, General John Abizaid abruptly quit, announcing he would step down soon.

Now, seeming to confirm his opponent‘s worst suspicions that this president does not value the opinions of those with whom he disagrees, Mr.  Bush has now decided to go it alone in Iraq against the wishes of his allies, against the desires of his fellow countrymen, and yes, even against the advice of his own generals.  And in the face of this crisis, almost without precedent in U.S. history, the president offered this advice to the American people today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Here to talk about the crisis that seemingly becomes more dangerous by the day, here‘s Michael Crowley with “The New Republic,” Josh Green, senior editor for “The Atlantic Monthly,” and MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle.

Michael, Crowley, you know, the situation seems to become more and more grim in Iraq, and the White House—the situation there is every bit as disturbing as each day passes.  How can this president thumb his nose at the very military leaders who are fighting this war in Iraq just because they know that more troops in Iraq will not win this war?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Yes, I mean, Joe, there‘s something very unsettling about what we‘re starting to hear from Bush.  For so long, his mantra was that he was taking his lead from the commanders on the ground, and that was this—you know, this ultimate card he could play of credibility…

SCARBOROUGH:  And Michael, as long as he said that—exactly.  As long as he said that, it didn‘t matter that only 12 percent of Americans support this president‘s effort to send more troops to Iraq.  But when all of his generals abandon him, when the Joint Chiefs abandon him, the admirals abandon him, when John Abizaid abandons him, when Colin Powell abandons him, everybody abandons him, he‘s standing alone!  He just doesn‘t seem to have any credibility.  And this is extraordinarily disturbing to me, as a guy who supported this war and supported this president twice.

CROWLEY:  No, there‘s something almost kind of alarming about it.  I mean, he‘s been telling us the whole time, These guys know what‘s best, I take their lead.  And they‘re saying, This is not—not uniformly, but many of them, many of the senior guys, the smartest guys, Abizaid, people with a lot of credibility, are saying this is not the way to go, and it looks likes he‘s not going to listen to them.  And there‘s something quite alarming about that.

You know, things are—you thought things couldn‘t get worse, and now you have a situation where, gosh, he‘s overruling the people who really do seem to know best.  And we‘re sort of in uncharted territory here, if you ask me.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, this is uncharted territory.  And Josh Green, I want you, if you will, to imagine, how would Republicans have responded if President Bill Clinton had ignored the advice of all of his Joint Chiefs, his top general in the war zone, his former secretary of state, and 80 percent of Americans?  Is it not a stretch to say that many Republicans would have considered impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton if this situation were identical?

JOSH GREEN, “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”:  I think they would have launched a coupe.  It probably would have been—probably would have been centered at Fox News.  They‘d be going crazy, the way, you know, frankly, quite a few of them are beginning to get with Bush.

You know, we heard yesterday for the first time, you know, at least an admission on Bush‘s part that this line about how we‘re winning the war in Iraq is no longer operative.  And he admitted to “The Washington Post” yesterday that while they‘re not winning the war, they‘re not losing.  So at least he‘s come a small step down the road toward being where everybody else is, you know, most importantly his top generals. (more…)

Joe Scarborough Interviewed in Salon

Since he asked Is Bush an Idiot? Joe Scarborough has been all over the liberal media, from Huffington Post to an interview today in Salon. Here’s a portion of a couple of his answers:

That brings up another question I wanted to ask you — you’ve been tough on liberals in the past, and you continue to be tough on them now. With your recent shift in viewpoint, have your feelings on liberalism, and the liberal critics of the administration, changed at all?

Obviously since the things they were predicting about Iraq have been proven to be accurate, or at least more accurate than what the administration was saying back in 2003, you certainly have to tip your hat to them.

Your criticism of the president has been about more than just the Iraq war — you’ve criticized the NSA eavesdropping program, you’ve criticized the bank records program, you’ve criticized government spending. What’s prompted that criticism, and that direction on your show, generally?

You know, it started back in 2004. I wrote a book called “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day,” which three people read, because when you write books now you either have to be on the left calling the president a liar or be on the right calling people treasonous. I actually took Republicans and Democrats to task and was harshly critical of the president and my Republican colleagues for being so hypocritical … No tough choices are being made in Washington. You want to have a war? OK, we’ll pay for it. You want tax cuts? OK, we’ll pay for it. You want a $7 trillion Medicare drug benefit plan? OK, we’ll pay for it…

Here’s the kicker — since 2004, I have been attacked by Republicans, by conservatives, well, actually, more by Republican loyalists than conservatives, by basically the Republican establishment in Washington, for saying the exact same thing that we were all saying in 1995, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99. We were always attacking Bill Clinton’s spending levels. Dick Armey called him a Marxist, called Hillary Clinton a Marxist. As I point out in speeches these days, government spending grew by 3.4 percent annually under Bill Clinton the Marxist. Spending has grown by 10.5 percent under George Bush the fiscal conservative. I always say: Give me that choice, I’ll take the Marxist at 3.4 percent any day of the week. And so I started in 2004, and when you talk about NSA wiretapping, when you talk about the bank records, my criticisms — I’m saying the exact same thing now that Bob Barr and David Vitter and myself were saying on the Judiciary Committee in 1999 and in 2000, when Janet Reno was trying to get roving wiretaps without coming to Congress first.

George Bush, From Bizarro World or Animal House?

Eugene Robinson writes about the President on Another Planet:

As for George Bush, what on earth is on his mind?

Even conservatives have begun openly assessing the president’s intellect, especially its impermeability to new information. Cable television pundit Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, devoted a segment of his MSNBC show to “George Bush’s mental weakness,” with a legend at the bottom of the screen that impertinently asked: “IS BUSH AN ‘IDIOT’?”

It’s tempting to go there, but I’m not sure we’d get very far. While we have the president on the couch, I’m more interested in trying to understand his emotional response — or lack of response — to the chaos he has spawned.

Robinson can’t figure out what Bush is thinking with his Iraq policies, wondering  if he is “just trying to hold on until January 2009, when all this will become somebody else’s problem?”

I can’t help Robinson out with figuring out what Bush has on his mind, but I could suggest the planet Bush is on–the Bizarro World. Superman (and Seinfeld) fans know this as the planet where everything is backwards. Or perhaps Bush is just stuck in a movie. This is from Washington Whispers:

Animal House in the West Wing

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we’re learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he’s still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can’t get enough of fart jokes. He’s also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.

Scarborough and Other Conservative Pundits Renounce Bush

Joe Scarborough’s knocks on George Bush continue, now in The Washington Post. Previously he did a segment on his show askiing, Is Bush an Idiot? Scarborough also had a follow up post at Huffington Report which I also quoted in my previous post.

The Washington Post has a story on Scarborough and other conservative commentators who have become critical of Bush. They provide Scarborough’s answer to his question: While other presidents have been called stupid, Scarborough said: “I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don’t think he has the intellectual depth as these other people.”

While the country does not want a leader wallowing in the weeds, Scarborough concluded on the segment, “we do need a president who, I think, is intellectually curious.”

“And that is a big question,” Scarborough said, “whether George W. Bush has the intellectual curiousness — if that’s a word — to continue leading this country over the next couple of years.”

In a later telephone interview, Scarborough said he aired the segment because he kept hearing even fellow Republicans questioning Bush’s capacity and leadership, particularly in Iraq. Like others, he said, he supported the war but now thinks it is time to find a way to get out. “A lot of conservatives are saying, ‘Enough’s enough,’ ” he said. Asked about the reaction to his program, he said, “The White House is not happy about it.”

Is Bush an Idiot?

Bush Idiot

Joe Scarborbough did a segment asking the question, “Is Bush an idiot?” Crooks and Liars has the video. Listing the Bushisms makes George Bush an easy target. Joe Gandelman has his theory on how Bush wound up reading Camus (think Sea World) and argues that mocking Presidents is the American way.

More seriously, I think idiot is the wrong word. In terms of political skills, George Bush is an intelligent man. The problem is that he shows a serious lack of intellectual curiosity. He has simplistic answers for problems without bothering to investigate the full background. (I’ll give one example from a recent post at DemBloggers under the fold.) Added to this we have Bush accepting the anti-scientific flat-earth philosophy of the religious right, and therefore we have a President who is incapable of making intelligent decisions about the problems we face.

Update: Joe Scarborough follows up on his story at Huffington Post. After reviewing Bush’s faults, Scarborough sums up (remember, from a conservative viewpoint):

So does it matter in the end whether our president is articulate and intelligent?

You bet your life, it does. I’m not saying we need to elect a dork like Michael Dukakis, who famously spent vacations at the beach reading books on Swedish land use or was so overwhelmed with the details of the old SALT treaties that he would sulk off to bed depressed.

But when America is fighting a global war on terror where the battle is for hearts and minds instead of beachheads and landing strips, we need a leader who can explain to friend and foe alike why America is in Iraq, why we keep sending arms to Israel and why liberal democracy really is preferable to Islamic fascism.

Right now, George W. Bush is not that leader.

(more…)