Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

30 April 2008

Nothing Has Changed

One of Senator Obama’s most important and least appreciated virtues is his steadiness. As he said on his first Fox News interview Monday,
    “I have learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high, and I don’t get too low when I’m low.”
That, of course, was classic Obama understatement. He is one of the calmest and coolest public figures of any kind that I have ever seen, and I’m over 60. And when I say “cool,” I don’t mean “hip;” I mean serene, unflappable and collected.

Throughout this entire campaign, Obama has always known he is the underdog, and he’s always known why. He has never succumbed to the euphoria or despair that periodically grips his supporters, including this writer. We all would do well to emulate him now.

For in truth l’ affaire Wright has changed nothing. Obama is still the best candidate. He is still the only one of the three who understands basic economics. He is still the only one whose foreign policy derives from careful analysis, rather than an all-consuming desire to become president at any cost or testosterone left over from the Vietnam War. And when a man of Obama’s caution and understatement promises to go after bin Laden and Zawahiri wherever they may be, you can take it to the bank.

In responding to Reverend Wright, Obama did exactly what you would expect of a man of honesty, honor and integrity. He had no control over Wright or the vicious caricatures of Wright. When the issue first arose, Obama refused to disown his friend and religious mentor although rejecting his words. In the process, Obama taught us all something about moral courage and something about race. Then, when Wright’s antics because too extreme, Obama cut him loose, but not without the chagrin that any of us would feel on losing an old friend. Throughout the whole sorry episode, Obama acted like a mensch.

The more interesting case is Wright’s. I watched every minute of his hour-long interview with Bill Moyers and was entranced. In that interview Wright was erudite, urbane, thoughtful, kind, gentle and quintessentially good. As a teacher for decades, I know something about recognizing talent, and Wright’s talent knocked me off my seat.

So how did Moyers’ Wright become the snarling reincarnation of Huey Newton that we saw at the National Press Club? If you’re dumb, you can’t act smart. It takes superb education and intelligence to put together long quotes from the Bible and Shakespeare in complete sentences and well-formed paragraphs that make perfect sense, as Wright did with Moyers. But if you’re smart, you can act dumb. So if I had to guess, I’d say his performance at the National Press Club was the act.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, whom I greatly respect, writes that it wasn’t an act. He suggests that Wright boorishly and selfishly exploited his fifteen minutes of fame or simply lost his cool. Maybe. A man of Wright’s great gifts but modest achievements could be insanely jealous knowing that, but for the difference of thirty or so years, he might stand precisely where Obama does now. But maybe Herbert is in on the game.

I was fortunate enough to be born before the current spate of political correctness banned the wonderful “Uncle Remus” cartoons. In them, an avuncular black man dressed as a sharecropper told amusing stories about a perpetual underdog named “Bre’r Rabbit.” The clever little hare always seemed to outwit his tormentors and oppressors in the most ingenious ways. The message was clear: people who have to fight the scourge of racism every day have ways of coping that the rest of us can’t even imagine.

Suppose Wright was acting the goon at the National Press Club. Why would he do that?

The answer is not hard to guess. As an honorable man and a true friend, Obama was standing by his old religious mentor. To voters sitting on the fence, it seemed as if he was standing by a caricature, and he was losing ground.

So Wright may have pushed Obama off the fence. By acting so outrageously that no reasonable person could countenance him, Wright forced Obama to disown him decisively. Furthermore, by setting himself up as a defender of the “black Church,” which racist propaganda conflates with a “radical, black racist church,” Wright allowed Obama to disown that, too. Wright may have handed Obama his own Sister Souljah moment on a silver platter.

If that’s what happened (and I have more than a sneaking suspicion it was) Wright and his fellow snarlers inoculated Obama against this particular bit of propaganda. The story will fester a while and die. Thereafter, Reverend Wright will be old news, and so will Obama’s stern and decisive denunciation of Wright and (by implication) Wright’s supposedly racist and extremist church. More important, any superdelegates whose loyalty now may be wavering will wake up and recall that Obama is the best candidate and the only one who promises real change.

Am I sure this is what happened? Of course not. I don’t know either Reverend Wright or Senator Obama personally. But I cannot square the Wright I saw in Bill Moyers’ interview with the one I saw later unless one of them was an act. And if one was indeed an act, I have no doubt whatsoever which one. Perhaps Wright and Moyers were giving history and those of us who think a hint of what was really going on.

If Wright was in fact play-acting the dangerous radical, he deserves far more than an Academy Award. He deserves the Medal of Freedom. For he has sacrificed his personal reputation to save the nation that he is supposed to have damned.

Reverend Wright once served in the U.S. Marines. I never did. But I hope he’ll forgive me if I say “Semper Fi.”


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  • At Wed Apr 30, 02:36:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    . . . but he is cool in the hip sense too!

  • At Wed Apr 30, 03:33:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    If you mean that Obama as president will personify our most important national values, I agree.

    If you mean that he has entertainment value, I beg to differ. I prefer to get my entertainment from people like Jon Stewart, who don’t hold our fates in their hands.

    Being calm and measured is much more important than being hip these days. Obama will provide the perfect antidote to George W. (“Axis of Evil,” “Bring ‘em on”) Bush, Hillary Rodham (“Obliterate” Iran) Clinton and John (“100 years”) McCain. Those three have great entertainment value, but they don’t help me sleep at night.


  • At Thu May 08, 09:46:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My interpretation of hipness in relation to Mr. Obama is not incongruous with your meaning of “cool”. I think of his hipness as a characteristic generally of lesser importance to “. . . serene, unflappable and collected”, but nonetheless important.

    Like it or not, his hipness will likely be a contributing factor to his election. There will be a small percentage of the voting population for whom his intangible qualities such as hipness will be a factor in their decision.

    (I am on your side)

  • At Thu May 08, 12:59:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    I know you’re on Obama’s side, and I appreciate that. I don’t much care whether you are on my side.

    But frankly I think “hipness” is a dumb reason to vote for anyone for president, especially at this critical moment in history. Caring about irrelevancies and trivia like that is what gave us Bush and dug us the hole we’re in.

    I support Obama because he’s by far the best candidate—the most competent and best qualified, with the best training, intelligence, judgment and temperament. That’s all I care about.

    But I do think I’ll enjoy listening to his speeches and news conferences, in part because he has humanity, humility and humor. If that’s being “hip,” it’s a plus.



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