Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I haven't decided whom I will be supporting when the presidential elections come around in November, but reading this op-ed piece in the NY Times confirmed some of what I was beginning to think about Obama. He did, at one time, give me hope that our country could redeem its reputation in the eyes of some who no longer see us in a positive light, but now I'm not so sure. I should have run for the darn office myself. Oh, wait...I'm not old enough. Maybe in eight years.

February 25, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

It’s All About Him

Last October, a reporter asked Barack Obama why he had stopped wearing the American flag lapel pin that he, like many other public officials, had been sporting since soon after Sept. 11. Obama could have responded that his new-found fashion minimalism was no big deal. What matters, obviously, is what you believe and do, not what you wear.

But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin. But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest.

Fast forward to last Monday in Wisconsin. Michelle Obama, in the course of a stump speech, remarked, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Michelle Obama’s adult life goes back to the mid-1980s. Can it really be the case that nothing the U.S. achieved since then has made her proud? Apparently. For, as she said later in the same appearance: “Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime, through Republican and Democratic administrations. It hasn’t gotten much better.”

Now in almost every empirical respect, American lives have in fact gotten better over the last quarter-century. And most Americans — and most Democrats — don’t think those years were one vast wasteland. So Barack Obama hastened to clarify his wife’s remarks. “What she meant was, this is the first time that she’s been proud of the politics of America,” he said, “because she’s pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she’s not alone.” Later in the week, Michelle Obama further explained, “What I was clearly talking about was that I’m proud of how Americans are engaging in the political process.”

But that clearly isn’t what she was talking about. For as she had argued in the Wisconsin speech, America’s illness goes far beyond a flawed political process: “Barack knows that at some level there’s a hole in our souls.” This was a variation of language she had used earlier on the campaign trail: “Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.”

But they can be repaired. Indeed, she had said a couple of weeks before, in Los Angeles: “Barack Obama ... is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

So we don’t have to work to improve our souls. Our broken souls can be fixed — by our voting for Barack Obama. We don’t have to fight or sacrifice to help our country. Our uninvolved and uninformed lives can be changed — by our choosing Barack Obama. America can become a nation to be proud of — by letting ourselves be led by Barack Obama.

John Kennedy, to whom Obama is sometimes compared, challenged the American people to acts of citizenship and patriotism. Barack Obama allows us to feel better about ourselves.

Obama likes to say, “we are the change that we seek” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Obama’s rhetorical skill makes his candidacy appear almost collective rather than individual. That’s a democratic courtesy on his part, and one flattering to his followers. But the effectual truth of what Obama is saying is that he is the one we’ve been waiting for.

Barack Obama is an awfully talented politician. But could the American people, by November, decide that for all his impressive qualities, Obama tends too much toward the preening self-regard of Bill Clinton, the patronizing elitism of Al Gore and the haughty liberalism of John Kerry?

It’s fitting that the alternative to Obama will be John McCain. He makes no grand claim to fix our souls. He doesn’t think he’s the one everyone has been waiting for. He’s more proud of his country than of himself. And his patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than “speaking out on issues.”


Michael said...

Now granted, I am completely convinced that Obama is the best thing since sliced bread(political policies aside), but I think that article was written by McCain backer looking for reasons to hit him before the presidential campaign begins. If you look at the only facts he brings up, it's the fact that Obama doesn't wear a pin, and the speeches that were given by his wife, who unfortunately for the writer, is not running for president. I think it's obvious that her comments are political banter given in the most ineloquent way. She could have worded it much better but her good intentions to display on an ounce of her husband's charm is there. We'll probably get into a long conversation about this when we visit next week, but I think regardless of his policies, he has clearly motivated and united more people than any other president since I've been alive.

Hillary Dickman said...

While I definitely appreciate Obama's dynamism, it is hard for me to push aside my political beliefs, especially the ones I feel the most strongly about, just because he has the ability to unite people. I'm not sure...I'm still wrestling with it.

What really makes me bristle when I think about Obama is his opposition to "born alive" legislation. Born alive laws require doctors to give medical care to aborted babies that survive the abortion process and are born alive. The medical care is given in hopes that the babies can survive.

I don't see his stance on born alive legislation as germane to the political issue of abortion (which I see as more of a state issue) as much as I see it as a character flaw. I really big character flaw. If he isn't willing to protect the least among us -- the tiny American citizen who was intended to be chopped to pieces but somehow survived the process and was born alive -- how can I expect him to look out for the rest of us? Maybe he'll look out for me because I have a vote, but what about Americans who can't vote? What about the mentally retarded or physically handicapped? I know he is pro-animal rights (which, one would think, shows that he cares about those who don't have a voice), but we've got plenty of people looking out for animals and not many looking out for people who can't take care of themselves.

It's not well-thought out reasoning, I realize, but it's as far as I've gotten at this point. I'm not well informed enough on Obama to make a fair judgment yet. At the same time, I'm not a huge fan of McCain, either, so I may end up abstaining from the vote in November. Or maybe I'll move someplace apolitical. Like maybe Mars.

Or maybe Hillary will come from behind and win the democratic nomination. That would give me something new to think about!

Michael said...

oh i'd be willing to bet that on most issues we'd agree and from the little i've read about the born alive legislation, i agree that it's a good policy. I am by no means a democrat, but I also hate being pegged as anything for the reasons of my political post from a while back. But the government is so entrenched in checks and balances that issues like that will be so highly contested across the board and will end up going nowhere.

From the debates I have watched, I think it's pretty easy to pinpoint foolishness and BS... I'd like to think that I'm not so opinionated that I wouldn't see through any garbage obama would throw out, but nothing that he says is ever senseless or foolish. So through these hours of listening to him and his opinions, plans, and voting history, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt unless it's asked of him to give an opinion. Abortion hasn't been the hottest topic in any of the debates, but id love to hear what he has to say on that.

The biggest reason I like obama is that our international credibility is completely renewed. It will no longer be a southern accented Caucasian as the face of our nation. It is an intelligent, well spoken, African American. I see it as a clean slate in foreign policy, which is probably just as big an issue as the economy. I don't think any other candidate can bring that much to the table.

Hillary Dickman said...

Yeah, I definitely agree that Obama would improve our international credibility. And that is something we need, for sure...

Kristin said...

I do believe that an inspirational leader of this country will lead to better state’s rights (read: legislating and subsequent decisions) and fulfill constitutional rights in this country and hopefully reconcile human rights abused by our country abroad.

As noted, the issue of abortion is salient and passionate. What an inspirational leader does is lend that strength, compassion and fortitude to citizens to make their right choice. These may be interpreted as state’s rights or individual rights. This inspiration may also be a prescient illustration of the web of humanity.

This web of humanity being: we are all joined together by the simple act of being born human. Intelligence, compassion and forgiveness are the solid traits that underpin the human experience.

I am not proclaiming that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain is the perfect avenue to these realizations. I am saying if any of these candidates (including Hillary F. Dickman ’12) is eliciting these thoughts from our citizenry, then we should take notice. I believe that with the aforementioned intelligence, compassion and forgiveness, Americans will have the spirit to make better decisions FOR THEMSELVES and with each other, be monumental in state’s rights and/or congressional voting.

I have opinions and rhetoric that are abound during this (and other) election years. I am so happy that Hillary has the confidence to share this blog others. I especially thank Aunt Ronni for my personal confidence in being myself.