February 12, 2008

The Fear and Loathing of Barack Obama

Sam Smith, editor and publisher of the Progressive Review, has always been very perceptive about the realities of politics in the U.S. His "Undernews" blog has been an essential source for important stories that are not prominent in the mainstream media.

In 2004, he observed that Howard Dean's "electability" problem was that he had not sought the approval of the party establishment for his Presidency bid. When Dean turned out to be an actual contender, the establishment therefore worked (successfully) to bring him down and to put the clueless John Kerry in his place.

Now in 2008, Howard Dean is chairman of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama has risen to challenge the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton. And Obama is succeeding.

But Sam Smith, who has spent the last 15 years exposing the crimes of the Clintons, has now devoted his blog to excoriating Barack Obama. That is a worthwhile service, as we should all make our choices with eyes wide open, but he has also expressed his fear of Obama and the "cult" that supports him. He has likened Obama's appearances to Nazi rallies and popular videos to the propaganda work of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl. He has published amateur psychoanalysis questioning Obama's mental balance because he is able to keep his cool through the whole circus of the campaign.

What's going on there?

Ralph Nader, another legendary fighter for justice against the corporatist establishment, has also been attacking Obama -- not raising legitimate policy issues but instead mocking his style and popularity.

Paul Krugman -- who has written about the economic good sense of socialized health care (e.g., Medicare and the VA system) and the fallacy that there is a looming social security crisis -- now writes how disgusted he is by Obama's supporters. Again, Krugman has important criticisms of Obama's policies, even as he praises Clinton's health insurance plan for forcing people to buy into it. (Dear Mr. Krugman, universal health care means mandating the government to provide it, not mandating citizens to pay for an inadequate high-deductible plan from a private insurer whose purpose is to deny rather than provide as much care as possible.)

There's something else that unites these thoughtful men: They were all enthusiastic about John Edwards, the born-again populist.

But Edwards didn't catch on with the general public (who besides being oblivious to his "2 Americas" theme might also have been a little skeptical about this very rich man come lately to progressive talk), despite having gained the approval of the progressive establishment.

Obama is not pandering to these men as Edwards did. So, as Dean was stopped by the party establishment and obliging media, the anti-establishment establishment is trying to stop Obama.

What they hope for is a complete mystery. Edwards (a possible phony) is out of the race, and Clinton is their worst corporatist nightmare (who would have a good chance of losing against John McCain). Does Nader want Clinton to be the candidate so that he or Cynthia McKinney have a more respectable reason for running themselves? Is Sam Smith in fact scared of an independent half-African man in power? Is Krugman simply angry that Obama argued his differences with him rather than genuflect to Krugman's analysis? Will we next be hearing these progressives describing Obama as "mulatto" and calling attention to his failure once to clamp his hand over his heart while the national anthem played (on and on), his middle name being Hussein (omigod!), one of his campaign workers hanging a Che Guevara flag over his desk, and that he was brainwashed by islamofascist terrorists as a toddler in Indonesia?

Yes, people's enthusiasm for Obama is emotional. But it is not shallow or mob driven (or at least no more than for any other successful campaign). The excitement is a lot more rational than the backlash against it. It's a lot more rational and independent-minded than the enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton (or even John Edwards). Yes, people are projecting their own desperate hopes on him, but he makes it feasible -- people get a sense of possibility from Obama that they don't get from other candidates. There has never been a national candidate like him. I see him more like Lincoln than Kennedy.

As someone who supported Ralph Nader's three runs for the Presidency, I can say I support Barack Obama with my eyes open and my mind clear. The Presidency is a symbol of the country. Ours is a media-driven substance-free undemocratic government. But Obama's Presidency would be one that we -- and the world -- might respect. He is not afraid of other Americans. He is not afraid of the rest of the world. He does not run away from reality. We don't expect radical change, and we expect disappointment, but we do see a vision that could help us point the country in a better direction. It is a small hope, yet it is everything. Keep hope alive!

Click here for Obama's speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Va., Feb. 9.

Click here for a reasoned view of Obama's campaign, including a reply to some of the readers' comments, from Dave Lindorff

Welcome to the politics of joy and justice! --Ralph Nader