On Behalf of Barack
Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers.
February 26, 2008
With an abundance of intelligence, energy, eloquence, and “audacious hope,”
Barack Obama has opened a commanding lead over his sole remaining rival,
Hillary Clinton. If he captures the Democratic nomination, in the general
election he will face in Senator John McCain a shopworn supporter of an
unpopular war, tainted with scandal, and despised by the right-wing base of
the Republican party. Despite all that,
McCain will be
a formidable GOP opponent, for he will have at his disposal the Justice
Department’s coast-to-coast campaign of voter suppression, the financial
support of mega-corporations, “black-box” voting machines and compilers, and
a corporate media that has proven itself capable of transforming, in the
minds of many, an authentic war hero into self-promoting phony, and a
deserter into the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. Overconfidence may
well prove to be Obama’s and the Democrats’ undoing.
Barack Obama was not my first choice. But John Edwards fell victim to his
excessive candor and integrity. His spot-on assessment of economic injustice
and his scathing indictment of the corporatocracy was regarded by the media
to be outside the
realm of “acceptable” political debate. And so Edwards’ campaign,
starved of funding and media attention, withered and died, a sober reminder
of the media’s continuing veto power over aspiring candidates for political
Obama is not the ideal candidate (there aren’t any), and many of his Senate
votes trouble me. But in the past few weeks, he has displayed qualities of
leadership not previously evident to me. Hillary Clinton might well be a
good president. Barack Obama, I believe, has the capacity to be a great
Ironically, the totality of attacks on Obama might, on reflection, add up in
his favor. For if these are the best that the opposition can come up with,
this must be one fine candidate.
With this consideration in mind, I will examine what appears to be three of
the more prominent criticisms of Obama: lack experience, “mere rhetoric,”
The Experience Issue: Clinton
cites her thirty years of experience in public service. Obama, in contrast,
is a newcomer.
The issue is a non-starter for the GOP for whom “experience” as a Hollywood
actor (Reagan, Schwartznegger), or “experience” in business failure (George
Bush), are somehow regarded as qualifications for high public office. But
tuo quoque (“you’re another”) is a weak rebuttal. The question remains,
what are Obama’s qualifications?
They are impressive. In addition to his
magna cum laude from
Harvard Law School, he has taught Constitutional law at the University of
Chicago. Because the restoration of the Constitution of the United States
must be one of the most urgent tasks of the next president, expertise in
Constitutional law must rank high in the list of qualifications.
At age 46, Obama can not claim thirty years experience in public service,
since he did not begin his career when he was sixteen. Even so, when he
graduated from Harvard Law, he did not seek a fortune as a corporate lawyer,
but instead practiced civil rights law. In fact, his entire working life has
been devoted to public service.
However, rather than recite his curriculum vitae (which
you can read here), let’s focus instead on his management skills and
those of his rival, Hillary Clinton, in the current campaign.
Frank Rich sums it up nicely:
campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine
that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this
race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its
purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating....
As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she
offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must
be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy
to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and — talk
about bizarre — against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton
lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative
of the country.
contrast in management skills in mind, ask yourself: which campaign strategy
is more likely to prevail in the general election?
The “mere rhetoric” issue.
Early in the campaign, we read that Clinton was a better debater and Obama a
better speech-giver. Last Thursday we observed that Obama had closed “the
debate gap.” He remains the champ at the podium. So Clinton is reduced to
belittling Obama’s way with words and his extraordinary ability to “make
contact” with his audiences. At a campaign appearance
at Hunter College in New York City, Clinton said: “It is time that we
moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions.
This is not about a personality. This campaign is about hundreds of millions
of Americans who are yearning for leadership again."
Sadly for Clinton, Obama appears to be answering that “yearning for
Let’s not kid ourselves: It’s all about envy. Hillary would sell her soul in
exchange for Obama’s “rock star” charisma. And it ain’t for sale.
Clinton supporters frequently complain that Obama’s rhetoric is devoid of
specifics. “It all sounds nice, but he won’t spell out his positions on the
issues.” Well, he’s not hiding his policy positions. Those who desire
“specifics” need only visit Obama’s “Issues” page at his website
www.barackobama.com, where his
proposals are spelled out in detail.
But if Obama follows the “advice” of his critics by toning down the rhetoric
and replacing it with policy “specifics,” he will make a serious strategic
error. For as Al Gore vividly (and fatally) demonstrated in 2000, the public
has little patience for policy-wonk lectures from its candidates. It much
prefers inspirational “rhetoric.” Obama will not repeat Gore’s mistake.
The plain fact is that in politics words do matter, as Obama said plainly in
that notorious passage “borrowed” from his friend, Massachusetts Governor
Devall Patrick. Unfortunately, Clinton’s “plagiarism” accusation has
distracted attention from the compelling truth thereof:
these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Just
words. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Just words. “Ask not
what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Just words. “I have a dream.” Just words.
Add to this,
the Gettysburg Address, the Sermon on the Mount, FDR’s fireside chats,
Winston Churchill’s wartime broadcasts which, as Edward R. Murrow put it,
“mobilized the English language.” Words turn the hinges of history. Words
put the reins of leadership into the hands of a politician.
And words can be a window into the soul and the intellect of a leader. Those
who speak well and write well, also think well. To be sure, most political
rhetoric these days is the handiwork of speech writers. Thus the success of
Ronald Reagan. And when dimwit politicians stray from the teleprompter, we
learn more than we’d like to about their smarts. Witness George W. Bush:
“You’re working hard to put food on your family.” “Is our children
learning?” “Fool me twice...”
Listen to the extemporaneous speeches of John Edwards and Barack Obama, and
notice their performance in debates. These are their own words. As one
listens, who can doubt that these are extraordinarily intelligent
The “plagiarism” kerfuffle.
Nothing better exemplifies the paucity of criticism against Obama, than
Hillary Clinton’s attempt to pin the “plagiarism” label on her opponent.
When she brought the issue up in Austin, Texas, with a scripted
(plagiarized?) quip, it elicited the only booing of the debate. Obama’s
haymaker reply put an end to that issue.
Obama did concede, however, that he should have credited his friend Devall
So, in the spirit of full attribution, let’s review this plagiarism
complaint. As I see it, it is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
(Shakespeare, Macbeth). And the offending “borrowed” remarks?
these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” (Thomas
Jefferson) Just words. (Devall Patrick) “We have nothing to fear
but fear itself.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Just words. “Ask not
what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
(John F. Kennedy/Theodore Sorenson) Just words. “I have a dream.”
(Martin Luther King) Just words.
Reagan’s speech at the memorial service for the Challenger astronauts:
"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as
they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly
bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'” To their credit, the
Reagan library and the National Review put the borrowed words in quotation
marks. But neither cited the source: John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American
volunteer in the Royal Air Force, who died in 1941 at age nineteen, a few
weeks after he wrote these words.
Next, compare these two passages:
that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people
of this state and this country have been taking for a long time.”
“You know, the hits I’ve taken in life are nothing compared to what goes
on every single day in the lives of people across our country.”
The first is
by Bill Clinton, in the 1992 presidential campaign. The second is by Hillary
Clinton, February 21, 2008. Plagiarism? No more or less than
Obama's use of Devall Patrick's words, at the latter's invitation.
Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News asked several experts if Obama was
guilty of plagiarism. Their unanimous judgment: he was not.
Accusing Barack Obama of “plagiarism” is, to put it mildly, a “stretch.” As
noted earlier, if this is the best that Obama’s opponents can throw at him,
he emerges as a remarkably “clean” candidate.
In sum, I now would judge Barack Obama to be far more qualified for the
presidency of the United States, than I did several weeks ago when I was
rooting for John Edwards. Obama has, in his campaign appearances, displayed
qualities of intellect and moral stature that I failed to fully appreciate
before. We will be well-served if he becomes our next president.
But if he is to succeed in his quest for the presidency, Barack Obama must
continue to display and implement his extraordinary leadership and
management skills. For as we have learned from both the 2000 election
campaign (“inventing the internet”) and the 2004 campaign (“Swiftboat
Veterans for Truth”), if the actual words and deeds of the Democratic Party
candidate can not be turned against him in a GOP smear campaign, new words
and deeds will surely be invented.
It’s going to be a very rough road from here to the White House.
Copyright 2008 by Ernest
Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications
Conscience of a Progressive:
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field
of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at
the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, "The Online
Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website,
"The Crisis Papers".
His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org .