NEW POLL: Do you think Barack Obama is all that?

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2008

There are now, believe it or not, only 100 days until the race to become the 44th President of the United States of America is decided. And there’s no doubt who continues to grab the headlines, and not only here in Europe: Barack Obama’s candidacy has enthralled not just the Democratic party, but much of the western world. But why?

Perhaps for some it is the relief of having a plausible Democratic presidential nominee; that he isn’t George W. Bush; that he claims to represent a ‘new politics’ of change; that he can forge bipartisan consensus; that he is a compelling orator; and that he appears to attach some importance to thinking, a novelty in the White House after the last eight years.

But for many it will be the symbolism that matters most if Senator Obama, a black man born of a white woman and married to a black woman, is elected President Obama in November. As Shelby Steele has put it in his brief and exhilarating book, A Bound Man:

He is decidedly not a conviction politician. His supporters do not look to him to do something; they look to him primarily to be something, to represent something. … Barack Obama emerged into a political culture that needed him more as an icon than a man. (p.133)

Senator Obama is, without doubt, a thoughtful, intelligent, humane guy. To read his book, The Audacity of Hope, is to be impressed by a politician with sublimely attuned communication skills. But what does he stand for: bluntly, what beliefs would he risk his life for?

He is, for example, pro-death penalty , at least for the “most heinous” crimes (mass and child murder, rape). He also achieved the John Kerry-esque distinction of being in favour of the Central American Free Trade Agreement before he voted against it: Obama is at his least convincing when he claims, “I felt it was the only way to register a protest against what I considered to be the White House’s inattention to the losers from free trade” (p.176).

In short, he is a triangulating pragmatist, the contender most likely to argue that what matters is what works.

Such are my views on the most likely next incumbent of the White House. But what do you think of Senator Barack Obama? That’s the question in our new poll, and here are the options – which one comes closest to your view?

* He’s a liberal progressive who will restore pride to the US presidency;
* He’s a moderate pragmatist who will stick to the populist centre ground;
* He’s an impressive communicator with few beliefs who will disappoint more than he inspires;
* He’s a cynical opportunist who has dazzled the media by virtue of who he is, not what he stands for.

Over to you to continue the discussion…

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First America went for an ordinary joe they could have a beer with, now they’re after a messiah. The first choice was a disaster, I have doubts about the second.

by Anax on July 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm. Reply #

There’s always the possibility that he’s a liberal progressive who will restore some credibily to the office and who is also an impressive communicator. But he does remind me of Tony Blair. The fact that I buy Obama and I never did Blair might be because I’m outside the US system — after all, we never understood why Americans hated Bill Clinton so much, and they never understood why we hated Blair.

by HE Elsom on July 28, 2008 at 10:23 pm. Reply #

To be fair he is pretty Liberal – at least by American standards. His ACLU lifetime rating (for all its flaws) is about the same as that of Kerry and Kennedy.

I just don’t buy into the Messianic fervour that he’s going to represent a fundamental shift in US politics. Some of the worst things will go – close Guantanmo and end extraordinary rendition (though that will happen under McCain)

by Hywel Morgan on July 28, 2008 at 10:31 pm. Reply #

I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. He IS pretty Liberal by US standards as Hywell says. My instinct tells me he’ll be pretty progressive and might just have a positive influence on politics in this country. May be, if we see a little more Liberalism from the States, it might give our leader the courage to be more strikingly Liberal over here? It also might just help our leaders (all parties) to have more vision and hope again rather than coming over simply as ‘managers’ who inspire nobody. I’m very hopeful Obama signals a sea change and i’ll be very dissapointed if we don’t see some significant changes particularly in foreign policy.

by Ashley on July 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm. Reply #

Clearly he is preferable to Cheney and his glove puppet, Bush. Almost anyone would be. If I were a US citizen I would vote for Obama and probably put a poster-board next to my mailbox.

I don’t think Obama will achieve that much. In foreign policy there will be a subtle shift in emphasis. And he might do one or two things for environmental protection (like stopping people cutting down trees on Federal land). When it comes down to it, the President has to do what the military industrial petro-chemical complex tells him to do, or else.

Obama knows that if he even attempts to do something contrary to his masters’ agenda, they will kill him, just as they killed JFK and RFK. If he refuses to play the game, a plot awaits him in Arlington Cemetery. He might occupy the Oval Office, but real power, as always, will continue to repose elsewhere.

I cannot understand why US politicians are so shamelessly populist over the death penalty. Public support for capital punishment is lower in the US than it is in Britain, but British politicians refuse to bow to popular clamour.

Teddy Kennedy, incidentally, is a consistent opponent of judicial killing, so he occupies a more elevated position on the moral highground than does Obama.

by Sesenco on July 28, 2008 at 11:37 pm. Reply #

The incredible relief that Lib Dems aren’t all as taken in by BHO as I thought.

Poll at time of comment: 10,15,16,6

by James Schneider on July 29, 2008 at 12:15 am. Reply #

In short, he is a triangulating pragmatist, the contender most likely to argue that what matters is what works.

This is an abuse of the word triangulating to be honest. Obama doesn’t easily fit into specific categories – but that doesn’t mean he triangulates. He is def a pragmatist, as all politicians should be, but his policies are very consistent with what he’s always said (and written in the book).

I just don’t buy into the Messianic fervour that he’s going to represent a fundamental shift in US politics.

In some cases (how people view race) he will, in others he won’t. He almost certainly will in foriegn policy, where the Commander in Chief has most impact, he will less in areas like Health, where you need the support of Congress further.

He will have one impact that many of you are not taking into account – he’s committed to grass roots building and a 50 state strategy that Howard Dean started. That alone means the Democrats have the potential to shift the political centre leftwards like never before.

by Sunny on July 29, 2008 at 5:57 am. Reply #

I am slightly surprised by the amount of negativity towards Obama in these comments.

For me he is the first presidential hopeful in a long time to understand the actual role of president- he cannot himself decide the specifics of legislation. He may lobby for a course of action, and, if he has a democratic house and senate he may get his way, but the fine details are ultimately down to the legislature and not the guy in the oval office. When Obama speaks he talks of moving the US in a more liberal direction, adjusting foreign policy focus (something the POTUS does have total control over) and generally pushing the notion of a fair society.

I don’t think he is some kind of magical healer for one moment, but if you look at what he is said about Iraq, Taxation policy (a higher percentage on the top 3%, with more relief for the poor), the environment, nuclear weapons, healthcare and education it is clear that, even if he only fulfills two or three of his goals he will have made a significant start towards clearing up the Bush mess.

Just one more point- Anax’s comment that Bush was an ordinary joe, and now America are making a similar mistake by thinking Obama is some how the chosen one- the problem with Bush was that he was simply too stupid and a total failure in everything he did. Obama has an amazingly impressive CV, and is by anyones standards a very intelligent man. I very much doubt he believes his own hype.

by Jiggles on July 29, 2008 at 8:36 am. Reply #

Jiggles wrote:

“Just one more point- Anax’s comment that Bush was an ordinary joe,”

Bush is the very opposite of an “ordinary Joe”. He is a scion of an elite family descended from 17th century colonists. He attended an elite prep school and is an alumnus of Yale. He is one of 500 living members of the ultra-elite Skull & Bones Society, as were his father and grandfather before him. Bush has the word “elite” scrawled all over him. The fact that he is a brainless, booze fuddled berk is neither here nor there. The rednecks who worship him are far too thick to notice.

by Sesenco on July 29, 2008 at 9:07 am. Reply #

“This is an abuse of the word triangulating to be honest. Obama doesn’t easily fit into specific categories – but that doesn’t mean he triangulates.”

Interesting, could be transplanted unaltered to a discussion about the Lib Dems…

by Anonymous on July 29, 2008 at 10:21 am. Reply #

Sorry, that woz me.

by Alix on July 29, 2008 at 10:22 am. Reply #

I didn’t say Bush was an ordinary joe, I said that America went for an ordinary joe. As the privileged son of a former president, Bush is anything but.

by Anax on July 29, 2008 at 10:36 am. Reply #

I can’t help but adore Obama. The swagger, the borderline-arrogance, the booming rhetorical of his voice, the playing basketball, the dancing politician who manages to actually look quite cool, the sexy-yet-family-man, the vision, the hope, the hope!

His policies are rubbish, though.

by Julian H on July 29, 2008 at 10:52 am. Reply #


by Julian H on July 29, 2008 at 10:52 am. Reply #

What’s rubbish about his policies then, Julian? Is it his protectionism you’re picking on? 😀

BTW, there are some king over the water types who haven’t reconciled themselves to Clinton not being the nominee. I got a lot of amusement from this:

None of those people will get onto my Christmas card list…

I’d probably be forced to vote for Obama out of opposition to McCain. He is just about more progressive, though not as much as Edwards was (I wonder if anyone else here agrees with that…). But I worry that it’s like those people who voted Blair in 2005, despite having long ago come to oppose him over issues like Iraq, ID cards and 90 days as it then was, out of fear of Howard.

You may recall that many such people said they preferred the Liberal Democrats, but wouldn’t vote for them. I wonder what it’s all about 🙂

by asquith on July 29, 2008 at 11:14 am. Reply #

I think it’s hard to know at this stage, which is why this race is intruiging – Obama hasn’t yet polarised the optimists from the pragmatists!

For him to change the US political landscape he has to stand up for pluralism – win by a landslide and split the established party duopoly by appealing to non-voters and independents. My guess is that he will chicken out of decisive action and let the country drift.

by Oranjepan on July 29, 2008 at 11:35 am. Reply #

“What’s rubbish about his policies then, Julian? Is it his protectionism you’re picking on?”

Ha, how did you guess? Also, many of his domestic policies seem to be all over the place. Take health, for example – he used to endorse a ‘single-payer’ NHS-like system, then quickly changed his mind, spent several years flip-flopping, and appears to have very little understanding of the economics of insurance.

I don’t want to take this off on a health tangent – the point is that he genuinely doesn’t seem to know what he thinks, aside from a vague instinct to lean in a liberal direction – although sometimes in the European sense of the word, and sometimes the American.

This, I suppose, isn’t too bad a situation. Rather a pragmatist than a Hillary, with her confessed intentions of controlling and being ‘head’ of the economy. Not to mention that stupid facial expression she adopted whenever pretending to notice a friend in the audience / crowd of cheering buffoons.

by Julian H on July 29, 2008 at 11:56 am. Reply #

Yes, you’ve identified what I think is the important part, which is that he is a pragmatist. He arguably takes this too far. I don’t think he would enact protectionist policies, he was just spouting. Having realised that white working-class voters of a similar demographic to Old Labour were mainly for Clinton, he gave a nod to them, before turning round to some businessmen and saying the opposite.

This approach has fairly obvious drawbacks, and is the single main reason why I can’t endorse him with enthusiasm. At least we are sure what McCain is all about, even if it’s something I’m against.

I will still take him over McCain: his instincts are indeed liberal, and may in fact be called Asquithian. 🙂 I worry, however, that he will do a Camoron and pitch his tent at his core voters and whoever he thinks will be impressed…

by asquith on July 29, 2008 at 12:49 pm. Reply #

How about rigging this poll differently? We could have been given the options:

* He’s a liberal progressive who will stick to a populist agenda

* He’s a moderate pragmatist who will restore pride to the US presidency

by David Allen on July 30, 2008 at 3:07 pm. Reply #

“I don’t think he would enact protectionist policies, he was just spouting.”

On this point, even if it is the case, one shouldn’t find it acceptable (nor even shrug-off-able) given that Michael Howard’s ‘dog whistle’ messages weren’t acceptable (whether or not he’d have governed in such a manner) and Gordo’s ‘British jobs for British people’ line isn’t acceptable (again, whether or not it translates into any substantive policy). If a politician panders to an illiberal sentiment then they are culpable of contributing to illiberalism.

I should confess that for such reasons, in spite of my borderline homo-erotic liking for him, I gave Obama the second from bottom vote. Alas, Ms Amber Lee Ettinger may never forgive me.

by Julian H on July 30, 2008 at 3:24 pm. Reply #

Contributors to this thread do not seem to have grasped the essential ground truth. Presidents are figureheads with litle real power. The United States is ruled by a collection of billionaire families and military bosses who are bent on world domination and the creation of a global Orwellian dispensation.

Those who disbelieve me should read the following:-

After 9/11, Cheney required UK law to be changed to enable the United States to obtain the extradition of anyone of its chosing without having to demonstrate a prima facie case. Parliament meekly complied. A British citizen resident in this country and having committed no crime in this country can be bundled across the Atlantic to be raped and tortured in a US prison on Cheney’s say-so.

by Sesenco on July 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm. Reply #

He is nothing more than a ‘put up job’ by the right wing American Press and their Republican allies anxious to do anything to stop another Clinton getting to the White House. So, instead of having a brilliant, incisive female President, it’s ‘Uncle Tom goes to Washington’. Pathetic.

by Martin Land on July 30, 2008 at 5:09 pm. Reply #

I am very impressed by Senator Obama. I think he would make a great president. He is intelligent, compassionate and has the support of some very impressive politicians. He has taken so much negativity from his opponent along with his supporters and has always handled it in a very classy way. I am a very strong supporter of the direction he wants to lead this country and I would be very proud to have him as our next President of the United States.

by Joan Valdez on October 25, 2008 at 5:43 am. Reply #

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