Obama: A Contrary View

This has been a very “Obama” week, with its highlight the State of the Union speech, delivered against a challenging backdrop of the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts and the resulting fears for the failure of the health care reform legislation. As he has done repeatedly in the past, by all accounts the President pulled off a superb performance before the joint Houses of Congress last Wednesday evening – although of course what really matters for Americans is the policy results he goes on to achieve, if any.

What with all this current drama about Obama under pressure, it’s curious to see some contrarian media pieces about him now starting to appear in the foreign press – “contrarian” in the sense of reacting sharply to the “Obama myth” by making instead the point “just what’s so special about this guy, anyway?” One of these is “Opposing Obama,” a broadcast on the BBC World Service in which Guardian journalist Gary Younge (who is British and black) tours the US finding people “who think Barack Obama’s presidency is nothing but bad news.” Anybody interested should be able to click on the above link starting tomorrow (1 February 2010) and hear the program, or just hear it as it is periodically scheduled on the BBC World Service broadcast itself (listenable on-line, of course), starting tomorrow at 5.05 hours Eastern Standard Time.

Then there is also the recent article on the website of Cicero, the German-language “Magazine for Political Culture,” entitled Man Without Qualities (a title which is identical to, and therefore presumably some sort of a reference to, the highly-acclaimed (although very long, and unfinished) 1930s novel Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften by Robert Musil). Here, Leon de Winter takes Obama thoroughly to the cleaners:


  • First of all, the only reason Barack Obama got elected president in the first place is race, pure and simple. Although handsome and well-spoken, he didn’t really accomplish much in the US Senate during his limited years there, so it wasn’t really a matter of being most-qualified. Rather, he managed to come under the wing of David Axelrod, the Chicago-based political consultant and expert in promoting black candidates (as he had done already in getting Deval Patrick elected as the first-ever black governor of Massachusetts). Axelrod managed to make Obama’s election as president inevitable, by turning it into a sort of cleansing ritual, both of America’s troubled racial history and of the unhappy previous two terms of George W. Bush.
  • For that matter, Obama is also simply a creation of the Chicago political machine (of which Axelrod is an important component part). He’s just a machine politician, and continues to kow-tow to the head of that machine, Chicago mayor Richard Daley – that’s the only reason why he went to Copenhagen back last October in the first place, to try to sell the International Olympic Committee on bestowing the 2016 Summer Games (and the huge pay-off they represent) to Daley’s city.
  • For that matter, De Winter claims, if Obama is not some sort of leftist radical now, there is plenty of evidence that he was one such during his early adulthood, the formative years for his political views. Why is it, he asks, that the President has been unwilling to release academic transcripts or any of the papers he wrote while he was an undergraduate at Columbia and Occidental College. Ah yes, Columbia, where he ultimately received his B.A. in 1983: that was the home of, among other leftist professors, the radical pro-Palestinian Edward Said. Who knows to what degree Obama’s thought could have been infected there by such professors as that?
  • Ultimately, though (and ironically), Barack Obama is really not black at all. Only one of his parents was black, of course, and he was Kenyan, and so not a black American coming from out of the heritage of slavery and Jim Crow. So he doesn’t really count as a black man, although that point has obviously gone straight over the head of the vast majority of the American electorate.

There you have it. And who is this Leon de Winter? He’s a Dutch novelist and film-maker of some sort of renown in the Benelux and Germany, from an orthodox Jewish family, who currently spends a good part of his time living in Los Angeles. So he presumably has all the access he needs to become as sharp an observer of American affairs as he wants take the time to become – indeed his Wikipedia entry alleges that a couple of years ago he was considering taking his family to live in the US permanently. So he’s an “Americanophile” – and, since he’s European, you’d also expect him to be well under Obama’s spell. Clearly, he’s not, but he also would seem to have no particular axe to grind about the President either.

Right after that hit SOTU speech, we also found out (or were reminded) that Obama does know his policy and is a master of debate, even if that is against 200+ Republican members of the US Congress, all at once. (The video of that recent encounter at a hotel in Baltimore is here.) And clearly many of the claims being made against the president (“socialist,” “not born in the USA,” etc.) are way off-base. But it just might be useful, on occasion, to be exposed to something deviating from the usual hero-worship, especially if it comes from a source with no apparent inherent bias.

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