The Audacity of Barack Obama,Charles R. Kesler

You may find this unnerving to read and I did not post it in it's entirety but you may find the whole comentary on my blog. It is important if one is engaging in battle on any front with hopes to come out the victor that you know your enemies and know them well. So I have decided to bring this commentary to your attention and pray you will do with it what you will but do it for the sake of what is right and be armed and dangerous!!! I urge you please to take the time to read this in it's entirety. Make the time.
In addition, I have included text links here & on my blog to the subscription to The Claremont Institute and Obama's books(at least a few) I'd not really know if you'd want to spend a lot of money on them. But those who study war, invest a lot of time and energy to engage their enemy(s) and win! I believe from now on this is pretty much in a nutshell my motivation-to know the enemy and put him/her under my feet!

The Audacity of Barack Obama

By Charles R. Kesler
Posted January 19, 2009
This article appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Click here to send a comment.

Any politician who has taken on Bill and Hillary Clinton's national political machine and won should not be underestimated. Yet Republicans as well as many Democrats persist in underrating Barack Obama's electoral talents and, above all, his soaring political ambition.

His writerly mind, professorial bearing, and effortless self-control make it difficult to take his measure as a politician. He can seem cool, detached, unusually introspective. As a wag at the Financial Times put it, if John McCain's life story is the stuff of Hollywood movies, Obama's is like an off-Broadway play—it lacks action but is full of internal monologues. Raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, his father a Kenyan, his mother a sweet Midwestern atheist, Obama as a young man thought himself something of an outsider wherever he went. Smart and popular, he seemed to prefer to maintain his emotional distance, partly because he was confused about his own identity (as he explains in Dreams from My Father, the autobiography he published at age 33), and partly because he feared being trapped in places that were too small for his talents.

Eager to find himself by finding a community to which he could belong, he was struck, nonetheless, by the flaws or limits of every race, culture, and country he encountered. Unlike other intelligent human beings who have made the same discovery, Obama did not lower his expectations but decided that, just as he could and did choose to refashion his own identity, communities could do the same, with a little help. He spent three years as a community organizer in Chicago, but was disillusioned with the results. Eventually he found in politics, and especially in political oratory, the path he was seeking: the way to redeem the sins of an existing community by leading it to a vision of its future, better self; and to introduce himself, proudly biracial, multicultural, and progressive, as living proof that the divisions and disappointments of the past can be overcome, if never quite left behind.

A New Majority

Part of the past that Obama wants to transcend is the recent history of the Democratic Party. In The Audacity of Hope, his second autobiography (focused on his Senate years, not quite two of them at that point) and the source of his most thoughtful campaign speeches, he treats the party elders respectfully, but not exactly warmly. He mentions Teddy Kennedy three times, calling him one of the Senate's best storytellers; devotes a page to Al Gore's emotions after his "precipitous fall"; and acknowledges "the Kerry people" who invited him to speak at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Obama goes out of his way to emphasize that he is a newcomer to the party who couldn't even get a floor pass to the 2000 Convention. Reflecting on the elections of 2000 and 2004, he confesses that "I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation—a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago...."

Obama praises Bill Clinton more highly than any other contemporary Democrat, because Clinton recognized the staleness of the old political debate between Left and Right and came close to moving beyond it with his politics of the Third Way, which "tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans." But Clinton blew it, and the author gradually lets you know it. First, he regrets Clinton's "clumsy and transparent" gestures to the Reagan Democrats, and his "frighteningly coldhearted" use of other people (e.g., "the execution of a mentally retarded death row inmate" before a crucial primary). Then Obama notes sadly that Clinton's policies—"recognizably progressive if modest in their goals"—had commanded broad public support, but that the president had never been able, "despite a booming economy," to turn that support into a governing coalition. Finally, he gently accuses Clinton of the worst offense of all: strengthening the forces of conservatism. Due to his "personal lapses" and careless triangulations that ceded more and more ground to the Right, Clinton prepared the way for George W. Bush's victory in 2000.

In his campaign speeches, Obama can't afford to be so candid—he needs Hillary and Bill's supporters, after all—but he subtly makes his point. For example, in his Acceptance Speech in Denver, the single biggest speech of the campaign, he laid at Bill Clinton's feet the oldest backhanded compliment in the books, thanking the former president "who last night made the case for change as only he can make it...." That's a disguised double insult: it reminds the discerning ear of Clinton's characteristic bloviation, and then of his political failings (when you see Clinton, you're reminded why the Democrats need Obama).

Granted, Obama holds Clinton to higher standards than he does the other party elders. Jimmy Carter, Gore, Kerry—these gentlemen lacked the political talent that Clinton squandered, in Obama's estimation, and they were innocent of political daring. Their shortcomings are palliated, to some extent, by the fact that the times were not auspicious. Still, Obama is fairly clear that if the party is to move forward it must return to earlier exemplars, and especially to its heroes who brought about major political changes lasting for a generation or more. This was the context of his comparison of Clinton to Ronald Reagan, which raised such a ruckus early in the campaign:

I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

The comparison of Clinton to Nixon is delicious in its own right, but Obama's larger point is that Clinton was no Reagan, partly because the times were different but mostly, as he points out in his book, because Clinton was undisciplined and conceded too much to the Right. As tokens of Obama's seriousness about fundamental political change, The Audacity of Hope mentions Franklin D. Roosevelt more often that it does any living Democratic politician; and it features a long, interesting discussion of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the political point of which is to reestablish the Democrats' claim to speak for American ideals, the touchstone of every electoral realignment.

Thus the commentators who interpret Obama as a new kind of post-partisan political figure get it exactly wrong. It's true that he wants to stop "arguing about the same ole stuff," as he told Planned Parenthood; he wants to move beyond the decades-long debate between liberalism and conservatism. Bill Clinton wished for the same thing in 1992, as did George W. Bush in 2000. The 42nd and 43rd presidents had doctrines that they hoped would precipitate this magic synthesis—the Third Way, and compassionate conservatism, respectively. What's interesting, as political scientist James W. Ceaser noted in these pages ("What a Long, Strange Race It's Been," Spring 2008), is that Obama does not feel the need for such a doctrine. Nor does John McCain. The 2008 race is taking place squarely within the familiar ideological framework of liberalism and conservatism, but with McCain promising some maverick departures from the norm (while still accepting the norm), and Obama talking up hope and the need for change. The change needed, however, is for nothing less than a full-blown electoral earthquake that will permanently shatter the 50-50 America of the past four presidential elections. He thinks liberals can get beyond the old debate by finally winning it.

"Eking out a bare Democratic majority isn't good enough," he writes in The Audacity of Hope. "What's needed is a broad majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and independents of good will...." After the New Hampshire primary, he told his supporters "you can be the new majority who can lead this nation out of a long political darkness." A month later, after winning the Wisconsin primary, he explained what he called "my central premise," that "the only way we will bring about real change in America is if we can bring new people into the process, if we can attract young people, if we can attract independents, if we can stop fighting with Republicans and try to bring some over to our side. I want to form a working majority for change." That's easier said than done, of course, and likely would require several elections. Speaking to the AFL-CIO in 2003, he laid out the long march that would be necessary:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.... [a] single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.
As a matter of fact, he is not officially a proponent of a single-payer health care plan; his 2008 platform stops far short of that. Nor has he repeated this sweeping, candid endorsement of his ultimate goal, which might be described by that hoary but accurate epithet, socialized medicine. In the meantime, however, the Democrats in 2006 recaptured both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If after 2008 the Democratic party controls all three elective branches, then his "working majority for change" will be in a position to go to work.

A New Lincoln

If the leading edge of Obama's audacity is his desire to bring about fundamental political change at a time when every other leading Democrat has given up on it or lacks the gifts to achieve it, his daring shows itself too in his confidence that he is the man for the job, the man of the hour. His self-confidence has been noted, of course, and well parodied. It's even been parodied unconsciously, as by Mark Morford, an online columnist in San Francisco:

Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans...but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

Yet the fact is that the precise character of Obama's ambition has not been well understood. In his own terms, he seeks to bring about enduring political change even as (to mention those he invokes in this connection) Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson did before him. (He didn't concur with Reagan's change, to be sure.)

It's Obama's account of Lincoln that deserves particular attention. Lincolnian language appears and reappears in Obama's speeches. In fact, he compares himself indirectly and sometimes directly to the first Republican president. The speech that initially put Obama on the map, his 2002 denunciation of the pending Iraq War, concludes in a poor paraphrase of the Gettysburg Address: "Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain." He announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, a place central to Lincoln's political career and site of some of his great speeches, including the "House Divided" and his affecting farewell to the city as he left to assume the presidency. In his speech, Obama does his best to appropriate Lincoln's memory:

And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together...I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President.... By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope. As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through." That is our purpose here today. That's why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.... Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.

Obama identifies himself (as we say today) with Lincoln: Abe is not the only "tall, gangly, self-made" lawyer primed for greatness that the audience is supposed to recognize. Though it ends with another paraphrase of the Gettysburg Address, the passage—and the whole speech—is meant to recall Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, which kicked off the Illinois senate campaign in 1858 against Stephen Douglas. The quotation about the "four winds" is Lincoln's description of the new Republican Party, forged from fragments of the fading Whig and Free Soil parties, and reaching out to anti-slavery Democrats and centrists.

Thus Obama compares the new majority he seeks to build to the majority party that Lincoln helped to create. He tries to inspire Democrats by appealing to the founder of the generations-long, post-bellum Republican majority. This is partisan ambition of a high order, masquerading as high-toned bipartisanship or post-partisanship: Obama speaks as though Lincoln were trying to overcome the country's divisions by calling for unity, for cooperation in the spirit of national renewal. In fact, Lincoln's point was that the Union would "become all one thing, or all the other." It would become either all free, or all slave. Lincoln's road to unity ran through division, through forcing the country to choose. Obama's point is similar, despite his soothing language: our divisions will be healed once the country is safely in the hands of a new liberal, Democratic majority.

Obama spoke in 2005 at the opening of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. On that occasion, he talked more of the man himself. Lincoln exhibits "a fundamental element of the American character," he said, "a belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams." He hailed Lincoln's "repeated acts of self-creation, the insistence that...we can recast the wilderness of the American landscape and the American heart into something better, something finer...." The wilderness of the American heart—now that's an expression, and a sentiment, that Lincoln never uttered. Is it Obama's own view of the American soul's desolation?

Lincoln's life ends up sounding a lot like Obama's. "Lincoln embodies our deepest myths," Obama averred. "It is a mythology that drives us still." Here is the stark difference between the two men. Lincoln never thought of himself as pursuing or being driven by a myth, even though his life and death acquired, in the eyes of others, mythic significance. At any rate, when Obama later contributed a version of the speech to Time magazine, he altered a line to read:

In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat—in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of human life—the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.

Peggy Noonan, with her usual keen perception, took him to task in the Wall Street Journal for having explained "that he's a lot like Abraham Lincoln, only sort of better." In The Audacity of Hope, Obama charmingly relates the story, pooh-poohing the notion that he was seriously "comparing myself to Lincoln." But Noonan had it right.

Claremont Review of Books & Obama's Books:

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vi...

In His Own Words: BARACK OBAMA - THE AMERICAN PROMISE: 500+ pages. ...

Audacity of Hope 1ST Edition

Claremont Review of Books

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