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Mockery Monday

Shorter Cal Thomas: Barack Hussein al-Obama will kill you.

Verbatim Cal Thomas:

Electing Barack Obama president of the United States would be a roll of loaded dice. We will live (and possibly die) to regret it.

See? I told you.  If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die. Killer on the road.  What part of killer on the road don’t you understand?  Those dice are loaded, people.

The rest of the graf is even better.  No, really:

Republicans have made many mistakes and deserve the punishment they are now getting, but the one charge that cannot be laid at their doorstep is that they wanted to rewrite the Constitution and weaken the country.

Isn’t that odd?  I was thinking just the other day that if there’s one charge we can definitely lay at Republicans’ doorstep, it’s that they’ve rewritten the Constitution and weakened the country.  Weird!

Anyway, read the whole column about Obama the radical socialist who wants to destroy America, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Cal Thomas’s latest book, Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America.


Speaking of partisan war: back when the Obama-Clinton struggle was at its fiercest, and bloggers and commenters bloodied each other mercilessly with every new 3 AM phone call and every reference to Ronald Reagan as a transformational president, I was puzzled by two things.  I mentioned one of them briefly at the TPM Café—the transformation (you should excuse the term) of Hillary Clinton into a Working-Class Hero® along the lines of Joe Hill or Cesar Chavez.  The other was the insistence, on the part of Hillary’s supporters, that she would fight fight fight against the VRWC whereas Obama would try to make nice-nice with them.  I simply did not understand this at all.  It was beyond my comprehension.  I was flabbergas. . . .  OK, you get the idea.  I could understand this argument coming from people 20 and under, who had no memory of the Clinton years, who didn’t recognize the names “Lani Guinier” or “Dick Morris,” and who didn’t know who Mark Penn was and why he was directing Hillary’s campaign.  But from people of a certain age, it was bewildering.  (It was even more bewildering after Hillary came to Pittsburgh to make nice-nice with Richard Mellon Scaife, but by then the campaign was in its Late Baroque period, where anything was possible.)

Now, I’ve never cared for Obama’s version of the “how to stop the partisan war that is destroying America” shtick.  I don’t care for any version of the shtick, whether it comes from Obama or Cal Thomas or David Broder or Alan Wolfe.  We have partisan wars because we have partisan disagreements, people, whether we’re talking about war in Iraq or justice as fairness or the question of whether zygotes and embryos have the same moral status as neonates.  These disagreements aren’t going away, no matter how much anyone wants to get beyond red-and-blue America to a bruised-purplish America.  And like a lot of partisans, I went into the presidential debates thinking, goddamn, I hope Obama calls McCain on every sleazy lie and distortion he’s ever tried to pull in this sleazy lying campaign.  And like a lot of partisans, when Obama didn’t do that, I was disappointed.

The media/campaign narrative since then has emphasized Obama’s coolness, his unflappability, his above-all-this-silly-shit demeanor.  And that’s right, up to a point: Obama knew that the most important thing he could do in the debates, as in the campaign’s closing stages more generally (especially with regard to the financial crisis), was to perform stability.  His demeanor, even more than his actual answers, had to say you can trust me—I can do this job

But there’s something else going on, and last week, one of the exchanges in my exceptionally fine comment section crystallized it for me.  From this thread:

“and after Kerry and Gore’s losses seemed partly due to not fighting low blows with more low blows, I figured Obama was sure to come out swinging at some point. But nope.”

Oh no, Orange in comment #3.  I hate to see this narrative re-forming.  When Obama finally came out swinging was when his campaign started to turn around.  He was losing, remember?  Right around then was when he started to respond to McCain’s Ayers ad with the ad that said “Barack was eight at the time.  Why is McCain so interested in talking about the 60s?” Which would have given establishment Democrats of any other cycle the vapors.

No one wants, or ever did want, a candidate who curses like a blogger.  But let’s not preemptively whitewash the campaign in one big happy glow of “Obama made me feel good about politics again.”

That’s Rich Puchalsky replying to Orange (if that is her real name).  And since Rich P. and Orange have been reading this blog and offering wonderful comments since way back in 1985 when I first started, it pains me to say this, but: yer both wrong.  Or only three-quarters right.

The curious thing is that Obama has been firing back, pretty consistently, without cursing like a blogger—and without quite “coming out swinging,” either.  He’s introduced an entirely new discursive mode to the world of Democratic presidential politics, and I should have recognized it much earlier, because it’s the mode this humble blog has adopted in all its exchanges with David Horowitz: the mode of derisive mockery.  (This has, indeed, given some of my colleagues the vapors—such as the guy who told me he doesn’t think mockery is ever appropriate in public discourse.  He doesn’t teach at Penn State, though.  He teaches at the Institute for Earnest Leftism.)

But unlike my responses to Horowitz, Obama’s mockery hasn’t been over the top; it’s been dismissive but calm, cool, collected, as when Obama replied to McCain’s charge that he is a radical socialist by surmising that McCain’s next move would be to attack him for being a “secret communist” on the grounds that he shared his toys in kindergarten.  Still more recently, Obama took Lord Voldemort’s Dick Cheney’s endorsement of McCain not only as an opportunity to offer McCain his mock congratulations but also as an occasion for mocking Cheney himself:

“Yesterday, Dick Cheney came out of his undisclosed location,” Obama said. “He said that he is, and I quote, ‘Delighted to support John McCain.’ He’s delighted. You’ve never seen Dick Cheney delighted before. But he is. That’s kind of hard to picture.”

So no, Obama doesn’t curse like a blogger.  But he has brought some serious snark to the campaign trail, for maybe the first time ever in the history of everything ever.  Seriously: just try to imagine Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, or (bless her heart) Hillary “that’s not change you can believe in, that’s change you can Xerox” Clinton trying to pull this off.  (OK, maybe Adlai Stevenson—now there was a funny guy.) Obama’s fighting back, all right, but in ways no Democratic candidate has even attempted before.  He’s not post-partisan, and he’s not Olbermanian either.  He merely treats McCain’s attacks with the contempt they deserve, but lightly; and while he performs stability, he also manages to perform seriousness and snarkiness all at once.  It’s not easy.  But he’s really, really good at it. 

As is Rachel Maddow.  What we’re seeing in Maddow and Obama, I think, are public figures who combine high seriousness and all-purpose unflappability with flashes of scary-smartness and moments of dismissive snark.  This M-O m.o. is qualitatively different from the 80-to-100 percent snark content of the Stewart/ Colbert demeanor, and vastly more effective than John Kerry trying to tell a “joke” about being born in the West Wing.  And it seems, for now, to be exactly what the public sphere needs.

Posted by on 11/03 at 08:57 AM
  1. And that is why Obama is cool/hot, why so many voters wish he were their secret boyfriend. One distinction is that Obama fights clean (for the most part), while McCain fights dirty (often).

    McCain says Obama is scary, dangerous, radical, socialist, tax-crazed, and in favor of killing babies before teaching them how to put on a condom.

    Obama fights back, but cleanly. He pooh-poohs the lunacy and refutes the lies, and gets off a few incisive jokes—all without using the Rove smear tactics that have turned off great swaths of the electorate.

    There’s a difference between asking “Why is McCain so interested in talking about the 60s?” and running a commercial declaiming, say, “John McCain is mentally unbalanced because he never got treatment for PTSD. He’s always flying into a rage, and you know what? Maybe he has Alzheimer’s too.” That would be the Rovean approach, but Obama has studiously avoided it in his ad campaign and stump speeches.

    (My real name is Citrus sinensis.)

    Posted by Orange  on  11/03  at  10:39 AM
  2. Are you saying we’re going to have an ironic administration? Do you think Obama will appoint a Secretary for Irony?

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  10:47 AM
  3. That’s it exactly--one of my favorite statements released by the Obama campaign was the one they released after Palin was punked by the Canadian radio comedians: 

    “I’m glad we check out our calls before we hand the phone to Barack Obama.”

    Only slightly snarky, with a nice put-down to the idiots running Palin’s staff.

    It seems to me that much of politics is like a two-by-two diagram.  For awhile, we swung way too far to the “safe” side, where we didn’t respond at all to attacks.  There’s a danger in swinging too far to the other side, the “danger” side, wherein our current candidate could have been caricatured as the “angry Black man,” and things would have gone downhill from there...Side 3 is the “earnest” side, wherein we claim all sorts of purity and honesty and truthfulness, which isn’t ever possible if you’ve been in politics more than 5 minutes.  Side 4? Serious “snark,” wherein we deride all complaints a la Jon Stewart.

    I put Obama square in the “danger, snark” quadrant, but only slightly.

    As you’ve just said, this is exactly where he needs to be.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  10:51 AM
  4. Nice analysis, Michael. I wonder how much the Obama/Maddow similarity in tone comes from their common backgrounds in academia (and why may of us who appreciate of this tone are similarly steeped). I recognize this casual sarcasm & bemusement as a teaching strategy, fostering skepticism without coming across as too strident for students.

    And to be all professorial, my captcha of thats is quite grammatically-challenged.

    Posted by Jason Mittell  on  11/03  at  10:57 AM
  5. I’m gonna slightly disagree with your characterization of Bill Clinton, but *only* because I saw a clip from the 2000 campaign on Sunday’s Rachel Maddow show… When the checked into Bill’s passport files, he was mocking them for not just asking him, and saying it was probably the first time those guys had worked till 10pm in their life.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:00 AM
  6. Hmmm, that’s a pretty good one, dallas.  I’d forgotten about that.  But then again, there’s the (contemporaneous) example of how Clinton replied to Bush I calling him and Gore “Bozos” in that campaign’s Late Baroque mode.  Bill’s line was something like “well, Bozo makes people laugh, and Bush’s policies make people cry.” Which was, like, teh l4m3st response ever.  But yes, of all the Democratic nominees since, um, maybe Franklin Pierce, Clinton came the closest to danger/ snark.  Still nowhere near Obama’s level, though.

    Jason @ 4:  hmmm, possibly.  But liberal academe is also full of Very Earnest Earnestness, too.  Still, the idea that certain teachers perform a kind of unstrident skepticism sounds just right.

    Bill @ 2:  Do you think Obama will appoint a Secretary for Irony?

    If he does, surely he’ll do it “ironically.”

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:11 AM
  7. Obama plays very good defense, turning away attacks with sarcasm and then returning to his own talking points.  This is far better than the Kerry tactic of simply ignoring the personal attacks in hopes that they would go away.

    But he doesn’t fight back, as a Jim Webb would, by attacking McCain’s personal failings.  There’s been very little Keating Five; nothing at all about McCain’s confession while a POW; nothing about his adultery and second marriage; nothing about his relationships with G. Gordon Liddy and other shady characters.  Instead, the relentless theme is that John McCain is a brave, patriotic hero who is wrong for the times.

    Just to take the confession - McCain trumpets his bravery and leadership as a POW, when the truth appears to be that his taped confession to being a war criminal was daily broadcast over the the POW camp loudspeakers to break the morale of other prisoners and was also broadcast over Hanoi radio. 

    Thinking back to the swiftboating of 2004, do you think Republicans would have refrained from using that kind of material against a Democrat?

    This is what has made so many Democrats tear their hair out over the past several months.  It appears that Obama has been right and we have been wrong about this stuff.  Or maybe he’s just been extraordinarily lucky that the economic crisis struck in September and not two months later.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:18 AM
  8. Michael @ 8: Like maybe he’ll designate your humble blog (and only your humble blog) as the official Department of Irony, thereby undermining your rep for Oppositional Dangerosity.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:21 AM
  9. No, Bill, you’re @ 8.  Ironically enough.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:37 AM
  10. The Rude One made a similar observation in a, uh, rather rude post the other day. I won’t link to it here because it’s, uh, pretty damned rude. But I think this humble blog links to The Rude One, so hopefully you can find it.

    Posted by Bulworth  on  11/03  at  11:43 AM
  11. That kindergarten line was pretty good.  Guess Japan is communist--hear they emphasize sharing in a big way in every yochien....

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  11/03  at  11:52 AM
  12. Go ahead and brush it off, Obama.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  12:06 PM
  13. Michael @ 9: Whoops! Is Bill (ie me) @ 8 irony or is I confused?

    Meanwhile, an unironic Obama getting some OJT (Youtube video).

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  12:09 PM
  14. I can’t believe that one of HRC’s outstanding campaign debts is the 5.2 million she owes Mark Penn as campaign strategist.


    Posted by  on  11/03  at  12:19 PM
  15. In the aftermath of a hideous evening with Mark Lilla, at that time just a neo-con wannabe, my partner said to me:  “With reactionaries, never argue on content or with logic.  The only thing that works is to make them feel really, really bad and really, really stupid.” Obama, I salute you as the subtle snark king.  And I suggest you read Berube for some excellent pointers in the future.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  01:03 PM
  16. You don’t explicitly limit this to Democrats, although those are your examples. But I think Bob Dole is an interesting case. He is really quite funny, and his “Carter/Ford/Nixon - See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Evil” line deserves to go in the Political Snark Hall of Fame (along with “a noun a verb and 9/11"). However, much of his humor played a little too sharply on the campaign trail and he generally came off sounding like an a..hole (of course not helped by his a..holish positions on a number of things).

    I do think that Obama’s skill at this is a big contributing factor to McCain’s barely supressed rage; he knows it is effective but can’t really attack it in a non-whiny way. I thought another great example was his “It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.” response to the stupid tire pressure gauge imbroglio.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  01:09 PM
  17. There’s Eugene McCarthy, but the snark swallowed him up. 


    I agree BHO has worked out how to respond, and his musing, not-quite-completing-the-thought style works to soften the snark so he doesn’t come off as too mean. 

    But these days campaigns have two voices, the candidate and the “rapid response” staff.  The latter, in the case of both campaigns, has been far from light—leaden sarcasm, Olbermanesque harangue, a kind of wall of language.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  01:10 PM
  18. There’s been very little Keating Five; nothing at all about McCain’s confession while a POW; nothing about his adultery and second marriage; nothing about his relationships with G. Gordon Liddy and other shady characters.  Instead, the relentless theme is that John McCain is a brave, patriotic hero who is wrong for the times.

    I’ve been mulling this over, bloix.  I think it’s complicated, and I think it speaks to an important dynamic (which also, btw, gives the lie to every inane Broderism).  To wit:  a good chunk of the Republican base doesn’t give a shit about policy—they just hate hate hate libruls and want to see ‘em smashed and humiliated, no matter what the issue is.  But “independents” don’t go in for this kind of thing—for some reason, they tend to want to know what a candidate is gonna do over the next couple of years as opposed to what his opponents say he did in Vietnam 40 years ago.  Now, we on the left side have our haters too—you know, people who despise conservatives and everything they stand for.  But they don’t actually need the “McCain is a traitor and an adulterer and a Keating High-Fiver!!1!11!” narrative to wake up in the morning.  So the Dems have tended to concentrate more on those independents who think the 60s culture wars are bullshit, and this time it seems to have worked. Nothing like a global financial crisis to concentrate the mind.

    One final thing:  attacking McCain for that confession would be almost sure to backfire.  He was being tortured, after all.

    OK, Jamie and I are out for the afternoon.  Goin’ down to Obama HQ to see if we can be of any use.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/03  at  01:24 PM
  19. Once my eyeballs recovered from the spasmodic Pavlovian rolling motion induced by transducing the name “Cal Thomas,” I found this post interesting and insightful. Imagine...an intelligent person with a sarcastic sense of humor as Caliph Imam POTUS...cool!
    By the way, I think the word is “Olbermanniacal.”

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  01:30 PM
  20. It could be worse; the electoral decision we make could be one with which we Forever Live and Die.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  01:33 PM
  21. Just wanted to link to my follow-up post to Michael’s excellent analysis - but with video!

    Doomed to captcha death - a bad omen the day before the election…

    Posted by Jason Mittell  on  11/03  at  01:54 PM
  22. Oh noes!

    When the conservatives’ imaginations are so tired that their “verbatims” are so crude as to almost be “shorters” already, and the liberals’ candidates are producing their own snark in-house, will the bloggers be obsolete?

    Posted by professordarkheart  on  11/03  at  02:11 PM
  23. So instead of saying to Hillary, “Why do you pal around with Murdoch and Scaife,” he said, “You’re showing your claws, having a bad day,” etc.
    A power play is a power play.
    We have got some interesting times coming up.

    Posted by Hattie  on  11/03  at  02:39 PM
  24. I think this is spot on. I can’t find the link, but I recall thinking something similar when Obama sarcastically parried some of McCain’s weak-on-defense accusations. Often his comments end with a nod to the listener’s intelligence, as in “they must think you’re stupid.”

    There are two reasons why I think this was both necessary and successful. A lot of bloggers I read kept hammering away on the theme that Obama was not fighting back hard enough, which I found puzzling. It seemed obvious to me from the time that Obama launched his campaign that he was going to have to be very careful not to come across as an angry black man. That he has negotiated every single landmine in this regard successfully is a testament to him.

    The other reason is Obama’s age. He’s just young enough to have figured out how to keep from seeming too nerdy and elitest. Gore and Kerry are both too old to have figured this out, because they came of age in a time when seeming smart was still considered okay. They didn’t know how to adjust when the conservatives made intelligence into a marker of anti-Americanism. I’m reminded of a Sarah Vowell essay called “The Nerd Voice,” in which she argues that intelligent and passionate people of her generation have mastered what she calls the “self-deprecating impulse,” that is, they preemptively mock themselves for knowing stuff before anyone else has a chance to take a shot. It’s related to snark, though ostensibly it’s snark leveled at oneself rather than one’s rival. In both cases, the one with wit and intelligence uses humor rather than defensiveness as both a self-protective tactic and a way of getting across a point. Obama’s been brilliant at this.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  03:01 PM
  25. Dallas says:

    I’m gonna slightly disagree with your characterization of Bill Clinton, but *only* because I saw a clip from the 2000 campaign on Sunday’s Rachel Maddow show… When the checked into Bill’s passport files, he was mocking them for not just asking him, and saying it was probably the first time those guys had worked till 10pm in their life.

    See, but Clinton tipped from “ironic” into “sarcastic.” He doesn’t have it fine-tuned. And yes, sometimes Obama gets a little too sarcastic-sounding. Maddow never. She’s perfected irony.

    Posted by Hattie  on  11/03  at  03:05 PM
  26. with a nice put-down to the idiots running Palin’s staff.

    Chicka-wow chicka-wow-wow!

    I had become grudgingly more accepting of Thomas.  He co-authored Blinded by Might, about disillusionment with the Christian Coalition approach to remaking government.  He got disinvited from D. James Kennedy’s annual Dominionist Fest.  He acknowledged in an interview with the Rutherford Institute that America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation.  He even wrote an interesting little column that invoked The Day the Earth Stood Still when in NYC during the last great blackout.  So, while I would never permit my nearly-arrived son to marry him, I was willing to cut him a lot of slack.  But he misrepresented the content of the Saddleback Church forum, and now he’s talking up Fear of a Black Oval Office.  So at the moment I’m hoping he dies of a painful illness someday, alone and unloved.  Because that’s still better than what he wishes on liberals.  Hastur bless Obama for having more strength than I.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  03:14 PM
  27. Re McCain’s POW confession, TPM reports that Palin unloaded this today.  See how every word could have been uttered by Joe Biden:

    “[F]or his lifetime John McCain has inspired with his trustworthy and heroic deeds. On the decks of aircraft carriers and in the lonely cell of a prison camp—and in the halls of the US capital—John McCain has always proudly put his country first, he has always fought for America!
    “John .. spent five and a half years as a POW. He has met great adversity in his life and in the service to this country. He knows how tough challenges are overcome, he will not wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists...”

    If Americans knew that McCain acted like a man in prison camp, and not like a superman, this sort of horseshit wouldn’t be possible. But Americans don’t know.  Instead, they are fed the horseshit by both campaigns.  And so, to every question, the answer is POW!

    At this point it doesn’t seem to matter much.  But if the stock market had tanked at the end of October instead of the end of September, it might have made a difference.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  03:58 PM
  28. I really need a break from obsessing about this campaign.  When Michael wrote “the transformation (you should excuse the term) of Hillary Clinton into a Working-Class Hero® along the lines of Joe...” I, in the instant before my eyes moved to the next line, thought the next words would be “the Plumber.” Please get here fast, Tuesday.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  04:24 PM
  29. Thanks for quoting my comment—wow, people actually read these things?—and I’ll say that in my opinion the important thing always was to fight back, not to specify in particular how it should be done.  An ironic register works best?  Fine with me. 

    However, I’m concerned about what happens next time if it turns out that snarkiness isn’t really going to do it.  Are people going to be able to go with “McCain is an adulterer and a Keating high-roller” if that’s what it takes?  In other words, are they going to be able to say true things that are also cruel, rather than snarky?

    I guess that I instinctively distrust the idea of any politics that feels good.  It’s not supposed to—it’s not sex.  Maybe that’s the new equivalent of Earnest Leftism, though.  My entire political lifetime, as I often remind myself, has been within the Reagan Era, and I’ve gotten used to a mode of resistance.  Wanting to feel good was the marker that made the shallow people quit and the committed ones burn out.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  04:32 PM
  30. Institue for Earnest Leftism...Now that’s funny,I don’t care who you are.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  05:09 PM
  31. Bloix, re. the confession:  I happened to meet & get to know several ex-POWs when I was in the Air Force in the mid-70s; my father, then an active-duty colonel, ran a SecDef-directed interview program with the POWs aimed at exploring how the longtime military “Code of Conduct” (dating from the 1950s) should be modified in light of the Vietnam POW experience.  What I recall is that the most senior ex-POWs made it clear that everyone who was captured (with only one exception that I know of) understood the informally-revised Code of Conduct that prevailed in the Hanoi Hilton.  Simply stated, all POWs could expect to be tortured into signing a confession, and the expectation of the senior leadership was that a certain, undefined amount of resistance was called for but nothing that would result in death or permanently cripple one’s health.  The senior officers made it clear that the confessions were basically meaningless and after their release they made sure that everyone back home also understood this and there would be no repercussions against anyone because of these confessions extracted by torture.  McCain was already seriously crippled from his bailout injuries and could not put up prolonged resistance without running the aforementioned risks, and therefore the senior ex-POWs (and probably most others as well) did not then and do not now have any problem with his behavior while in captivity.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  05:26 PM
  32. "OK, Jamie and I are out for the afternoon.  Goin’ down to Obama HQ to see if we can be of any use. “

    Yeah, we need PA. It’s all on you. No pressure though. Just the Free World hanging in the balance.

    Posted by Bulworth  on  11/03  at  05:28 PM
  33. So instead of saying to Hillary, “Why do you pal around with Murdoch and Scaife,” he said, “You’re showing your claws, having a bad day,” etc.

    OK, Jamie and I are back from canvassin’ Pleasant Gap, PA.

    Strange, Hattie, but I thought of the “claws” remark while driving over the mountains and valleys of this key keystone state, and about Obama’s “you’re likeable enough”—his two low points w/r/t Hillary, both of which I disliked intensely.  (Though I have to add that I think people who also went after Obama’s use of the word “periodically” in the claws remark were seriously overreaching.  See, I know many men.  And I know many men who are sexist assholes.  And yet I don’t know a single man who would hear “periodically” as “Obama is talking about the menstrual cycle, snicker snicker snicker.” If it was a dog whistle, it was one that not even the scurviest sexist dog could hear.) Obama’s “brushing-the-attacks-off-my-shoulder” response was far cooler (in various senses of the word), partly because it was preceded by the (quite plausible) claim that Hillary was dishing out the kind of attack she herself had received in the 1990s—a deft maneuver that combined sympathy for Hillary’s treatment by the VRWC with the suggestion that she’d internalized that kind of politics to her detriment.

    And I forgot that the “change you can Xerox” exchange was preceded by this.  At the time, I thought Obama was tonally perfect, but I remember some of my Hillary-supporting friends finding him kind of arrogant (cf. the line about how some of his speeches are “pretty good").  And Hillary opened well in response, but then lost the audience with that obviously canned line.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/03  at  06:35 PM
  34. Don’t forget that he and his campaign have been following Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.

    Here’s one of the man’s points:

    Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”

    Wow. That hardly sounds like what happened at all. Bwhahahahahahaha.

    Here’s another one:

    “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

    OK, I’m less sure I know what this means, but it also sounds like what he did to McCain during Johnny Bravo’s parachuting down into DC during the bailout talks.

    One of the criteria for picking the target is the target’s vulnerability ... the other important point in the choosing of a target is that it must be a personification, not something general and abstract.”.

    McCain is erratic. I believe that was his first attack ad. And McCain campaigned like that premise was a plus!

    “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

    You could probably make a cool “Rules for Radicals or Yoda?” game out of these, but again, Obama’s team was leakproof, organized, smart and had a plan all along.

    Also: The Institute for Earnest Leftism? Has to be UMass.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:08 PM
  35. How about Institute for Lasting Leftism, aka ILL (though I realize that “ill” has its vernacular subtleties, aligning it with “phat” and “def")?

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:15 PM
  36. While all this analysis of his rhetorical style is well and good (I have an op-ed piece in tomorrow’s edition of Medium-Sized Norwegian Paper you’ve Never Heard Of about just that, akshuly) I think Michael@33 touches on the vital issue here, which is that we might actually have a president who can make a Jay-Z reference. How awesome is that?

    Posted by Martin G.  on  11/03  at  07:22 PM
  37. Speaking of Earnest Leftism, reading Dennis Perrin’s blog a half hour ago made me so very glad that this blog is back. Michael’s bemused cautious optimism balances out Dennis’ relentless pessimism nicely, and versey vicey.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:22 PM
  38. Ralph - I understand that.  McCain was one of a group.  He was not superman, and he was not especially cowardly.  But he has been running for president on a lie, and it’s a lie that hurts the country.  Among other things, if McCain had taught the country the true meaning of his experience Bush wouldn’t have been able to turn us into a nation of torturers.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:25 PM
  39. "Do you think Obama will appoint a Secretary for Irony?”

    Wouldn’t it be more ironic NOT to appoint one?

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:46 PM
  40. Let us all hope that the next President chooses his Irony Czar very, very carefully.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  07:55 PM
  41. Re: Alinsky and his rules and ridicule

    Alinsky trained Fred Ross, Sr.  Fred Ross trained Cesar Chavez.  Chavez and Ross trained Marshall Ganz.  Ganz has run many of the Camp Obama organizing sessions held around the country since last year.

    Back when the UFW was clicking, they had fun.  They were messing with the growers, pressuring local sheriffs, and testing the legal system, while all the while getting people in and out of the Valley involved and excited and making farm workers confident in themselves and their collective power.  There was a lot of laughter, creativity and improvisation were encouraged, and it kept the groups that opposed them off balance, confused, and grumpy.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  08:37 PM
  42. Yeah, Michael, that is a very telling video clip. One thing is that it shows how Obama has grown in stature since this thing began. Then, he sounded peevish and defensive and then seemed to be putting out the stuff he was going to do for us like we would get some nice presents if we elected him.
    It’s too bad that Hillary fell into the trap of sounding like “chastising Mom.”
    I early voted for Obama. And glad about the way it’s turned out, ultimately.

    Posted by Hattie  on  11/03  at  09:06 PM
  43. Speaking of Earnest Leftism, reading Dennis Perrin’s blog a half hour ago made me so very glad that this blog is back.

    Hey, Dan, nothing’s gonna be good enough for ol’ Dennis.  You want a better antidote to that hunger-artist routine?  Check out this thread at LGM in response to Paul Campos’s I’m-feeling-strangely-depressed post.  Especially this comment and this one.  OK, and some others too, like that one.

    You know I love about the Perrin-IOZ-Silber bunch, though?  They’re so dedicated to their “Democrats are just slightly more competent Republicans” shtick that they wind up ignoring the fact that approximately 135 percent of the rest of the world is really, really looking forward to seeing the US elect a President Obama.  Billions and billions of the world’s people . . . and all of ‘em unable to pierce the veil of illusion and see through the machinations of the corporate duopoly.  It’s a shame, really.

    Captcha:  party.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/03  at  09:20 PM
  44. You know I love about the Perrin-IOZ-Silber bunch, though?

    Yet again, we receive confirmation that Professor Bérubé is aware of all Internet traditions.  I was sure that all of fifteen people were even aware of Monsieur IOZ.  Silber has been hollowed out by despair in a way with which I can vaguely sympathize.  IOZ has a “fetch me a martini while the hotel burns” vibe going that is somehow reminiscent of Louise Brooks, and usually entertaining.  But the Monsieur finally went too far with the shtick by wishing a sneer on both their houses over gay marriage.  You know, that thing that Obama appears personally uncomfortable with, but won’t oppose, while McCain supported Arizona’s previous attempt to amend the state constitution to officially declare gay couples second-class citizens?  I’ve grumbled over FISA, and the talk of Republicans in the Cabinet, and the inadequacies of health insurance plans.  But, oddly, it was that post of IOZ’s that really viscerally reminded me of Why We Fight.  Sometimes there are meaningful consequences, albeit fewer of them than we would wish.  Sometimes it does help to pick someone other than the incurious dickweed.  So I hope to hoist a tea mug to victory in the wee hours Wednesday, then immediately start criticizing President-elect Obama’s transition team.

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:05 PM
  45. I really dig Obama’s style of mockery. Another thing I can’t get over, though, is the way he can be a rhetorical matador. Cioé, waving a red flag of “I’ll be transformational, like Reagan” whereupon the Clinton campaign charged in talking up how great it was in...1992.

    Or the quote about going into Pakistan with actionable intelligence on bin Laden. He said that August 1, 2007, and the entire political spectrum denounced it as crazy. He was still getting mileage out of that bite in the final debate 14 months later, when the whole thing is two hypotheticals built on conjecture/fiction. Everyone charged that red flag, and the only thing behind it was a brick wall. That’s attacking I can believe in!

    Posted by  on  11/03  at  11:25 PM
  46. I certainly don’t think that “Democrats are just slightly more competent Republicans”.  But there’s more than just depression going on.  There’s ... hmm.  Poetry is better for these emotional-state things.  Here’s the third of three Langston Hughes flavored poems, just written in this comment box; I think that I posted the first two in comments here somewhere:

    America October 2008

    I sing America, too
    And if you screw this up, America, screw you
    “I do not need my freedom when I’m dead”
    It took damned years to bake tomorrow’s bread

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  01:05 AM
  47. Bless you, my son.  I’m an atheist in the foxhole tonight, and praying to the Lords of Chaos that the sons of bitches can’t steal this one.

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  02:33 AM
  48. There was a lot of laughter, creativity and improvisation were encouraged, and it kept the groups that opposed them off balance, confused, and grumpy
    Wow, what a wonderful description of all of the efforts of those that have come along since.  Thanks J, i have shared this with friends in various movements. 

    This M-O m.o. is qualitatively different from the 80-to-100 percent snark content of the Stewart/ Colbert demeanor, and vastly more effective than John Kerry trying to tell a “joke” about being born in the West Wing.
    In some ways i think that post-Seinfeld, Rove understood that lies and deceit could be sold as pseudo-irony ala Kramer and Jerry.  Post Stewart/Colbert, Obama has been free to “dance” within the new envelope, so to speak; to offer substantive resistance to the idiotocracy through mockery and whimsical disdain.

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  03:18 AM
  49. Barack Obama’s had some other fine moments with this style of politics. For example, directed at other Democrats:

    “[Obama] was referring to his Democratic presidential rivals, when they were asked at the MSNBC debate to state their biggest weaknesses.

    ‘Because I’m like, an ordinary person, I thought that they meant what’s your biggest weakness?’ Mr. Obama said. ‘So I said, “Well, I don’t handle paper that well. You know, my desk is a mess. I need somebody to help me file and stuff all the time.” So the other two they say uh, they say well my biggest weakness is “I’m just too passionate about helping poor people. I am just too impatient to bring about change in America.”

    “As the room erupts in laughter, he continues: ‘If I had gone last I would have known what the game was. I could have said, “Well you know, I like to help old ladies across the street. Sometimes they don’t want to be helped. It’s terrible.’”’

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  03:54 AM
  50. Oh! And then there was pre-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Another snarky moment from the wit and wisdom.

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  04:02 AM
  51. Perhaps it is about how much it really matters. The world has never paid so much attention to a single election. In one country after another, opinion polls show that the results of the American election tomorrow will become noted as a focal point.

    The captcha says it all for me: GREEN… indeed

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  04:17 AM
  52. what makes you think orange isn’t her name?

    Posted by skippy  on  11/04  at  04:24 AM
  53. This post is righteously cool, Micheal.  I think you’ve captured his style of campaigning perfectly.  Thanks.

    Reading your analysis, I wonder if Obama might have read this 2004 essay by James Kroeger at some point:


    (sorry, forgot how to do the embed thingy.  my html-fu is not strong.)

    His combination of subtle mockery, dismissing the most ridiculous accusations as beneath them both while making the point that they are in fact ridiculous, immediately returning the conversation to the real issues McCain’s attacks are meant to distract us from, while maintaining the dignity appropriate for tackling urgent and dangerous problems, is right out of Kroeger’s prescribed strategy.

    It’s all about capturing people’s emotions, really; fear of the dangers of more Republican policy combined with fear of being associated with something ridiculous and justly mocked.  Fear of hope betrayed.

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  07:39 AM
  54. A line of Obama’s that I really enjoyed was when he said that McCain’s last-ditch effort to run against Bush was “like Robin getting mad at Batman,” but I wondered why he didn’t seem to play it up and use it more.  On reflection, I’m thinking he may have decided it was just a bit over the line into non-coolness, just a hair too unsubtle.  The man’s sense of pitch is extraordinarily acute.

    Posted by  on  11/04  at  11:23 AM
  55. Reagan had the unflappable, friendly mockery down.  Obama’s the first Democrat to be able to pull it off.  I’ve been waiting for someone with these skills for many years.

    The secret—he sounds like he’s enjoying himself, and he projects that enjoyment in an inviting, sociable way.  Kerry’s jokes could be funny, but he told them like an introvert, emotionally looking at his shoes, an air of self-deprecation and embarrasment.  Obama has the Reagan air of majestic calm and pleasurable sociability.

    Don’t get me wrong—Reagan’s policies were nuts and wrong and bad for humanity.  I agree with Obama’s 100-fold more.  Which is why I’m psyched to see him being able to embody this archetype; this archetype, which, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a name.  The calm and jovial leader, maybe.  The happy warrior.

    Posted by john  on  11/04  at  03:31 PM
  56. From what I know, this is how FDR dealt with the opposition—open mockery.  Example:

    Well, let us take some simple illustrations that come to mind. For example, although I rubbed my eyes when I read it, we have been told that it was not a Republican depression, but a Democratic depression from which this Nation was
    saved in 1933—that this Administration, this one today—is responsible for all the suffering and misery that the history books and the American people have always thought had been brought about during the twelve ill-fated years when the
    Republican party was in power.

    Now, there is an old and somewhat lugubrious adage which says: “Never speak of rope in the house of a man who has been hanged.” In the same way, if I were a Republican leader speaking to a mixed audience, the last word in the whole
    dictionary that I think I would use is that word “depression”!

    It’s from this link, and the whole speech is filled with this kind of thing:


    Posted by  on  11/05  at  03:34 PM
  57. Speaking of left, left, lefter than thou, here’s what Nader the Messiah had to say:


    Captcha: “but”

    Posted by  on  11/05  at  07:06 PM
  58. Rob w, I totally agree. I think so too.

    Posted by Attorneys in Augusta  on  10/04  at  07:17 PM





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