HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

March 24, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


Denunciation on Demand
March 18, 2008

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has written many sensible columns but he has his silly side and today he exhibited it fulsomely by attacking Barack Obama for not rejecting the pastor of his church more quickly. Why is it the duty of a politician to unearth everything his associates have said and pronounce on them? Wouldn't we be better off if candidates were simply held accountable for their own comments and those they have generated?

The notion that politicians must be censors for the nation has become a mania. And the truth that politicians use that mania for their own benefit doesn't excuse either themselves or the mania. If Jeremiah Wright respects Louis Farrakhan, that's all right with me and has nothing whatsoever to do with what I think of Barack Obama. I hate to think of being responsible for all the stuff my friends have spouted. And if a man can't be friends with people with whom he disagrees, at times, he can't be friends with anybody.

This latest flap, of course, is one more piece of evidence of how fatuous our political campaigns have become. It is now a mantra on TV that Obama's speech today in Philadelphia, in which he will deal with the furor concerning Wright, is the most critical challenge of his life. If it is, it's a sad comment about the nation he's addressing.

The underlying problem is that we no longer assess candidates as potential government officials. Instead, they are viewed, and judged, as moral prophets. If a politician is a prophet, he has nothing but a herd as constituents. Obama has sometimes lent his voice to that concept, so perhaps this incident will help him grasp that the business of prophecy is exceedingly unstable.


Aids to Thought
March 19, 2008

I want to play mock clueless this morning and ask why it is that the political assessments of a dimwitted young woman frequently get plastered all through the media. I'm speaking of Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View who everyday holds forth about the affairs of nations, issuing commentary that's supposedly worthy of our attention.

Ms. Hasselbeck is an attractive person physically, and she speaks in a perky tone, but what she says, day after day, seldom rises to the level of ten-year-old playground chatter. She ascended to her current position of being a pronouncer on everything by virtue of having been a contestant on Survivor.

If she were presented as representative of not very bright young people throughout the nation, I suppose you could say she serves an informative purpose. And, maybe, that's what ABC has in mind in giving her the platform she occupies.  But that's not how her pronunciamentoes are treated by the general press of the nation.

Her analogy of the day after Senator Obama's speech in Philadelphia was that if a person does pushups for twenty years he gets a strong chest, and therefore, if Obama went to a church for twenty years which had a pastor who said things of which Ms. Hasselbeck disapproves, then Obama must have got strong in some unnamed way which, nonetheless, must be bad. Having sent forth this profundity, Ms. Hasselbeck gave a glance to the audience which announced that she had now joined the authors of the "Sermon on the Mount" and the "Gettysburg Address." Clearly, she thinks of herself as being quite deep, which, perhaps, is the principal testimony to her fatuity. There's no hint of doubt or uncertainty in her utterances.

I wish her no ill. We can hope that some day she'll grow up and learn something. But in the meantime, it really is a curiosity why she's promoted as someone who has substantive things to say.


Shockability
March 20, 2008

The bizarre aspect of the furor over Obama and his relationship with Jeremiah Wright is that the journalistic community is wildly wrought up over opinions that millions believe and express every day. The only thing I've read that Mr. Wright said which seems seriously wrong is that the U.S. government deliberately infected people with the AIDS virus. I've seen no credible evidence to that effect and, yet, many people believe it, probably about the same number who believe that Saddam Hussein collaborated with al Qaeda to carry out the attacks in September 2001. Nobody seems outraged over the latter error. So why go bananas over the former?

The problem of course is that main stream journalism is still devoted to the concept that white bread ideas are not only dominant in the country but also are the closest thing to democratic truth we possess. The myth of the solid, steady, taxpaying, patriotic, heartland, white American, ready at the drop of a hat to die for any scheme the government decides to dredge up, is so pervasive in the American media that we are regularly denied the truth. Sure, there are people like that. But they certainly don't make up the whole of the American population and, probably, not even a majority of it.

What is the source of this naiveté? If I were a devotee of conspiracies, I'd think it came from deliberate efforts by the government to keep the general public ignorant of reality so they can be manipulated to fall in line with any greedy plot the plutocratic imperialists dream up. Come to think of it, that may not be as radical as it sounds. Much as it attracts me, however, the truth is doubtless something more complex.


Up or Down?
March 21, 2008

The big debate among the political pundits now is whether Obama's speech on race hurt him or helped him. There seems to be a consensus that it was a brilliant speech, but is brilliance an asset with the American public?

I just watched an interview Sally Quinn of the Washington Post did with Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor at Georgetown. He praised the speech to the heavens but then said he thought it would hurt Obama. Professor Berlinerblau didn't come right out and say so, but his implication was clear: the American people are way, way, way too dumb to welcome thought of the sort Obama delivers.

I don't know how true that is. It's true that people who were going to oppose Obama anyway will seize on Jeremiah Wright's remarks and say they're turning against Obama because of them. But we need to keep in mind that they're lying. I suspect that very few people will actually change their opinion of Obama because of Wright. Anyone claiming that Wright and Obama's speech were reasons for making a decision would have made the same decision over the long run because of inherent racism. Prejudice against black people is the only source of this story's significance and that prejudice is what it is, and will do what it will do, regardless of whether the story had ever appeared.

So the genuine question for Professor Berlinerblau and the rest of us is what percentage of the American public is strongly influenced by ignorant bigotry against black people. I don't know the answer and I don't think anyone does. There has been much talk that America has shed the racial attitudes of the past and is ready for a new era of racial equity. We can hope that's true, but we don't know.

I do know one thing. I'm glad that I've never had a spiritual advisor and am never going to have one.  There are certain things humans are suited for -- and then, there are other things.


Foolish Campaigning
March 22, 2008

I don't know what's motivating the Clintons' praise of John McCain. But I do know they ought to stop it. Whatever McCain's positive human qualities might be, he would be a disaster as president of the United States. He has no sense that military expenditure is out of control nor does he grasp the dangers in widespread use of military force. He may be a mature man chronologically, but he's like a little kid when it comes to playing war.

The single most foolish and damaging comment of the campaign so far was Hillary Clinton's assertion that McCain has passed the commander-in-chief threshold whereas she's not sure about Barack Obama.

Unless the Democratic candidates are far worse people than I've suspected, they both have to know that during the general campaign the winner will have to support the loser, and not just lackadaisically, either. Right now it looks as though Obama will be the winner and, therefore, Hillary Clinton needs to behave at the moment in a way that will allow her to work enthusiastically for the Democratic ticket. That's what the good of the country requires and it's also what's needed for her to continue to be an important figure in the Democratic Party.

Whether the candidates know it, or not, there will be life after November 2008 regardless of the election results. Acknowledging that truth would be a good thing for both of them, and for all the rest of us also.


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