Politics & Policy

The Mendacity of Hype

Barack Obama and politics as usual, again.

For realists — or cynics, if you prefer — there was finally some good news from the presidential campaign. No more worries about “a new politics” and “change” which, if they had been for real, would have required one to take the campaign seriously and pay attention to this season’s political star, Barack Obama. Turns out, it was a sham.

Normally, realists have a fairly easy time of it when it comes to presidential politics. Without knowing who the candidates are or what they are saying, one can confidently assert, “They are all the same,” and “The way you can tell that they’re lying is that their lips are moving.” You don’t have to do any deep research or hard digging to back up these assertions in any given political season.

When George H. W. Bush promised “no new taxes,” that pretty much sealed it: taxes would be going up. When LBJ promised no American boys would be sent to fight wars that Asian boys should be fighting, smart money said that the Marines would soon be landing. In fact, most of our big-time war presidents came off campaigns in which they had promised to keep us out of war.

The point, here, is not to demonstrate that our politicians frequently break their promises. This is not breathtaking news. Neither is the tendency of political candidates to straddle issues. “I was for [whatever] before I was against it.” This is routine stuff and one doesn’t have to be especially hard-bitten to recognize it for what it is.

But we all hope for something else, we all have a sequestered place in our hearts longing for “a new kind of politics.” And when we hear whispers of it, we want to buy in. Barack Obama had a lot of us going for a while. He was “post-racial.” He was all about “hope” and “audacity.” He was for “change.” And this time, he promised, we really could achieve it. “Yes we can.”

Well, it appears that it is time to say, “Be still my heart,” and move on to other things. Obama told us his campaign wasn’t going to be about the money — after all, that was politics as usual. He was going to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” Later, he expanded on that to say, “I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.”

Well, McCain is still waiting for that sit-down. Turns out, Obama is all about the money. Now that he can raise more on his own than the government could have offered him — and probably more than McCain can raise — Obama has changed his mind (assuming it was ever made up), and is hoping the voters will not hold it against him.

Politics, man — you do what you gotta do.

You run against NAFTA in the Ohio primary, calling the bill “devastating” and “a big mistake.” That’s where the votes are . . . or were. Now that he is looking beyond the mid-west, he’s all about free trade. Yeah, well, the rhetoric may have gotten a little “overheated” back there in Ohio, he says passively, but he’s certainly no protectionist. Perish the thought.

Then, there is the post-racial stuff. That little sequestered place in our hearts quivered with the hope that with this candidate, in this election, we might move beyond identity politics. And Obama said as much, himself, when he was asked on 60 Minutes if his race was going to be a handicap in the election.

“No . . . ” he said. “If I don’t win this race it will be because of other factors . . . [because] I have not shown to the American people a vision for where the country needs to go that they can embrace.” Apparently, the American people are more stupid now than they were when he spoke those words. And his enemies will inevitably try to exploit that stupidity.

“We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run,” Obama said in a recent speech. “They’re going to try to make you afraid. . . . They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’ ”

Well, you go with what works. When an aide once asked Huey Long how he was going to explain to a group of important constituents why the “Kingfish” had gone back on a campaign promise, Long said, simply, “F*** ’em. Tell ’em I lied.”

This probably wouldn’t work for Obama. But maybe his apologists — those people who still believe in change, hope, and a new kind of politics — could try out a variation on Huey’s classic. How about, “F*** ’em. Tell ’em I was being audacious.”

Geoffrey Norman is editor of vermonttiger.com.


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