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21 February 2008


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You were exactly right when you said "Right now he is running as a demagogue appealing to the childishness that lurks just below the surface in American popular "culture."
Every president promises sweeping change, but seldom delivers.


Are you serious Col. Lang? What change? He'll be the first BLACK president with a MUSLIM name. You don't see a break with precedent there? Not even a little bit? Come on, at a minimum the way the world views the USA will be transformed overnight, and if he conducts half the goodwill and foreign correspondence he has suggested, that is a huge break from "Slim Georgie Pikins" riding the bomb down into the sand that we've had for the last 7 years.


He owes his popularity to Will Smith.


Obviuosly Obama alone can do nothing. I think that the potential "change" that he offers and that many people seek is an end to the politics of polarization which is based on the demonization of your political opponents.
I for one am sick of the two parties constantly talking about "taking back America." Conservatives and liberals both live in America, and the Rovian politics of demonization prevent us from even starting to seriously look for common ground in finding solutions to the problems facing our country.
There is definitely such a thing as "the politics of division", we've had 8 years of it and it has crippled our country.
From the beginning, Obama has campaigned offering an alternative to the politics of polarization and demonization, a "politics of inclusion".
If he is elected President by a significant majority of politcally diverse voters ( including Obama Republicans), it will signal a change to all politicians seeking election that the politics of demonization and division is no longer wanted by average Americans. Since politicians want to be elected this could encourage more moderate, practical candidates.
Obama alone can do nothing but if the American people demonstrate that they want more moderate,practical politicians everything could change in a positive direction.
It is not that our political differences will magically go away but that it is possible to move forward through respectful dialogue and compromise rather than attempting to "take back America".
Ideologues will not be happy with this but their approach is destroying America. Yes we need a change. Obama could be the start of this but the change must really come from the American people.
It is possible. We'll see.

Dan Mercer

Wow! What an ill-considered and intemperate post. As an Obama supporter I resent being described as a child. I don't think he is the messiah or any other nonsense. Obama is a talented politician whose policy positions do not differ in any significant way from Hillary Clinton's positions. He is more electable in the general election than Hilary and has run a much better campaign. Hillary relied on a loyal but incompetent campaign manager, underestimated her opposition, and did not develop a back-up plan in the event that the best case scenario did not occur. Does this remind you of someone? Sounds like our current president.


pl: "Senator Barack Obama may well be the stuff of an historic president, someday. Right now he is running as a demagogue appealing to the childishness that lurks just below the surface in American popular "culture.""

I'm not sure that there are too many other options than "running as a demagogue" for a person with little previous national recognition.

What else should he do? Present his legislative agenda in exhausting detail to the crowds at his rallies? Spell out precisely what his foreign policy views are, with all the inevitable nuance that that would (or should) entail? As for me, I'd love to see that sort of campaign, but how would Chris Matthews respond?

When you're working within a childish popular culture, perhaps it makes sense to appeal to the kids.



I think you are right to be skeptical of Obama's rhetoric. Any talk of change will likely gloss over the fact that presidents, ya know, have to get laws through congress . . ..

But why is Clinton or McCain's rhetoric any better? What is the evidence that either person's "experience" gives them better judgement? Be specific. To cite one example, Obama at least had the judgement to question what the heck we would do after we overthrew Saddam. To the extent that the other two appreciated those risks, there is no evidence that they ensured (given their positions) that those risks were addressed before they advocated war. McCain's insistence that "noone has been more critical of the conduct of the war than he" is wrong. Furthermore, his 'criticism' consisted primarily of noting that things were going badly when the rest of the GOP was still 'creating its own reality' over there. Personally, I do not give points for noting the obvious.

Perhaps Clinton and McCain seem "tougher." What does that mean? Especially, since McCain is now going after Obama as 'rash' for noting that Obama said he would strike in Pakistan if AQ were there and Pakistan refused to act. McCain himself has said he would chase AQ to the Gates of Hell, or some such cr^p. It is also just so much rhetoric. For goodness' sake, even if a candidate chooses to wax eloquent about policy details for 2 hours, _that_ is a rhetorical choice.

My response to people who claim that Obama is "just talk" or riding "mania" about "hope" is to note that it reflects, with all due respect, those people's frustration that their own candidate, with all of his or her rhetoric, is losing. It is that simple. To borrow a line from Apocalypse Now, faulting a candidate for using soaring rhetoric is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. Obama's rhetoric seems to be "working," and that bothers people who want someone else to win. Further, nothing reveals that motive more clearly than trying to insult the supporters of the other candidate (a la the title of your post "Obama is for children").

My own antidote to all of this campaign season hot air and to the various assaults on clear thinking and diction-related atrocities is to re-read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Really clears the palette, and is as true today as it was then.

I should also say that, considering the initial field of candidates (and whatever the rhetoric), Americans will be choosing among (ultimately, between) candidates who are by no means lightweights. People can knock Obama as green, McCain as irritable, or whatever . . . , but at least these three people are smart and accomplished. It could have been a lot worse.


Dave of Maryland

You once told me not to post again, but I figured out Obama.

Think of Andy Jackson. Think of US Grant. Think of carpetbaggers. Think of Ronald Reagan. Think of the Velvet Revolution. Think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Think of Boris Yeltsin. Think of the post-Soviet Eastern Block. Think of the fragmented states of the former Soviet Union. Think of French Socialists in 1936.

Don't think Obama. It's bigger than Obama. Think sea change. Think coat-tails.

It's coming to the US next year.

No, I'm not happy either.

Nicholas Weaver

The problem I have: I have no way of knowing whether or not Obama would be a good president. "A noun, a verb, and ''hope''" is no better than Guillani's "A noun, a verb, and ''911''".

The question is: "Will he hire good people and will he listen to them, and can he change his mind when presented with evidence?" as that, beyond anything else, seems to be the mark of a succesful president. And I think there is at least some, err, "hope" this might be the case.

But H Clinton has shown by her recent behavior and "win at any cost" campaign that she would be a disastrous president, as she has no ability to cope with falirues and adapt well.

As for McCain, he's clearly "3rd Term GWB", as I believe not only is he too old, but has been hopelessly corrupted by 8 years of the Bush administration.

anna missed

Simply put, Obama's declaration of "change" is the equivalent of Reagan's declaration of "morning in America". People buy into such vague propositions for a multiplicity of reasons, but all are grounded in a general sense of something being wrong. I don't expect Obama to be any more specific than Reagan was. And in addition, John McCain finds himself analogously, a new incarnation of Fritz Mondale in 84, trying to sell more war instead of more taxes to a public sick of it - and willing to latch onto any fantasy as an alternative.


Except Hillary's a hysterical cynic.

And McCain's a bitter, angry old man.

So now that we have all the candidates reduced to one-liners, can we get on with discussion about what they intend to do?

Or maybe it would be better to disucss what we hope they won't do?

Obama isn't my first, nor second, nor even distant fifth choice. But I prefer him over the other two, by far. I suspect that even his mistakes would be better for the country than anything the other two might concoct.

Better now, i think, for our politicians to fail on principle than to succeed with subterfuge. And let's face it: the other two are experts at that latter.

Either one would seek to continue the trend towards a Regal Executive. Enough power has been concentrated there; i'm voting for Obama for the simple reason that he's both the least likely to abuse his position as well as the least likely to allow others to abuse it in his name.

And anyway, what is Hillary all that worried about? Not being president? Is she so vindictive that she really believes a weak Obama wouldn't ask for her aid?

Or is it just that she's sick of playing a support role and has decided to take her ball and go home?

Mrs. Clinton, meet Henry Clay.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a strong senate, for a change?


I'm watching this from a long way away and can't vote anyway, but I have two observations.

1. Anyone is better than Bush.

2. "Change" can occur, often rapidly, when a crisis occurs people and society "Unfreeze" their values and positions, then sweeping change is possible with no resistance.

Of course after a while, opinions and values "refreeze" into the new state and then change is impossible until the next crisis.

It happened to us here exactly that way after a State financial meltdown. The newly elected government closed schools and hospitals, privatised all sorts of things and there wasn't even a whim,per of protest because we were desperate.

Naomi Klein(?) made a name for herself by repackaging this 40 year old discovery as "shock politics" or suchlike, and accused the Republicans of using 911 to drive a change agenda, which of course they successfully (and predictably) did.

Given that the U.S. is about to enter the mother of all financial meltdowns, I think it is entirely possible that by January a newly elected Obama will be faced by an electorate, corporations and institutions, clamouring for change, and meekly prepared to make sacrifices to achieve them, in all contentious areas including health care, education, taxation, industry protection, foreign policy, environment, in fact the lot.

I've seen it work this way before.


Will he hire good people and will he listen to them? This is indeed the all-important question, and I would argue that we already know the answer: he had to do this to set up his campaign, which has been very successful. (I do not think he inherited much of this organization from anywhere). How much change can he bring? Probably less than many hope for--but I'll go for someone who at least sounds like he is willing to address some of the issues.

William R. Cumming

Interesting post. Question is will the challenges of the next decade be in fixing what is broke in existing federal policies? Or will it being able to adjust to the new problems and issues sure to arise? For example, would mass emigration from Cuba or Mexico prompted by revolution or whatever be handled better by Obama or someone else? Clearly he can think on his feet but that skill does not necessarily mean long term understanding of what needs changing and why? Again in my view some of the basics need fixing domestically and not all the tigers in the world are the product of ineptness by the US in its foreign relations or military approaches. But then who are his experts? And who are McCain's or Huckabee's? Time for serious analysis of who each party is likely to bring to power and why? For a start how about the VP slot and the National Security Advisor! Since the Sec. Treasury is not a posting of Goldman-Sachs I guess Paulson can stay if he wants. Oh, you want an example of a new issue--War in the Formosa Straights (sic).


Save Tinkerbelle! Clap your hands if you believe. Click your heels, and blink, blink, blink.

Aren't Faith, Hope, magical + wishful thinking what got us into Iraq?

Isn't anybody troubled by Obama's fast-track onto the national scene thanks in part to the timely intervention of Denny Hastert and Ray LaHood.


Consider the alternatives.

It may be comforting to gripe about how seemingly lacking his rhetoric is on its face. But that is simply politics. Unconventional, somewhat, but politics nevertheless. Griping about politicians engaging in politics is an avoidance of reality.

How many news stories have you seen lately intelligently considering any candidate's policy positions? No. Policies only take you so far. Packaging takes you the rest of the way. Clinton and Obama are nearly deadlocked on policy. On most points they are nearly indistinguishable. Only on the minor points of each position do they differ, and those minor differences will evaporate upon first contact with Congress.

Therefore, it necessarily comes down to packaging, personality, the "soft power" of politics. Obama's "change" theme is not merely a kumbaya transcendence of partisanship (unless that's what you want it to be), nor is it only a snub against the Bush administration. It also attacks Clinton. It subtly implies that bringing back Bill's staff to run a new administration is not signigicant change either.

Regardless of the packaging, Obama does have some significant experience. See here for a rebuttal to the latest attack on his lack of substance (and click the links for more complete summaries of his record).

But what do we really mean when we argue that a politician is lacking experience? What possible experience can singly prepare one individual to be chief executive of the United States? Did Bush 43 have it? Bill? Perhaps Bush 41 had a better resume, but what did that get him? Does McCain have it? What of lasting significance has he done in 25 years? Hillary?

So, is Obama's change rhetoric simply speaking to fools? Perhaps. But maybe that's necessary in politics. People always project their own hopes and ideas onto leaders. Anti-war Republicans were voting in greater number for McCain than any of the alternatives (when there still were alternatives). How many times have we heard smart people explain Bush's policies through the prism of their own vastly different ideals? Maybe some of these people buying into his change line will be disappointed when, three months into his term we are still not living in a happy, futuristic, post-partisan world. Who cares. Just like listening to a diplomat speak, the smart people know that lofty rhetoric is merely starting your bid high.

Aw, hell... I'm rambling now. Hopefully something in this mess of a response makes some sense to someone.


Yeah, I know. Obama will run a terrible White House--just like he ran a terrible campaign. The Obama difference will consist of using the bullly pulpit to rally the public to break the partisan gridlock and deliver programs that benefit the many, not the top 0.5%.

The reason for Obamamania is that he speaks to people's needs, directly and clearly. When he says, "we must end this war," it resonates. When Hillary says, "we have to draw down responsibly," no one knows what her real intentions are.


Maybe Hillary has better promise and Obama is all talk.


But if how a candidate manage campaign is an indication how he is going to deal with daily operation. Then Hillary is clearly deep inside the machine.

Hillary Rodham Clinton started the year flush with cash, but by the beginning of this month, she'd blazed through most of it — spending $11 million on ads, $3.8 million on messaging guru Mark Penn and $1,300 at Dunkin' Donuts, just to name a few expenditures — leaving her campaign woefully unprepared for an extended battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

She simply did not have the cash to compete in the post-Feb. 5 states, mostly because her campaign spending blueprint was built around two flawed premises: that no one would be able to match her fundraising and that the nomination would be decided on Super Tuesday.

Clinton’s January campaign finances, filed Wednesday night with the Federal Election Commission, show she spent nearly as much as Obama from the beginning of the campaign until the beginning of this month. But they also show a top-heavy campaign lacking the liquidity to adjust to the new electoral landscape that emerged after Feb. 5.


This is basic mechanic of election. How candidate device a strategy, execute and deal with changing situation. Hillary clearly fails to anticipate Obama's move.

Is energizing the young voter "all hype"? Isn't this how future generation learns to lead? Isn't this the clearest indication of change? (creating different political base that does not depends on the usual machine.)


Is Obama's promise of change a bunch of false, vague nonsense? Of course. But explaining his rise (and Hillary Clinton's apparent demise) because he is a "demagogue appealing to the childishness that lurks just below the surface in American popular 'culture'" to me doesn't cut it as far as analysis goes.

The fact of the matter is that Hillary's vote to authorize the invasion, support for NAFTA, hawkishness on Iran, etc have become fatal liabilities in today's environment where the electorate desperately wants a break with, not a continuation of, the policies and rhetoric of the Bush era.

That has a lot more to do with Obama's rise than childishness on the part of the American people.


I think you are missing the point...every candidate has to say something; they can pander; they can inspire; they can innudate with detail. Obama has chosen to inspire...it was a clear decision on his part: a strategic decision. I should think that you of all people would LOVE someone who can think strategically and then stick to that game plan without getting lost in the weeds. I think he may end up being the most strategic president of the last 100 years...quite a change.


I think much of Obama's success is due to the utter and inescapable barreness and falseness of the supposedly "experienced" Beltway mandarins. You can't blame Obama for that. People sense -- correctly! -- that the old institutions are fraying badly. Why should they have any affection for relics who are so intimately wrapped up in old mistakes?

Obama may well be offering false hope, and a lot of folks may be investing more in him than any one person rates. But McCain and Clinton are flat-out odious.


but Obama is not only for children


I'm not partial to Obama’s sugar either but neither am I expecting his substance to be as vast as the apparent hype, or holding him thereby to a standard differing for any other potential successor to the current debacle, be they more highly experienced in an arguably pertinent way or not to the specific job in question. Correspondingly, I would submit that, in no small portion, peoples' reactions to Obama are in part contingent and attributable to the jaw-dropping abject radicalism, contempt and greed of the present gang of thugs. Are people relying on belief alone, and not desperately running away from the chaos? Certainly if Obama was all that and some crackerjacks, the substance would be the prize in the rhetorical box. But there’s no net below this high-wire act now in play; whatever he says will spawn hydra; whether it is substantively correct and good will not deter the reality distortion dementors. Should he ignore those risks so early out of hand and let the chips fall, relying on hope (if he even really has the substance)? Doesn’t seem like the kind of political shrewdness and savvy necessary for success in today’s politics. Pressing his advantage in this way says as much about many of us as it does about him, I think. And if Clinton’s problem is the hype then what more than her substance will better undermine it in the end, and what better time to start?

hardheaded liberal

Col. Lang, you are a wise judge of national security issues, especially in the Middle East. But you are neither wise nor objective about Barack Obama's "Yes we can...bring change."

Have you listened to his full stump speech? The first chance I had was on Tuesday night, when he came on the networks to pre-empt Hillary Clinton's stump speech. There is a considerable amount of "meat and potatoes" in his stump speech.

A simple point to cite is the paragraph where he states: "As a law professor I have taught the Constitution. I respect the Constitution. And when I'm President, I will obey the Constitution!" Either before or shortly after those words, he specifically refers to the scandal of US agents torturing prisoners. There is one specific point that is clearly stated: The Bush-Cheney deviation from international law on torture will be reversed and disavowed.

Your question as to a single-payer health care plan also suggests a complete lack of attention to the current Democratic primary campaigns. Obama has a proposed plan that might be described as "universal access to affordable insurance." He does not even require that every household actually purchase or otherwise obtain health insurance - he only wants to guarantee that it is available and affordable. Hillary Clinton is trying to bash Obama about the fact that his proposal does not even mandate carrying insurance coverage, so that it is estimated that the Obama plan will reduce the uninsured population substantially below the 47 million Americans who are NOT covered at any one time, but will leave about 15 million Americans, 5% of the population, still not covered.

Tax policy? Obama has made a specific commitment to allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire (and trying to repeal them early) as to households with income exceeding $200,000 per year. Corporate tax policy? He proposes to revise the tax code to eliminate incentives for corporations to export jobs overseas and to increase incentives to create new plants and jobs in the U.S.

Colonel, you are a respected member of "the reality-based community." All your published analyses show your ability to analyze controversies through a dispassionate assessment of empirical facts. You haven't applied those faculties yet to assessing the facts about Obama's policy proposals that are widely available to the public.

I think if you are able to analyze Obama's proposals with a clear eye, you will no longer be alarmed that electing Obama might put a closet fascist or a closet communist in the White House. You probably will continue to support another candidate [or one of the candidates] after such an assessment, but I don't think you will continue to demonize Obama.

Perhaps more important than what policies Obama will propose is how well he will organize the direction of the cabinet and the executive branch. The Obama team is the only team in the 2008 presidential race that has consistently shown effective planning for a winning campaign and the ability to marshal all the resources necessary to implement its plans.

Hillary Clinton chose not to have a strong independent campaign manager to run her campaign and instead put a pliable but loyal former scheduler in that position. She chose Mark Penn as her messaging adviser and has stuck with him as her campaign has lost both support and financial strength. John McCain's campaign has boiled down to being the "last man standing," in the Republican race, after the voters rejected the other major contenders one by one.

Obama is the only candidate who has organized his campaign in a way that gives voters confidence that he can organize a White House staff or select a strong team - including, as JFK did, some important Republicans - for his cabinet.

PS Your alarm at the potential risks of unknown Obama Policies has the tone of the Clinton team's shrilly grasping at any negative comment they can think of to tear down Obama's image. I don't know if you consider yourself a supporter of any candidate or a part of any candidate's cheering section, but the tone and factual void of your Obama-alarms - very atypical for your posts - is the same tone increasingly used by partisans of one candidate to attack another candidate. Does this play a part in your feelings about Obama?

Or from another perspective, have you had an experience (e.g., a tragedy you witnessed when a leader you endorsed who promised "change" turned out to be an authoritarian villain) that left you with a visceral sense of threat from any leader who promises "change"?

PPS Colonel, I enjoy your posts immensely and I have deep respect for your opinions. From my own comment and others, many of us who follow your blog regularly are puzzled by the intensity of your alarm about what Obama might mean by change. If you have had bad experience(s) with leaders promising "change" who later betrayed your trust, I am sure many of us would be interested to learn more about those experience(s), even if you would have to change the names of the players to protect the guilty!

W. Patrick Lang


A very good response to this post. I am surprised at the level of toleration (thus far) of my unwillingness to accept the promise of deep change accompanied by respect for our essential institutions.

I am not willing to sacrifice our liberties for the promise of social justice. I am not sure what such a promise means when it comes from the mouth of aomeone who has been so clearly benefited by our evolving system.

Nevertheless, I accept the opinion of so many who wish to believe in a boundless future. I left that behind somewhere.

Jefferson believed that government must be reinvented in every generation.

I pray that he and so many of you are right. pl

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