Just Another Politican

President Bill Clinton has been reported as observing that Republicans fall in line when selecting the next Republican in queue for the presidential nomination, while the Democrats must fall in love with their nominee. Clinton did not continue to explain that it is an inherited ideological trait  born of Democrats who look back wistfully to a central leader, the paternal figure that can grasp control of the country firmly, run the economy, dominate the political debate, and give hope: the President Franklin Roosevelt model. Republicans tend to be conservative in temperament as well as ideology. They prefer tested competence and therefore tend to select the next senior candidate for their nominee. The advantage to the Democratic approach is that they tend to present exciting new faces. The advantage of the Republican approach is that their candidates are typically more vetted. For good or for ill, Republican candidates tend to be known quantities.

This year, the likely Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama has captured the mantle of the new candidate of hope and “change.”  Obama is an attractive well-spoken blank slate upon which Democrats were free to paint their visions. Part of his appeal is that the notion that Senator Obama is a transformative figure beyond conventional politics and politicians. Moreover, Democrats are too morally exhausted to nominate one of a pair of history’s quintessential politicians: the Clintons. Obama was not  a mere politician. He was not burdened by a morally questionable history.

Obama’s problems with the recent controversy surrounding the rantings of his pastor and spiritual adviser Jeremiah Wright has less to do with whether or not Obama agrees with Wright and more to do with the fact that the extemporizing politician in Obama has been revealed.

Although Obama was clearly close to Wright, no one really believes that Obama shares the wild notions of Wright: that the US government invented AIDS or that the US should be damned. However, they no one believes he was unaware of the extent of Wright’s extremism.  Obama, as a young lawyer blessed with an Ivy League education and political aspirations, needed an introduction to the Chicago  political community. Joining Rev. Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ was one way to earn the necessary street credentials.

On March 18th, while disputing Wright controversial statements, Obama declared, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”  Indeed, the suggestion was made that Wright comments were somehow not truly reflective of Wright’s views. The odious words were mere excerpts from much longer sermons that provided context. After Wright continued to repeat the statements that so disturbed America at the National Press Club, Obama was forced to separate himself from Wright. The separation exposed Obama as just another politician not above calculating electoral self-interest.

In 1995, Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer selected Barack as her successor and endeavored to introduce Obama to the influential political leaders of the 13th District. These mainstream local leaders included 1960s’ radicals, really home grown terrorists, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. It is not likely that Obama is sympathetic to the idea that Ayers expressed in a NY Times piece published ironically on September 11, 2001 that “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we did not do enough.” I would like to believe, that Obama does not even feel comfortable in the presence of Ayers or Dohrn, but his willingness to jump through the 13th Districts political hoops as necessary indicate a willingness to make the compromises of just any another politician.

The vocation of a politician is a difficult one and certainly one can not be disqualified for office simply on that basis. Being a politician is a necessary step to political power in a republic. Politics can be noble calling. However, what has hurt Obama in the last few weeks is not a belief that he holds radical beliefs, but rather that he is a politician just like all the others, not a prophet and not a messiah. The luster has worn off and the public is reassessing its opinion of the slender politician from Illinois who seeks to  secure the office once held by another slender Illinois politician.

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