I was harsh about Senator Barack Obama of Illinois here a couple of weeks ago, and the very next morning his press aide, Tommy Vietor, was on the phone howling about inaccuracies. It was an illuminating conversation.
Obama’s man took grave exception to my use of the phrase “distancing himself” to describe what his boss had done when Illinois’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, got into trouble for likening conditions at Guantánamo to those in a Nazi or Stalin-era camp. This was one of Durbin’s finer moments, and he duly paid the penalty by having to eat crow on the Senate floor.
His fellow senator, Obama, did not support him in any way. Obama said, “We have a tendency to demonize and jump on and make mockery of each other across the aisle, and that is particularly pronounced when we make mistakes. Each and every one of us is going to make a mistake once in a while…and what we hope is that our track record of service, the scope of how we’ve operated and interacted with people, will override whatever particular mistake we make.” That’s three uses of the word “mistake.” This isn’t distancing?
Nor did Obama’s man like my description of Obama’s cheer-leading for the nuke-Iran crowd. Obama recently declared that when it comes to the US posture on Iran, all options, including military ones, should be on the table. “All options on the table” is standard senatorial tub-thump, meaning We can nuke ’em if we want to. Anybody aiming for high office in America has to be able to swear they’re capable of dropping the Big One. Obama knows that. HRC knows it too, but nobody doubts her enthusiasms. That woman probably uses a bombsight to home in on her breakfast grapefruit.
If Obama had any sort of guts in such matters he would have said that if Iraq is to teach America’s leaders any lesson, it is that reckless recourse to the military “option” carries a dreadful price tag. He did nothing of the sort, which is not surprising to anyone who read his November 22 speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.
Remember the context. Representative Jack Murtha had just given a savage jolt to the White House, declaring, “I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis…. The United States will immediately redeploy…. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process.”
Who knows, if Murtha’s counsel had been followed, maybe it would have saved Iraq from the horrors now unraveling. But Democrats fled Murtha, few with more transparent calculation than Obama, who voyaged to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, there to soothe the assembled elites with such balderdash as, “The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people ‘Yes, we made mistakes.'” Or, “We need to focus our attention on how to reduce the US military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say ‘reduce,’ and not ‘fully withdraw.'” Or, “2006 should be the year that…the various Iraqi factions must arrive at a fair political accommodation to defeat the insurgency; and…the Administration must make available to Congress critical information on reality-based benchmarks that will help us succeed in Iraq.”
Obama is concerned with the task of reassuring the masters of the Democratic Party, and beyond that the politico-corporate establishment, that he is safe. There are plenty of black people like that in Congress now, as BlackCommentator.com describes on a weekly basis. After a decade or so of careful corporate funding, the Black Congressional Caucus is sinking under the weight of DLC clones like Artur Davis of Alabama, Albert Wynn of Maryland, Sanford Bishop and David Scott of Georgia, William Jefferson of Louisiana and Gregory Meeks of New York.
Hence Vietor’s sensitivity to the allusion in my column to Obama’s “mentor” being Senator Joe Lieberman. As a freshman senator, Vietor insisted, Obama had been assigned Lieberman as mentor. Read the Hartford Courant and you’ll find Lieberman boasting that Obama picked him.
Either way, it’s obvious that Obama could have brokered a different mentor if he’d so desired, the same way he could have declined to go and tout for Lieberman at that Democratic Party dinner in Connecticut at the end of March. But he clearly didn’t, because he wanted to send out a reassuring signal, in the same way he’s doing with his PAC, the Hopefund, which is raising money for fourteen of his senate colleagues. According to BlackCommentator, ten of them are DLC–half the DLC presence in the Senate.
There has been a more substantive signal, keenly savored by the corporate world, where Obama voted for one of its most cherished pieces of legislation, sought for years, namely “tort reform.”
In his political advance, chest now ablaze with all the usual medals from the opinion formers for “pragmatism,” Obama is divesting himself of all legitimate claims to be any sort of popular champion, as opposed to being another safe black, like Condoleezza Rice, whom Obama voted to confirm. The Empire relishes such servants.
Obama, the constitutional law professor, fled Senator Russell Feingold’s motion to censure the President. He voted Yea on March 2 to final passage of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act, unlike ten of his Democratic colleagues.
Vietor, Obama’s man, laughed derisively at my complaint at the end of my column about how most of Cynthia McKinney’s Democratic colleagues had fled her. “She apologized!” Vietor cried, as though that settled the matter. In fact the betrayal of McKinney, particularly by her black colleagues, was an appalling and important political moment, rewarding the racism showered on McKinney and the ongoing implosion of the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama, of course, distanced himself from her too.