Tag Archives: barack obama

Rex Murphy: Sarah Palin's Strong Bond

So up until a few weeks ago I read Rex Murphy sporadically at best. Then the other week he published this questionable piece on climate change (in short: regionalism should trump action) which was neither inspired or thoughtful.

Wondering if the previous week had been an outlier I read him again this weekend and was even more dumbstruck. Here was Rex Murphy deriding Obama and praising Palin ability to “connect” with her supporters.

A  few thoughts here.

First, I’m willing to grant Rex Murphy that Sarah Palin may create “a more forceful bond with her supporters than [Obama does] with his.” Perhaps, but what a silly metric when used in isolation. David Koresh had a still more forceful bond with his supporters, and I’m not sure that worked out well for anyone. Obama’s oratory strength isn’t that he creates a powerful bond with his supporters (although he has, from time to time, done this). It’s that he connects with those who don’t always agree with him – he is able to reach and engage a broader audience. Sarah Palin has never done this. How often do you see an African American – or “heck” (as she would say it) anyone not white – at a Palin event?

Indeed, still more farcical is how Mr. Murphy argues Palin’s inaugural speech as a vice-presidential candidate was rhetorically equivalent to Obama’s speech on race (And that both were delivered under equal levels of pressure). Really? Sarah Palin’s speech succeeded in generating a spark yes, but among the conservative base that already loved her. It was a speech that was populist, said little, and began a process of persuading most Americans she didn’t belong in the White House. In contrast, Obama’s speech arrested a decline in the polls and engaged both his supporters and doubters. All this while addressing possibly the most volatile and politically sensitive issue in the United States. 100 years from now, Obama’s speech will likely be seen as an important moment in the history of race relations. Sarah Palin, to say nothing of her speech, will probably not be remembered at all. Rhetorically equivalent?

Finally, and perhaps most appalling was Rex Murphy’s characterization of Obama as someone who “offers a kind of self-flattery to his worshipers. They feel exalted that they have the intelligence or sensibility to see how remarkable their man is. But he remains remote.” I remember first being floored by Obama during a speech in which he did the exact opposite of this. It was January 20th and Obama walked into the heart of the African American religious community – Martin Luther King’s church – on Martin Luther King Jr Day and talked about how African Americans need to work harder to live up to MLK’s legacy. Specifically, he was particularly unflattering to his audience and argued that if African Americans wanted justice, freedom and equality, then the homophobia, antisemitism, and anti-immigrant resentment that sometimes exists in their community had to be acknowledged and confronted. Oh, to be flattered by Obama.

I’m a big fan of contrarian thinking which, between Wente and Murphy, seems to be all the rage at the Globe these days. But being a contrarian is difficult business and the most important rule is don’t over reach. Take an argument too far and it ceases being an interesting and clever experiment and is instead reduced to just being silly. Is Sarah Palin a compelling orator. Yes! But within some fairly strict bounds. Fail to acknowledge those bounds and pretty soon you end up like Palin herself, saying something that’s either foolish, or just plain wrong.

Articles I'm digesting at the moment

While I keep track of the books I’m reading to the right I don’t often get to talk about the articles I’m reading and loving. Here are a few I’ve stumbled over in the past week that I’m still digesting.

1) Via Mike T, Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic by Michael Lind on the cycles of American progress and why the next 36 years are going to be very exciting.

During the first 36-year period of a republic, ambitious nation-builders in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton strengthen the powers of the federal government and promote economic modernization. During the second 36-year phase of a republic, there is a Jeffersonian backlash, in favor of small government, small business and an older way of life. During the backlash era, Jeffersonians manage to modify, but never undo, the structure created by the Hamiltonians in the previous era.

2) Via Alo, Why Canada has to wait for it’s Obama Moment, by Jeff Roberts. A piece few Canadians would be willing to write about why the politics of Aboriginals and the rest of Canada remain separated.

In the case of black Americans, their ascension to the political mainstream came in part from leaving behind talk of rights and identity and embracing a postracial style of politics. Barack Obama’s rise has followed his willingness to move away from the swamp of identity politics.

It’s a thesis that parallels that of Calvin Helin’s in Dances with Dependency that I thoroughly enjoyed. Moreover, Roberts is only half right. There is an emerging generation of (particularly urban) First Nations who are going to transform the politics of both the First Nations community and Canada.

3) Via Jeff A, Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle by Nicholas Carlson . Shocked? You should be. As the author concludes:

Are we trying to say the the New York Times should force all its print subscribers onto the Kindle or else? No. That would kill ad revenues and also, not everyone loves the Kindle.

What we’re trying to say is that as a technology for delivering the news, newsprint isn’t just expensive and inefficient; it’s laughably so.

Besides, think of the forests that would be saved.

4) Via Amy L, The $300 Million Dollar Button, by Jared Spool. As Amy said to me, “you’re a believer in small changes” which I am. Very often I find people jump for the big lever to create big change which often creates numerous unanticipated (and almost always unwanted) changes. I’m much more interested in finding the small lever that creates big change. This piece is about precisely one of those moments in the design of a webpage.

It’s hard to imagine a form that could be simpler: two fields, two buttons, and one link. Yet, it turns out this form was preventing customers from purchasing products from a major e-commerce site, to the tune of $300,000,000 a year. What was even worse: the designers of the site had no clue there was even a problem.

Today, the slow moving train wreck ends

Today, Obama wins. The question isn’t if, it is by how much. It’s how dramatic will the victory be.

To be honest. I’m a little overcome with emotion about it. I don’t think Obama is the saviour some hope he will be, but he will be bring some good, honest change – something we’ve all be hoping and waiting for. Today, the world gets to finally begin the purge of Bush. It will take time, it will be tough, but the process begins.

I can’t wait.

So here is a list of random stuff – some to hopefully look forward to, some to reflect on for laughing or crying:

  1. 2001: Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over.’ How sadly prophetic this piece in the Onion was (these guys are so often on). (H/T Chris Blizzard)
  2. 1933: Roosevelt’s First 100 Days. This is the model. Ignore Bush. Get planning. Unleash in the first 100 days. The rest of the presidency will be dedicated to one or two major projects and dealing with the unforeseen. The window of opportunity for real action is small – and it needs to happen quickly so that the impact can be felt before his 4 years are up.
  3. Close Gitmo. (see, first 100 days). A more powerful message could not be sent.
  4. Create national standards for voting and support the voting infrastructure. The structural/financial barriers that lead democratic voters under represented should be torn down. This is our opportunity. Seize it. It will have a lasting impact.
  5. The power of rhetoric (tomorrow). The power of the president often flows directly from his/her popularity figures. In this regard, the ability to mobilize the public, to win them over, is a skill that is essential. It will see if and how Obama is able to deploy is considerable abilities.
  6. The power of rhetoric (yesterday): I remember the moment I was completely sold on Obama. I had just watched a youtube video of Obama’s Martin Luther King day speech where he walked into MLK’s church on MLK day and demanded the black church strive still harder to live up to its ideals – mainly by embracing the struggle against the discrimination and marginalization of homosexuals. To see someone not pander, but challenge their base. Remarkable. But then so was his New Hampshire speech, his speech on race in America and numerous others.
  7. Jon Stuart is now the only thing on television that seeks media & political accountability: I hope, in 4 years, he’s still around to remind everyone of all the crazy claims the republicans made about Obama – he hates white poeple, he hates america, he’s sympathetic to domestic terrorists, etc… Oh, I also hope that he reminds us of all the things republicans claimed made Obama crazy, but that have panned out – engaging with those we disagree with, beginning a draw down in Iraq & confronting Pakistan.
  8. And now, a final goodnight

Goodnight WMDs
And goodnight FoxTV
Goodnight Cheney, goodnight neo-con men
Goodnight homeland security advisory system
Goodnight lies and goodnight fluff
Goodnight Rove, goodnight Bush
And goodnight American public screaming “enough”

Goonight McCain
Goodnight Ayers
Goodnight insanity everywhere…..

Sleep tight everyone. Tomorrow is a brand new day.

I've never seen a political speech like this

I was going to post about the Quadra byelection today (I’d even written something so will post tomorrow) but yesterday afternoon I started getting emails from friends in the US asking me if I’d seen “the speech.” I’d locked myself away for much of the day and was trying to avoid the great distraction that is the internet, so… I hadn’t. I finally loaded it up on YouTube and figured I watch a few minutes.

37 minutes later, and now a night’s sleep, and I’m still feeling pretty stunned.

I thought Obama displayed courage when he gave his speech on homophobia within the African American church at MLK’s church on MLK day. This speech takes that courage to a whole new level. What made it work – for me at least – was how he seemed to serve as a conduit, a translator, for African-American and white communities. Breaking down the stalemated debate between them and trying to offer a path out.

Most impressively, he did this while trying to bring complexity and nuance back into political discourse. I don’t know if he’ll succeed but I’m glad someone is finally trying.

Finally, the comparison to Hillary is again, quite stark. When the controversy over Geraldine Ferraro’s remarks spun out of control Hillary threw her under the bus. Did she use the opportunity to talk about the glass ceiling for women? The subtle and pervasive effects of sexism? No.  This would not have been politically expedient. And yet, to paraphrase Obama, Ferraro’s frustration and anger was real, legitimate, and powerful. And to simply wish it away and to condemn it without understand its roots only served to widen the chasm along both racial and gender lines.

And yet this is what Hillary did. She wished it away and condemned it, instead of using it as an opportunity to elevate the debate and actually try to address a serious and legitimate problem.

But then that sums up the campaign in a nutshell:

Hillary is playing to win – and her supporters believe she can better manage Washington. Obama is playing to make change – and his supporters believe he can remake Washington like Reagan or FDR did. So today they are reveling, as their candidate  has again demonstrated his willingness to take on a dangerous issue – like race – that no other politician can or will touch.

Here’s a youtube clip of the speech:

Obama vs Hillary

Put all that oratory excellence aside. Forget about it. It isn’t what really matters.

How different are Obama and Hilary?


Hillary walks into a stadium filled with her base and gives a speech about how the Republicans are evil. That she, and she alone, is experienced and strong enough to defeat them. End of story.

Obama walks into the heart of the African American Religious community – Martin Luther King’s church – on Martin Luther King Jr Day, and talks about how African Americans need to work harder to live up to MLK’s legacy. He says if African Americans  want justice, freedom and equality, then the homophobia, antisemitism, and anti-immigrant resentment that sometimes exists in their community must be acknowledged so they can rise up and become a model community:

For much of this country’s history we, in the African American community, have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man…  and yet if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we are honest with ourselves we’ll acknowledged that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community. If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that there have been times when we have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them; the scourge of antisemitism has at times revealed itself in our community; for too long some of us have seen immigrants only as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Can anyone imagine Hilary Clinton speaking so honestly to her base? On the eve of a major primary?

Of course not, tragically she her image makes her look like her goal is power, and so the risk of offending anyone would simply appear too great.

And yet, Obama’s speech is the perfect example of the leadership I believe Americans crave: someone who is unafraid to push them, to tell them how they should, nay need, to be better, and that while a leader will do everything in their power to help them attain that goal it is ultimately up to each of them to achieve it.

And so the contrast could not be clearer.

Hilary appears to be about power – about gaining power to protect “us” from “them.” And like in some Greek tragedy the harder she clings to her power, the faster it slips through her fingers.

Obama, as everyone knows, is about change. But specifically he’s about enabling everyone – “us” and “them” – to rethink what is possible. This is why he earns the right to be compared to Kennedy and Reagan. It isn’t just about “hope.” It’s about broadening peoples minds in order to reshape an entire national culture. And so, the more he reminds Americans of their best ideals and how they, individually and collectively, can achieve them, the more empowered Americans feel and the more power they want to give him. The goal “when he was up and when he was down” remains change. Power is simply a bi-product.

I don’t know if Obama will win. But I’ll joining my Vision Vancouver colleagues down at the Frog and Firkin tonight if you want to come join me in cheering him on.

Where were you when America said "Yes We Can" ?

If you have not yet watched Obama’s South Carolina victory speech, watch it.

If Obama wins the nomination and if he succeeds in his ambition to create a new progressive majority – these are admittedly big ifs – then your children and grand children may one day ask you where you were when Obama gave this speech.

Yes, it really is that good.

Better still, see what happens when your society allows for a re-mix culture and people take what others do and make it better.  Click here to see Obama re-mixed (h/t to Taylor Owen)