Daily Archives: August 15, 2008

Barack Obama: Presumptive President

 From 8-1-2008…

Barack Obama is, in reality, an enigma.  True, you may know highlights of his early life and career, but do you have the full life story?  Of course voters should decide based on the candidates positions on issues, but in reality they tend to vote on, what some may say are superficial issues.  I’ve heard some say that they could care less about the sex lives of their President.  But in reality, wouldn’t that be a key downfall to a candidate?


The truth is personality matters, character matters, and do we know Barack Obama’s?  His personality is infectious.  Yet his character remains a question.  In reading two pieces I shared yesterday, they gave two stories, from two time periods, yet they were strikingly similar.  The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor told the story of Professor Obama.  These were his days at the University of Chicago Law School.

Standing in his favorite classroom in the austere main building, sharp-witted students looming above him, Mr. Obama refined his public speaking style, his debating abilities, his beliefs.

“He tested his ideas in classrooms,” said Dennis Hutchinson, a colleague. Every seminar hour brought a new round of, “Is affirmative action justified? Under what circumstances?” as Mr. Hutchinson put it.


Many students said that they liked his evenhandedness.  He was a good listener.  However, many of his fellow professors were skeptical about his decision making.

 “I don’t think anything that went on in these chambers affected him,” said Richard Epstein, a libertarian colleague who says he longed for Mr. Obama to venture beyond his ideological and topical comfort zones. “His entire life, as best I can tell, is one in which he’s always been a thoughtful listener and questioner, but he’s never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings.”


He sounds to me like more of a debate moderator than the one participating in the debate.  However the job of moderator never swayed him.  He had his rock solid liberal beliefs, and no amount of debate was going to get him to change his mind.  Doesn’t that sound like his position on the surge in Iraq?  No matter how many facts are leveled against him, no matter how much debate there is, he won’t change his mind.  It seems he’s just plain old stubborn.


Another personality affliction that Obama had, was his ego.  Combined with his personable style, this is a recipe for success.

As his reputation for frank, exciting discussion spread, enrollment in his classes swelled. Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative. Some students started referring to themselves as his groupies. (Mr. Obama, in turn, could play the star. In what even some fans saw as self-absorption, Mr. Obama’s hypothetical cases occasionally featured himself. “Take Barack Obama, there’s a good-looking guy,” he would introduce a twisty legal case.)



Obama clearly likes to be the center of attention.  How else do you explain his soaring speeches in Berlin with 200,000 people watching his every move?  This explains his love of filling the arenas and stadiums with adoring fans.  He is quite the narcissist as well.


Dana Milbank’s Washington Post article explained this well.  When he went to the House office building to court Democrat Reps, his reported comments seemed quite egotistical.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, “This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”


His promises to change the world are included with a lot of the word “I”.  He likes to be the “cool dude” and get all the attention from the playground.  It’s obvious, he eats it up.


This was brought into question by his prayer that he placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

On his presidential-style visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem last week, Obama left a written prayer, intercepted by an Israeli newspaper, asking God to “help me guard against pride and despair.” He seems to have the despair part under control, but the pride could be a problem.


This pride may get away from him at times, like when it was reported that his aides were planning a White House transition, three months early.


An interesting story from the Kantor article exemplifies Obama’s narcissism.

Douglas Baird, another colleague, remembers once asking Mr. Obama to assess potential candidates for governor.

“First of all, I’m not running for governor, “ Mr. Obama told him. “But if I did, I would expect you to support me.”

He was a third-year state senator at the time.




Shifting a moment, I know many realize Obama’s tendency to not give a straight answer.  He stutters, pauses, and says “ahhh” an inordinate amount of times.  Then, when he gets around his stumbles, his answers are like a maze.  I tend to react to an Obama answer with, “Now what did he just say?”  That is why John McCain isn’t buried right now.  He gives “Straight Talk”, which for Obama is hard to come by.  It’s a welcome change to hear a candidate, with no faltering, answer a question, and then a minute later I can tell you his position in plain English.


Maybe his stutters an attempt to choose his words carefully.  Maybe he doesn’t want to say the wrong thing.  Well, for one thing Obama could release his law school writings.  That would surly explain his positions clearly.  However he can’t do that because he wrote zero scholarly works as a professor for 12 years.


Nor could his views be gleaned from scholarship; Mr. Obama has never published any. He was too busy, but also, Mr. Epstein believes, he was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically, as Ms. Guinier’s writings had hurt her. “He figured out, you lay low,” Mr. Epstein said.




This brings up another side of Barack Obama.  He is very calculating.  From his slow, drawn out answers, to his non-committal approach to scholarly writing, he seems to be elite when it comes to calculation.  That’s funny because he beat a husband and wife that are also All-Stars on that field.


However, he has some nice overall campaign themes and he likes to repeat them, hope, change, individuality, community.  This, he also found in the halls of Chicago’s Law School.


In class, Mr. Obama sounded many of the same themes he does on the campaign trail, Ms. Callahan said, ticking them off: “self-determinism as opposed to paternalism, strength in numbers, his concept of community development.”




It seems his whole public career, in fact was cultivated in the classroom lecture hall.


Now, watching the news, it is dawning on Mr. Obama’s former students that he was mining material for his political future even as he taught them.




Obama also liked the soaring speeches of Frederick Douglass.  He said in the piece, “No one speaks like this anymore.”


I finally get it.  I understand Barack Obama.  So in affect, while this man claims to be new, and he promises change, and turning the page, he is rather, the recycled policies of Jimmy Carter, the calculation of Bill Clinton, and the soaring rhetoric of Frederick Douglass.  And it’s all wrapped up with a bow on top because he’s not, as he said “like all those other guys on the dollar bills”.


Barack Obama is an enigma to some, but with articles like these the light is shined on to the real Barack Obama.  He is a hosh-posh of old political figures, and their policies.  Obama warns us not to vote for the failed policies of the past eight years, but what about the failed policies of thirty years ago which he adopts.  Do we really want another slick talking President?  Do we want a President who learned his beliefs from a law school lecture hall?  Do we want a cocky President?  Do we want a presumptuous President?  I don’t know, but I’ll find out on November 4.



Filed under Barack Obama