Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is O the Man?

Is O the Man?

After a couple of major gaffes, as well as less than credible laughter and almost-tears, Hillary has given her staff pink slips and suspended her campaign. Now we must see to the O man. In two previous columns, Gadfly pointed its pointed pen at Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain. Today it’s Barack Obama’s turn for our scrutiny.

Obama has given speeches across the country, written a memoir of his growing up and a book on his social-political philosophy, and elaborated position papers on a great range of issues. He even says where he will find the money to pay for some of the programs he envisions. Yet people did not get to know him until his pastor spoke sharply of the racial divide that still lingers in the nation. The candidate faced the matter squarely and spoke honestly of both his concerns and his vision for the future. In other speeches, too, his words and ideas on a variety of topics have been imaginative and appealing. Is it his superior speechwriters, or is Barack, himself, that good? His keynote talk at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 was electrifying, and he had worked on it all by himself. The guy can write.

During the campaign, Obama has not had to explain away any major misstatements. Hillary had her “under fire in Bosnia” moment, and McCain still seems unclear about Sunni vs Shiite, not to mention Arabs and Persians. The worst Obama slip was during a debate when he told Hillary she was likeable enough. On the complexities of the political status in Iraq, he is aware there are not only Sunnis and Shiites but different Shiite factions, each with its own militia. He knows the Kurds don’t get along with the Arabs, the Turks, or the Persians.

Obama has been a US Senator for a relatively brief time, but Republicans berate him as the most liberal member of the Senate. The Progressive Caucus is not impressed and only reluctantly allows him into their councils. Let’s see who has it right.

The major issue before the American public is the Iraq war. [Iraqis call it the American war.] A majority of Americans, and Iraqis, want our troops out, now or very soon. Obama promises to end the war responsibly. The operating word “responsibly” tells us he is not planning any quick, large scale withdrawal. McCain, of course, is planning for “victory,” however many lifetimes it takes. When Obama was asked about the State Department mercenaries – Blackwater Inc – he said they would be drawn down with the troops. Why not immediately? Because, he said, they would then have to be replaced by more US troops. Will some reporter ask the follow up question: Why not replace the Blackwater wildmen who are accountable to no one with the military who actions must conform to a military code of conduct? Iraqis might feel a little less hostility toward the US, and the US taxpayers would save the six figure salaries of the security contractors. OK, so there – Gadfly asked. While we’re on the subject, why couldn’t the US, great power that it is, withdraw its troops as fast as it sent them in back in 2003? We could send heralds to Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Najaf… to coffee houses and every marketplace to tell the people of our imminent withdrawal. The Iraqis will cheer us on our way. Moqtada al Sadr, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the oil workers, school teachers, all will organize huge demonstrations to cheer us on our way. After we are gone they will work together, regardless of religion, to rebuild Iraq. Especially if we send a few billion dollars to show we are really sorry.

In related foreign affairs, Obama has been assailed for his willingness to discuss contentious matters with such adversaries as Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The Gadfly Revelry & Research team is disappointed that Obama has not responded with Socratic agility. He has the simple eloquence, and he has history to support his audacious viewpoint. Reagan met with Gorbachev; Kissinger and then Nixon went to China; Israel is presently negotiating with Syria (the same Syria that backs Hamas); and Nouri al Maliki, our man in Iraq, is in Teheran at this writing meeting with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Why should the Commander In Chief of the world’s only superpower be afraid to meet with the leader of any nation? C’mon Barack, you stood up to Hillary’s sharp tongue. It’s time to take on the Republican attack machine.

In domestic matters, Obama’s positions on various issues need some scrutiny: a) health care, b) energy policy, c) education, and d) technology. Economics is not only gasoline prices and taxes and inflation and unemployment, it is the price tag of a), b), and c). Technology has the potential to save oodles of money for a) through c) to balance out some of their costs. Another domestic issue, Constitutional rights vs homeland security, may not cost very much, especially if Obama, as President, appoints Antonin Scalia to the post of High Commissioner of Fish & Game and fills his Supreme Court seat with an ACLU operative. In part 2 of this mini-series, Gadfly will cover the pluses, minuses, and exponential divides of Obama’s homefront thinking.

To close today’s essay, let’s have an identity check. Who is Obama, and where is he from? Born in Hawaii of a Black father and a White mother, educated in Indonesia, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York, and finally at Harvard Law, he grew up in a bi-racial, multicultural environment. His classmates were Catholics, Muslims, Pagans, and devotees of the almighty dollar. Each venue, itself, was varied, as Barack learned when playing basketball in an Indonesian grade school and then making the varsity in a Hawaiian high school.

Being of more than one race often brings special talent. Louise Erdrich, the celebrated writer, wears Red and White stripes. Adrienne Maree Brown, in Black and White, directs the high-wire thinking of the Ruckus Society. Tiger Woods says he is Ca-Bl-In-Asian but quickly adds that a fluid swing is more important than talking about race. Perhaps Obama’s bi-racial, multicultural background can open some doors on other continents for the US. It would be a good start.

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