No More Mr. Nice Guy

What happened to Barack “I’m a new sort of politician” Obama? This is the guy who endeared himself to many, many people (even me) when he proclaimed that he would run a new, higher-brow campaign that eschewed attack ads and favored productive dialogue over the traditional mudslinging tactics. I was so excited to see a politician committed to being so nonpolitical. Alas, it appears that Obama has given up on that dream.

The nail in the coffin of that idealistic spirit came with the VP announcement of Joe “venom-spewing” Biden, an old-school Washington politician who runs his mouth off in negative ways better than just about anyone. If Obama had wanted to prioritize his “new politics” positivity, he would have picked a Washington outsider like governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Instead, and clearly out of fears that the election is looking closer than he originally intended, Obama picked a blue-blood politico with the gall to fight back against McCain. It’s probably a shrewd move, but it’s one that really disappoints me. Obama is clearly resigned to waging a war, forsaking his (admittedly naïve) ideals of waging a “new sort of campaign.”

I suspect that these last few months of increased attack ads and pushback by Obama have disheartened more than a few Obama supporters. In surveying the message boards and blogs on today, I found several indications that young voters especially (those, like me, who most responded to Obama’s anti-political persona) have indeed become a little disillusioned.

Take this confessional blog post (copied from from Alex Leo entitled “Why I am suspending my campaigning efforts”:

When I first became attracted to Obama as a leader, and as a candidate for president, it was March of 2007. The more I had learned about the political process and the more I understood about the framer’s intentions behind the Constitution, the more disillusioned I became with politics, the people in power, and the state our nation had come to. Disillusionment turned to Cynicism, and Cynicism to a total lack of Hope.

It comes as little surprise to Obama supporters why Obama’s message attracted me. Obama spoke to the corruption that was in Washington, spoke to the areas where the system had been crippled, and promised a campaign devoid of “that kind of politics.”

I believe that Barack Obama has reverted into the same level of politics that he so promised he would stand above. There were signs of it in the race against Clinton; the clever campaign slogans, the trite phrases designed for soundbytes. At the same time, he still held largely to his convictions and ran one of the cleanest campaigns anyone could have.

Not so, now. From political shifts to the center that underscore the campaigns expediency, to “response-to-attack” adds that utilize the same negative add tactics that McCain is using, Obama seems to have gone astray from the “different kind of politics” that he promised. For the time being, Obama stands as any other Democratic politician.

So, because much of my initial reasoning for supporting Obama has been undermined, I am suspending my efforts to actively campaign for him. I am still going to vote for him; I agree with many of his policies, and have no respect for McCain at this point. If the campaign cleans up, I may choose to resume my active campaigning, but for the time being, I’m going to hold Obama to the standard that he once demanded of Washington.

I agree completely with Alex. It would have been interesting to see if Obama could have won or lost the election had he stayed the revolutionary course of a “different kind of politics”; but now that he’s just another politician doing the tiresome mudslinging thing, we’ll never know. Thanks for trying to set a new example, Barack. A future leader will have to carry on where you left off.

14 responses to “No More Mr. Nice Guy

  1. petertchattaway

    Of course, Obama was always a Chicago politician, with all that that entails, even before he went federal. The notion that he was “above” the usual ways of doing politics was based just as much on his followers’ naivete as it was on Obama’s — and possibly more so. (Just look at how, not too long ago, many people celebrated Obama as a “post-racial” candidate even though his first autobiography, and much of his work at the state level, was obsessed with questions of racial identity etc. Were people celebrating Obama for what he really was, or for what they wanted him to be?) Interestingly, one of the key reasons Obama has gotten as far as he has is because he has almost never faced serious opposition when running for office; he has usually benefitted from the self-destruction of his opponents, or he has gone out of his way to have his opponents disqualified ahead of time. Whether that means he owes his career to naive luck or to cynical calculation — or to a bewildering combination of both — I leave to the reader to decide. But it does look like his luck may have finally run out, and that his calculations have become *too* cynical for even some of his more devoted fans.

  2. What Mr. Chattaway said.

    I liked Obama at first, but soon realized that all he was offering was empty promises and meaningless speeches, just like every other politician. He’s just gotten more and more vague and lofty in his words (see his awful Berlin speech) as time has gone on, not less.

    “Change we can believe in?” Yeah right.

  3. Guess the “passion gap” is closing. But after stomaching oodles of elections, passion is not a word I use, anymore, for politicians. Actually, it’s the one consolation I have if Obama is elected Prez — in four years it’ll be clear he is no different than the rest. Trust God…

  4. I don’t think the Biden pick undercuts Obama’s ‘change’ message simply because Biden has been in the Senate for 35 years. The ‘change in Washington’ rhetoric has always been about moneyed interests and those who practice politics for personal gain over against the will & benefits of the people— Biden, for 35 years, has commuted an hour and a half on the train to the Capitol from his family home in Delaware, and is #99 out of 100 senators in terms of total net worth (after 35 years!). He’s not the kind insider-y political rat that Obama’s targeted in his declarations of the need for change.

  5. I actually don’t have much of a problem with the Biden pick either. And Peter, I’m not sure it’s totally fair to say he hasn’t had competition…I’m pretty sure Hillary Clinton would beg to differ. Yeah, his legitimate Senate opponent did self-destruct, but it’s not his fault the Illinois Republican Party decided Alan “I’m actually crazy” Keyes would make a good opponent. In any case, Biden adds some much-needed foreign policy oomph to the ticket. I think he’s kind of a jerk, but also think that it’ll be okay if he’s not the lead guy–it’ll put his well-known ego in check.

    The bigger question–that of Obama’s “new brand” of politics–probably can’t be answered yet. I’ve been really disappointed to see the negative slant this campaign has taken, on both sides–does anyone really care that McCain has 7-11 houses? I mean, it’s not like Obama made a paltry six figures last year. But I think there’s still time to turn it around. It probably won’t happen. But it could?

    In any case, I suspect that this will be yet another election that, when asked why I’m cynical about politics, I’ll point to the TV and respond “Wait, why aren’t you?”

  6. Good thoughts…I too was an Obama supporter from the get go. But i think was more attracted to his idealist dreams than him…I wonder how much experience he has…and when it’s all said and done, politicians are politicians.

  7. petertchattaway

    Ryan wrote:

    “And Peter, I’m not sure it’s totally fair to say he hasn’t had competition…I’m pretty sure Hillary Clinton would beg to differ.”

    I was referring mainly to his political experience prior to this year. And yes, he did suffer one major defeat even there, when, in 2000, he lost a primary race for a House of Representatives seat to Bobby Rush, a four-time incumbent who also happened to be a former Black Panther. But that one exception is why I said “almost” never.

    “Yeah, his legitimate Senate opponent did self-destruct, but it’s not his fault the Illinois Republican Party decided Alan ‘I’m actually crazy’ Keyes would make a good opponent.”

    There were a few self-destructions in the 2004 Senate race. First, the leading Democratic contender, Blair Hull, was accused of domestic abuse. Then, the Republican candidate, Jack Ryan, self-destructed. There wasn’t much the Republicans could do after that, but as you note, they, too, “self-destructed” in a sense by bringing in Alan Keyes, who was not from Illinois in the first place and had a reputation for “craziness” besides.

    Meanwhile, prior to all of this, Obama “won his first election in 1996 [for the Illinois Senate] by throwing all of his opponents off the ballot on technicalities.” That’s the sort of old-school, Chicago-style politics that Obama has always practiced, since long before he tried to present himself as an angel of light who would bring a new way of doing things to the world. Details here:

    “In any case, Biden adds some much-needed foreign policy oomph to the ticket.”

    Perhaps, but [1] some of his foreign policy oomph has been pretty bad, like his suggestion that Iraq should be divided into multiple nations or whatever (because divisions imposed from above, like the ones between Israel and Palestine, or between India and Pakistan, have always been sooooo helpful), and that’s before we get to the fact that Biden supported the invasion of Iraq (the opposition to which has long been *a* central, if not *the* central, feature of Obama’s campaign), etc., etc., and [2] highlighting the fact that Biden brings experience to the table just underscores the fact that Obama doesn’t.

  8. This is simply the first chink in the wall. I hope that people will shake off the naivety (as Alex has done) and realize that Barack Obama speaks in empty rhetoric. He speaks incredibly well in empty rhetoric, but that changes nothing. Sadly most of the younger voters who have been disillusioned by what they see as the “status quo” are so desperate to find something authentic in this world that they latch onto a glib-tongued politician who is capable and willing to spin words into dreams for them. Unfortunately dreams accomplish nothing in the real world. And ultimately the only authentic thing to be found in this world is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Is John McCain my ideal candidate? No. But I know that he is not a phony and that he will bring a lot of very useful experience to the table.

  9. Empty rhetoric? Have you been to Obama’s website? His Blueprint For Change (pdf) is 59 pages long, outlining details on 15 or so policies from health care to education. The tax policy plan is incredibly specific and links to a pdf that’s even more specific. In the early primary season, Obama was criticized for being too much of a professorial policy wonk in speeches and going into far more detail than audiences cared to hear.

    In my opinion, those who complain about a lack of specificity from Obama haven’t even attempted to find out whether their complaints have merit.

  10. I am on the fence about these two candidates. I am leaning towards Obama but that is b/c I think our country needs a change. I do not like his VP choice and I think he could have played that one out a little better.

  11. Please, Tim. I read some of his “Blueprint for Change”. And it’s precisely what I’m talking about.

    Tell you what. Let’s both print out his “Blueprint” and if he gets elected, let see how many items/goals in this plan will have been accomplished in 4 years. My guess is less than 2%. He has been part of a completely ineffectual Congress, controlled by the Democratic party, since the last Congressional election. Not only does this Congress have the worst approval rating (according to a recent Zogby poll) in Congressional history (10 points lower than President Bush) but they have accomplished next to nothing. Despite the fact that they have had exclusive control over both houses they have been completely impotent.

    Senator Obama speaks a fine speech and has plenty of nice looking PDFs, but when it comes to accomplishing his lofty rhetoric, he is not so effective. Maybe his attendance record has something to do with it..

    In my opinion, those who complain about people complaining about a lack of specificity from Obama never realized that there was no complaint about a lack of specificity from Obama. Just a lack of competance.

  12. The reason campaigns always trend eventually to the negative is simple: it works. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t do it. It’s a fact of American politics. It was in 1800 and it will be in 2800. In fact, in some ways its much more civil than it was in the “good ol’ days.” In the campaign of 1800 (Jefferson vs. Adams), Federalists spread the word that if Jefferson were elected the “teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery and incest” would be the order of the day. It may be achingly cynical to say that its never going to change, but in an odd sort of way this realization, which is fairly recent on my part, helps me not get so discouraged. Ultimately, God is in control and there is nothing new under the sun.

  13. I can’t believe all you people are still involved with this guy. He is definitely not running to help the middle class. He wants to run at a young age, so he can retire and just go on speaking engagement.. He’s lazy. I give him that he is a good speaker, but what would you expect from a lawyer.

  14. The war in Iraq needs to be addressed here. It is bleeding billions each month. Our goal initially was to find and destroy WMDs, then morphed into ending Sadaams reign. That accomplished, President Bush sought to bring democracy to the region, and now Mr. McCain adamantly insists that we are going to win the war so our gallant dead would not have died in vain. How do you win a war in which the goal keeps changing? What will the sign be that we have achived an honorable win? This is too open-ended for my taste. Mr MCain has painted himself into a one way street and has the temperment to continue on blindly. Mr Obama has opened the door to a phased military pullout and increased diplomatic negotiation. He has the only plan leading to a reasonable end to this fiasco. Quit focusing on little issues. The Iraq war needs to end.

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