Saturday 312

Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters

Filed under: Obama, Politics — zundel @ pm

Highly recommended prescient analysis from Andrew Sullivan:
Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters” by Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic 2007-12

It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce. 

To deploy the rhetoric of Evangelicalism while eschewing its occasional anti-intellectualism and hubristic certainty is as rare as it is exhilarating.

But Obama will still face the legacy of contention.



  1. Andrew Sullivan’s take on Obama is fatuous.

    Obama neither represents an end to the divisiveness of the culture war, nor an end of the diviseness of washington politics. Obama’s supposed transcendence of politics is actually just his way of using the culture war to his advantage and cast his capitulation to the minority agenda that was pervasive in Washington before Obama and that, barring some resuscitation of the kind of feuding that characterized the no longer relevant 60s, will continue to define both parties long after Vietnam is forgotten, as noble and mature. The two parties do indeed mostly agree on everything. […]

    Sullivan asks: “Given this quiet, evolving consensus on policy, how do we account for the bitter, brutal tone of American politics?” His answer, that the cultural divide can be laid at the feet of baby boomers, is based on no logic or evidence, but instead a laundry list of ideological conflicts and political battles is given as if the existence of the conflict is itself a proof of the cause behind the conflict. Much better is Thomas Frank’s answer that the culture war is a game pushed on the public by both conservatives and liberals as a distraction. These cultural issues help keep the public from realizing or acting out of class interest.


    Comment by Doug Lain — Sunday 313 @ am

  2. Frank understood West Virginia no better than he understood Kansas. He prefers nostalgia and contention.
    What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Katrina Vanden Heuvel in The Nation 2005-10-11
    Escape from Freedom: What’s the Matter with Tom Frank” (pdf) by Ellen Willis in Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination 2006

    Sullivan saw something about candidate Obama that I failed to notice despite growing up in the same time and place and agreeing with Sullivan’s weariness with the politics of four decades ago. We’ll see about President Obama.

    Comment by zundel — Sunday 313 @ am

  3. Could you explain what Sullivan saw in Obama other than Obama’s age and near total acceptance of the neoconservative frame of issues?

    Comment by Doug Lain — Sunday 313 @ am

  4. Sullivan sees danger ahead.
    Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters” by Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic 2007-12

    But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes.

    He thinks Obama the better choice.
    Containing Multitudes” interview with Andrew Sullivan by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz in The Atlantic 2007-11-06

    If you believe, as I do, that the world seems to be hurtling toward something quite catastrophic, then the requirement of the United States to actually evolve itself to resist that trend—as opposed to accelerating it—is quite high. And Obama in fact puts the brake on what I think is our accelerating path towards global warfare and possible constitutional crisis.

    Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters” by Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic 2007-12

    At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

    Comment by zundel — Sunday 313 @ pm

  5. Sullivan has recognized what many commentators (and voters) have, which is that Obama has a facility for putting the values and hopes of the Right in terms that are acceptable to the Left, and vice versa. […]

    However, Sullivan is mistaken in placing the antagonism of political thought with the Boomers. But where [putting] the root of antagonism with stories and distortions promulgated by both left and right (a la Frank), I’d say it’s more complex than that, and that “Boomer thought” is merely a popular metaphor to explain the outward manifestations of one style of moral values, and is just another of the stories that pundits tell to promote their judgements of Left and Right. (This issue is also at the base of the Lakoff-Pinker argument, critiqued nicely by Geoffrey Nuneberg ).

    Rather than Sullivan, Frank, or Lakoff, I’d go back to Jane Jacobs’ moral systems of the Commercial vs Guardian values (Systems of Survival). These parallel Lakoff’s “good parent” models, but don’t pretend to be more than analyses of styles. What makes them more than a compelling story or a neatly extended metaphor is that they are mutually exclusive sets of values and styles of behavior.

    What makes Obama significant is that he seems to understand Left and Right in terms of both the stories they model themselves on and the values they profess to believe in, and does not simply use them to beat up the opposition.

    This is shown best when he slips and shows a meta-understanding, as in the “bitterness, guns, and religion” comment, which was quite accurate but phrased too much like a criticism than a sympathetic understanding of set of values. Criticism through logic and reason (what you hear on NPR) is seen as an elitist judgement of plain folk. Demonizing though simplification, association, and distortion (what you hear on Limbaugh and in Fundamentalist sermons) is seen as a putting things in the plain language of the people.


    Comment by ericbagai — Sunday 313 @ pm

  6. Obama’s “bitterness” comment lacks accuracy.
    Who’s Bitter Now?” by Larry Bartels in The New York Times 2008-04-17

    This is a remarkably detailed and vivid account of the political sociology of the American electorate. What is even more remarkable is that it is wrong on virtually every count.

    Transcript of Obama’s Remarks at San Francisco Fundraiser Sunday” by Barack Obama 2008-04-11

    The comment echos Frank’s mistakes.
    Obama’s ‘Gaffe’: Some Perspective” by Marc Ambinder 2008-04-11

    At his San Francisco fundraiser, Obama was sketching out a variation of the Thomas Frank argument about working class voters who seem to choose candidates whose policies cut against their economic interest.

    God and Money in Small Towns” by publius in Obsidian Wings 2008-04-14

    From my perspective, Obama’s arguments — much like Thomas Frank’s — betray a cultural ignorance of how religion works in these communities.

    For background see: One Nation, Slightly Divisible” by David Brooks in The Atlantic Monthly 2001-12.

    I found no evidence that economic differences explain much of anything about the divide between Red and Blue America.

    Almost no one in the county voted for Pat Buchanan; he was simply too contentious.

    Also see: Barack Obama on The Charlie Rose Show 2004-11-23.

    Posted by: soullite from “Obama Turns All Thomas Frank On Us” by Ezra Klein in archive at The American Prospect 2008-04-12

    Hell, the only real problem with this statement is that he said ‘Bitter’ instead of ‘really fucking pissed off’, which is a much more accurate portrayal of the emotions at play here.

    Comment by zundel — Sunday 313 @ pm

  7. The enormous condescension of Obama” by Michael Weiss in “Arma Virumque” at The New Criterion 2008-04-14

    A nice point to Obama’s, and Frank’s, condescension. And a nice reference to Coriolanus from Bellow.

    Comment by zundel — Sunday 320 @ am

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