Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mirack Obamabee

The New York Times' Frank Rich recently posited that the GOP has found its Barack Obama. He noted that both Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee share a common appeal that transcends both race and party.

What really may be going on here is a mirror image of the phenomenon that has upended Hillary Clinton's "inevitability" among Democrats. Like Senator Obama, Mr. Huckabee is the youngest in his party's field. (At 52, he's also younger than every Democratic contender except Mr. Obama, who is 46.) Both men have a history of speaking across party and racial lines. Both men possess that rarest of commodities in American public life: wit. Most important, both men aspire (not always successfully) to avoid the hyper-partisanship of the Clinton-Bush era.
I'll do Frank Rich one better. My sense is that something truly miraculous occurred in Iowa during tonight's much anticipated caucuses. Both the Republicans and Democrats - each independent of the other - voted for the exact same candidate. Or perhaps they did not vote for a man at all but rather an idea, or more precisely, an absence of any weighty philosophy whatever. Taken on their own merits, both Obama and Huckabee derive their obvious appeal from their lack of gravitas, of substance. Together they represent a absolute void, a vacuum that demands to be filled with the aspirations of their supporters.

In their zeal to appear to be a new political thing wholly apart from ClintonBush, both Obama and Huckabee have denigrated the "incumbents" of their respective parties, with Obama turning Hillary Clinton's ersatz experience into a troublesome negative, and Huckabee slamming President Bush for a supposed foreign policy "bunker mentality" (as discussed elsewhere.) To the matter of foreign policy, both men almost seem to wear their naivety on the subject as a badge of honor, and - eerily enough - for both men, Pakistan was an exemplar of their lack of bona fides vis-a-vis foreign affairs.

In his victory speech, Huckabee came off as more than effortlessly articulate. He was glib and folksy, almost to the point where we would judge him as possessing warmth and kindness. Somewhere in his remarks, he spoke of his convictions (presumably his stances on abortion and gay marriage) as something not to be used to push back others - who one supposes might disagree - but to bring them along. With the greatest respect that I am able to muster, I suspect that his evangelical supporters are all about pushing back the "other," and will not countenance any compromise on either issue. For Huckabee to suggest that he can or would wave away differences on matters so foundational to evangelicals is duplicitous at best.

Which brings me to the matter of my (perhaps former) political kith and kin in Iowa, many of whom seem to have voted based entirely on a religious identity that they ascribe to themselves and have imputed (with no small assistance from the candidate) to Huckabee. I would submit to evangelicals that if they believe as do I that God's providence enabled the establishment of this nation, then they must also accept that He intended for it to be as it was established, a secular republic where the voice of men is that which is heard and obeyed (and where the voice of God is conspicuously silent.)

For if we are to reckon God's concepts - His voice - more to be valued than the voice of man, then God must make Godsself understood on all manner of political minutia. Is Jesus a supporter of a flat tax or the FairTax? Does the Holy Spirit favor term limits on members of the House and Senate? And as a practical matter, why would evangelicals assume that the Almighty would share His thoughts with Mike Huckabee alone?

As for Obama, he was singularly the master of the hour as every bit of rhetorical majesty he evidenced at the 2004 Democratic Convention was on display tonight. The energy of the moment was with him as he gave his supporters a full portion of red meat in promising "hope" for a national health care scheme, an end to the "tyranny of oil," the return of U.S. forces from Iraq and a focus on the "common threats" of global warming, terrorism and nuclear weapons. He was the evening's most grandiloquent speaker, clearly channeling the soaring oratory of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But as discussed elsewhere,
Sen. Obama is "little more than a cipher, a tabula rasa upon which his supporters can project their wishes and/or fantasies." To his credit, he has been able to successfully parlay his well-crafted image as a uniter - along with his relative inexperience as a Washington insider - into a representation of someone who would unite Americans across party lines to work against the dreaded "special interests." His ability to create such an impression is a significant part of his appeal. But it is this very absence of resume and accomplishment that also serves as an Achilles' Heel for Obama.

Obama, having set the example by ending his peroration on the theme of hope, compels me to do likewise. A prayer that rested on the lips of every conservative in America was answered tonight in Hillary Clinton's stunning defeat. In her typically Clintonesque dissembling, she sounded grace notes on unity and the preponderance of liberal (and in what should be to the dismay of Republicans, independent) turnout in support of Democrats. Her countenance was that of someone trying not to look rattled as they ignore the fat lady warming up in the background. My own hope is that New Hampshire will deal Hillary Clinton the coup de grace that would be an act of mercy for us as well. So to, I hope that as the campaign unfolds, the candidacy of Mirack Obamabee will meet a similar demise.

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