Vacuous Opportunist

29Jun08

In an interview with Stephanopolous on This Week, Ralph Nader went after Barack, quoting, among others, political scientist Adolph Reed:

I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. I argued at the time that his fundamental political center of gravity, beneath an empty rhetoric of hope and change and new directions, is neoliberal.

Reed, now at the University of Pennsylvania, says Barack can manipulate with the best of them:

The Obama campaign has even put out a misleading bio of Michelle Obama, representing her as having grown up in poverty on the South Side, when, in fact, her parents were city workers, and her father was a Daley machine precinct captain. This fabrication, along with those embroideries of the candidate’s own biography, may be standard fare, the typical log cabin narrative. However, in Obama’s case, the license taken not only underscores Obama’s more complex relationship to insider politics in Daley’s Chicago; it also underscores how much this campaign depends on selling an image rather than substance.

Reed, a black man, says Barack can play the race card:

The Jackson comparison points to one of Obama’s key contradictions: Like Jackson, he wants to appeal to blacks with the “it’s our time now” line, and to white liberals with that, as well as with the “I’m black in a different way from Jesse” qualifier and the religious conversion rhetoric. A friend said that Obama’s campaign, in stressing his appeal to rapturous children and liberal, glamorous yuppies, offers vicarious identification with these groups, as well as the chance to become sort of black in that ultra-safe and familiar theme park way.

Writing when Hillary was still in the race for the nomination, Reed wrote that he could not vote for him because:

Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career.

But this, really, is what will get Barack.

Because he’s tried carefully to say enough of whatever the audiences he’s been speaking to at the time want to hear while leaving himself enough space later on to deny his intentions to leave that impression, his record represents precisely the “character” weakness the Republicans have exploited in every Democratic candidate since Dukakis: Another Dem trying to put things over on the American people.




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