why i am supporting obama

Music: Dead Can Dance: Selections from North America 2005 (2006)

A recent post by Debbilicious has encouraged me to explain why I have made up my mind in favor of Obama over Clinton. Actually, I’ve already blogged about one of my major reasons recently: voice and diplomacy. Nevertheless, Debbie articulates my reasons better than I can: (1) enhancing/restoring the reputation of the United State in the world theatre; (2) having a skillful and articulate figure-head that brings folks together via oratory; (3) getting us out of the war in Iraq; and (4) Obama’s “anti-establishmentarianism.”

As a rhetorician, I must admit the most important reason is the second, as oratory and rhetorical skill make the other three reasons possible. Clinton’s repeated remark that “Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience, I have a lifetime of experience, Sen. Obama has one speech in 2002,” is not only offensive, but also demonstrative of the cynical ideology that animates her bid for the White House. If the ability to communicate to the “American” people and, well, the rest of the world is relatively unimportant, then so too is the symbolic function of the presidency: Clinton is a means-to-an-ends kind of politician, and frankly, that’s the logic of the Bush II administration as well. Thankfully, I do think the cynical ideology that animates the Clinton campaign is very far from the imperial presidency. It is still, nevertheless, partriarchical and rooted in a centuries-long sexism that associates speech and the body with the feminine.

I’ve remarked before here and elsewhere that an important reason to vote for Obama and against Clinton has to do with the sound of their actual voices. I know this sounds absurd, but I’m serious. Jim Brown emailed me a link to a Public Radio International program titled “The Sound of Leadership” that also makes my point better than I could myself. The British commentator narrating the piece assembled a vocal technician, coach, and expert to compare and contrast the voices of Obama and Clinton. “What you can hear” listening to the voice of Clinton, she says, “is a very tight voice; it’s stuck, it’s pushed, and actually when you look at her you can see all that in her body. . . . all these habits signal force, ‘I am not going to be interrupted.’ So, on one level, she’s actually trying to find her power, but it comes across as force.” The coach continues that her voice is “off-putting.” Obama’s voice is described as “smooth” and “relaxed,” and it is homologous to his obvious ease with his body. “Actually,” the coach says, his style is more feminine.

What is not discussed in the PRI program is the way in which speech communicates affect and primes us to react in certain ways. I have known many people who are blunt, direct talkers but mean well, and yet, the person to whom they are talking feels insulted or taken to task. Clinton’s voice, irrelevant of what she says, sets people off, sometime offending despite good intentions. I recall a conversation I had with my mother over the holiday break: when I asked my mother to explain why she “hated” Clinton, she responded, “I don’t know. There’s just something about her.” What is this “something?” I think it’s definitely gender, but this gendered something is inextricably related to Clinton’s delivery style.

What’s in a voice? More than we ever suspect—and more than we’d like to let on ourselves. Many of us cannot stand hearing recordings of our own voices because it reminds us that we communicate things to others that we would rather keep repressed. Analogously, we pick up on things from the timbre, tone, and textures of others voices that s/he cannot hide: fear, distress, anxiousness, excitement, sincerity. Obama communicates an ease, sincerity, and eunoia towards audiences with his voice; Clinton can do that too—and quite well at times. But sometimes one senses “the wall” or the insincere auto-speak mode with her too.

Finally, McCain’s voice is also an asset to him. He often speaks in relaxed and calm tones, although one would be hard-pressed to call his voice smooth (the benchmark of that Republican buttery voice is indeed Ronald Reagan). I’ve been watching McCain closely as well, and what I like about him is also what I fear about him the most: his voice communicates a sincerity of belief. He does not communicate goodwill like Obama, but he does have the ability with his tone to effectively say, “I’m telling the truth.” This troubles me because, after I watched Bill Moyer’s Journal last Friday, I worry that McCain has given himself over to the neo-cons (accepting the endorsement of a nutty apocalyptic preacher); moreover, he’s made it clear he fully supports the imperial presidency. He has sworn off signing statements, but I don’t trust that swearing.

All of this is to say: I trust my feelings about my political leaders as much as I do their statements. There is danger in giving oneself over entirely to feeling (this is what gets us into cult-land), but it’s nevertheless an important aspect. Speech is the place where statements and feeling meet-up. That’s why oratory is important to this election. That’s why we need to pay attention to speeches.

37 thoughts on “why i am supporting obama

  1. I can’t help but think that the “voice thing” is intimately bound up within gender politics and misogynistic presumptions, but you are spot on in noting that Obama is rather more “feminine-ish” in his charismatic androgyny. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the skill set necessary to win an election is rather different than the one required to run a country (and deal with the petulant Republicans who have little interest in compromise or ‘invitational’ appeals to dialogue). Even by insider accounts, Hillary is an aggressive “ball-buster” tho I’m unsure if hers is an entirely “cynical ideology” rather than a SKEPTICAL stance toward Republicans who have tried to have Democrats arrested or thrown out of committees to advance their unilateral agendas, stymied Dems with twice as many filibusters than ever seen in American history, and demonized ‘Defeat-o-crats’ as soft-on-terrorism even when the substance of criticisms have been validated across the board.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama. I am excited that his fresh rhetoric of hope has seemed to find purchase within the popular imaginary even with a good margin of ‘true’ Conservatives (see the Reich blog link below). I do worry, however, that Clinton’s concerns about his relative inexperience and overly-hyped legislative ‘record’ will be more effectively exploited by the GOP spin machine while Obama flounders playing nice… and then she gets blamed for pointing that out in the first place. Not that I agree with Clinton at every turn, but her experience in smash-mouth politics may be essential for dealing with the very traumatic Real of RealPolitik beyond lofty phantasy ambitions.


  2. Given a choice between Obama and McCain, I will vote to Obama. But despite what Hawhee and Gunn articulate, I cannot ever inhabit the position of WANTING to vote for Obama.

    I admire you both, but come on:

    1. “I spoke out against the war in a non-binding resolution in the Illinois State Legislature” is neither prescient nor daring. It smacks of the easy choice that could just as easily have been made for political gain as principled stand, and it cost Obama nothing. You can tell me that Hillary is a party hack, and I’ll believe you, but I see no evidence that Obama is anything more substantial than Hillary. Making the easy choice in a consequence-free environment doesn’t make you “right from day one.”

    2. This whole Obama thing smacks, on the one hand, of the strategy that the Republicans used to rocket Norm Coleman into position: choose someone whose record of work is so short, there can be no foolish mistakes to haunt them, the way that any long serving senator’s record is likely to be filled with contradictory positions. Serve on the Senate long enough, and you will have voted for and against nearly everything at least once — so don’t serve long enough to be caught! Republicans pushed a slate of tabula rasas forward, like Coleman, during the Bush reign.

    On the other hand, it also smacks to me of Jimmy Carter waiting to happen again. Here, I admit: I do not remember Carter (I was 4 when he was elected); I am working on “what I have been told.” Suffice to say, I believe folks when they say that an ineffective outsider will do no one any good. Except the Republicans, waiting to recapture the White House after one term.

    3. I adore the way that Gunn and Hawhee are puzzling through Obama’s communication style as a positive argument for his candidacy. And I am sure that I am just not reading between the lines carefully enough to understand their nuanced position. But I just don’t get it. I’m not convinced that there is a virtue to electing a “Kennedy-level orator” (in Hawhee’s terms) or the apparent sincerity that Gunn identifies. All of these seem to me like highfalootin’ variations on some Ciceronian belief that the good rhetor must be the good man speaking well. I am sure that, somehow, it must be deeper than that, because I respect Hawhee and Gunn too much to think that they would make their decisions so shallowly. But I am just not understanding it.

    4. This is not to be read as an endorsement of Clinton. I believe Josh when he says that, in Clinton’s voice, we hear “force” making its way instead of power, and I do find it offputting. I was a John Edwards fan, and I think that losing Edwards was the real tragedy in this race.

    What I am left with, then, is a choice between a candidate whom I believe is qualified but irreparably broken (unelectable — Clinton) and a candidate who reminds me of every one of my privileged frat boys who spend a week volunteering at a soup kitchen with their frat brothers and make it the centerpiece of their resume (Obama).

    I tell every one of those kids that if they get to the interview and the HR manager discovers that their extensive community service consisted of a week of spooning up chili, followed by 51 weeks of keggers, they will never get the job. And the students believe me, and they restructure their resume to reflect reality. I worry that we are on the verge of electing that frat boy President.

    And I’ll vote for him, too, over the 70-year-old hawk and the consumer advocate with delusions of self-importance. But I won’t ever believe, in my heart, that this was the best we could do.

  3. Ok you guys, I reckon with two of you Humping for Hillary I have to respond. Let me see if I get this straight:

    Shaun, your argument is that (1) the off-putting character of Clinton’s voice is caught up in misogyny; (2) Clinton has a better “skill set” and is much more likely to defend the country than Obama; and (3) Obama’s lack of experience will work against him in the general election.

    David, your argument is that (1) Obama’s speaking out against the war was an easy choice; (2) Obama’s “clean” voting record is also very short, which is akin to Coleman and Carter’s bids for office; (3) Obama is an “ineffective outsider”; (4) either Gunn and Hawhee are idiots, or there is some deeper, more nuanced rationale for why they prefer a good orator; (4.5) as a corollary, Cicero’s assertion that only good men can speak well is a fallacy; (5) Edwards should be the candidate to beat; (6) Obama is akin to a frat boy who serves up soup one week a year.

    Gee, where do I begin to respond to all these claims? First, Shaun, I have already confronted the issue of misogyny here. Let me instead go to the claim both Shaun and David hold in common: Clinton has the experience and skills, while Obama does not. Really?

    **Obama has served in public office for ten years; Clinton and Edwards have only done it for six.

    **Eight of those years of service were in the Illinois State Senate, hardly a soup kitchen. He had lots of legislative experience; check out this website for a rundown.

    **As Ken helped to point out weeks ago, the white papers on Obama’s website have as much wonkish detail as anything Clinton can spout out.

    **As others have blogged (and also thanks to Ken), this freshman senator “routinely pops up” in legislation on “non-sexy” but important topics; he has been quite active in the senate on progressive issues. The reason you don’t know about it is simply because Obama hasn’t been as flashy as, for example, a senator with her eyes on the White House.

    **Obama’s voting record is not short; ten years of legislative behavior is available for your research. Some transcripts of his speeches are available too. The “blueprint for change” document here spells out all the big issues in a thoughtful (and flashy) way.

    Of course, I could go on with link after link of evidence, but in elections like these evidence doesn’t seem to matter. “Experience” was how the difference between these candidates was framed, and first impressions tend to stick irrelevant of truth. Now, if by “experience” you mean “intimate with special interests,” I think Clinton takes the cake. She is definitely “wired-in.”

    Clinton’s borg-appeal is what I mean by “cynical.” What else is that brilliant red phone commercial but a cynical appeal? “Yes, we know you don’t like Clinton, but she’s so deeply wired into the Washington system and so intimate with the Neo-liberal establishment that she has no problem responding to threats.” The appeal isn’t terribly far off from arguing we should extend term limits for the presidency because Bush II, now that he’s been in office for eight years, knows how to answer the effing red phone!

    When we consider Obama’s record, we’re left with an entitlement argument. As Morrissey once sang with The Smiths, “You just haven’t earned it yet baby; you just haven’t earned it my sooooonnnnnn . . . . ” Sort of reminds me of my own tenure situation.

    I think this response to the “experience and skill” issue deals with Shaun’s reservations. What remains are a number of claims from David.

    1. Speaking against the war was an easy choice. Um, David, I don’t know if you remember what it felt like after the attacks on September 11th. Vengeance was a feeling we all shared, even though some of us had the sense to know acting on the feeling was wrong. Regardless, I would agree voting for or against the war at this point is a non-issue. McCain’s warmongering is distasteful, but his argument that we need to “look forward” persuades me. I don’t think Obama’s constant reminders of his opposition to the war are helping him at this point.

    2. Obama is an ineffective outsider. Evidence please? All I see is effectiveness in his legislation efforts, such as working with a republican to raise funds and forge a bipartisan nonproliferation law. Obama is not yet of the establishment, but his ten year record evinces an ability to bring different hotheads together for common causes. Clinton, of course, has been effective too, but she also polarizes in a way that Obama does not.

    3. Gunn and Hawhee are idiots and Cicero’s claim is fallacious. I’m sorry, David, that we are not “nuanced” enough in our arguments in favor of Obama. Silly me to expect a rhetorician to understand the appeal of a good speaker for political office. But aside from my abject stupidity, you might want to brush up on your Cicero. It is Quintilian to whom we owe honor for saying:

    Again in deliberative assemblies how can we advise a policy without raising the question of what is honourable? Nay, even the third department of oratory, which is concerned with the tasks of praise and denunciation, must without a doubt deal with questions of right and wrong. For the orator will assuredly have much to say on such topics as justice, fortitude, abstinence, self-control and piety. But the good man, who has come to the knowledge of these things not by mere hearsay, as though they were just words and names for his tongue to employ, but has grasped the meaning of virtue and acquired a true feeling for it, will never be perplexed when he has to think out a problem, but will speak out truly what he knows. (Institutio Oratoria, Book 12, Loeb editions.)

    As On the Orator suggests, Cicero’s views on the virtuous rhetor speaking well were much more complicated and akin to our understanding of politics today: lying for the common good is permissible, although not preferable. Quintilian, however, believed much more as Plato did: to know the good is to do and speak the good.

    My argument in favor of Obama’s oratory is not based on his inherent goodness and Clinton’s depravity. Rather, my argument is that Obama makes one feel at ease while Clinton does not. However sincere Clinton may be, she comes off as forced and as a “by any means necessary” politician. I am not putting my oratory chips into the “good person” basket; rather, I’m putting them in the effectivity basket. Obama will simply be a better negotiator and representative of the United States, and this has much to do with his voice and speaking style. That’s as “nuanced” as my stupid claim gets.

    (5)Edwards should be the candidate. Well, despite being on the ballot on many states, he pulled out of the race.

    (6)Obama is akin to a frat boy doling out soup once a year. You make a statement like this and then expect me to have a sophisticated and nuanced argument? Sheesh.

    Now, truth be told I would prefer the guy who saw a UFO in office, but that would be impossible. I’m for Obama because of the reasons I state, but also for one I’ve not mentioned on my blog as of yet: electability. If Clinton is the headline on the ticket, McCain will win the election. McCain is super-scary—same views as Bush II, only smarter.

  4. I think Shaun is on to something about the gender issues involved in voice (says the feminist :) ). On NPR, about a month ago, someone else was doing an analysis of voice in campaign speeches and what they do nor do not connote about authority and leadership (I just caught part of the discussion and I dont believe it was the same one you link above as the commentator was a woman). Obama was likened to a preacher – shocker! More important, when Clinton’s voice became more impassioned, angry, emotion-filled, it was argued that she makes people uneasy…the reason – we expect that our mothers (all women afterall are mothers) to protect us from our fathers anger, aggressiveness & emotion. When Mom loses her cool…we know things are bad. I dont know if I totally buy the argument, but I thought it was worth putting out there…as one of your previous posts highlights, certain “sexist” frames can animate an otherwise non-sexist view.

    I should say, as a disclosure, I too am a Clinton supporter (again, so surprising) – though I dont want to go into a line-by-line debate as I tend to rant and alienate friends :).

  5. Josh,

    We don’t disagree (and I certainly don’t think you’re an idiot, nor Hawhee either). And I am certainly not advocating Clinton; as you have identified, my measure is the candidate who is no longer in the race. I am, at this point, mostly anguished by the fact that no remaining candidate impresses me.

    . . .

    I am suckered by Shaun’s posted account of Obama’s career in the state legislature, described this way:

    Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

    “I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen,” state Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

    “I don’t consider it bill jacking,” Hendon told me. “But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the 1-yard line and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book.”

    During his seventh and final year in the Illinois Senate, Obama’s stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law…

    This feeds sharply and clearly into the Norm Coleman model I discussed above. And it doesn’t surprise me that the Democrats might borrow a page from that playbook, after John Kerry got nailed for making precisely the kind of compromises that a long-term political leader needs to make.

    . . .

    The frat boy analogy did more to express my personal frustration than express a point about Obama. I retract that. I still feel in my gut that the Coleman analogy is spot-on.

    . . .

    That said, I am easily shaped by the opinions most recently voiced near me, and am not a policy expert. Clearly, the author of the article quoted above has a Hillary agenda, as did the person who posted it. Maybe I just can’t see through that.

    . . .

    I take an admittedly contradictory position in what I am about to argue. I complain, all the time, to David Gore that too much ostensible research in rhetoric has too little to do with actual language. It seems to me that language in use is the proper object of the field.

    That said, something just doesn’t feel right about the emphasis that Hawhee and Gunn are putting on Obama’s oratorical skills. Josh, I’m not sure that I believe that “Obama will simply be a better negotiator and representative of the United States, and this has much to do with his voice and speaking style.” Effective communicators of unilateralist imperialist positions would still have a hard row to hoe — or at least they should, if the world works the way that I naively want it to; ineffective communicators of multilateralist internationalist positions would still be my preference.

    I just don’t give language use the power that you do. I’m not sure if it’s a naive political stance, a subliminal theoretical orientation, or just 8 years of watching an ineloquent Yale-Texan exercise power without regard to oratory.

    Power persuades; language justifies. I think that’s my starting point.

    . . .

    I’m not quite sure what I’m arguing here; I’m not arguing for Hillary over Obama. This is both because I find Hillary a poor speaker, relatively, and because I’m not sure whether I think she’s a multilateralist, multinationalist type of foreign policy gal. Maybe Obama will advocate the foreign policy of my dreams, in which case all my anxieties go away. Most of what I hear about his foreign policy circles whether or not he called Canadian officials about NAFTA. I should read the links you have posted.

    . . .

    I’m hoping we agree more than we disagree. Certainly, I don’t think you’re an idiot, nor that the position held is stupid.
    . . .


  6. How anyone can seriously still support Hillary after her commander-in-chief threshold commentary is shocking. Tex, I’m amazed. That this particular line of attack demonstrates the distinction between force making itself heard and power should be obvious, and what should be equally obvious is that it is not a generically gendered concern, but rather a product of specific strategies.

    And while we’re on the topic, I’m still waiting for someone to explain Hillary’s big experience advantage. The Rwandan crisis narrative of late is plainly a lie (no one involved, neither Clinton nor Albright even mention Hillary in their memoirs on the subject). The open borders for refugees deal was also a lie (they opened a day before she arrived). The trip to war torn Bosnia, the one with Sinbad and Sheryl Crow, seems like an exaggeration bordering on hyperbole. Yes, she gave a speech at an international convention in China where she complained that women don’t get enough respect and rights protection. True enough, but I thought speeches didn’t count, or at least that’s what she keeps saying about the competition. And besides, probably a third of the senate gives speeches about how crappy China is on all aspects of human rights every time Most Favored Nation status comes up for a vote (now known as Normal Trade Relations status), and guess what, they still give the enhanced status to China – which is exactly what Hillary did.

    She sided with the authorization for Bush to use force at a time when it was politically useful to do so, not so for Barack, whatever the context. She has served on the senate armed forces committee, which during her time serving there, has approved a series of budgets wasting money on the Future Combat Systems (FCS) debacle, encouraged spending on the war, and generally done little to investigate Blackwater gang rapes, the infamous missing billions of dollars from reconstruction, the status of mercs in general, and so on. Barack organized a resolution during the same time period that fixed funding shortages for VA care, and changed the standards by which mental health care is provided for Iraq war vets.

    And on domestic issues, what has she done? The 93 failed health care initiative, which crippled the health care debate for over a decade? Since then, as shown in SiCKO, she’s the largest recipient of health care provider funds. No surprise, then, that her plan has shifted to providing not universal health care, but rather universally mandated health insurance, which makes these companies just giddy. So her experience is getting her much here.

    Does she have a vast reservoir of economics experience? Legal expertise that Obama doesn’t have?

    We are supposed to believe she’s a fighter, and I have no doubt of that. She’s fighting a lot in this primary, she’s fighting to be president. I’m just waiting to here what all the real experience is of her fighting for me, for Josh, for Tex, for anyone else.

    Look, she’s done some good stuff. She’s been an important and symbolic figure. She’s certainly smart and capable. But I’m getting so tired of hearing how she’s got chops and that Obama doesn’t, that he’s some sort of frat boy (as if that designation isn’t somehow sexist). Josh has already provided a series of links to important issues, like non-prolif of both WMD and conventional weapons (Obama helped extend Nunn-Lugar to deal with surface to air missiles), but he’s not even mentioned Obama’s other great issue – accountability and transparency of government, in earmarks, in spending, in fundraising. His plan is to put everything in machine-readable database formats so that every blogger who wants to investigate what’s going on can do so. Hillary has nothing comparable, and given her weird reluctance to deal with her tax returns, seems to lean toward secrecy first and transparency second.

  7. And it may just be me, but I found Edwards terribly insincere. He campaigned against almost every position he voted for while in Congress, and his efforts to advance solutions to poverty, while worthwhile, reminded me of those people in debate who think they deserve to win with a study CP.

    I did like it when he actually acted like a lawyer, in debates, when he mixed it up with the candidates, cross-ex style, but his campaigning rang rather hollow to me.

  8. I appreciate the education. As to whether Edwards was sincere; I can’t judge that — only that he said what I wanted said.


  9. As I’ve said before: if you think the contest is ugly now, it’s only going to get worse. Murphy comments on the racism internal to the Dems. No matter who ascends to take the headline on the ticket, it’s going to be either a racist or sexist slam-fest next fall. My tummy is nauseous already thinking about it . . . .

  10. I think I echo some of your fears Josh on Murph’s blog :)

    And Ken, honestly, when do you find the time to be so informed …lol. I dont agree with everything you say and I do think you are misrepresenting some things (i.e., universal health care does not equal single payer system), but as whole, I readily admit that you would school me in any debate on this. I still support her, despite the bullshit I am taking a lesson from the recent sex-scandals and I am standing by my (wo)man – hee hee…if anyone deserves such a commitment it is HRC :).

  11. Well, Lainie does nap, and I can’t play Halo 3 all the time 😛

    But what I don’t get, especially after the C-in-C threshold comments, is that it is precisely that HRC no longer deserves one’s commitment. She is spending wees of campaigning and millions of dollars telling Pennsylvanians that McCain is more qualified than Obama on the “central” issue of the election, when she cannot guarantee that she will be the nominee (indeed, it’s almost certain she won’t be). Pennsylvania is a state Dems need to win in the general, and she’s making that harder, if not impossible.

    She has routinely lied or exaggerated her own experience levels, which has the twin effect of celebrating experience as a value (which helps McCain) and getting her caught in a series of hyperboles (for another example, witness her claims to have helped spur peace in Northern Ireland, a claim that Lord Trimble, who won a Nobel Peace Prize negotiating that peace, says is “silly” and factually incorrect).

    She has dismissed all but 11 states as being irrelevant to the general, as if she will somehow win Texas, and as if she can somehow win the general without Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington, and so on.

    I’ve seen two statistics that are startling. Three weeks ago, a study came out that said 10% of Obama supporters might not vote for Hillary in the general election, but a whopping 25% of Hillary supporters said they would not vote for Obama. One wonders what the reason could be that 1 in 4 Hillary supporters would refuse to lend their support to Obama. In the exit polls in Mississippi, 75% of Hillary voters said they would be dissatisfied with Obama as the nominee. That’s now 3 in 4. And while it’s shocking, it’s not surprising given her comments about how bad Obama is on issues like security and whatnot. Of late, since Maggie Williams was put in charge of her campaign, and the dawn of the recent Kitchen Sink strategy (their word for it), they’ve spent a ton of time talking about how Obama is a bad candidate, not how Clinton is a better candidate. And at the same time, they’re hyping McCain as a candidate preferable to Obama on an important issue. So at what point can we look at the rhetoric, and the data of its effects, and conclude that Hillary is putting herself above the interests of the party (and to my mind, the country, as we cannot handle another 4 years of Republican wars, supreme court nominees, and so on)? What does it take to question standing by the woman? What does she have to do?

    I get affective identification as a motivating force, and I don’t want to invalidate it or diss it. But what does she have to do before the bonds of that identification are ruptured in a way that cannot be sutured by her identity or subject-position?

  12. I think Ken does a good job of explaining how Clinton’s campaign is classically cynical. Again, I’ve been reading Sloterdijk (and Diane Davis’ brilliant riff on cynicism in Breaking Up [at] Totality)—it’s hard not to think of our political (primal) scene while reading this stuff:

    Psychologically, present-day cynics can be understood as borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and can remain more or less able to work. . . . Their psychic apparatus has become elastic enough to incorporate as a survival factor a permanent doubt about their own activities. They know what they are doing [e.g., “kitchen sink” strategery], but they do it because, in the short run, the force of circumstances and the instinct for self-preservation are speaking the same language, and they are telling them it has to be so. . . . Thus, the new, integrated cynicism even has the understandable feeling about itself of being a victim and of making sacrifices. Behind the capable, collaborative, hard facade, it covers up a mass of offensive unhappiness and the need to cry. . . . Thus, we come to our first definition: Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness.

    Again, all of Clinton’s recent rhetorical moves bespeak a deep-seated cynicism wedded to a sense of entitlement. I can understand very well how it feels to want something so bad and to work for it so hard—believe me, I really do get that! Being a public servant means, however, that one puts the greater good above oneself from time to time (hard to do most of the time; we’re human after all). This is why Nader is a complete disaster; this is why Clinton is crossing lines all over the place.

    Cynical despair is hard to watch.

  13. OK so I am biting, but just for a bit then I MUST return to my own contemplations on race and sex in the nineteenth century :).

    First, I think that the HRC made a strategic error with the McCain, C-I-C claim. Another, although unarticulated in the media, interpretation of that argument is that she is arguing that she, unlikeObama, can withstand the comparison that is inevitably gonna happen come this fall. A short-sighted rhetorical blunder, yes…one that she should stop, yes (and I will defer to you on this, I have only heard one sound bite with the comment, is this a regular part of her stump speech now?) Her new strategy of saying a vote for her is also a vote for Obama seems to cut against arguments about his apparent lack when it comes to qualifications to be C-I-C. However, if anyone thinks that HRC is bringing to the fore some otherwise hidden comparison b/t McCain and Obama on experience to be C-I-C, then they are just looking for another reason to find fault in her. By the logic of her apparent “unelectablity,” no one is going to care whether ot not she thinks McCain is better.

    Additionally, I am rather surprised by the 10% vs. 25% party loyalty stats. Is this a reputable poll – I ask in all seriousness, because, he polls I have read indicated that Obama gets independents and Republican crossovers much more than HRC. Additionally, I have heard/read more than one pundit (and I cringe as I cite that as a source) who argues that the Clinton campaign is very worried that they will lose a good number of Obama supporters. Hell, even Obama himself said that he will get all of her supporters, but she wouldn’t get all of his.

    Finally HRC supporters and even some crazy op-eds on NYT pointed out that HRC bashing would get the party no where, yet Obama supporters are more than willing to join the hating Hillary bandwagon. This is all just to say – its unfair to put the “future of the party” on her shoulders alone, as it is also unfair to deny that Obama might also be motivated by selfish ambitions. *gasp*. Again, I love Obama. Sometimes the bright-eyed student Obama supporters who *laugh* when they hear another person saying they *hate* Hillary/call her a “bitch,” etc. anger me, motivate me, just as much what seems to anger you in HRC’s rhetoric. Coupled with these affective indentifications is my deep-seated belief, for right or wrong, that she is the best person to deal with the mess left by Bush. I support her because she is a remarkably intelligent person, and I agree with most of her policies, and my understanding is that they are remarkably similar to those articulated by Obama, making other issues more important. I do think she brings to the table a certain “understanding” of national politics and the crap involved, that Obama does not. I dont believe any President can get things like UHC, pulling out of Iraq, etc., without playing a little of the “same old Washington politics.” From the beginning I thought she was the best equipped for the job. All of this to say, why I like her *more* than Obama – but make no mistake about it – I think Obama is quite remarkable, I am not in that so-called 25%, and I will work my ass off for him in the fall (if this turns out as I suspect it will). Anyway, I must get back to work…

  14. Tex makes some compelling points. I trust the bottom line for most of us (tell me if I’m wrong) is that we will support whomever wins the nomination, Clinton or Obama. Those stats Ken cites are scary; we should not fall into hating either of these people. Hell, I wanted this guy. But for goodness sakes even if we end up in DB’s position, I would hope we’ll all vote against McCain. Pretty please?

  15. Tex, I don’t want to make this about your views or positions, and I’m hoping Shaun will join in, but I still don’t get it. I’m not looking to find fault with her through some uncharitable interpretation. If she wanted to say “I can handle the heat when the democratic nominee gets compared to John McCain’s lifelong record of service and experience,” well, she could have. She didn’t, and on four different occasions, she has reiterated the awkward phrasing of “John McCain has a lifetime of experience, I have a lifetime of experience, Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.” In other iterations, the thing is rephrased as passing the commander-in-chief threshold, which she and McCain has, and Obama has not. These are negative statements, not in the sense of being hurtful, which they are, but in being privative – she’s asserting that Obama lacks the chops to be President, period, and especially against John McCain. And she’s doing it in a state primary where security is a frequent concern and where Dems need to have a strong showing in the general. Now imagine the general election comes, and Obama is the nominee. McCain begins to play the same clip from Hillary, to show that even democrats know that Obama isn’t ready to lead in a time of crisis. Hillary and Bill, two of the biggest names in Democratic politics, can no longer come to Obama’s aid without looking like total hypocrites or liars, thus undermining that aid in the first place, and assuming they were even willing to give it. Hillary’s more avid supporters buy into it, stay home, or vote Nader, rather than for the man who stole the election from their woman. So in one fell swoop, Hillary has provided ammunition that McCain can and will use, and disabled her own ability to advocate for her party’s candidate on an important issue. Obama has done nothing comparable – nothing.

    As for her “a vote for me is a vote for Obama,” it’s classic Clinton triangulation. She tells everyone he’s a sap, just a charismatic guy who is too naive to get things done, who lacks experience, but that folks can have their good time guy as Veep if they vote for her. Wolfson was asked recently about the contradiction between the two sets of discourses, how Obama could be a Veep given he hasn’t passed the threshold, and his answer was that Obama hasn’t passed the threshold yet, but that it’s a long road to Denver. This is the most patently absurd attempt to produce wiggle room I have seen all year, as if campaigning in PA, NC, and a few other states will somehow elevate Obama suddenly to be Commander-in-Chief level, as judged by Clinton. One has to marvel at the chutzpah of the second-place contender being willing to throw a bone to the guy in first place.

    And besides, the whole thing just begs the question – what on earth is Clinton using as her level of judgment? I assume we’re talking about her proxy with her husband (who, btw, had zero experience on national security issues going in to the Presidency), but I’m not sure the evidence demonstrates that she learned a lot. She was wrong on Iraq, wrong on the Iranian Republican Guard, wrong on FCS (FCS, or Future Combat Systems, was a debacle approved by the Senate Armed Forces committee, which approves budgets, that has cost us nearly 200 billion dollars for research in unmanned planes and tanks – it’s future is now uncertain, but the money is already spent). She routinely exaggerates or lies about her own record of foreign policy experience, so I cannot figure out what made people think from the beginning, much less now, how in the world she is more capable of extricating us from Iraq, or of dealing with national security issues. And explain this: she wants to use multilateral frameworks to help assist our withdrawal, but she won’t meet with some of the players she needs (like Iran) without them first agreeing to preconditions they won’t agree to – so how does this work? It sounds good politically, it says “I’m strong,” but it’s incoherent and unworkable as actual policy.

    As for an understanding of national politics, Obama has already rivaled her record of legislative accomplishments in the Senate, and he’s been there less time. He works across party lines on issues of real importance (like earmarks, non-prolif, criminal rights), and in the one Congress they were both actively involved in (prior to the campaign), only one of them sponsored an actual bill. And it wasn’t Hillary. The thing is, I don’t even care that much to demonstrate his record – as I’ve noted before, I’m for Barack for reasons that are almost entirely rhetorical, in that I think he rewrites the discursive terrain in a way that secures a future for progressivism, and in a way that Hillary does not or cannot. But these claims that he’s just style are so inane, and these comparison points for Hillary such stretches that I feel compelled to point to the actual record.

    As for the polls, yep, they’re as reputable as exit polls can be. Which is to say maybe not at all, but the upswing is remarkable, regardless of the rhetoric of the candidates about who will win whose supporters, because it demonstrates that Hillary’s anti-Obama discourse directly produces anti-Obama advocates.

    As for the future of the party on her shoulders, it is. She should have been the shoe-in for the nominee, but she won’t be, because she ran a bad campaign, with no planning after Super Tuesday, and in its efforts to redress and recover, her campaign has resorted to tactics that should be unsupportable by most democrats, in that they are clearly deleterious to democratic party potential. Obama’s supporters may say stupid, hurtful, sexist things, as might Clinton’s (Ferraro, anyone?), but this isn’t about supporters, this is about the candidates. I would like to think that the candidates know that big-D victory in ’08 is more important than big-C or big-O victory, and I think one of them does, as indicated pretty clearly in his post MS win interview. One of them seems to pay lip service to this idea, while actively working against it. So my concern, Tex, is that it seems your affective identification is in part a reaction against students or pundits who say stupid shit about Clinton, whereas mine is against Clinton’s own rhetorical record. Don’t you think the standard should be more heavily applied against the candidates themselves? What has Clinton herself done to earn your loyalty?

  16. Damn dude. Thank goodness I got out of forensics before I would have had to debate you in a round. Ken, your arguments are compelling and hard to refute because you back them up with evidence—something I’ve rarely seen in the blogsphere.

    Affective/elective affinities, though, still seem to take the day with many (my evidence: my mother). That’s why the cynical appeal is to troubling (though let me confess I find the “politics of hope” terrible too): love and hate are two sides of the same affective coin. Clinton’s taking the flip: love me and hate him—a tragic decision, as Ken points out. It should be, love us and hate them. After reading Ken’s last post, this intra-party back-stabbing seems worse than I thought it was. Crap.

  17. True, my disdain does often revolve around certain supporters, not Obama, but that does not mean that I am simply voted against his supporters, not voting FOR her. Your decision calculus is one of “rhetorical record,” mine isn’t (as I explained above)…what a disclipinary traitor I am 😛

  18. The primaries have arrived in Pennsylvania, and I suppose I will have to vote in them. I registered, after all. But it’s hard to care very much. Even if Clinton manages some last-minute fuckery and seats delegates from Florida and Michigan, she won’t have enough delegates to win the nomination. The policy differences between them are tiny (mandates in their health care plans and other pointless details that will get crushed in Congress anyway) and the neither has much meaningful experience beyond fundraising.

    Illinois legislature? First Lady? You might as well add Hall Monitor to their resumes. Their Senate records make JFK’s Senate record look like Daniel Webster’s. (JFK scheduled surgery that prevented him from voting on the measure to censure his brother Robert’s old boss, Joe McCarthy).

    We (the U.S) are $9 trillion in debt. The five largest items in the federal budget are defense, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt (the vig is almost $250 billion/year). We have a second-rate educational system, neglected infrastructure, a crippling dependency on imported oil, an expensive, endless, and illegal war in Iraq, no strategy in Afghanistan, and the highest incarceration rate in the world. Neither candidate has committed to any plausible solution for any of these problems. Unless analysis of their voices reveals that they are shitting their pants out of fear and embarrassment, they are too fucking stupid or shameless to deserve anybody’s vote.

    Obama’s effective: Oh, please. He voted against the war, but it didn’t do much good. He ditched a bipartisan ethics bill sponsored by McCain because Harry Reid told him too (the Dems wanted ethics as an election issue–read this month’s New Republic) and hasn’t sponsored any substantive legislation.

    His rhetoric is uplifting: : His version of “I’m a uniter, not a divider” is no more persuasive than Bush’s, and Republicans in the House & Senate aren’t getting all misty-eyed when Obama speaks. Obama’s voice makes you ‘feel at ease’? As Ed Black said, rhetorical criticism is more than a status report on your glands. Obama does give audiences a nice warm feeling, but there isn’t much in the way of substance to them; even his supporters find it hard to identify his legislative achievements, and his policies are microscopically different from Edwards, or Clinton’s. Name one innovative, controversial, or unpopular position he’s initiated. Other than embarrassing moments like his inability to name U.S. allies (and there aren’t many left) he hasn’t said anything interesting in months.

    The comparisons to Kennedy make me ill. In person, Kennedy was witty and mildly cynical. His speeches were the work of Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and their terse, manichean style addressed Cold War issues without any of Obama’s gushy sentimentality. The comparisons to MLK are closer to the mark; as David Garrow and Adam Faircloth and John Lucaites others point out, he addressed white audiences effectively by using white Protestant theologians like Rheinhold Niehbur to give his revolutionary arguments a reassuring familiarity. Once you get past IHADream, King’s speeches are often specific, argumentative, and confrontational. Obama’s seem more like Hallmark greeting cards. Maybe Obama will rise to a future occasion, but I don’t think his chances are any better than Clinton’s (or McCain’s, for that matter). Bill Clinton had the charming gift of oratory, but as a panel of his admirers concluded at his presidential library, he gave few great speeches and is remembered for almost no memorable quotes. Obama may well end up in the same category.

    Obama’s rhetoric has a lot in common with Ronald Reagan’s (“It’s morning in America”) and George Bush, Sr/’s (“A thousand points of light”) I’m not sure that’s something to feel good about.

    I’ll vote for Obama despite his sentimental blatherings because he isn’t as cynical or politically tone-deaf as Clinton and because I don’t want John McCain appointing Supreme Court justicies, but these two capable fundraisers are the rhetorical equivalents of Thomas Dewey and Mike Dukakis.

  19. I have nothing at all to add or weigh in with but for saying that I think that this should be a post and comments that more than one person ought to read. This is by far the best extended debate that I have encountered on this issue. Would that this kind of discourse occurred in more forums.

    Thanks to all.

  20. yup, to mindy and y’all.
    i’m changing my registration (it ain’t easy bein …) and am, for what it’s worth, obama-bound.

  21. Hi Ken,

    You’re right, there are some rejoinders. Obama did sponsor one bill as a Senator; his voting record in the senate differs from Clinton’s; but in general, it’s hard to deny that neither candidate has a noteworthy record as a senator. They have as much experience (or more) than many presidents, including some successful ones, but neither can point to a substantial record of important legislation. It doesn’t really matter whether I like Obama’s speeches, or that Josh does; it’s unlikely that rhetorical skill, and even a large margin of victory in the fall, will help him overcome partisanship. The likelihood of his ‘digital transparency’ proposal to be either a priority for his administration or an idea that can survive on Capitol Hill is tiny. I doubt the next president will be able to get federal agancies to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, which is too bad because it makes academic research impossible.

    The Obama/Clinton race does remind me of the disputes over the passage of the fifteenth amendment, which was supposed to ensure that black men were not deprived of the vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other advocates of women’s rights were disappointed that the amendment did not include women. Many of their arguments are racist -they compare their education and intelligence with those of freed slaves and immigrants in very harsh terms. I don’t agree at all with Geraldine Ferraro’s comments about Barak Obama (or with many of Clinton’s) but they seem to resemble this earlier schism between advocates for equality among the sexes and advocates of equality between the races.

    To me, the most notable feature of the Clinton/Obama race is the ability of both to raise enormous sums of money. The best indication of how each will govern isn’t the text of their speeches, but the list of donors. Obama has a small edge there–until recently, he had far more individual donors and no PAC money, but ihe has his share of wealthy supporters, including Big Coal, which likes his support of Coal-To-Liquid-Fuel, an environmental disaster and waste of money that he and Republican Jim Bunning want to reward with tax breaks and incentives. If that’s an example of the refreshing bipartisanship Obama will bring to DC, we’re in trouble. I plan to vote for the man, but it’s not a good idea to raise expectations for his first term very much. At best, he’ll be better than Bush, and marginally different from Clinton. If McCain is running for Bush’s third term, than Obama is running for Bill Clinton’s. Or maybe David Beard is right, and Obama will simply Be Carter II. But there’s nothing on this blog or any other that suggests future greatness or bold new communication strategies.

  22. Hi Josh–

    you’re right:

    Feelings, nothing more than feelings
    Trying to forget my feelings of love
    Teardrops rolling down on my face
    Trying to forget my feelings of love

    Feelings, for all my life I’ll feel it
    I wish I’ve never met you, girl
    You’ll never come again
    Feeling, woo-o-o feeling
    Woo-o-o, feel you again in my arms

    Feelings, feelings like I’ve never lost you
    And feelings like I’ll never have you again in my heart

    Feelings, for all my life I’ll feel it
    I wish I’ve never met you, girl; you’ll never come again

    Feelings, feelings like I’ve never lost you
    And feelings like I’ll never have you again in my life

    Feelings, woo-o-o feeling it,
    woo-o-o, feeling again in my arms

    (Words 7 Music by Morris Albert)

  23. Well, someone had to raise the “black man’s hour” arguments and counter-arguments; I’m shocked no one in the popular media has done it yet after Ferraro’s stupid remarks. So, Eric, you’re right about deja-vu all over again.

    As for “feelings”: [sigh]. I’m both amused and pissed. A colleague here at UT runs a “public feelings” group and has done some ground-breaking research on affect and publics. I’m sort of getting involved with this group, and that explains my blog’s turn toward affect and such. Affect is also a major part of my book project at present. So it’s on my brain a lot.

    Eric, I’d urge you to check out Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. If you emerge from this study singing the same sarcastic tune, you’re much more cynical than I ever figured.

    Regardless, I need your couch and two pillows (to elevate my head–asthma issues): I’m comin’ to see you here in a few!

  24. Happy Birthday, Dr. J!!! You are wonderful and dear, and I am looking forward to seeing your sweet face very soon. Until then, drink a Texican martini for me…

  25. hey! is it your birthday????

    sending very happy wishes your way, if so. i have said it before and i will say it some more, you are an inspiration and i owe you big. i mean i owe you huge! and i can’t think of a person i’d rather be beholden to:)

  26. Happy Birthday, Josh.

    I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was being a smartass, but I would never ignore feelings. I have long been interested in the concept of ineffability (things that are deeply felt but impossible to express) because my friend Bob Branham wrote his dissertation on the rhetorical strategies used to address the ineffable. If you haven’t read Michael Polyani’s work on tacit knowledge, give it a glance.

    I have been thinking about the tone of my previous posts, and I apologize to anyone who found them obnoxious. I think part of my intense indifference to Obama is that the enthusiasm of his supporters. I feel like a Beatles fan talking to someone who is excited about Oasis. It’s anger inspired by the fear of irrelevance, and the frustration of watching the same mistakes happen over and over. I had a friend who went to Little Rock in 1992 to work for Bill Clinton–Obama supporters sound just like she did. For that matter, Obama sounds a lot like Bill Clinton did.


  27. Wow, indeed, Olberman’s critique of Hillary is scathing… and Oasis *does* rock.

    I duck out a few days for midterm madness and I miss the political brawl. At the risk of becoming Josh’s blog whore, I’ll limit myself to a few links for perusal by this esteemed panel.

    CvsO on Health Care… a major issue with me.
    Hillary’s “experience”
    Obama’s voting record (he missed 196 votes (40.2%) during the current Congress)… and punked out with a lot of ‘present’ votes.
    Joseph Wilson: “Obama’s Empty Record”

  28. I know that once a thread disappears from Josh’s front page, it dies quickly, but I just wanted to respond to the Joe Wilson article. I feel for Wilson, as he was sorely used and his wife illegally revealed as a spook, but his arguments here are ridiculously stupid.

    He contends that Obama’s judgment on Iraq shouldn’t count because he wasn’t in Washington at the time. Umm, ok. He contends at the same time that Hillary wanted inspectors, not force, to which I say, umm, ok. I don’t want to be the simpleton, but Obama said the vote for force was a bad idea, and oddly, it was a bad idea, whatever one’s desires or personal motivations. Judgment isn’t about intent – it’s about understanding the ramifications of one’s positions.

    Then there’s the Afghanistan claim – that Obama could have held oversight hearing on NATO’s role there. First Obama has only held the post starting with the campaign season, so whatever, but second, and more importantly, that particular committee is a foreign relations committee, and there’s some debate over whether or not it’s actually legally able to do oversight of NATO actions outside of Europe (Europe is in the committee’s name). And if we are really going to talk about who could have and should have done oversight, I seriously advise anyone to go look at the Senate Armed Forces Committee website (easy Google search) and read through the hearings list for the last six years. Then just sort of recall all the massive debacles since the war started, and look to see how many have been investigated, or who has asked questions. If insufficient effort at oversight is a reason to diss Obama in the smaller theater of Afghanistan, what do you do with Clinton’s more substantial failures regarding Iraq? You’ll note in the article that while Wilson lauds Clinton for chairing many hearings, he does not list a single one. Odd, it’s not like he’s got space constraints at the Huffington Post. And he forgets to mention that the Senat Armed Forces Committee did hold hearings on Afghanistan, and Clinton was too busy campaigning to show up. Strange that this only disqualifies Obama. It should be, and has been noted, that the Obama committee also has a long record of infrequent meetings, in part because its purview has overlap with other, more important committees. I’d have to go look it up again, but I believe the last actual hearing was in early or mid 2006, so it’s not like Obama ceased activities so as to be off the record.

    Finally, on the issue of present votes, which is such an absurdity: In the Illinois state legislature, one can vote present on a bill, which means that one approves of the legislation but disagrees with a portion of it. Often the vote of present accompanies a procedural issue, a failed amendment, or a concern over the legality of some provision. Out of the 4000 votes Obama cast as a state senator, around 170 of them were “present” votes, and several of those were for bills he co-sponsored, that were changed during debate in ways with which he disagreed. It’s not punking out, it’s just a different parliamentary procedure.

  29. Thanks for keeping the dialogue alive, Ken. Thing is, with Wilson he is speaking to the “present” votes and the lack of PUBLIC disagreement with the Iraq foreign policy vocalized *during the time* so stringently by the likes of Feingold, Murtha, and Boxer. And yep, you are correct in noting Clinton’s own strategic absences. Point is, it ain’t hardly fair to brand Clinton a political opportunist and ‘flip flopper’ when Obama works the same kinds of angles in poising himself for the Presidency. Obama’s actual committee work is vulnerable to the same criticisms of absenteeism or equivocation, so the point here is that both have chosen their spots and have to be accountable. Again, I like Obama, but it seems a bit hypocritical to denounce one’s own sins in another… and Clinton is culpable ’tis true. But as for the “parliamentary procedure” gaffe, I was drawing from the CURRENT Congress.

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