Considering The Case For Obama

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OPEN UNIVERSITY DECEMBER 29, 2007

Considering The Case For Obama

I have not been around much lately, being busy with a long print piece. But, lurking, as an admirer of both Wilentz and Sunstein, I thought they each made a good case, the former against the tone and content of the coverage and the latter on what the substantive arguments might be. While thinking the matter over, I had occasion to look for something Andrew Sullivan wrote on an unrelated matter and came across his cover story on the Atlantic website, which, I thought, was pertinent to the debate. Here is the core argument of the Atlantic's cover story on the candidacy of Barack Obama:

"The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals' and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics. It has little to do with Obama's considerable skills as a conciliator, legislator, or even thinker. It has even less to do with his ideological pedigree or legal background or rhetorical skills. Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile. But so do others, not least his formidably polished and practiced opponent Senator Hillary Clinton ... Every potential president, Republican or Democrat, would likely inherit more than 100,000 occupying troops in January 2009; every one would be attempting to redeploy them as prudently as possible and to build stronger alliances both in the region and in the world. Every major candidate, moreover, will pledge to use targeted military force against al-Qaeda if necessary; every one is committed to ensuring that Iran will not have a nuclear bomb; every one is committed to an open-ended deployment in Afghanistan and an unbending alliance with Israel."

Having dispensed with his policies, foreign and domestic, Sullivan then sets out what he thinks is the case for Barack Obama. I have followed his topic sentences.

"What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial--it's central to an effective war strategy ... The other obvious advantage that Obama has in facing the world and our enemies is his record on the Iraq War. He is the only major candidate to have clearly opposed it from the start ... Obama's interlocutors in Iraq and the Middle East would know that he never had suspicious motives toward Iraq, has no interest in occupying it indefinitely, and foresaw more clearly than most Americans the baleful consequences of long-term occupation."

Second, "He is among the first Democrats in a generation not to be afraid or ashamed of what they actually believe, which also gives them more freedom to move pragmatically to the right, if necessary."

"And this, of course, is the other element that makes Obama a potentially transformative candidate: race. Here, Obama again finds himself in the center of a complex fate, unwilling to pick sides in a divide that reaches back centuries and appears at times unbridgeable. His appeal to whites is palpable. I have felt it myself."

--Linda Hirshman

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