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The Empty Suit

I frankly don't get all the Obamamania. But then, I never got all of the talk about Bill Clinton's charisma, either. And to be fair, I never understood what the big deal was with Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. I guess I'm more into substance than style. I'm more interested in what people say than in how they say it.

Anyway, given the nature of his career, it's certainly a legitimate point to question his experience and qualifications as president (ignoring the minimal constitutional requirements of native born and thirty-five years old). His speeches remind me of Gertrude Stein's comment about Oakland--there's no there there.

So is there more to it than his speeches? Well, he's apparently left no paper trail to discern his views on much of anything:

A simple question: Does anyone know whether Obama, while serving on the Harvard Law Review from 1989-91, published anything? The law students on the Review all have the right to publish at least one piece (typically they publish at least their third-year papers, which they have to write anyway), and many publish at least two pieces. It would seem surprising if Obama published nothing at all in the very Review over which, he has so often boasted, he presided as President.

If Obama published NOTHING, that would tend to reinforce the contemporaneous impressions of his fellow editors (at least those a year behind him) that while "likeable enough" (to borrow a phrase), he was basically lazy in carrying out his duties. See my earlier comments here and here. It would be interesting if he was so lazy he didn't publish anything during the two years he served on the Review -- not even a short case comment or book review.

(Apparently, judged by the objective results of his work (later scholarly citations to the volume which he oversaw), Obama was the worst president of the Harvard Law Review in the past 20 years -- there was a huge drop in the citations to the volume he produced compared to the years just before, and just after, he served as president. See here.
In his recent interview on "60 Minutes" (see here, about 2:50 into the video), Obama conceded that other than his Review presidency he has no executive experience -- that the Review is the only thing he's ever run, setting aside his own senate office and his campaign. Analyzing his job performance on the Review thus seems like a legitimate, indeed important, task.)

(Follow my link to follow the commenter's links)

So, his only executive experience is running a law school magazine, and not with any apparently distinguishment.

Here's something else disturbing. He hasn't performed that well in debates. His primary accomplishment, and talent, seems to be to make vaporous but inspiring (to some) speeches, that make (supposedly) grown men swoon and get funny feelings up their legs (are you sure that wasn't something running down your leg, Chrissie?). And when he doesn't have a teleprompter, apparently even his speeches aren't all that great:

...the liberal commentators have gushed their praise nearly every time Obama has opened his mouth before a Teleprompter the past few months

It was thus interesting to see Obama climb to the stage at Virginia's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday night. As he strode to the podium, Obama clutched in his hands a pile of 3 by 5 index cards. The index cards meant only one thing--no Teleprompter.

Shorn of his Teleprompter, we saw a different Obama. His delivery was halting and unsure. He looked down at his obviously copious notes every few seconds throughout the speech. Unlike the typical Obama oration where the words flow with unparalleled fluidity, he stumbled over his phrasing repeatedly.

The prepared text for his remarks, as released on his website, sounded a lot like a typical Obama speech. All the Obama dramatis personae that we've come to know so well were there--the hapless family that had to put a "for sale" sign on its front lawn, the factory forced to shutter its doors and, of course, the mother who declares bankruptcy because "she cannot pay her child's medical bills."

The tone was also vintage Obama. The prepared text reached out to all Americans, including (gasp!) Republicans. It also evidenced Obama's signature lack of anger. While his colleagues have happily demagogued complex issues and demonized the Bush administration, Obama always has taken pains to strike a loftier tone.

But Saturday night's stem-winder turned out quite differently from the typical Obama speech. With no Teleprompter signaling the prepared text, Obama failed to deliver the speech in his characteristically flawless fashion. He had to rely on notes. And his memory. And he improvised.

I'd suggest reading the whole thing.

So, does he even write the speeches? If so, then he must be more aware at the time he's writing them how important the tone is. It seems to me, though, if there's a big difference in tone between a read speech and an extemporaneous one, that someone else, who better understands the nature of his campaign and appeal, is writing them. And when you take away the magic words, the magic candidate disappears as well, and his true voice emerges.

If this is the case, then we are on the brink of taking a cipher, with no notable accomplishments in running anything, who is persuasive and compelling as a speaker only when reading others' words, and putting him in charge of the armed forces and other government institutions of the most powerful nation in the history of mankind.

Is this really a good idea?

As I've said before, the Dems grossly overestimate their chances of regaining the White House this year. Both of their remaining candidates are seriously flawed, in different ways. If you look at the last few decades of presidential elections, the Democrats have won resoundingly only once--in 1964, when the Republicans ran someone perceived to not only be, but someone who was proud to be, an extremist. Since then, the few times the Dems have won have been in very close races. Jimmy Carter might have lost in 1976 if Ford hadn't pardoned Nixon, and made the foolish faux pas about Poland in the second debate. Bill Clinton couldn't have gotten into the White House without the help of Ross Perot. People forget that he only got 43% of the vote in 1992. The only reason he won was because George Bush only got 39%. Even in 1996, he couldn't muster a majority--even in beating Bob Dole, he only got 49+%.

Maybe that long jinx is about to be broken, but it sure doesn't look to me like they have the candidates to do it this year.

[Late afternoon update]

Is Obama a liberal fascist?

I think the most obvious place to start is whether Obama is promoting something like a political religion. The messianic nature of Obama's campaign has been noted by many for a long time now. He often sounds like he's reviving the social gospel. There's even a website called "Is Barack Obama the Messiah?"

Many of the tropes of a political religion/liberal fascism are evident. He exalts unity as it's own reward. His talk of starting new and starting over often sounds like more than merely "turning the page" on the Bush-Clinton years. It sounds a bit like starting at Year Zero.

But what I find most intriguing is his rhetoric of destiny and "choseness." He often makes it sound like he has been selected by forces of providence or God or simply history for this moment. He is, in Oprah's words, "The One." But even more interesting, he tells voters they are the ones. "This is it," Obama proclaimed on Super Tuesday. "We are the ones we've been waiting for, we are the change that we seek." That's pretty oracular stuff.

Well, there's little doubt that Hillary is.

[Early evening update]

Leon Wieseltier has some related thoughts:

...into this unirenic environment strides Obama, pledging to extract us promptly from Iraq and to negotiate with our enemies. What is the role of a conciliator in an unconciliating world? You might think that in such conditions he is even more of an historical necessity-but why would you think that all that stands between the world and peace is one man? George W. Bush was not single-handedly responsible for getting us into our strategic mess and Barack Obama will not be single-handedly responsible for getting us out of it. There are autonomous countries and cultures out there. The turbulence that I have described is not caused by misunderstandings. It is caused by the interests of powers and the beliefs of peoples. Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, Islamabad, Gaza City, Khartoum, Caracas-does Obama really believe that he has something to propose to these ruthless regimes that they have not already considered? Does he plan to move them, to organize them, to show them change they can believe in? With what trick of empathy, what euphoria, does he hope to join the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds in Iraq? Yes, he made a "muscular" speech in Chicago last spring; but I have been pondering his remarks about foreign policy in the ensuing campaign and I do not detect the hardness I seek, the disabused tone that the present world warrants. My problem is not with "day one": nobody is perfectly prepared for the White House, though the memory of Bill Clinton's "learning curve" is still vivid, which in Bosnia and Rwanda cost more than a million lives. My problem is that Obama's declarations in matters of foreign policy and national security have a certain homeopathic quality. He seems averse to the hurtful, expensive, traditional, unedifying stuff.



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shtick also schtick or shtik (shtk) n. Slang 1. A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention: waiters in tropical attire are part of the restaurant's shtick. 2. An entertainment routine or gimmick. -... Read More


Karl Armstrong wrote:

Not a defense of Obama, per se, but I think there is considerable practical value in electing a president with charisma. It helps in the (rather superficial) business of forming international alliances, it's good for tourism, it's good for the image of Americans overseas, and - all else being equal - it helps support a general feeling of well-being that boosts the economy.
In the case of Obama, my hope is that this will be a thin silver lining to an otherwise tedious administration. On the other hand, my fear is that even his charisma won't hold up for long under pressure.
At least in the latter case, the Clinton machinery will probably be very helpful in pushing impeachment on some pretext, which makes such a scenario unusually likely.

Anonymous wrote:

I'm not so sure that charisma is such a good thing. JFK had it to spare. As a result, the Press was all buddy-buddy with him, overlooking many of his weaknesses as a president and as a man. Perhaps it'd be better if the Press treated all presidents as if they were the reincarnation of Nixon.

Reagan had the ability to communicate his ideas over the heads of the Press and the Democrats. You could tell these ideas were things he believed in. While not all of the ideas worked out in the end, many of them did.

Obama says nothing but in a very polished way. He uses empty phrases about "change" and "hope" but doesn't say what kind of changes he wants. All we're supposed to do is hope he has a clue. Change is not a synonym for improvement. There are many changes that can leave you worse off than before, such as changed from employed to unemployed, living to dead, or healthy to sick. He's going to have to get a lot more specific about the changes he hopes to enact, IMO.

Dennis Ray Wingo wrote:

The Rush parody of an Obama speech is hilarious!

K wrote:

I very much hope that the secret service is protecting this guy like Fort Knox. Based on what was done politically with the Kennedy assasination, it would be an event that could moblize the far left in this country beyond anything before and could well have an impact on a level similar to the Vietnam war. Heck, you don't even have to set up a racist to do the job, history has shown that a manufactured, after the fact conspiracy myth will work just fine no matter what the assassin's motivations were.

Cui bono? AlQ, Soros, the Clintons?

CoInkyDynk wrote:

This guy's accomplishments and credentials are vaporously thin, if non-existent. God help us if he gets in. I see train wreck, ala Jimmy Carter written all over this.

Bill White wrote:

If Obama takes down Hillary Clinton (despite her planning this POTUS run since 2000 and despite Bill Clinton's Rolodex of donors) I would suggest that constitutes an accomplishment all by itself.

McCain versus Obama? I have a strong preference but do not foresee disaster either way.

Unless Huckabee continues to do well (even if in 2nd place) and McCain feels compelled to name Huck as his VP.

Jim C. wrote:

I won't vote for him because I'm a Republican and I disagree strongly with the few policies he has stated. But I do feel the pull of his charisma (much like JFK's). The charisma is strong in that one. :) Charisma is good, but it's not enough.

I didn't feel that about Clinton. Reagan, either (but then again, I was a Democrat at the time).

mz wrote:

Please! Man of substance...

I haven't seen much anything of substance about Hillary Clinton or almost any other politician in this blog. Just how "the Clintons are slime".

Or really much anywhere actually.

It's something else than the actual policies the candidates drive that make the headlines and blog posts - it's probably much much easier to write and read those since not that much thinking is required.

The "blogosphere" doesn't differ from the Britney Media except perhaps by pretention.

At least Ron Paul was running with some actual policies, even though I don't think most of them were that smart.

Mac wrote:

Jim C said: I won't vote for him because I'm a Republican

I'm a conservative too and I don't like what I hear from Obama on the Iraq situation, but to say I wouldn't vote for him because I'm a conservative is crap. If you truly believe that this country has a chance to be less partisan, then you have to act on that. Listen to what the candidates say and choose the one that most closely matches your beliefs and vote.

David S wrote:

Actually, Mac, I disagree. I think you should pick the one that will give you an optimal outcome, not the one that is closest to your beliefs. For example, from his statements I believe Huckabee is the closest to my beliefs remaining - god forbid - but I would never vote for him. I believe that you also have to weigh in the opposition's reaction, and also the likelihood of getting what you really want.

As an example, I am against abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or a life in danger - but I don't want the Feds to ram that down everyone's throat. (Neither do I want the Feds to ram abortion down everyones throat - it should vary by state or even county, to eliminate the mob rule mentality we have now.)

Bilwick1 wrote:

I've read that Hillary (to the extent she has any real convictions left at all) is also a believer in the Social Gospel, a melange of Judaeo-Christian altruism, socialist economincs, and the Cult of the State. Sort of the Superstition Trifecta.

Brad wrote:

I was recently watching some news coverage of an Obama speaking event, and the crowds chanting of "Yes we can" chilled me because the cadence sounded earily alike "sieg heil". But aside from the creepy personality-cult aspects of Obama's candidacy, if Obama manages to bump off Hillary he is at least good for something!

Mac wrote:

David said: For example, from his statements I believe Huckabee is the closest to my beliefs remaining - god forbid - but I would never vote for him.

Well, of course you have to LIKE the choice too. What I'm trying to get at is not voting just to stop someone else from getting elected. For instance...I like McCain's stance on the Iraq war, but obviously there's a whole mountain of crap about him I don't like. I haven't had a chance to listen to Huckabee, except for the idiot's earth is only 6000 years old, but that is a religious belief and he's entitled to it. However, as much as I dislike McCain overall, to vote Huckabee, just to stop McCain....This way leads to madness. I definitely do not like Obama's stance on the Iraq war, but I still have to listen to the rest of his views too. I'm still relatively sure he'll take down Hillary...if the race stays fair.

Tom W. wrote:

My personal issue with Obama is that I think he really believes that he can work with our enemies to forge a lasting peace. I do not believe we need to be "well liked around the world" (whatever that really means). One of the President's main roles is to be our Commander in Chief. This is a responsibility that can't be taken lightly in the current atmosphere. Our enemies are cunning and ruthless and will not hesitate to use Obama's penchant for 'political discussions' against him (and ultimately, us).

paul wrote:

His campaign spokesman should be Barney.

The dinosaur, not the congressman.

GK wrote:

Relax, everyone.

If Obama becomes President, one of two things will happen.

1) He will quickly get schooled and move to the center, once he realizes that without blue-dog Democrats, his left-wing supporters are still quite a minority. Or...

2) 2008 is truly like 1976, and after four years of disasters both economic and military, we get another generation of GOP dominance starting in 2012. This could involve Hispanics becoming a permanent GOP voting block.

After Jimmy Carter, the Democrats NEVER won 50% of the vote again in the next SEVEN attempts, whereas the GOP achieved this feat 4 times (1980, 84, 88, and 2004). I am perfectly happy to sacrifice 4 years to get 25-30 good years. Think about it.

Either way, leftism loses.


MarkJ wrote:

Obama is an "empty suit?" It's worse than that: if the Coen Brothers produced an Obama biopic they'd have to steal the title for it from one of their previous films:

"The Man Who Wasn't There."

Frieda wrote:


Me too, I did not get Bill Clinton and I am not getting Obama?s mystic and chisma either!

I find Obama?s speech insulting rather inspiring. Because he assumes that people are not smart enough to read between his lines.

As an Americna by choice, I must say, I don?t recognize Obama?s America. He is promoting lazy America, a socialist America and an America where everyone should look up to government for hand outs!

America wake up! YES WE CAN!

tom swift wrote:

Don't Obama's weird ideas on foreign policy sound suspiciously like John Lennon's?

It looks like the Democrats are getting ready to nominate someone who resembles their image of Ronald Reagan.

"Yes. We. Can." Many may have seen the "Will.I.Am" YouTube 'viral' music video along the same lines. I politely suggest poignant variations along the same theme.

Iraq Yes We Can
Obama speaking while Iraqi musicians sing/speak:

  • Yes. We. Can. have democracy now that the US Military has overthrown the Stalinist Saddam
  • Yes. We. Can. decide our own way now that the US Military has defeated the Baathists and Al Qaeda in Iraq
  • Yes. We. Can. have peace after twenty years of war now that the US Military has brought stability to Iraq
  • Yes. We. Can ... be free as the American Slaves were freed by Lincoln
  • Premature withdrawal from Iraq would do to the Middle East what the withdrawal of the Union Army did to the South, leading to a hundred years of oppression

    Armed Self Defense Yes We Can
    Obama speaking while people who refused to be victims sing/speak:

  • Yes. We. Can. defend ourselves from hoodlums who attempt 'home invasion' robberies
  • Yes. We. Can. defend ourselves from creepy guys who want to rape us
  • Yes. We. Can. defend ourselves from bigotted homo-phobes who want to gay bash
  • Yes. We. Can defend our business from looters

    Overall the whole "Yes We Can" mantra is rife with opportunity for repackaging:

  • Yes We Can Secure Out Borders
  • Yes We Can Simplify Taxation
  • Yes We Can Reform the United Nations
  • Yes We Can Privatize Social Security
  • and so on and so forth
  • sam adams wrote:

    Take K's speculation about possible assassins one step farther. Suppose Obama wins the Democrat nomination, and picks some non-Hillary (say, Richardson) as his running mate. Then, between the convention and the election, something happens to him: a lone gunman, a car bomb, a meteorite, whatever.

    Who is then the Democrat candidate for president? The previous VP candidate (Richardson)? The previous runner-up (Hillary)? Do they have rules to cover this? Do they have to hold a new convention? What if it happens in late October? Is there even time?

    Of course, it works both ways: McCain could keel over with a coronary. But somehow, I suspect the Republicans would be able to deal with the situation more effectively.

    Jamie wrote:

    Karl Armstrong, the problem with electing a president based on charisma with the American public is that the charisma may or may not work overseas. Do we and even the British, perhaps our society's closest cultural relatives, find the same things charismatic? Bill Clinton's lip-biting thing - did that go over well with John Bull, or did he look at Pres. Clinton and say, "What's wrong with 'is lip?" (Or worse.)

    And GK, I worry that we got lucky once, with a Reagan after a Clinton. Where's that Reagan now? Who's to say even FOUR years of an inept socialist president won't cause problems we'll spend decades trying to solve, or at least roll back? Look at FDR, after all.

    Al Fin wrote:

    You know you may be an Obama supporter, if you don't care about the policy details--you just want to feel the love from the candidate.

    You know you may be an Obama supporter, if you'd rather have Osama bin Laden as US President than George W. Bush.

    You know you may be an Obama supporter if you think global warming is a greater danger than out of control entitlement spending.

    TLB wrote:

    Obama does have policies, and he's specified some of them here:

    I only looked at the immigration section: it's extremely thin and it doesn't mention any contingency planning. It's basically just a sales job designed to fool those who aren't familiar with the issues and its downsides.

    If you don't want Obama, get his response to these questions on videotape and upload it to video sharing sites:

    If someone really presses him on those I don't think he's going to end up looking very good at all.

    Cake wrote:

    Empty suit. Boilerplate speeches with no substance. Pathetic stumping about change and hope. this thread about Hillary or Obama?

    Jeff Travers wrote:

    Obama is no empty suit. The man is brilliant. Only a fool could really think otherwise:

    Trestle wrote:

    I think it's wrong to say that there is no substance to Obama. From what I understand of his time both as a community organizer and in the Illinois legislature, he was a very principled liberal -- and spoke and voted that way across the board. That's why he's rated the most liberal member of Congress, has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-choice America, and so on. It's certainly understandable to disagree with his stances -- and I do, in many cases -- but it's unfair to say that he's an empty suit. In particular, his voting record is, in my view, of far greater significance than whatever opinions he may (or may not) have published during his time at Harvard Law. Also, I've spent a bit of time searching on his campaign website, and there seems to be an enormous amount of detailed policy information there. Again, there is much to disagree with -- but it's deeply unfair, I think, to say that there is no substance there.

    Jim wrote:

    You regurgitate the meme about Obama not speaking well without a teleprompter. Dean Barnett offered that silly bit of nonsense, which is rebutted by simply watching the video of the speech Barnett referenced. It wasn't one of Obama's better speeches, but it was head and shoulders above what Clinton and McCain produce at their best (not to mention the fact that all of the candidates are running on fumes at this point. It is clear that Republicans have decided on Obama the Empty Suit as their mode of attack for the fall, and all the conservative bloggers and commentators dutifully are falling in line now. Stump speeches are lousy places to announce policy, that is better left to position papers, and Obama has a more than adequate amount of those. I'll wait to see if someone can come up with a more imaginative, and principled criticism of Obama before I become concerned about him becoming President.

    Ryan wrote:

    The problem with "Sacrificing four years to get future benefits' is that we did NOT just sacrifice four years. We STILL haven't recovered from Carter> Look at Iran for confirmation of that, for example.

    Rand Simberg wrote:

    It is clear that Republicans have decided on Obama the Empty Suit as their mode of attack for the fall, and all the conservative bloggers and commentators dutifully are falling in line now.

    This is nonsense on stilts. I observe Obama, I observe what others are saying about him, and if I agree, I put together a synthesis. Two points: a) I'm not conservative and b) I don't take marching orders from anyone, let alone "Republicans."

    I think that this is just another case (like calling people racists, or liars) of projection, and I consider it insulting. Or I would, if I valued your opinion.

    Trestle wrote:

    This is nonsense on stilts. I observe Obama, I observe what others are saying about him, and if I agree, I put together a synthesis. Two points: a) I'm not conservative and b) I don't take marching orders from anyone, let alone "Republicans."

    The trouble is that you did not bother to do any research beforehand (or if you did, it is not evident from your post). You claim that there is no 'paper trail' on Obama's positions (and of course there is, just not, evidently, in the form of a published article in the Harvard Law Review), and to support this claim you quote some guy who wrote a comment on the Volokh Conspiracy blog. This would be a bit like saying George W. Bush beats his wife, and offering up as evidence some graffiti to that effect on a bathroom stall.

    Also, did you actually watch Obama speak without a teleprompter, or did you just read an article in a conservative magazine about him speaking without a teleprompter? I've seen the speech in question (well, most of it), and, while of course his delivery was less smooth without a teleprompter, I still found it excellent. YMMV. My point is, while I have no doubt you're not intentionally taking 'marching orders' from anyone, if the only data points you have to work with are opinions from conservative commentators, your persepective is going to be pretty skewed as a result.

    IdaBB wrote:

    Jeff Travers writes that Obama is no empty suit. Of course he's right. That suit is filled with Jeff's (and others) hopes, dreams and fantasies.

    What a choice! As a Recovering Democrat I keep longing for the Statesmen of yore. Where are they when we so desperately need them. All of them strongly partisan but with an understanding that the safety and security of the nation and the welfare of its citizens trumps political gain and that compromise is not an evil word.

    Clinton's strongest qualification is her ambition and like her husband, she is guided by a political rather than a moral compass.

    McCain is strong on security but scary on other things. Of course, as usual, we'll get the kind of government we deserve. I fear for my country.

    When the messiah fails to deliver solutions for everyone's problems, eventually there will be quite a backlash.

    Will the Republican party transform itself away from failed policies that injure American workers like reckless offshoring, outsourcing, and insourcing; flooding the country with illegals who become Americans-In-Name-Only holding dual citizenship with their first allegiance to another country (who then form spanish speaking networks that take over entire industries forever locking out Americans that end up on public assitance rater than working those jobs and paying taxes) and all the gangs, crime, social costs, loss of currency as it is sent out of the country, etc... etc... etc... that comes along with that policy; reckless borrowing and economic policies that put the country trillions of dollars in debt, etc... or simply rebrand with a new coat of happy paint and prepare to pick up where they left off?

    It's an important question.

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