Monday, March 17, 2008

The Angst of Nerditude

William Kristol takes off on Barack Obama.

The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there’s not much audacity of hope there. There’s the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit — all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different.

The worst thing he can say about him is that he’s a phony; he’s just another shady pol with sleazy and unattractive friends; this whole thing about a “change” is all an act, and Bill Kristol hates it because… well, because it’s not his crowd that’s doing it.

So in fact, “Generation Obama” is just a fancy name for young activists for Obama. But the (remarkable) conceit is this: The “next great generation” of Americans can appropriately be called “Generation Obama.”

Now I’m actually a believer in the next generation, which one might call the 9/11 generation. Many of its members seem more serious and impressive than we baby boomers were when our elders were foolishly praising us, 40 years ago, as the best-educated, most idealistic generation ever. Many of the best of this young generation are serving their country — either in the military or otherwise. Some are in politics, working for various causes, liberal and conservative, and for various candidates, Democrats and Republicans. But surely there’s something creepy about a campaign claiming them as “Generation Obama.”

I guess Bill doesn’t remember being part of the “Reagan Revolution” where he was one of the younger generation that worshiped at the feet of the master and went around the country like a Stepford version of “Up With People,” trying to be a freshly-scrubbed counterpoint to the hippies, and was rewarded for his loyalty by getting to work for Vice President Dan Quayle, the Big Giant Head of Nerditude.

Unless I’ve missed it, I have yet to see Mr. Kristol write anything that examines Mr. Obama’s positions on the economy, health care, education, foreign policy, or anything of substance. So far it’s all been surface noise and petulant ranting about how Mr. Obama isn’t what he claims to be. However, since Mr. Kristol has spent the last seven years or so defending a president and an administration that has made shallowness and artifice into an art form, the worst complaint that Mr. Kristol can come up with about anyone else who dares to portray themselves as something they are not (i.e. a boy from Andover-Yale-Harvard-Kennebunkport passing himself off as a brush-clearing cowboy) is that he’s stealing his act.

The more I read William Kristol, the more I’m convinced that he had a really rough time in high school. He was never cool, and even though he probably never got stuffed into a locker at his elite Manhattan prep school, he more than likely nursed the typical adolescent angst at being left out of the in-crowd. Those kinds of hurts last a long, long time, and since we spend most of our adulthood trying to make up for the traumas of childhood, it’s not surprising that he’s spent his professional career trying to get back at the hip kids that ignored him when he was fifteen.

Update: Mr. Kristol might do a little fact-checking when he cuts and pastes material from another source. He repeats a story making the rounds on the internets that challenges Mr. Obama’s truthfulness.

For one thing, it’s becoming clear that Obama has been less than candid in addressing his relationship to his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. For example, Obama claimed Friday that “the statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity.”

It certainly could be the case that Obama personally didn’t hear Wright’s 2003 sermon when he proclaimed: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. … God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”

But Ronald Kessler, a journalist who has written about Wright’s ministry, claims that Obama was in fact in the pews at Trinity last July 22. That’s when Wright blamed the “arrogance” of the “United States of White America” for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. In any case, given the apparent frequency of such statements in Wright’s preaching and their centrality to his worldview, the pretense that over all these years Obama had no idea that Wright was saying such things is hard to sustain.

Except Marc Ambinder does a little research and finds out that Mr. Kessler just might be wrong about his facts.

The error is in trusting the source without checking.

The truth is that Obama did not attend church on July 22.

He was on his way to campaign in Miami.

(Here is some video evidence.) This was before he signed an agreement forbidding himself from campaigning in Florida.

And since Mr. Kristol’s entire column seems to turn on this alleged falsehood, it kind of knocks the wind out of the rest of it, doesn’t it?

Update 2: Mr. Kristol has inserted the following correction to the beginning of today’s column:

In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama campaign has provided information showing that Senator Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.

Fair enough…except he left the offending reference in the column.