Define a new kind of politics

Barack Obama, for all the Barackorama, is as much a politician as the rest of them.

Darren Bernard

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Barack Obama. Illinois’ junior senator has made a heck of a name for himself in only a few short years. He’s stolen the youth vote from the angry likes of Howard Dean, and he has done everyone a favor by making Hillary Clinton sweat before the primaries. Everybody expected the press to swoon over Hillary, but it is him who gets headlines like, “Obama: Man of the World,” in The New York Times.

What’s really amazing about Obama is that he’s managed to do it all without being any different from almost any other Democrat. And that is exactly why I do have a beef with Barackorama – the hyped, Macarena-like frenzy breathlessly awaiting and then amplifying his every stump speech and campaign stop.

Of course, as it turns out, Obama is really more style than substance. Barack on energy: bad oil companies, yes to hybrids, more renewable sources. On taxes – Bush is bad. On the Iraqis – screw ’em. On health care – we need better health care. His voting record in the 109th Congress was 93 percent the same as Clinton’s, and even that fuzzy, “a new kind of politics” rhetoric isn’t as new as everyone seems to think it is.

John Edwards, 2003: “I haven’t spent most of my life in politics, which most of you know, but I’ve spent enough time in Washington to know how much we need to change Washington.”

Barack Obama, 2007: “I know that I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington, but I’ve always been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”

As I said before: I have nothing against Barack Obama. I really don’t. But I do wonder where the Barackorama comes from. My guess is Barackorama is partially the cathartic discharge of the millions who either don’t think Hillary can win, or who think she isn’t liberal enough. And it is also partially based on Obama turning the press into poodles: The New York Post: “Obama Surging.” The New York Observer: “Bush Fantasy, Obama Reality.”

Soon: “Obama Saves Drowning Puppy; Republicans Violently Condemn.”

Whatever Obama’s other strengths, I suspect that Barackorama ultimately runs on the one unique something about his candidacy. What stands Obama apart is not his youth, or good looks, or energy, or passion – Edwards has all that. It certainly isn’t policy that makes him popular, either.

The real draw of Barackorama is optimism – “The Audacity of Hope” – and even more specifically, how the right dose of optimism can draw out the best in people. It is a powerful message with Dick Cheney still tramping around Washington; it’s also a message that Hillary Clinton and most of the other Democratic contenders cannot replicate.

Unfortunately, it is also mostly an illusion. Many of Obama’s signature stories of courage and triumph are obvious embellishments; some are outright misrepresentations. Even having bragged in 2005 about the passage of the Senate’s pork-packed energy bill, last month he told an Alabama audience, “I’m in Washington.

I see what’s going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they’re writing the energy bills and the drug laws.”

Coincidentally, Obama told the same Alabama audience about how the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights protests in the South led to his birth: “There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.”

It was only later that day that someone pointed out that Obama was born in 1961, four years before the march in Selma, Alabama ever took place. Obama didn’t have a good explanation, just as Hillary Clinton, born 1947, could never explain her claim that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary – an unknown beekeeper in 1947, but the first person to climb Mount Everest in 1953.

It is hardly worth editorial space to note the small, ubiquitous fibs of politicians, but that is precisely the point here. Barack Obama, for all the Barackorama, is at the end of the day a politician – merely one whose campaign is based more on nice, bedtime stories than policy.

It is quite a “new kind of politics.”

Darren Bernard welcomes comments at [email protected]