I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the main themes of the coming election isn’t just “change.” It’s guts.
Why else would Hillary lie about having come under fire in Bosnia? Surely claiming there was physical danger involved in her trip twelve years ago wouldn’t have padded her foreign policy resume in a substantive way. Nor is being under fire (in anything but the metaphoric sense) something that Presidents usually have to deal with, except in assassination attempts.
Instead, what her statements really padded was her claim to have the intestinal fortitude—in other words, the cojones—for the Presidency. It’s ironic that this was the topic she was caught for lying about because, really, cojones is one characteristic that most people already grant Hillary.
It’s also a bit ironic that although she’s the first serious female contender for the Presidency (Libby Dole never really made the cut), her fighting spirit–often perceived as a soft spot in women—is not really in question. In fact, this characteristic of Hillary has earned her the reputation of being ruthless, and she’s felt the need to soften her image by performing that traditionally feminine activity that indicates vulnerability: crying.
Obama is a different story. He’s considered to be less of a street fighter; he’s a person who often takes the high road. But f I had to condense the main objections to Obama’s handling of the Wright situation into one over-arching criticism, I’d say it’s the perception that he exhibited moral cowardice.
Obama’s speech on race has been highly praised and highly condemned. But even those who defended what he said (often focusing on how he said it) tend to have trouble defending his actions (or, rather, inaction) in listening to Reverend Wright all those years without at least speaking up and asking him to tone down the inflammatory and hateful rhetoric and his more bizarre accusations. Most people don’t go so far as to believe that Obama shared his pastor’s views, but most seem to think he should have said something or done something.
That bottom line is that either Obama agreed with Reverend Wright, or he didn’t. If he agreed, he’s clearly unfit to be President. If he disagreed, and neither spoke up nor left the church, then he’s also unfit to be President, but for a decidedly different reason.
And that reason is cowardice. This cowardice extends to his own speech on the subject, which was many things to many people but functioned mainly as a retreat from confronting an important issue facing his own campaign. It was a verbally dense smokescreen to avoid answering the main question on virtually everyone’s mind: why didn’t you act earlier?
Paradoxically, Obama’s speech was lauded by his supporters as “brave.” I saw nothing brave about it. He was addressing race, yes, but only because his back was to the wall. As an excuse for his inaction about Wright, he offered offensive moral equivalencies (grandma under the bus) and the idea that he could not break off with Wright because he was part of the black community.
Of course, the issue wasn’t only breaking off with Wright; it was criticizing him, back when it might have done some good. Obama’s moral cowardice is something voters are beginning to sense in their own guts, and they don’t like it. It’s not perceived as Presidential, and for good reason.
This perception of lack of courage ties in with Obama’s voting record, which consists of many votes of “present” when he was trying to avoid taking a stand.
What could be behind this sort of cowardice? Shelby Steele, another biracial man, who has studied Obama in depth and written a book about him, believes he has a clue.
This article, based on Steele’s work, points out Obama’s similar equivocations on whether he would have voted for welfare reform. It highlights his strange assertion that African-Americans “don’t have the luxury” of picking and choosing among other African-Americans. It’s as though Obama thinks that anyone black must embrace everything any black person says, in order to show solidarity.
This may be love (although I have my doubts about even that). But it certainly isn’t courage. Nor does it show good judgment.
Here’s a fuller quote from the piece:
After the March 18 speech in which he addressed incendiary remarks by Wright, Obama told ABC News’ Terry Moran that blacks do not have “the luxury” of “being selective.”
During the course of this campaign,” said Obama, “there have been moments where people say, ‘Well, I like Barack Obama, but not Al Sharpton. I like Colin Powell, but not Jesse. I like Oprah, but.’ You know, those of us who are African-American don’t have the luxury.”
Asked by Moran what he meant by saying blacks “don’t have the luxury,” Obama said, “I don’t have the luxury of separating myself out and being selective, in terms of what it means to be an African-American in this society. It’s a big complex thing. It’s not monolithic.”
This is a disturbing assertion. It ties in well with Steele’s characterization of Obama, which is that he is a “bound man.” Steele says as much:
What would be keeping [Obama] from having the right to be selective about all of those people? Of course he has the right to be selective. What he is really saying is that he’s afraid….What Obama is saying is, “I’m afraid if I am less than receptive to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, they’re going to call me an Uncle Tom, they’re going to call me a sellout.” The terror of Barack Obama’s life has been that blacks would reject him. That’s why I call him a bound man.
I think Steele is correct.
Hillary rightly senses that courage is not only Obama’s Achilles heel, but it’s also John McCain’s strength. The contrast is immense, since even McCain’s detractors would find it hard to doubt both his personal physical courage and his propensity to take tough and unpopular stands with which many people even in his own party disagree.
Courage is a characteristic that appeals to the American people. In the final analysis, character is an extraordinarily important issue in every campaign, and has the ability to transcend considerations of party. The American people will forgive a lot, but I’m not sure they’ll forgive a lack of that character element popularly known as guts.