March 29th, 2008

Obama didn’t go to law school for nothing

Law requires an exceedingly precise use of language. People who are attracted to the profession often already have this tendency, and then they are schooled further in the honing of the ability.

Bill Clinton was reviled for his lawyerly use of language in the service of weaseling, of parsing his words so carefully—especially when in the service of self-defense—that although they seemed to say one thing they really said another. Listeners learned not to take his words at face value, but to scrutinize them the way a lawyer would the language of a contract about to be signed.

Now comes Barack Obama, another lawyer, not an unusual profession for politicians. Not all lawyer-politicians are up there with Bill in the word-parsing competition, but Obama is revealing himself—far more than Hillary—to be Bill’s true heir in that department.

Yesterday’s exhibit A was Obama’s appearance on the television show “The View,” where Obama said of Reverend Wright, “I never heard him say some of the things that have people upset.”

This statement of Obama’s says nothing while appearing to say something, a hallmark of this sort of speech. Note, first, the vagueness of the word “some”—he could have heard 99% of the offensive speeches of Wright and missed 1%, and still this sentence would be correct.

Next we have the word “people”—another general expression that fails to characterize whom these people might be.

Then there’s the word “upset” itself. It’s a relational word rather than a moral one. The locus of the response is in the emotional reaction of the listener, whose upset is never characterized as either justified or unjustified in the objective sense. After all, some people could be upset by statements that are unobjectionable when looked at objectively; maybe the listeners are just overly sensitive. Or maybe not. But in this sentence, Obama is careful not to say.

Now we come to Exhibit B from the same appearance, when Obama said:

I’m not vetting my pastor…I didn’t have a research team during the course of 20 years to go pull every sermon he’s given and see if there’s something offensive that he’s said.

No, of course not. Nor is anyone expecting him to have done so.

But this statement ignores the real accusation, which is that these statements were so commonplace in Wright’s sermons that it boggles the mind how Obama could have been there for twenty years and avoided hearing at least some (see, I can use the word too!) of them. And even if he wasn’t there for any of them (difficult if not impossible to believe), don’t these congregation members ever talk amongst themselves about statements as inflammatory as Wright’s? If so, it’s hard to believe Obama was out of that loop, too. And if not, I guess the statements were considered so ordinary as to not be worthy of discussion.

Furthermore, this particular church was founded on a questionable theology that is arguably racist at its core. This is a fact that Obama never addresses—nor do I think he ever will, unless his arm is twisted rather more forcibly than it has been so far.

Next we have Exhibit C, Obama’s statement:

Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying at the church.

Here are the problems with this one: to believe it, you first have to believe Exhibit A, that Obama really was clueless about the Reverend Wright prior to his outing as a racist ranter on You Tube. That’s quite a stretch, for reasons a host of pundits and bloggers have already discussed at great length. Second problem: it’s easy to say, because, fortunately for Obama, the reverend has retired. So we’ll never know whether it would have been true that Obama would no longer have felt so comfortable there.

Thirdly, we can conclude that it’s likely that prior to this, Obama felt quite comfortable at the church. Again, believing such comfort was reasonable would require that we believe Obama hadn’t heard—not just “some,” but “all”—of the reverend’s rants.

And fourth, notice Obama still falls short of saying “I would have left the church.” It’s almost as though he is constitutionally incapable of making a statement that strong. He doesn’t even go so far as to say “I would have felt so uncomfortable I would have had to leave.” No, just that he wouldn’t have felt comfortable about staying. Maybe he would have stayed anyway, and just squirmed a bit more in his pew.

And, once again, he speaks in terms of feelings rather than judgments. He would not have felt as comfortable.

What’s more, notice what Obama actually says about Wright: what Wright said “deeply offended” people. The feelings are primary; he mentions them first, and he fails to add a moral judgment such as “because Wright’s statements were offensive.” Instead, he says they were “inappropriate,” and that they “mischaracterized” the greatness of this country.

Extremely mild words to describe what Wright actually said about the US. And even in this context, Obama can’t resist adding the qualifier “for all its flaws” to describe the country.

In Obama’s major speech about race, he did make judgment statements about Wright. But it seems more and more clear that he was able to do this only because he saw no other way to save his political hide. Strong statements of this sort doesn’t come naturally to Obama; it goes against the grain. When speaking extemporaneously, he almost never makes these sorts of declarations.

This is no accident. Such reluctance seems not only to be a personal characteristic of Obama’s, but it’s one he embraces. I believe he connects it with another trait he sees as one of his great strengths as a politician:

Part of what my role in my politics is to get people who don’t normally listen to each other, to talk to each other, who [say] crazy things, who are offended by each other, for me to understand them and to maybe help them understand each other.

Politician as therapist, as conversation-enabler. It’s an interesting idea, and fits in well with Obama’s belief in “dialogue” as the solution for the world’s ills. But it’s got a few flaws.

Presidents have to make tough decisions, including moral choices. They have to have the sort of moral courage Obama appears to lack. They have to recognize that dialogue is not a panacea.

Yet another flaw is that while Obama may see himself as this sort of politician, his political history gives no indication that it is true. Did he do this sort of thing during his tenure in the Illinois legislature, or the US Senate? If so, I haven’t seen the evidence.

Did he do it in his own church? No, no, a thousand times no. Instead, he either bought into the “crazy things” that went on there, or winked at them, or failed to notice them when they were staring him in the face.

I see no clues in Obama’s political life that he is who he says he is: a person who can bring warring sides together in some sort of agreement. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is sincere in his own belief that he is this person. If so, his belief might be based on episodes from his emotional or family life, or perhaps friendships or school experiences. But extrapolating from these relationships to politics, and to world affairs, is a dangerous game.

Perhaps Obama’s true calling is as mediator, or therapist, or even minister. But not as President.

39 Responses to “Obama didn’t go to law school for nothing”

  1. Vince P Says:

    More Racism:


    “This doesn’t suggest that the need to look inward emphasized by the march isn’t important, and that these African-American tribal affinities aren’t legitimate. These are mean, cruel times, exemplified by a ‘lock ‘em up, take no prisoners’ mentality that dominates the Republican-led Congress. Historically, African-Americans have turned inward and towards black nationalism whenever they have a sense, as we do now, that the mainstream has rebuffed us, and that white Americans couldn’t care less about the profound problems African-Americans are facing.”

    “But cursing out white folks is not going to get the job done. Anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up. We’ve got some hard nuts-and-bolts organizing and planning to do. We’ve got communities to build.”

  2. FredHjr Says:

    The comments about Obama more or less telling us that he did not vet his pastor is simply bull***t. Before he was announcing his candidacy, he called his pastor and told the man that he would not like Pastor Wright there or publicly associated with the Obama campaign because “you can get kind of rough.”

    I can use precise language quite well, even if I am not a lawyer (I’m a securities analyst, who has to write reports and meet with clients). I consider the way lawyers use language to be downright immoral at times. I have had many dealings with lawyers over the years and have increasingly become disillusioned with them as professionals and as human beings. The fact that there are so many of them congregating in political office disgusts me even further.

  3. gcotharn Says:

    You are onto this fraud, as an alert professional in your field ought to be. Bravo. This post, and the posts about courage and cowardice, are wonderful.

    I hereby claim credit for – many months ago – being one of the first neo commenters to pay enough attention to Barack’s words to notice Barack was light as cotton candy. Ahhhh. I bask in my early on reading of his words – in mid 2007 – and my early notice that his words were airy and empty. I claim comment section glory!

    The key to unmasking Barack is to separate the words from the tone and delivery. You focus strictly on the words, and you go: ? What is this? He is saying nothing! Lots and lots and lots of words saying absolutely nothing. When he is forced to say something, it is straight left-wing menu of policies, point by point by point. One will also notice the weasel words (“some”) which neo points out, and which invalidate everything which comes after, and which are completely reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Yuckifying.

    When Barack is speaking the weasel words, I believe he sort of hurries over the weasel words – aka “some” in a low and nondescript voice, then he richly intonates the other parts of the sentence. A listener is left remembering the resonant, richly intonated words, and can barely remember or process the nondescript weasel words. Do we want another President for whom we must fisk speech texts if we actually want to figure out what he is (not) saying in his speeches? Double yuckifying.

    Last, I note your gracefulness in saying Black Liberation Theology is “arguably” racist. I have no need of such gracefulness. Black Liberation Theology is clearly, absolutely racist. To believe it is not racist requires “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Or, it requires that boutique victim definition in which black people can never be racist b/c “they don’t have power.”

  4. Stuart Mill Says:

    I have some doubts about the language skills of Obama. It seems that he fond of bricolage other than making emptiness a fine art.

    Back in 1997 Jesse Jackson gave a speech, Save the Dream, apropos of the march of the
    Rainbow Coalition against 209 proposition that amended California constitution to avoid bias because of race, ethnicity and sex.

    In this speech appear some references of Obama’s discourse and tone: 1) “the highest moral and ethical standards of our nation” or the core of decency as Obama puts it, 2) the cynics that are against change and progress and that make their point of the accusation of race bias 3) the “yes we can” or “si se puede” against those cynics.

    Inspiration or plagiarism?

    Full speech can be found at

    I strongly recommend the reading of this piece.

  5. Tim P Says:

    Obama’s tactical retreat from Reverend Wright is simply what it appears to be on it’s face, a calculated limited distancing without really separating himself from Wright. Obama is trying to get past this in the eyes of the general public and still not upset his core black base. Talk about Clintonian.

    Here’s Wright quote taken out of the 2007 NYT via Patterico’s site,

    If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Mr. Wright said with a shrug. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.

    This implies that Obama already knew that Wright’s rantings would not be politically acceptable to the majority of Americans and that he would need to distance himself from those statements. Also what is interesting in this revealing little passage is Obama’s implicit acceptance of and agreement with Wright’s statements.

    Even more cynical is Obama’s reasons for joining this church in the first place. A half white, Harvard educated lawyer trying to develop his ‘street cred’ with the black community by joining such a church.

    However, what I really find remarkable about this is that most of the MSM is giving Obama a pass on his lame evasions and not really informing the public about just what Wright said or about what black liberation theology preaches in general. This is the theology which Wright’s church espouses and Obama accepts by his continued membeership. If it were not for blogs posting the relevant information, this would have indeed passed without much notice.

  6. Tim P Says:

    One further thing.
    Many in the media have tried to paint black liberation theology as the mainstream theology in black churches. I read that perhaps 10% of black churches embrace this type of theology. But with it’s strong element of hatred for America, and resemblance to Marxist liberation theology, it is a theology a liberal elite could love. I’m afraid America’s first post-racial candidate has done a grave disservice to the cause of racial equality. Yet more of the bitter fruit of identity politics.

  7. Tim P Says:

    Last thing and I’m outta here.

    Best quote on this from Dennis the Peasant, “While he may end up America’s second black president, he’s already our first black Bill Clinton. How’s that for nuance?”


  8. vk45 Says:

    “Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying at the church.”

    I think Obama is stating the truth: he would feel discomfort. But his discomfort would arise from his knowing that leaving this church would hurt him in the primaries and not leaving this church would hurt him in the general election.

  9. kungfu Says:


    I used to like your blog. You distinguished yourself with your unique view as a former liberal who shifted her thinking after 9/11. Now every time I visit I just feel like I’m visiting any other conservative blog dedicated to attacking the presumed Democratic nominee. Boring. Please get back to what you used to do so well.

  10. Rose Says:

    au contraire, kungfu! This is a wonderful, breath of fresh air site!

    If I may weigh in – Preacher Wright is a racist. You can call it reverse racism, but he and Farrakhan, and others, and Obama and his wife for sitting there and accepting it are racists.

    They have a life that is the best the world has to offer, but they eat up this crap and they say it is because they are black and downtrodden, they refuse to acknowledge their own good fortune and the vast sea change that has led us all away from racist attitudes towards them, as evidenced by the huge crowds coming to see Obama, and people who loved him for himself, his vision, and his oratory – transcending skin color.

    America was ready. These guys aren’t. Obama is not.

  11. Ben-David Says:

    Can we have some more ballet posts, please?

  12. SteveH Says:

    Liberals have this infatuation with the spoken word. If i’ve heard it one time from a liberal i’ve heard it a million, that they just want someone “statesman” like.

    Its pretty evident with Obama that they don’t even give much thought to what this statesman says. They just like the ultra competent language user and the “image” it projects.

  13. nyomythus Says:

    I want to put this up front where people here can see it:

    CNN Presents, This coming Wednesday:
    “Autism Is A World”

  14. kungfu Says:

    My point is that Neo used to have a unique voice and unique perspective. But lately her blog reads like any other blog attacking Obama. How about a post on Obama from the “changer” perspective. Anything that’s different from exactly the same thing I read on many other blogs.

  15. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    But Kungfu, the change perspective has been examined here–from a neo-neocon viewpoint.

    Or did you mean we had to look at it from your viewpoint, then agree with it?

  16. Gringo Says:

    kungfu Says:
    How about a post on Obama from the “changer” perspective.

    Here is Obama talking about change.

    “ And if that child should ever get the chance to travel the world, and someone should ask her where she is from, we believe that she should always be able to hold her head high with pride in her voice when she answers ‘I am an American.’
    That is the course we seek. That is the change we are calling for. ”

    Obama is basically saying, “Vote for me and you can again be proud of America.” I find that rather insulting, for two reasons. First, that for all of America’ shortcomings, when compared with the rest of the world, I find it insulting that Obama’s assumption that one would not be proud of America. Secondly, I find it insulting that one has to vote for him to be proud of America.
    Why would I find it insulting to assume that anyone today is unable to travel overseas and NOT be proud of America? Because I worked in Latin America for 4 years, was fluent in Spanish, and my working overseas INCREASED my pride in America. From an overseas perspective, the US looks pretty good, and the US economy is the least of the reasons why. If you want to shed yourself of liberal guilt, work overseas. Working overseas changed me from a “progressive” of the left into an “evil right winger.”

    I found Obama call for CHANGE here to be insulting and condescending.

  17. gcotharn Says:

    Rose, you are my hero, as you point to the perfect 2008 bumpersticker:

    “America is ready. Barack is not.”

    Or, in deference to neo:

    “America is ready; Barack is not.”

  18. Sergey Says:

    “his belief might be based on episodes from his emotional or family life, or perhaps friendships or school experiences. But extrapolating from these relationships to politics, and to world affairs, is a dangerous game.”
    I recently read a limeric about such possibility:

    Prince Charles in his Welsh principality
    Formed a violent left-wing solidarity;
    When asked why this was
    He replied, “It’s because
    I am sick of the family mentality.”

  19. Terrye Says:


    Maybe that is actually how neo feels. Is she supposed to change her opinion of Barack Obama so that you will not be bored?

  20. SteveE Says:

    I see no clues in Obama’s political life that he is who he says he is: a person who can bring warring sides together in some sort of agreement.

    As a fellow-neo-conservative, I don’t think I want a President who brings waring sides together when the President is a Democrat. Senator Obama’s passivity seems to me just about right for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    I’m generally skeptical of the liberal United Church of Christ denomination. But I doubt Obama’s membership in Trinity United tells us anything worse about him than did Howard Dean’s membership in a more sedate, but still politicized, New England church of the same denomination.

    Although John McCain’s foreign policy is superior, four or eight more years of a Republican president would drive the Democrats even further to the left. (Further? Remember that Kerry explicitly pledged victory in Iraq.) And eventually, they are going to win. Obama would only do about 60% of what I want, but at least would gain broader support for what he does do.

    As for economics, Cass Sunstein and, dare I say, Krugman, have convinced me Obama’s real views there are moderate.

    It’s going to create ugly divisions, even greater than we now face, if McCain wins on the race thing, and there’s a great danger that just that will happen. I would consider leaving it alone from now on.

  21. kungfu Says:

    All I’m saying is Neo used to surprise me. You take any event and I could tell you exactly what the liberal writer or conservative writer would say. This is true of the current Obama story. But Neo used to be different. She would address the issue in a way I didn’t expect. But now what she has to say about it I could get just as easily from O’Reily, Hannity, Medved, etc. Her voice is no longer that interesting. She may feel exactly as you say, but it’s boring now, and used to not be.

    For example, go back and read what she wrote about Kerry back in 2004. That’s much more interesting than what she has to say about Obama now.

  22. Terrye Says:

    but what if this is really what she feels? I mean saying the world is a sphere and not flat is much the same thing as others might say, but it is also true.

    And Obama is a phony. true is true.

  23. lumpenscholar Says:


    If 4-8 more years having a Republican in the White House would drive the Dems further left, I think that’s great. I think we are already seeing the cracks of a big break up, and watching the Dems dance ever closer to the abyss gives me Hope, Hope for real Change.

    The Democratic Party is severely dysfunctional, and it needs to be broken up and remade. Yes, it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to. (Democrat all my adult life; I’m not sure I can leave it, but it certainly has left me.)

    (Oh, yes, I see some cracks in the GOP as well; more Hope! But it’s the Dems, I think, that need it most.)

  24. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Yeah, jeeze Steve. Its not as though voting for McCain is like voting Republican anyway. Looks to me as though the party that moved more to the left was my own!

  25. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Oh, and Kungfu; why dont you come out in favor of your oen country once in a while. That would make you seem less predictable.

  26. Occam's Beard Says:

    Let’s face it – Obama’s done, and for good reason. He may receive the nomination, but he doesn’t have a dog’s chance of getting elected.

  27. Perfected democrat Says:

    Obama wouldn’t be way ahead of Hillary if that was true. On the contrary, he’s very electable in the same way that Ted Kennedy has continued to hold office in spite of Chappaquidick. The rank and file democrats, especially the young, do not care about details, broad perspective and realities. They are interested in their own smugly self-righteous world view which enables rationalizing and avoiding responsibility, in any meaningful context, concerning international conflicts (except for an occasional token effort, ie. Pelosi on Tibet, with no committment of personal substance). Of equal significance is their pervasive hostility to capitalism and corporate culture (as personified in Gerry Spence’s latest book), combined with unending advocacy of government control, wealth redistribution, and entitlement programs, and which further reflects the europeanization of American culture. Too big a proportion of American culture has forgotten that “negotiation”, ala United Nations (especially), is, conveniently ineffectual empty talk, while real people die; and free market capitalism with individual opportunity and ownership, not socialized government, is the true foundation of a society’s wealth.

  28. Gray Says:




    Can I question their patriotism now?

  29. Terrye Says:

    Perfected Democrat:

    yeah, but Ted Kennedy is not and never will be president.

  30. Tom Says:

    Obama is a sociopath, a political Ted Bundy. He doesn’t just lack moral courage, he is utterly immoral. Period.

  31. SteveH Says:

    I’ll be the first to admit i’ve been driven farther right since 2000. Its like the need to have a stupidly radical NRA to offset the outrageousness of an ACLU.

    How all this shifting sand works out is anybodys guess.

  32. The Thunder Run Says:

    Web Reconnaissance for 03/31/2008…

    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often….

  33. Fredjr Says:

    Good catch, Gray, on the other cleric who is in the Leftist constellation round about the Obama star. Perfected democrat also posted an incisive grasp of who is being drawn into the Obama constellation: young, vapid, and poorly educated (even if they have degrees) Americans who were more indoctrinated than educated. The Left is on the march in the U.S. Whether or not it has the legs to get to the finish line first remains to be seen. But the country, as I sense it, has moved decidedly Leftward since 9/11, not rightward, despite election results. The 2006 elections were a long time in coming. And they almost won it all in 2004.

    Think about it: they have the media, the educational establishment and institutions, most of the legal profession, and a heavy weight of the NGO’s and transnational Progressives in support. The Left has become formidable in the United States and those who deny it or underestimate it do so rather foolishly.

  34. Neocon News Says:

    Barack Obama’s Magic Pencil (Obama lies about survey)…

    (via Hot Air) Politico exposes Barack Obama in another whopper. Is the media really ready to take the shine off their golden Messiah?
    During his first run for elected office, Barack Obama played a greater role than his aides now acknowledge in crafting…

  35. Fredjr Says:


    I read that same article this morning. Why am I not surprised by this?

    I also read articles elsewhere about Republicans who are coming out of the woodwork in support of Obama. A big supporter of Obama is a guy who was, at one time, a member of the Reagan administration: Lawrence Korb.

    The more I follow politics, the more I am struck by the widespread and insidious dishonesty among the population. Not just important people. Very ordinary people as well – all pretend to be something they are not for a variety of reasons. Many people in government or influential establishments pretend to be something they are not in order to advance their careers.

    Many ordinary people, like myself, disguise ourselves when around liberals/Leftists so that they won’t pick fights with us or put knives in our backs. I work in the financial services industry and, surprisingly, most of my co-workers are liberal and even Leftist. I avoid talking about politics like the plague; when the topic comes around to it and those people are holding forth about their views, I just slightly nod my head and pretend to have no objections to them, so that these people won’t backstab me at work. But I know who I am and what I truly think. It’s sad and I am not proud of my cowardice, but I know human nature too well and have experienced being backstabbed by people many years ago. I learned my lessons from it.

    Thirty years ago I used to be on the Left. I know how these people are and the truth about them is UGLY. They can be doctrinaire, didactic, and even bullying. I’m not alone in this experience, as I’ve met plenty of folks with similar experiences and impressions.

    So, we are in a country where a lot of people are pretending to be something they are not for many reasons. Obama is pretending to be a centrist when the truth is clear: he is the most Far Left candidate for high office this country has ever seen.

  36. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    As for economics, Cass Sunstein and, dare I say, Krugman, have convinced me Obama’s real views there are moderate.

    Moderate? as I recall, he wants to add about a $1 trillion more to the budget over the next four years, and he’ll busily set about raising taxes, probably starting with a $0.50 increase in gas taxes.

    How, exactly, is any of that going to help the “little guy”? or anyone else, for that matter? or do you think that with some “hope” and “change” we can tax our way into prosperity?

  37. Sergey Says:

    “So, we are in a country where a lot of people are pretending to be something they are not”
    I believe that in any other country this is not better, and in most of them much worse. Honesty is a rare commodity, and hypocrisy is an universal human property. I would be very surprised if some day I met truly honest man.

  38. Tom Says:

    You are exactly correct. The Leftist totalitarian ideology is a monster that we somehow cannot kill. We must not reason or reach out to the Left. We must do our best to crush them, and that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Meanwhile, the Left strengthens.

  39. montag Says:

    Not compelling, but interesting.

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