April 29th, 2008

Obama’s faces his Sister Souljah moment—or is it his Eagleton moment?

Bob Herbert’s column today happens to be one of the best and most succinct summaries of Obama’s current woes and the character flaws that underlie them. And when a liberal anti-Iraq War (“How long do we want this madness to last?”) black man such as Herbert turns on Barack Obama, it means something.

Herbert’s got Wright’s number, all right (and note: anotherJulius Caesar” reference in the first line of Hebert’s column). He sees him as a narcissistic blowhard, reveling in his fifteen minutes (or more, unfortunately) of fame and in the process getting back at Obama, who is insufficiently worshipful—of Wright. But Herbert understands that Wright isn’t really the main point.

What is? This:

…[T]he apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf…Mr. Obama seems more and more like someone buffeted by events, rather than in charge of them.

A month ago, shortly after the Wright controversy erupted, I wrote that the main issue in this campaign wasn’t shaping up to be about change, but about that old-fashioned thing known as “guts.” Whatever you think of Hillary and McCain, they’ve got ‘em and its becoming clearer and clearer that Obama doesn’t.

Oh, he has bravado, and arrogance. But that’s not the same. He’s had many defining moments, but Wright continues to be the most visible one in which he doesn’t show the character traits necessary in a President. His soft rejection of Wright needs to harden into condemnation and an unequivocal and total break. And even then, it may be a case of too little, too late.

Whether Obama’s refusal to “disown” Wright comes from loyalty, the need for a father figure, or a cold-blooded assessment of the fact that by disowning Wright he would risk the loss of a huge percentage of the African-American vote, Obama faces an unenviable dilemma.

This sort of dilemma is not uncommon for political figures, however. In fact, it’s so common it’s been given a name: a Sister Souljah moment. The ever-helpful Wikipedia comes up with the following definition, which I think you’ll agree fits the bill rather perfectly in the Obama case:

…[A] politician’s public repudiation of an allegedly extremist person or group, statement, or position perceived to have some association with the politician or their party. Such an act of repudiation is designed to signal to centrist voters that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party, although such a repudiation runs the risk of alienating some of the politician’s allies and the party’s base voters.

Such moments are the stuff of which appeals to the great middle of the US are made. But they are also revealers of both character and judgment, which is even more important in evaluating a potential President. That’s why Hillary is pounding so mightily on the theme of Obama’s lack of courage, although she’s not discussing the Wright incident itself–a sort of third rail for her, as well. Instead she’s challenging Obama by making him an offer that’s the verbal equivalent of mano-a-mano combat, and which she knows he’ll refuse, a Lincoln-Douglas type debate.

Obama had no trouble throwing his grandmother under the bus, and Wright has no trouble doing the same to him. But Obama’s hesitance to do so to Wright has reminded me of another footnote to history, the short and unhappy 1972 Vice-Presidential run of Senator Thomas Eagleton.

Eagleton was a telegenic but relatively unknown senator when he was tapped by Democratic nominee George McGovern for the number two spot on the ticket. Nixon was widely perceived as headed for a second term, and most of the more prominent Democrats were reluctant to accept the spot on a team that would probably lose.

Eagleton was chosen quickly and not properly vetted, and failed to disclose what was then a shocking fact but now seems extraordinarily ho-hum: that he’d suffered from depression years earlier, and in those pre-Prozac days had been given a couple a electroshock treatments.

The hue and cry that resulted from this revelation was enormous, and McGovern was under pressure to ditch Eagleton. This isn’t exactly a Sister Souljah moment, since it didn’t involve denouncing the politics of an extremist, but it was a moment of truth nonetheless that involved courage and loyalty.

The dilemma: should he stick by Eagleton, who was turning out to be a potential liability? Or should he toss him to the curb, which would demonstrate disloyalty?

McGovern revealed his character by resolving the conflict in the worst possible way: vacillation. First he demonstrated loyalty with the hyperbolic statement that he stood by Eagleton “1000 per cent.” And then a couple of days later he dumped him from the ticket.

Nixon went on to win the election in one of the largest landslides in history. McGovern had always been a weak candidate in terms of his prospects of becoming President, but the Eagleton affair highlighted a different sort of weakness that could only have contributed to his loss.

Eagleton was no Wright; he “resigned” for the good of the party and continued to serve in the Senate. But the die was cast for McGovern.

The flavor of the incident can best be captured by a remark McGovern made shortly before Eagleton’s forced “resignation:” “I’m with Senator Eagleton all the way—until he and I have a chance to talk.”

Time called it “a curious way to do business” that “raised some serious questions about both men and their way of doing things.”

And the same is true of Obama. If he makes a more forceful statement against Wright now, he not only seems disloyal— considering Obama stated in his speech that he could not disown him—but he seems to be contradicting himslef. If he does not, he seems foolishly loyal, weak, and perhaps even in agreement with Wright’s incendiary statements.

And either course opens him up to charges of political expediency. Wright—who is no dummy—has cleverly covered Obama’s first option by defining any disassociation by Obama from Wright as merely the poll-driven act of a typical pol. And if Obama Stands By His Man at and refuses to condemn Wright in more forceful terms now, he’s seen as a coward who as shying away from a Sister Souljah moment for fear of alienating his African-American base.

Obama demonstrates lack of intestinal fortitude. But I’m also wondering how badly he wants this thing at this point. He seems to have lost his mojo and his duende, and to just not be having much fun anymore. A President has to have many odd character traits, and one of them is a liking for the blood sport that is politics. Another is endurance, both physical and mental and emotional.

These things aren’t quite the same as courage. But all are necessary—although not sufficient—for anyone who would take on the awesome task of becoming President.

The seemingly neverending campaign is designed to reveal whether a candidate has these qualities, and we’re finding out that Obama lacks them. I wonder whether he’s discovering the same thing.

[NOTE: I didn’t see these remarks of Obama’s before I wrote this post. They definitely represent a much more forceful repudiation of Wright, which was necessary and is laudable. And they seem to be sincere; my guess is that Obama was indeed shocked by Wright’s performance. But as I wrote in the above post, it may be a case of “too little, too late.” The Wright episode shows an extraordinary series of poor judgments by Obama. And Wright’s performance at the National Press Club did not contradict his sermons from the last few years, they repeated them.]

31 Responses to “Obama’s faces his Sister Souljah moment—or is it his Eagleton moment?”

  1. Vanderleun Says:

    Be it a Soldjah moment or an Eagleton moment, it seems to me that Obama cannot recover in either case. It has gone on too long and been too hammered into the public’s mind.

    Racist ranting supporters whose views are broadcast so widely by traditional and new media are not easily sloughed off.

    Anything his says will be widely seen by the center as false. He had his chance and he blew it.

  2. Mary C. Says:

    Denunciation, repudiation, renunciation – whatever. It still doesn’t explain why Obama sat in the pew for 20 years listening to the race-baiting hater and victimologist Wright. I’m sure that over the course of 20 years Wright let his true colors show more than once. I believe that that is the true issue here – why listen to this jerk for 20 years if you don’t agree with him over such important things.

  3. Barb Says:

    ***….And if Obama Stands By His Man at and refuses to condemn Wright in more forceful terms now, he’s seen as a coward who as shying away from a Sister Souljah moment for fear of alienating his African-American base.***

    I will always maintain that Obama doesn’t denounce Wright, because he wholeheartedly agrees with every word he says. Obama claims to not be like every other politician before him. I agree, he’s worse. He’s the most dangerous candidate this nation has ever seen. God help us if he’s selected as President.

  4. Jamie Irons Says:

    Obama is toast.

    It doesn’t matter what he says at this point, or how sincere it seems to be.

    No one with an ounce of sense will accept the notion that all this vile racialism and conspiracy-mongering, this adulation for the execrable Farakhan, and all the other lovely little foibles of “Reverend” Wright somehow became apparent to Mr. Obama just in the past few days.

    The media will give him a pass, he’ll probably win the nomination, but he isn’t going to be president.

    Jamie Irons

  5. saintknowitall Says:

    I don’t think he will lose African/American support. The good Rev has already signaled that is is OK for Obama to talk one way as a politician (wink wink) and not really mean it. You and I as anglos don’t get that the joke is on us.

  6. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    One reason Obama still leads McCain in polls is that conservatives keep throwing him into the briar patch.

    Unless and until the Republicans can show that Obama’s Senate record, or speeches or what he’s advocated supports Rev. Wright’s worldview, most voters will see the attacks as desperate and only marginally relevant.

    Unless the economy U-turns this summer and the war is miraculously won, voters this fall will be focusing on what the candidates intend to do about those problems.

    To the extent that the Republicans rely on distractions like Wright or Obama’s Muslim-sounding name or his school in Indonesia and so on, swing voters will assume the party has no positive agenda and intends to pursue the same policies that led us to where we are today.

    The smarter Republican strategists know this election isn’t amenable to the Rove culture war strategy, thus the move to McCain. Gore and Kerry could be brought down by generating a mainstream media meme that they were too uppity to be nice fellows, or president.

    It worked in no small part because the country was in relatively good shape economically and geopolitically, thanks in part to the Clinton era’s peace and prosperity. Voters felt in the mood to choose candidates more on their personality than on their policies. They were looking for someone to perfect the American project, not someone to rescue it from the brink of disaster.

    This time around voters are saying they want change. And the polls show they think the smears on Obama aren’t likely to delivery it.

  7. Terrye Says:

    My mother had shock treatments. I remember how bad it made her feel when people treated Eagleton like a leper.

    But this is different. Wright is a nasty man and somehow that seems to have escaped Obama’s notice. So much for judgment.

  8. expat Says:

    Wright is an insult to any thinking person with his pseudoscientific left brain/right brain garbage, his AIDS conspiracy theories, and his chosen ignorance of the history of slavery (and buddy Farakhan’s ignoring of Arab enslavement of blacks). Whether his statements are true convictions or politically motivated, they are dangerous.

    Obama didn’t just sit in Wright’s pews, he supported him and led credence to his rants. He lowered the bar on educational standards to the detriment of the community he has claimed to serve. If he can not see the contradiction between his aims and his actions, he doesn’t even have the intellectual weight to be president. He may be glib and clever, but I don’t give him any points for wisdom.

  9. Gringo Says:

    Earlier in the day I had looked up Eagleton in Wikipedia, and discovered this gem about Senator Eagleton. He was the one who was the source for the “acid, amnesty, and abortion” crack when he anonymously talked to Robert Novak.

    On April 27, 1972 Novak reported in a column that an unnamed Democratic senator had talked to him about McGovern. “The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot,” the Senator said. “Once middle America – Catholic middle America, in particular – finds this out, he’s dead.”The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of “amnesty, abortion and acid.”

    Novak was accused of manufacturing the quote. To rebut the criticism, Novak took Eagleton to lunch after the campaign and asked whether he could identify him as the source. The senator said he would not allow his identity to be revealed.”Oh, he had to run for re-election”, said Novak.”The McGovernites would kill him if they knew he had said that.” Novak added.

    On July 15, 2007, Novak disclosed on Meet the Press that the unnamed senator was Thomas Eagleton.Political analyst Bob Shrum says that Eagleton would never have been selected as McGovern’s running mate if it had been known at the time that Eagleton was the source of the quote.[ “Boy, do I wish he would have let you publish his name. Then he never would have been picked as vice president,” said Shrum. “Because the two things, the two things that happened to George McGovern—two of the things that happened to him—were the label you put on him, number one, and number two, the Eagleton disaster. We had a messy convention, but he could have, I think in the end, carried eight or 10 states, remained politically viable. And Eagleton was one of the great train wrecks of all time.

    IOW, any dirty tricks that Tricky Dick or the Watergate Plumbers might have pulled on McGovern and the Democrats could not have equaled what Thomas Eagleton did to McGovern. History as high comedy! This also shows the importance of character. Eagleton was deceitful to McGovern not only for not saying anything about his hospitalization, but also for not having informed McGovern he was the source for the AAA moniker.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    A hard lesson I eventually learned is that there is a big difference between elitism, and common sense. A problem of the left is that they have simplified elitism to mean shunning anyone, which is not what it means. It has the cultural outcome of giving sociopaths the keys to the kingdom. It has the personal outcome that you confuse what’s prudent with elitism and you don’t use common sense to choose who you will spend your time with.

    In Obama’s case he is stuck, in that his heaven is his hell. The meteoric rise was that he was groomed for the potential of an opportunity. The reason he cant divorce himself from Wright is that Wright runs the one of the largest fronts that grants followers of like mind a very good excuse to cross paths. Obama’s credentials in birth, and then associations with the right others, insures he has a ‘correct mind’, and he is forced by that path to need to be near such centers of leftist meeting. He has no personal success on his merits, so if he doesn’t do what the forces that put him up want, he will disappear as fast as he appeared.

    I am starting to believe that he never did hear Wrights words because he was never there to listen to Wright, but to converse with others he had to meet with, when the world assumes that he is paying attention to the pulpit. Wrights words are offensive because that keeps the casual person away from the church. It’s a social filter. Someone comes in to see the situation, and all their going to see or notice is the loud offensive thing, not the quiet other thing, then they will leave. If they like what Wright says, then they may be useful. Every someone that ever works for another something needs to be able to trade information from them. He can’t divorce himself from Wright or put Wright down, because Wright gives him a lot of access to others while he peacocks around making everyone look his way. He denounces Wright, and he can’t attend service, he can’t attend service, he can’t talk to who he wants to talk to without scrutiny or record. He feels he needs the connection to certain people in the church, not to the reverend. Though he needs the reverend to be able to be in the church.

  11. Trimegistus Says:

    “Amanda” — here’s something to consider. The economy was doing pretty well until the midterm elections in 2006 brought in a Democratic-majority Congress. Then the wheels fell off. Maybe we should call this the “Pelosi Recession?”

  12. DuMaurier-Smith Says:

    Today Obama denounced Wright, perhaps Wright on cue. Wright said the nasty words challenging Obama in a venue Obama could witness and denounce. If Wright now goes dormant, ending the “Wright Episode” in the campaign, I think we should seriously suspect the break-up was staged.

  13. Barb Says:

    DuMaurier-Smith Says, I concur! But it has backfired. No matter was position Obama now takes, he loses.

  14. Milly Says:

    The “Pelosi Recession?”

    Bravo!

    How about blaming her for losing the war in Iraq?

    and why not breast cancer, hair loss and boy bands, while you’re at it…

    Anything to avoid pinning responsibility on the Republicans, who for 12 years of ran all three branches of national government unchecked.

  15. DuMaurier-Smith Says:

    Barb:
    I don’t think there was any choice. The Wright episode was seriously eroding his viability as a candidate, and simultaneously the role of the “super delegates”–who certainly didn’t want to shed Obama and revert to Hillary. Having already sounded like Macawber’s wife, Obama couldn’t just turn on Wright. There had to be a precipitating factor–which Wright provided–a factor large enough that Obama could show some pathos and ethos. I think it might have been a thumb on a severed femoral artery during a mountain hike– absolutely essential to stop the hemorrhage, but can you keep it in place for the hike down?

    I wouldn’t call it a win by any means, but essential to survive. As we agree on the strategem, I’m curious to hear your analysis of the consequence. Do you think the ploy was a loss? Do you think he’s done for as a candidate?

  16. Old Line State Dad Says:

    Republicans ran all three branches of government for 12 years unchecked? When exactly was that? Bush didn’t even have full Republican control of Congress for the first six years of his Presidency, thanks to Jim Jeffords.

    Well, if that’s how liberals view recent history, its kind of hard to have a rational discussion on hwo to move forward.

  17. DuMaurier-Smith Says:

    Milly says: “The ‘Pelosi Recession?’ Bravo!
    How about blaming her for losing the war in Iraq?
    and why not breast cancer, hair loss and boy bands, while you’re at it…”

    Absolutely correct. It’s ridiculous to think Pelosi could be responsible for a recession. I for one doubt she could be responsible for choosing her toothpaste, let alone be a causative agent in the national economy. To speak of her as “responsible” is equivalent to speaking of a fork as eating. Let’s keep the utensils in their proper roles. But that leaves us with: Who uses Pelosi?

  18. Milly Says:

    Good point Old Line, I stand corrected.

    The GOP controlled Congress for 12 years, the presidency for the past 6 and SCOTUS for much of that time.

    And I do agree on the need to foist blame.

    The Republicans certainly can’t run on accepting responsibility for the current state of the country.

  19. Occam's Beard Says:

    Back to Obama, let’s note that it’s only April. That means that if he’s the nominee, he’s got another six months and change to keep flogging the vapid “hope/change” pap. I predict that by November he’ll be in Ricky Martin country, i.e., washed up, and people will be sick of hearing about him.

    In addition to which, that’s another six months in which more nuggets will almost certainly emerge. In this context the cockroach theory has to apply: where there’s one, there’s more. More Wrights, more Ayres, more “private” SF liberal tete-a-tetes.

    Obama must wish the election had been held in February.

  20. Old Line State Dad Says:

    Actually, Republicans controlled the House for the 12 years (1994-2006). They lost control of the Senate with the Jeffords thing, but the fact that they lost 6 Senate seats in the prior election, set them up for the party switch.

    Control of one chamber does not equal control of Congress.

    Republicans, those who aren’t retiring in the Congress, will run on the platform that as bad as things are now, they would be worse under Obama, with a Democratic Congress.

    What I find interesting is Obama is suggesting some rather Hooverian (as in Herbert Hoover) solutions to the economic problems. As any good Keynesian would tell you, raising taxes and restricting trade are two things you don’t want to do heading into a recession. Hoover raised income taxes and signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, both of which made the depression deeper.

    To bring the post back on point though, both Wright and Michelle Obama seem to have enormous chips on their shoulders, along with a well entrenched sense of victimhood. Seeing as they have both lead successful lives, and are doing very well financially, it doesn’t wear too well. It should be an interesting six months.

  21. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    Barb:
    “I will always maintain that Obama doesn’t denounce Wright, because he wholeheartedly agrees with every word he says.”

    I disagree. I think neo is right in thinking Obama was caught by surprise and was truly angry. Not that Wright had been caught saying these awful things about his own country before, but that Wright said them again, with the added twist of labeling Obama as just another politician. That, I believe, is what angered Obama.

    Do I believe Obama when he said he never heard the things Wright has been recorded as saying? No. But I also dont think Obama subscribed to that mindset (at least not entirely), but Wright is right. Obama is a politician. To be specific, a Democrat politician. That means your beliefs and values are what they need to be depending upon which crowd you’re in front of.

    This is why extremists like myself insist character matters.

    Rush Limbaugh, who has been given the bums “rush” by some of you “independents” from time to time, at least gets it right when he says that liberal politicians must hide who they are each election cycle. “How can we fool the electorate today?” to paraphrase Rush. If you are a liberal politician, it can be political suicide to be an honest one. Man, we’ve seen so many examples.

    It was said that Obama transcended race and conventional politics. Many of us doubted that from the start. Now most everyone understands it isnt true. I think Obama genuinely thought the past could just conveniently be forgotten, much the same way most other liberals can invent their reality as they see fit.

    Sometimes historical revisionism just doesnt pan out.

  22. Vince P Says:

    I love how these Leftards blame Bush for everything… as if their “ideas” would have fared any better.

    Laughable they are

  23. Vince P Says:

    What got Obama upset is not Wright’s theology. Not Wright’s disgusting views about America, etc…

    You would have to be on drugs to go to that church and not know what that church is about.

    Do a little thought experiment… recall the video of his sermons.. and pay close attention to the video of the members of the church. They are PASSIONATE ,.. they are INVOLVED.. they are STRIDENTLY in agreement with Wright… even on the Sunday after 9/11

    Do any of you think you could sit in a crowd like that if you DISAGREED with the basic validity of what was being said? And bring your family?

    When you think about it in thsoe personal terms like that.. how can anyone come to the conclusion that Obama is sincerely surprised at what Wright has been preaching his entire career?

    Obama is angry that he is exposed. That is why he’s angry.

    Perhaps Obama thought that Wright would join with Obama in an unspoken agreement that Obama would have to say certain things against Wright to get elected, and Wright would just have to “take it” in order to help Obama.

    Perhaps Obama thought that Wright would compromise his theology of blacks being the forever victim and help a member of his very church become the most powerful man ion the world.

    I guess Wright believes his own theology a lot more than Obama does.. and now Obama is angry.

  24. hai ku menter Says:

    Tener duende
    Ballet chica artsily
    Enhappies my brain

  25. stubbs Says:

    I registered to vote for the first time so that I could vote for McGovern in that election. At the time, I opposed the Vietnam War. When he dumped Eagleton for having had electro shock treatments, I could not believe it. It was the act of a political creep, not a man who stood up for what was right. As a result, I didn’t vote for McGovern, although I considered Nixon next to Satan. All I got out of the registering was a week on a jury in the dismal lower Manhattan courts.

  26. Tim P Says:

    A couple of observations,

    Time called it “a curious way to do business” that “raised some serious questions about both men and their way of doing things.”

    Could you imagine Time being as forthright today? I suspect they would be doing back flips to spin this in their candidates favor. (I may be proven wrong, but I doubt it)

    the main issue in this campaign wasn’t shaping up to be about change, but about that old-fashioned thing known as “guts.” Whatever you think of Hillary and McCain, they’ve got ‘em and its becoming clearer and clearer that Obama doesn’t……..Oh, he has bravado, and arrogance. But that’s not the same.

    So true, not just of Obama though, but of so many in the ‘progressive’ left it seems. Perhaps that’s one of the underlying reasons lefties seem to get such negligible traction with folks and compensate by sniffing about “What’s the matter with Kansas” or about bitter rubes “clinging to their guns & religion.”

    As regards guts, I disagree with that statement as regards Hillary. In Moby Dick, Melleville describes describes a shark feeding frenzy when they were peeling the blubber off of a whale along side their ship. He described how when they hit a shark in the tail with a harpoon, the other sharks immediately began feeding on it too, as soon as they sensed the blood. Even the shark who was hit turned and began biting its own tail. That has always been my take on Hillary.

    As for McCain, though I disagree with his stands on certain issues and though he was far from my choice for the republican nominee, I have respect and admiration for his character and courage. However, character and courage don’t guarantee that he’ll make the best president, but he certainly stands above his opposition.

    In his opposition, he is a most lucky man.

  27. Milly Says:

    Prediction:
    The Democrats main line of attack on McCain will be that he is a flip-flopper…That is if Obama wins the nomination. If Hillary does, that strategy will not be available to them…

  28. SteveH Says:

    I don’t understand why democrats are calling this economy a problem. We got energy and food prices where they always wanted. We got people in homes they can’t afford. We got a national carbon footprint that shrinks every day.

    These ARE their goals. Whats the problem?

  29. harry McHitlerburtonstein the COnservative Extremist Says:

    After these past weeks of the MSM’s attempt to morph Wright into a misunderstood social reformer and former Marine, who maybe controversial, but still patriotic, Wright’s narcissistic nihilism gets the best of him.

    Kind of the democrat party in microcosm.

  30. Stan Says:

    The key is the audience. True, Obama could not possibly have been part of that audience for 20 years without knowing what the preacher was saying to get such responses. But the real significance is that Wright is NOT an extreme radical who is out of the mainstream of his party and his church. Just as Ayres and Dorhn are not extreme in the realm of Chicago’s Dem party. Just as his Islamic terror fundraiser is not regarded as extreme or unacceptable in the party.

    The lasting impact of this is not what it does to Obama. It is what it does to the national Democratic party. It is the party’s embrace of the extreme radicalism of Soros, Michael Moore, Ayres/Dohrn, and Wright which will eventually drive away all the Reagan Democrats for good.

  31. Gray Says:

    The Left only loves Obama because the Left and Obama both despise white, middle class America.

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