Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book Review: The Case Against Barack Obama

The book entitled The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2008, 234 pp.) was authored by David Freddoso, a journalist who currently writes for National Review Online, the Web presence of the political journal that was founded by the late William F. Buckley, Jr.

Freddoso's main points include:

  • While he is very intelligent and a gifted orator, Obama is otherwise a rather typical Democratic Party politician, with no special claim on being a post-partisan reformer.
  • Obama's supporters show an extreme degree of faith and admiration, in some cases going so far as to deify him.
  • Obama has associated with several unsavory characters in his political life, both within and outside of the Daley political machine in Chicago.
  • Obama's voting record as a state and national legislator has been consistently left-wing, in contrast to the moderate political rhetoric he has used in his pursuit of the presidency.

As I see it, the first of these points is the one on which the author makes his best case. Obama exhibits the giftedness and ambition that presidential candidates tend to show, especially those chasing after the big prize at such a young age. But that is no reason for voters to paint him in messianic terms, and expect him to be an entirely new type of political leader.

Freddoso documents the extent to which Obama has used traditional political tactics to raise money, and add political accomplishments to his record. That includes the careful building of alliances with leading Democratic figures in city, county and state government.

Freddoso goes on to present anecdotal evidence of a tendency to view Obama as a political messiah. While Obama may generate more of that type of response than other politicians do, the reader must keep in mind the anecdotal nature of the evidence, and apply the axiom that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

Many, if not most, politicians have that type of affect on their committed supporters during a campaign. In my own young, idealistic days, I often viewed candidates on whose campaigns I was working, in that way. Now that I'm older and more cynical, and don't actively campaign anymore, I see that that was overdone, but I don't consider it to be particularly unusual.

The author describes a number of Obama associates, with special attention on the 1960s radical Bill Ayres, who is apparently unrepentant about his role in violent anti-war protests; Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the UCC pastor with the inflammatory rhetorical style; and Tony Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer and convicted felon, who made large financial contributions to Obama's campaigns.

Freddoso takes pains to point out that Obama is not guilty by association. But perhaps his implication (rightly or wrongly) is that where there's smoke, there's fire. At the very least, Freddoso intends this material to bolster his case that Obama is not a special type of politician, plying his trade at a higher level than other politicians.

Freddoso's examination of Obama's voting record in Springfield and Washington seems designed to portray the senator as a liberal wolf in moderate sheep's clothing. But to my mind, it shows more of an opportunistic, ambitious politician, who to some degree bends his political positions to fit whichever constituency he is representing at the time.

In a state Senate district on Chicago's south side, the best one could do by propounding moderate-to-conservative positions would be to valiantly go down in flames. On the other hand, in attempting to appeal to the country as a whole, Obama is, understandably, tacking more toward the center.

Would it be a good thing if politicians didn't act that way? Maybe. But they do.

Freddoso does not attempt to conceal the polemical nature of this book. He is not playing the role of an impartial journalist. As he makes clear right from the get-go in his title, he is making the case for one point of view.

There is nothing wrong with an author writing in that style, but one must read the book with a critical eye, keeping in mind that there is another side to the story.

For one thing, he sometimes slants his descriptions of events in a manner calculated to best fit his argument. For example, he describes how Obama's wife, Michele, received a substantial increase in compensation in her job with University of Chicago Medical Center, shortly after Barack Obama became a U.S. senator. The author does not mention that the pay raise accompanied the promotion described here.

I have no specific information on which to judge whether she deserved that promotion. But that concentration on the financial aspect of the promotion helps Freddoso create the impression that the pay raise might have constituted a disguised bribe to the senator, whose official actions brought government grant money to the medical center. By strategically omitting some of the information, he spun the story his way.

As a Republican who is undecided regarding the Obama-McCain election, my bottom-line reaction is that what I read in this book does not, in my opinion, disqualify Obama.

No comments: