I just can't do it, no matter how hard I try. I am normally a world class hater -- a cauldron of contempt -- but, so far, nothing. No emotion. Not one genuinely flared brow or snarled lip. I tried to get myself worked up in front of the washroom mirror but only managed a slight annoyance -- and that over the undeniable fact that my beard needed trimming. I'm ashamed and aghast to report that I cannot bring myself to hate Barack Obama.
That does not bode well for the GOP because nothing drives people to the polls like bile -- as Democrats found out in the last two presidential elections. Al Gore managed to blow a contest that should have been in the bag by repeatedly reminding voters what a deep-sighing pompous ass he could be. John Kerry had a well of George W. Bush hatred to draw on, but managed to get even more voters out to the polls to vote against his Brahmin boorishness.
Most citizens who voted against these men disagreed with them. At least, that's how they rationalized their choice and explained it to friends and pollsters. But one real reason that they bothered to put signs in their yards, give money to Republicans, and show up to vote was that they had come to loathe these men. They didn't want to spend the next four to eight years listening to them lecture the country in tedious press conferences and unending State of the Union Addresses.
Democrats were all set to repeat the same unforced error by nominating Hillary Clinton, a deeply and deservedly unpopular politician whose manner offends a good plurality of voters. Though she tried to lighten things up with that new deep belly laugh and forced, pursed smile, she was the same old Hillary, with the same old Bill in tow.
But then this curious new freshman senator from Illinois stepped into the arena.
OBAMA'S SPEECH on Tuesday in Philadelphia showed off everything supporters like about the man, and likely won over many skeptics. The nutty, vile racist anti-American rantings of his former long-term pastor Jeremiah Wright had made network news, and Obama was expected to "distance himself" from the man, as the campaign lingo goes.
Instead of tiptoeing around the issues blown up by this flap, he took them straight on, delivered a well-thought, bold, even moving meditation on race in America.
Obama was intelligent and unflappable. This was supposed to be a campaign crushing crisis but it didn't show. He refused to reject Rev. Wright the man, but did something more effective, and almost unheard of these days: He criticized the Rev.'s ideology for failing to accurately grapple with what America is. Wright, said Obama, wrongly believes that this country is intractably and irredeemably racist, and held up his own campaign as proof that it's not.
He went further. Obama traced the roots of black resentments for the audience and also the roots of white counter-resentment, and went into some detail about why that backlash was based on valid concerns and need not have been motivated by hate or racism. Though he talked about how the Reagan revolution was built on top of those concerns, the language he used was more analytical than condemnatory.
It was the very opposite of the grievance-laden harangues of most modern black politicians. In the middle of speech, I turned to a colleague and announced, "If he comes out against affirmative action, I'm voting for this guy."
He won't do that, of course. For those who have been following Obama's career, the admission was not shocking. One neat trick he has developed is to fairly accurately summarize the concerns of others and then sidestep them to propose standard issue big government solutions to all of life's problems.
ONE CAN OPPOSE those solutions, but it's pretty hard to hate the messenger. That doesn't mean many conservatives -- including yours truly -- haven't given it the old college try.
Many have seized on his decision to hate the Rev.'s sins but love the Rev. and demanded a more Old Testament approach. Others have complained that he didn't concede nearly enough. Seriously? What do they want him to do, endorse The Bell Curve? If so, they're out of luck. A co-author of The Bell Curve praised the speech's nuance and intelligence.
When reading such cartoonish condemnations, one gets the impression that these people are trying to talk themselves into hating on Obama. After all, he's now got a good shot at winning the Pennsylvania primary, the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the White House, where he will put his Barack Hancock on some truly awful legislation.
I'm mad as hell that I'm not mad as hell about that.
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