May 18, 2008
Let's Give Obama the Benefit of the DoubtBy Paul Shlichta
Senator Barack Obama's repudiation of Reverend Jeremiah Wright has inspired the praise of some and the denunciation of others. This broad spectrum of opinion reflects the strange opacity of Obama's character and motivation.
We know all too well what makes Hillary tick and McCain seems to be an open book. But Obama is a man of mystery; someone has called him "a man in a fog". And he himself admits that voters ask "what do we know about him?" To date, we are still not sure whether he is mendacious or confused, open or deceitful, an idealist or a shamelessly glib opportunist.
Therefore, since we conservatives pride ourselves on our objectivity, I propose that we follow the legal dictum of "innocent until proven guilty" and give him the benefit of the doubt, just as he says he did with Rev. Wright. Let us, at least provisionally, try to construe all of his actions in the most favorable possible light.
Let us first concede his strengths. He has an excellent stage presence and is a gifted and persuasive speaker. Admittedly, most voters over thirty do not necessarily consider these to be virtues; they tend to associate such qualities with con men and used car salesmen. But one can be winning and eloquent and still be honest; think of Ronald Reagan.
Let us accept Obama's claim that, throughout twenty years of close association, he never noticed that Wright was a cesspool of anti-white hatred. Let us assume that, like many of us in church, he slept through the reverend's sermons and never heard Wright call on God to damn America or describe AIDS as a government plot against blacks. Let us further accept his reluctance to repudiate Wright as a noble loyalty to an old friend and mentor.
Let us also accept the innocence of his associations with questionable characters like Tony Rezko, Emil Jones, Robert Blackwell, Hatem El-Hady, and William Ayers. Let's attribute these and other unfortunate liaisons to an inability to judge people, or perhaps to a naïve nature, so high minded and forgiving that it only sees the good in others. This view would be in keeping with the idealistic character of the speeches that have made him famous.
Let us accept his habit of abstaining from voting, even in critical issues such as abortion and the budget, and his refusal to respond to Votesmart's 2008 Political Courage Test to a conscientious man's reluctance to make decisions hastily. This would also explain the vague, ill advised, or even inane statements that he has made about many important issues. Similarly, his inaccuracies of statement and occasional deviations from fact might be ascribed to honest human fallibility.
Let us also assume that the vagueries of his political philosophy, such as his failure to define "change" and his apparent flirtations with Marxism, black liberation theology, and the Black Muslim movement, are not attempts to deceive the public but merely reflect the vagueness of his innermost thoughts.
But if all this is true, then however much we may admire Obama's character, we must dismiss his candidacy on the grounds that he is utterly unfit to be President.
The President of the United States should have an attractive image and be an imposing and persuasive speaker. Obama, in his own boyish way, does have these qualities. But unfortunately, they are not enough.
The President of the United States must be a shrewd judge of competence and character as he selects associates and advisors for his administration. If any of his appointees fall short of his expectations, he must be quick to dismiss and replace them with a pragmatic disregard for old friendships. Unfortunately, as we have concluded above, Obama is much too trusting and loyal to make such choices wisely and much too slow in disaffiliating himself from untrustworthy associates. He might become another Warren Harding.
The President of the United States must be quick and decisive in dealing with sudden crises. Obama has shown, by his indecisive voting record and slowness in severing unsavory associations, that he is too dilatory and hesitant to make such decisions in a timely manner. He is simply not the right person for the three a.m. phone call.
The President of the United States must express himself precisely so as to avoid any unintentional ambiguities. If Obama is as open and honest as he claims to be, then his frequent gaffes must be attributed to a mental or verbal fuzziness that might endanger the country by causing him to "misspeak" in critical situations.
The President of the United States must protect the interests of the people from a word full of hostile and devious schemers. He must be wary and tough in his international dealings. If Obama is as naïve and gullible as we have charitably assumed him to be, and as other Democrats accuse him of being, then he would be no match for the belligerent heads of state in Islamic and Marxist countries. The very thought of such a child (as Maureen Dowd has described him) negotiating with deceptive and shrewd bargainers like Putin and Ahmadinejad is horrifying. Moreover, he has been accused of frequent timidity when confronting evil. Hitherto, we have often been tempted to liken Obama to Jimmy Carter. But if our assessment of his naïve and pussilanimous nature is correct, then he might well be another Neville Chamberlain.
Of course our assumption of Obama's probity might be wrong. Perhaps he is the unscrupulously devious poseur that his critics see him to be and that his words-versus-deeds gap seem to indicate. His questionable political maneuverings and his dealings with lobbyists and favor seekers lend credence to such a view of him. This cynical assessment would absolve him from some of the shortcomings cited above. But some of us believe that such hypocrisy should of itself be an absolute disqualification for public office.
Either way, Senator Obama is utterly unfit to be President of the United States. But he would make a dandy White House press secretary.