On Friday we noted that Barack Obama's "spiritual mentor," the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had reprinted a Hamas op-ed in his church bulletin. It turns out that Obama issued a quiet condemnation of Wright's editorial decision, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:
"I have already condemned my former pastor's views on Israel in the strongest possible terms, and I certainly wasn't in church when that outrageously wrong Los Angeles Times piece was re-printed in the bulletin," Obama said in a statement emailed to JTA late Thursday, and referring to critics who noted that Obama had been in church when Wright had made controversial statements. "Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel's destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot in recent months. I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community's conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor."
That could hardly be clearer, could it? But a year-old article from ElectronicIntifada.com suggests that Obama has, fairly recently, held views on the subject that are completely at variance with those he now espouses. The author, Ali Abunimah, is a co-founder of the site:
I first met Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama almost ten years ago when, as my representative in the Illinois state senate, he came to speak at the University of Chicago. He impressed me as progressive, intelligent and charismatic. I distinctly remember thinking "if only a man of this calibre could become president one day." . . .
Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.
As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The [sic] Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"
Abunimah argued that Obama, in an effort "to woo wealthy pro-Israel campaign donors," had made an "about-face":
He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power.
It is possible that Obama had a sincere change of heart–that he came to see the merits of the Israeli side of the argument. It is also possible that Obama has no sincere views on the subject–that when he was traveling in radical-chic Chicago circles, he told people like Abunimah what they wanted to hear, and now that he has gone national, he has switched to telling a more mainstream Democratic constituency what it wants to hear.
But what does Obama really believe–about the Middle East, about Wright's "black liberation theology" or about any other complicated and sensitive topic? The question is a Rorschach inkblot; the answer reveals more about one's emotional response to Obama than about Obama's intellectual response to the world.
If Obama makes you feel good about yourself, you will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his beliefs are similar to yours. See, for example, Obama enthusiast Marty Peretz expounding on Obama's sympathy for the Jewish state, or Douglas Kmiec, a judicial conservative and onetime Romney adviser, explaining that even though Obama has shown no sign of agreeing with him on "important fundamentals," he is "convinced based upon [Obama's] public pronouncements and his personal writing that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view, and as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them."
If you are unmoved by Obama, by contrast, there is ample reason to be skeptical about whether he holds beliefs congenial to yours, or indeed any beliefs at all. This skepticism is only amplified by over-the-top accolades for Obama, such as this one from Frank Schaffer, a self-described "survivor" of "an evangelical/fundamentalist childhood":
Obama offers civility in the midst of a drunken national bar fight. Obama speaks in complete sentences, well-turned paragraphs, offers thoughts with intellectual depth, nuance, humility and compassion. Obama is a reasoned essay cast before sound-bite swine who seem ready to tear anything that falls into their sty to shreds.
By providence or blind luck, we are being given a second chance. In Obama our founders appear once again stepping from the mists of time to offer a wayward great, great grandchild an opportunity for redemption. . . .
Obama stands in the tradition of our founders, a citizen running for office, not a "professional" striver. But the cry goes up, "He doesn't have the experience!" Experience? At what? Playing games with our country's soul while the only real game in our nation's capitol is hanging on to power, enriching oneself at the political trough through connections, taking us to war after war, making us hated throughout the world by catering to our insatiable, unreasoning fears.
Obama is the man who reaches out to help a dying passerby and the passerby snarls, "What do you really want?"
Obama's supporters are proud that they are acting out of "hope" rather than, as Schaeffer puts it, "insatiable, unreasoning fears." But what kind of "hope" is it that dehumanizes detractors, deeming them "swine"? And isn't fear, or at least serious unease, an appropriate response to a politician who, however soothing his own demeanor, seems to have a knack for inspiring such unreason?
Damning With Faint Praise
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico endorsed Barack Obama Friday, and we got a kick out of Obama's praise for Richardson, reported by CNN:
Obama said, "I am extraordinarily grateful to have the support of one of the great public servants of these United States."
"He's done the kind of work that you want from your public servants, somebody who's driven not just by raw ambition, not just by an interest in personal aggrandizement," Obama added. "He's been somebody who's been motivated by the desire to make the lives of his constituents and working people a little bit better."
So according to Obama, Richardson is driven in part by "raw ambition" and "an interest in personal aggrandizement." But he also is interested in making people lives "a little bit better," and that's enough to make him "one of the great public servants of these United States."
Obama sure is cynical about his fellow politicians, isn't he?