Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) has been anointed by the mainstream media as a frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He's been a guest on "Meet the Press" and, more importantly, "Oprah." He's been featured on the covers of Time magazine and Harper's, and profiled in The New Yorker. He's received praise from sources as disparate as Charles Krauthammer and Richard Cohen. A CNN poll in early November demonstrated that the Obama media fawning has had a dramatic impact: Obama trailed only Hillary Clinton among Democrats.
Who is Barack Obama? He is a cipher running as a shaman. He has been in the Senate for two years. He has virtually no voting record; he has virtually no articulated positions. Ask his advocates, and they will describe him as "a breath of fresh air" -- but ask them about a single position he holds, and they will stare at you as though you are speaking in tongues. They will tell you, however, that Obama "understands" every position you hold. Clinton ran as "The Man from Hope." Obama runs as "The Man Who Understands ." As Obama puts it in his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," "It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the Golden Rule -- not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes."
Which makes many voters quite happy. People always wish to be understood, and Obama offers "understanding" as his platform. Obama is the first legitimate Democratic African-American candidate for president because he is an African-American man who doesn't threaten white folks -- he understands them. His race, to be sure, demands obeisance from white voters. Who doesn't want to see this country overcome its history of racial oppression by electing an African American? But Obama's "understanding" soothes the feelings of those same white voters.
Only one question remains: Where's the meat? It's all well and good to campaign on the basis of "common sense" and "smart government," as Obama did in his softball interview with Tim Russert, but no politician in history has ever campaigned on any other basis. Where does Obama stand? His own writings display the weakness inherent in his platform of "understanding": If you profess to understand everything, you understand nothing. Not every conflict can be glossed over by "hugging it out." Focusing more on "understanding" and less on questions of morality coddles the immoral.
Take, for example, Obama's "understanding" with regard to our enemies in the war on terror. In his new introduction to his first book, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," Obama writes, "My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction." Except, of course, that Obama proceeds to "understand" those he has just dismissed, blaming terrorism on "the underlying struggle" between "worlds of plenty and worlds of want" -- a neo-Marxist interpretation of the rise of Islamofascism. "I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless," Obama writes, "how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago's South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into despair and violence." This is a sickening comparison; even the worst inner city youths generally do not join up with Al Qaeda.
Obama's "understanding" leads to appeasement: "I know that the response of the powerful to this disorder -- alternating as it does between a dull complacency and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware -- is inadequate to the task." What does Obama, then, recommend? Why, "understanding," of course, the type of understanding that draws moral equivalence between terrorism and response to terror: "I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all."
There is a thin line between being open-minded and empty-headed. Obama's politics of "understanding" crosses that line. And in the end, Obama's platform is disingenuous in the extreme. His positions, when he takes them, invariably lean toward radical liberalism. A true politics of understanding would recognize that some things are not worth understanding, or tolerating.