Codevilla on Obama
writes in his review
of several books on Obama:
But the book is irrelevant to understanding the current president of the United States because his African family had only a biological influence on him. Indeed, Barack Obama’s African-ness is, as we shall see, strictly the product of his imagination.
No, Obama wrote about how, while he was in Indonesia, his mother emphasized to young Barack his biological father’s heroic example. There is a lot of effort by commentators on the President’s life to downplay the significance of his having a black father. The chief exceptions to this pattern are myself, David Remnick, and the President.
It is surprising that Codevilla is not aware of how Stanley Ann Dunham planted in her son’s mind and heart the image of his absent father Obama Sr., the African socialist, as the ideal man. Has Codevilla not read Dreams
himself? Has he not heard of or read Sailer’s worthwhile and well written (if repetitive) book
on Obama, which brings this out clearly?
Glenn M. writes about Codevilla’s article:
This is a devastating portrait of the maufactured image of Obama. Not only his image but his very persona. Obama is not an historical accident that wandered into the presidency.
- end of initial entry -
As Sailer said, “There is a lot of effort by commentators on the President’s life to downplay the significance of his having a black father.” I think Codevilla is one of those commentators. He’s even saying that it’s in Obama’s own imagination!
So Codevilla is not looking at the whole man, if he thinks his African father only had a superficial biological influence on him (that is, it only determined his skin color and facial features). He’s doing exactly what you mention in your previous post (“Only a balanced and comprehensive view can save the West from the many threats it faces”). From what I’ve seen being black or half-black has a profound influence on a man in this country that is different from being white. It would be strange if it didn’t.
Jim C. writes:
Here is the most important part of Codevilla’s article:
In sum, Barack Obama grew intertwined with the narrow, self-referential left side of the American Left. They helped one another believe they had come up the hard way, as underprivileged but brilliant, square-jawed tribunes of the common man. Their common problem, however, is that their agendas are antagonistic to people unlike themselves, and that they cannot keep from showing their contempt for the common folk in whose name they would ride to power.
In other words, Obama is a Marxist empty suit.
Since the days of Karl Marx’s First International a century and a half ago, this very human opposition between socialist theory (egalitarianism) and socialist reality (oligarchic oppression) has bedeviled the Left. Marx laid the problem bare in his “Critique of the Gotha Program” (1875). Lenin dealt with it honestly and brutally in What Is to Be Done? (1902)—the foundational document of Communism. By acknowledging that the Communist Party is not the common people’s representative, but rather its “vanguard,” Leninists were comfortable with a party responsible only to itself and to history, a party that openly demanded deference from the humans whose habits it forcibly reshaped. Communism’s undeniable horrors forced the New Left to disassociate itself from What Is to Be Done? and once again to pretend that its socialism was neither oligarchic nor coercive, that somehow it was on the side of ordinary folks. This is a much tougher sell in the 21st century than it was in the 19th. Contemporary socialists try to explain away the common man’s suspicion of them as harbingers of oligarchy, corruption, and coercion by resorting to jargon (e.g., “false consciousness” and “socio-economic anxiety”). But that is ever less convincing. This is why the movement argues so strenuously with itself about whether and how much it should dissimulate its agenda.
Which is one reason why it plays the “race card” and seizes on recruits like Barack Obama: because many black Americans’ ancestors were slaves, must not any black American be, ipso facto, unquestionably, a member and true representative of the downtrodden? And if a skeptic should argue that this or that black man is really a representative of old, white, nasty socialism, of the Corporate State, of upscale parasites who prey on working people, it is easy enough to re-focus the argument on the skeptic’s “racism.” If blacks inclined to play this role did not exist, the Socialist movement would have every incentive to invent them. And in a sense it tries to invent them, through the “black studies” programs that now divert so many young Americans from useful lives into partisan service.
Obama is as close as one could imagine to a made-to-order frontman for contemporary, upscale, shy-about-itself, nouveau socialism. From his earliest age, he shaped his dreams about himself to act out a character wholly fictitious, namely a black American from a humble background who rose up out of brilliance and merit, and who yearns to draw all of America’s low-born (plus the rest of mankind) up through the same paths. But he is none of that. Equally imaginary is his vaunted understanding of and sympathy for foreign cultures. A typical multiculturalist, Obama speaks no language other than a peculiar version of English. His native language, loves, and hates are common to some of the most leftist elements of the current American ruling class.
That class knows about America only that it must be changed, and looks at the vast majority of Americans the way carpenters look at warped pieces of lumber. Barack Obama is neither more nor less than its product and agent.
Your closing comment misses the very point of the passage you approvingly quote. If he is a committed Marxist, then he is not an empty suit, not someone who just shows up at work and stands around. He stands for something, and he is trying to achieve it.
When will conservatives learn that they cannot simultaneously attack Obamas Obama as a dangerous committed leftist, and attack him for being incompetent, an “empty suit,” etc. You’ve got to straighen out your mind on this. And if you feel that both views of Obama are true, each in its own way, then you’ve got to make that clear. What you cannot do is combine both messages about Obama while showing no awareness of their mutual contradiction and making no effort to reconcile them.
Jim C. writes:
As to your riposte:
The keyword Codevilla used in describing Obama’s Marxism is “frontman”: “Obama is as close as one could imagine to a made-to-order front man for contemporary, upscale, shy-about-itself, nouveau socialism.” And what is a frontman? A convenient empty suit. Obama’s “Marxism” is pure fashion, like his crappy taste in music and jive turkey speech cadences. I can’t begin to tell you how many of these charlatans I met in graduate school.
I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not persuaded. In the long passage of Codevilla’s that you quote, I felt he went overboard with this conspiratorial notion that Obama had somehow been groomed or manufactured for the role. This is the standard, boring take that both sides use on the other. Everyone imagines that the leader of the other side has been manufactured by dark forces (the left said this about Bush), rather than seeing that people with certain qualities naturally are successful and become leaders. Obama developed out of the forces operating in his own life, and that made him a natural choice for leader for the left.
(A similar mentality used to be seen commonly in discussions of literature. There was this tendency to understood every great writer in terms of, and reduce him to, the “influences” that had operated on him, as though the writer were just a collection of influences, not a creative force in his own right.)
Second, someone who is as aggressive and in-your-face as Obama is not an empty suit by any definition. An empty suit, for the nth time, is a person who just shows up and wears the right suit and goes through the motions. That is not Obama. He is an active force.
Jim C. writes:
Obama has indeed been “manufactured,” thanks to the racial spoils system. To me that’s the most urgent take-away from this discussion, that a person as untalented as Barry Obama was given a chance to destroy the United States because of his race, and not his talent. Without affirmative action and preferential treatment, where would a Barry Obama be in a meritocracy? Columbia? Harvard Law School and Law Review? Plum sinecure at U Chicago? Big publishing contracts? Easy shakedown of his fellow citizens for community organizing? Senate seat? Presidency? Indeed, what job would a Barry Obama be qualified for without his AA mojo?
Only one: preacher.
This is a different point from the point that he is an empty suit.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 15, 2011 09:38 AM | Send