Paging Norman Spinrad…

In 1975, he wrote a story (not really science fiction) called “Sierra Maestra” which takes place about now in a penthouse apartment above a riot-torn Manhattan. In that apartment, a progressive radical clique plots to take over America; they do it by having spent the last twenty-five years working their way to positions of incredible prominence – running General Motors, richest financier in the country, Senator, Governor. Their entire lives to that point had been dissembling so that they could attain the positions they wanted to have on this day and move to make change.

I get a creepy reminder of that story when I read things like this about Obama:

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 Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

or this:

Mr. Wright said that in the phone conversation in which Mr. Obama disinvited him from a role in the announcement, Mr. Obama cited an article in Rolling Stone, “The Radical Roots of Barack Obama.”

According to the pastor, Mr. Obama then told him, “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.”

I can understand why these things would make conservatives – and many moderates – hyperventilate.Because they think that what they are seeing is a real-life re-enactment of Spinrad’s story.

Now that’s not necessarily true; I have a diverse body of friends and lots of friends who I don’t mix together – deliberately, out of courtesy and respect to each. I can understand how Obama could face the same issue, writ far larger.

And I’ll note that in the story, Spinrad approves of the plotters who plan to rescue a collapsing United States.

But the one thing Obama needs to do – and did not do, in spite of some excellent sleight of hand in his speech last week – is explain the arc of his beliefs and how it is that he’s comfortable with Rev. Wright and uncomfortable with some of Rev. Wright’s core beliefs.

I’m still standing on his side of the line – along with lots and lots of people like me – and if he wants to nail my feet to the floor here, this is the first and most important thing he needs to do.

13 thoughts on “Paging Norman Spinrad…”

  1. Why don’t you just spare us the months of faux agonizing about how you “support Obama for now, but . . . ” and endorse John McCain?

  2. You keep hoping for more information about Obama’s “arc of beliefs”, but what evidence do you have that such a thing exists?

    It’s been claimed over and over during the past few days that intimate association with radicals does not make you a radical. I agree. But some people reject radicalism not because they believe something better, but because they can’t handle the negative reaction that radicalism generates outside of its own narrow cliques. Instead they become relativists who falsely devalue all beliefs; who think that everything is balanced out by its opposite, even if that opposite is sheer insanity.

    Look at John Kerry after his career on the far left. Not a leftist, nor a post-leftist – no indication that his experience produced some strong synthesis of belief. Instead it produced a man who had mastered the superficialities of politics, especially evasiveness. Because people like John Kerry think that’s all there is to it.

    That’s my suspicion about Obama. When I look at him I don’t see a sinister hidden agenda. I see a superficially more attractive version of John Kerry.

    At least he’s so far avoided Norman Spinrad’s worse nightmare: “The saddest day of your life is when you decide to sell out, and nobody wants to buy.”

  3. The fundamental problem for Obama is that, without much of a political resume of his own, he’ll be evaluated based on those around him who do have a political resume. Whether it’s fair or not is irrelevant – it’s all anyone’s got. And if he argues that he’s a wonderful judge and decision-maker – based purely on his opposition to Iraq – his character will be judged on the quality of the company he keeps.

    And, it seems that he’s surrounded himself with a surplus of old-fashioned Chicago fixers, hard-core lefties, and Wright. If he had a long history of implementing effective policy, he may be able to get past this, and argue that he likes to be surrounded by “dissenting voices”. But people suspect that he doesn’t dissent at all, but actually agrees and is flying under false colors. After all, he hasn’t shown by words or actions that he opposes Wright’s take on things before 2008…

    Even now, my impression is that most people who want to vote for Obama say “he’s not really as nutty as all that”. What if he is? How do you know he isn’t? Given the people he associates with, the burden of proof is on him to show he isn’t.

    Politics isn’t a courtroom where one is innocent until proven guilty. It’s a marketplace where a product is being pitched. If people think the product is secretly defective, they won’t buy it, no matter how it’s packaged.

  4. I am reminded that those attracted to the ‘right’ side of the philosophical/political spectrum are inclined to be looking for a _saviour_, a perfect being (probably annointed by God) to lead us out of the wilderness into some secular equivalent of heaven. It aint that way, and it is never going to be that way. There is no inalienable cookbook of rights and responsibilities to work from, nor demi-gods to administer them. There is instead an imperfect and evolving sense of what is right and wrong; and the administration of the system designed to identify and implement this collective philosophy is a daily juggling act for democratically elected officialdom. By definition, the leader of this eclectic rabble cannot be any interest group’s champion, nor can he/she afford to completely alienate the many interest groups extant. So they will be equivocal, inclined to diplomacy, and the best they can hope for is to be deemed _acceptable_ by the majority. I don’t think I would have it any other way. Think of it as a contract position for a senior manager, and in the list of skills required to to that job try to shy away from “walks on water”.

  5. Way to build the base of support guys – here’s a hint: you’re supposed to attract votes to win.

    I support Obama because I like his domestic policies a lot, and as noted, think he has the potential to break us out of the ideological gridlock the three of you seem to cherish so closely.

    We’ll see in November if that’s enough.


  6. AL: “Way to build the base of support guys – here’s a hint: you’re supposed to attract votes to win.”

    I think you missed the point, AL. The suggestion is that you are trying to win votes for McCain. You suspect Obama of sailing under a false flag. (Actually, the link to Electronic Intifada makes a good case. It suggests that Obama seeks votes from Arab Americans and other supporters of the Palestinians, but when the chips are down he will do nothing for them. That may well be the case but I can’t see that they have much to lose since McCain will do nothing for them either.) Your commenters accuse YOU of sailing under a false flag. The name Armed Liberal is presumably intended to suggest that you have liberal sympathies.

    So, what’s the “arc of your beliefs” then? Were you ever really a liberal? You’ve often said you are opposed to Bad Philosophy. That doesn’t get us very far; presumably you are also opposed to bad food, bad wine and bad music. A little more disclosure might be in order if you want to convince your readers that you are engaging with Obama’s ideas in good faith.

  7. Sorry, Kevin – didn’t catch your comment in time respond in the post above.

    Short response: I’m entertained to think that my theoretical ‘flip’ on this matters enough to discuss; it’s not like my last-minute endorsement of McCain is going to make the front page of the NYT. I do this to clarify my own thinking and for my own entertainment, and gamesmanship like that seems neither edifying nor entertaining.

    But I’ll start thinking of myself as more important now…thanks for that!


  8. “I am reminded that those attracted to the ‘right’ side of the philosophical/political spectrum are inclined to be looking for a saviour”
    I am reminded of the boundless capacity of the left for transference.

  9. Obama is who he is. A Black Nationalist with his obvious racialist writing, actions, associations, etc.

    Second, he’s a radical. Bill Ayers, Powers, Electronic Intifada, etc. are not accidents but a pattern.

    Third, the radicalism is indicative of wealthy, powerful people who wish to replicate the landed estate of one Fidel Castro, ruler of Cuba.

    Fourth, Obama represents the desire of the Democratic Party, made up of Angry Black Nationalists, La Raza, Angry Feminists, various Lesbian and Gay groups, plus rich white yuppies, to stick it to everyone else.

    Fifth, that is likely a losing proposition in general elections. Even with weak and lazy candidates like Bush.

    Sixth, the Republican Party probably more accurately represents what you believe, i.e. Democratic politics circa 1964. Democratic politics NOW are filled with the groups above who envision another Cuban plantation filled with a few apparatchicks and lots of serfs.

  10. I am reminded that those attracted to the ‘right’ side of the philosophical/political spectrum are inclined to be looking for a saviour, a perfect being (probably annointed by God) to lead us out of the wilderness into some secular equivalent of heaven.

    Ian, uh, what country are you from?

  11. Think of it as a contract position for a senior manager, and in the list of skills required to to that job try to shy away from “walks on water”.

    Speaking as someone with, arguably, two decades+ of management/executive experience in difficult markets, I see *zero* evidence that Obama has any relevant senior managerial skills whatsoever.

    And when I look past the pablum on his campaign website and examine what he has, in fact, actually done and stood for, I’m surprised to see Armed Liberal happily endorsing a man

    * whose legislative record is (charitably) thin (and deeply to the left of the country as a whole)

    * whose political career has been an artifact of the Chicago machine and dirty money

    * who happily leveraged (at best) or believes (at worst) racist, divisive crap tinged with substantial degrees of racially-oriented conspiracy theory (AIDs)

    * who would abandon Iraq – and has announced that, with the predictable result of encouraging Iranian attacks there

    * who wants to attack Pakistan (a nuclear power)

    * who has slandered his white grandmother in a disgusting attempt to imply moral equivalence to racist bile, despite having described her in his first book as bravely standing up for Black friends in Texas in the 60s

    and on and on.

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