New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Barack Obama on Friday leaves one wondering whether an “audacity of hope” has infected his brain. The main points on which Richardson based his decision not to endorse the wife of his former boss seem based more on wishful thinking than on fact or history, and expose more weaknesses than strengths of Obama’s candidacy.
In his endorsement (transcript available HERE
), Richardson said that Obama, in his Philadelphia speech about race and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, “showed us…what kind of leader he is” and that “he spoke to us as adults”, leading Richardson somehow to the conclusion that Obama can “bring people together…by bridging our differences.”
Yet except for the liberal elite in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and inside the beltway, Obama’s speech received widespread criticism for doing just the opposite, not only repeatedly emphasizing differences between races, but doing so in a way that many swing voters, especially Reagan Democrats such as in Indiana and Pennsylvania (which have upcoming primaries), might find explicitly racist.
Much has been made of Obama’s throwing his grandmother under the bus in his speech. Less widely noted was his then backing the bus over her repeatedly the next day re-emphasizing that as a “typical white person” she was somewhat afraid of blacks (even though she’s “not in any way racist”.)
Without rehashing the tremendous hash that has already been made by and of Obama and the issue of race, one thing is certain: Richardson’s suggestion that Obama is the candidate most likely to unite the country is much more questionable than it might have been a few weeks ago.
And as for showing us what kind of leader he is, and speaking to us like adults, it is hard to imagine that Obama would want the voters reminded of those points. He showed us that he’s a leader who believes that whites (like me) think we should feel privileged due to our race (which I believe is patently false) simply because it is, in the mind of people who have been infected by racist vitriol such as from Reverend Wright, an analogue to what Obama called “black resentments”. He may have spoken to us as adults in the sense that he used polysyllabic words, but he spoke to us as adults who he believes are either inherently racist or stupid.
The other inconvenient fact for those who call Obama a “uniter” is his record as one of the least likely Senators to vote for any bill sponsored by a Republican. It is hard to imagine someone rated by the most liberal Senator…to the left of Ted Kennedy and Bernie Sanders…by National Journal somehow being considered as a source of bipartisan bliss.
A second claim made by Richardson is that Obama “will be an outstanding Commander in Chief.” As usual, 100% of Obama’s claimed qualification for the foreign policy part of the job comes from his opposition to the Iraq war. I believe Obama’s sincerity in his opposition to the war, and his speech in October, 2002 was a reasonably rational explanation of his position.
However, in recent years, Obama has become the “just say no” candidate regarding the war. In 2005, 2006, and 2007, he either called for or introduced legislation to pull our troops out of Iraq (in phased but rapid withdrawals). In January, 2007 he argued that the Iraq surge “makes absolutely no sense” and still refuses to acknowledge that it has been successful to a substantial degree.
Having opposed the war, something many Americans might say looks wise in retrospect, does not give Obama a free pass to be wrong prospectively. Had he been in the Senate and believed what Senator Clinton, Colin Powell, and others believed at the time of the Iraq war vote, he may or may not have voted against the war. But allowing Obama to skate on later errors, such as his opposition to the surge, reminds me (as a trader) of believing every recommendation of a stock analyst who once made a good sell recommendation on one stock despite having been sub-par since then.
Part of Richardson’s claim rests on his view that Obama “has shown courage, sound judgment and wisdom throughout (his) career.” But Obama’s Senate career is only three years old, prior to which he served in the Illinois State Senate, hardly relevant training to be the leader of a nation at war.
Although it is a question which reasonable people can disagree about, Obama’s desire to negotiate with people like the leaders of Iran, Cuba and North Korea “without preconditions” does not inspire confidence in many of us who have been studying politics and international relations for many years.
Overall, a claim that Obama would be an excellent Commander in Chief seems based on audacious hope rather than our actual experience with the candidate.
But perhaps the most troubling statement made by Bill Richardson on Friday was made addressing Obama, and was not in the official speech transcript: “Your candidacy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our country, and you are a once-in-a-lifetime leader.”
My first reaction upon hearing that line was “And I didn’t think that campaign could get any more racist….” Consider the critical difference between suggesting a “first in a lifetime” versus a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. The implication of Richardson’s line is that America is incapable of electing a black president if we don’t elect this black president. It is a profoundly racist claim. Does anyone doubt that Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice would be highly credible candidates? Even J.C. Watts might have a chance.
I do notice one thing, however, about that list: They’re all Republicans, and it’s not because I’m not trying to think of another Democratic African-American likely to be electable to our highest office. Maybe what Richardson meant is that the Democrats — who market themselves as the party of diversity and the party that “cares” about blacks and Hispanics — is unlikely during any 75 year span to select more than one minority as their party’s nominee for the presidency.
Maybe Richardson’s point wasn’t inherently racist. Instead, maybe the rare opportunity is for America to elect our least experienced president since Chester Alan Arthur. Or maybe it is the only opportunity during our lifetimes to see Bill Richardson as Vice-President.
In other words, Richardson’s exhortation of Obama as “once in a lifetime” is either stupid, self-serving, or profoundly, though subtly, racist. Actually, I’ll take all of the above.
Just as Obama’s Philadelphia speech was seen as successful only in places and by people who were already strong supporters, Richardson’s endorsement of Obama did far more to highlight everything that is wrong with Obama’s candidacy than the precious little that is right (or Wright) with it.