The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obama and Mama (Mia)

My wife dragged me to see Mama Mia, an homage to the music of Abba and a Hollywood version (starring Meryl Streep) of the successful Broadway musical. Both of us were significantly less than impressed. But what we both found so startling was how many of our friends and acquaintances loved the movie—absolutely loved it!

After hearing yet another otherwise intelligent and worldly person rave about the movie, I looked at my wife and asked: “You mean to tell me that they honestly think casting fifty-somethings who have little musical or dancing talent made sense, or that the directing wasn’t over the top, or the choreography wasn’t amateurish, or the story line was laughably ridiculous, or …”

She raised her hand … always wise. “You’re absolutely right about the movie,” she replied, “but sometimes you simply decide to like something and discount all the reasons why you shouldn’t. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“I suppose.” I shrugged and moved on the other things.

I recalled our conversation this morning while reading yet another media piece extolling the many virtues of Barack Obama. It’s really remarkable how many people (and reporters) love this young politician—absolutely love him!

I have, in many other posts, recounted many of the reasons why I do not. I won’t repeat them here, except to say that my astonishment about Mama Mia is analogous to my astonishment about Barack Obama. To paraphrase my comment on the movie: “You mean to tell me that they honestly think casting a one term senator who has little experience and no executive talent makes sense, or that his clarion call for hope and change that will “heal the planet” isn’t just a little over the top, or that his past and current associations aren’t cause for concern, or his lack of principled stands (he was against the Iraq war in 2002, for it in 2004, against it in 2006) or …”

There is, however, one issue that I hadn’t addressed. For all of those readers who love Obama, I’d ask that you address a question posed by Richard Cohen.
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions -- not speeches -- that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam War POW to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position, virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate, and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.

There’s more, much more. McCain advocated immigration reform when his entire party was against it. But he stuck to his guns, even though the right wing screamed. He has criticized Congressional earmarks (often referred to a pork-barrel projects) repeatedly and has never requested one for his home state of Arizona. That’s sticking to your convictions.

Obama has criticized earmarks as well, but here’s the difference. Obama has requested almost ¾ of a billion dollars in earmarks for Illinois in his three years in the senate. He most definitely has not put your money where his mouth is.

So to return to Cohen’s question, I ask those of you who are in love: “Which of Barack’s political actions or achievements—not attributes—do you admire?” And please, spare me comments like he’s smart, eloquent, or charismatic. Those attributes can be applied to Meryl Streep, but they didn’t help her avoid being completely miscast for her role.