Why The Barack Phenomenon Is Scary

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No, I’m not referring to the various unsettling bits of background on Mr. Obama that continue to emerge. An example of these is this excerpt from a New York Times piece on Pastor Jeremiah Wright, who, according to the Times led Mr. Obama “from skeptic to self-described Christian.”

In 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views. . . .

Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, who by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less. That message can sound different to white audiences, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School and a Trinity member. “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse,” Dr. Hopkins said, while blacks hear, “Yes, we are somebody, we’re also made in God’s image.”

It was a 1988 sermon called “The Audacity to Hope” that turned Mr. Obama, in his late 20s, from spiritual outsider to enthusiastic churchgoer. . . .

While Mr. Obama stated his opposition to the Iraq war in conventional terms, Mr. Wright issued a “War on Iraq I.Q. Test,” with questions like, “Which country do you think poses the greatest threat to global peace: Iraq or the U.S.?” . . .

Mr. Wright’s political statements may be more controversial than his theological ones. He has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.” (For its part, the Anti-Defamation League says it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism by Mr. Wright.)

On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that “people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.”

Obama doesn’t agree entirely with these sentiments; he says, “The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification,” and explains away his mentor’s comments to the contrary as “trying to be provocative”. . . .

“If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me,” Mr. Wright said with a shrug. “I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

Sure, much of this is disturbing from a Jewish perspective. But what I find the most disturbing aspect of his candidacy — on a visceral level — isn’t something that Senator Obama himself has said or done.

Rather, it is the sheer irrationality that a large segment of the American public is demonstrating in catapulting Mr. Obama, a virtual political greenhorn, to second most popular choice for the world’s most powerful position, and in a historical period of unprecedented uncertainty and looming dangers.

Again, it’s the combination of factors that make the sudden exaltation of Barack as political rock star so clearly emotion-, not reason-based. He may well be very bright, articulate and capable, but managing the Harvard Law Review and a few years in a state legislature followed by two in the U.S. Senate do not the leader of the Free World make.

Experience, if only as a legislator of many years standing with the access to intelligence reports, the opportunity to mull matters of import, meet world leaders, etc. is a clear sine qua non for the person who will immediately be faced with maniacal and already or imminently nuclear-armed Iran and North Korea; a Middle East teetering on the brink of region-wide conflagration; the ascendant, inscrutable Goliath of China; a shadowy worldwide terrorist network hell-bent on destroying Western civ (the society, not the course), the better with nukes; Israel on the ropes politically, militarily and morally; nascent Russian democracy fading fast into dictatorship — and that’s all before lunch on the first day in the Oval Office.

Failing such experience (which many of this year’s candidates in fact do not have), one should at least have a demonstrated record of getting big, tough projects done, of managing billions of dollars and millions of people, of maintaing steely will under pressure and in crisis, of bucking opinion polls and political opposition to do the right thing — something.

Yet, overnight, the Obama juggernaut eclipsed other Democratic candidates to the point that veteran lawmakers with real expertise have been forced to drop out or go begging for exposure while Barack and Hillary, with a combined national experience of about six years, duke it out in the tabloids over which Hollywood bigwig said what about whom. Could this really be happening at this most ominous juncture of recent world history?

But why is this grist for a post on Cross-Currents? Is this somehow a particularly Jewish cause for concern? For me, the answer is yes. That’s because I see anti-Semitism as the epitome of the irrational, reposing in the subconscious minds and recesses of the hearts of its bearers, only to emerge from latency now and then and manifest itself in words or deeds.

On this note, I cite (again) an instructive passage from Rav Ahron Soloveitchik’s Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind:

In a book by a certain French journalist, the author tells of an interview he once had with Thomas Masaryk, who was known as a great liberal and as an oheiv Yisrael, a great friend of the Jewish people . . . . He was responsible to a certain extent for the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, and even fought against anti-Semitism. Asked by the French correspondent whether in his heart he entertained any prejudice against Jews, Masaryk gave him the very honest answer: “In my mind I do not have any prejudice against the Jews. Whenever I feel that I am under the impact of pure logic, then I realize that the Jew should not be disliked. . . . But sometimes when the control of the logic of the mind loosens, and I fall prey to my feeling, then I take notice of the fact that deep in my heart there is a prejudice raging against the Jews. Why, I don’t know.”

Sure, we all know it can’t happen here, don’t we? America is so very different from 1930s Weimar Germany in so many ways and Western society as a whole doesn’t exhibit the conditions necessary for an entire nation to go murderously berserk while the rest of the “community of nations” stands by, right? Right? Reassure me, now.

Yes, yes, I know and believe all that too. And yet . . . whenever I see an instance of mass historical amnesia, or mass hysteria, or mass numbness or apathy to or abject ignorance of the existence of real evil, the kind that wants to wipe us Jews off the face of the earth, it’s scary.

At least, that is, until one gets a grip and remembers that G-d runs the world. In today’s world, it’s hard not to feel sorry for people who don’t possess, to a greater or lesser extent, the priceless gift of bitachon b’Hash-m. What do they do for sanity, or do they?

And so, when I see those polls showing the percentages of people, right here in America, who don’t believe Muslim terrorists destroyed the Towers, or who believe it was Bush, the CIA, Israel, aliens — take your loony pick — it’s scary. Those percentages translate into millions of people, some of whom we ride and shop and work next to, every day.

It used to be that we could look at the National Enquirer headlines and have a good laugh, because even though its circulation is in the millions, it’s only read by those people. After all, the ladies in the beauty parlor and the hicks at the country store will never make the decisions for this country, But all of a sudden, fevered conspiracy theories and grotesque imaginings far more pernicious than anything the Enquirer ever ran, are all the rage among the elites in academia, the media, even actual decisionmakers in Congress.

The same goes for numerous other manifestations of millions of critical thinking faculties either going on the blink or not existing to begin with — including swooning over and donating tens of millions to elect a nice young man, because, after all, he’s got a fresh look and attitude and gives a good speech and makes such a nice impression when he shakes your hand. And, oh, didn’t he also (ghost)write a book with a catchy title like The Audacity of Hope and coin the phrase that “the real enemy is cynicism”?

Such a nice young man, with such bright new ideas, that Barack. And all the while, bin Laden and a thousand other ghouls spread across the globe bide their time and choose their targets and stockpile their nightmarish weapons in preparation to force a fiery, cataclysmic End of Days upon us — and that’s no conspiracy theory.

It gives new meaning to Chazal’s millennia-old prophecy that, just about now, there’ll be no one on whom to rely but our Father in Heaven.

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23 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The more serious question about Obama is whether or not he is an empty suit inflated by PR.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, I read an article in Newsweek a few months ago about Senator Obama and noticed that his wife went on a ski trip with an all Jewish sorority. I would tend to doubt that either Senator or Mrs. Obama have any anti Semitic or anti Israel tendencies.

  3. Eytan Kobre says:

    I thank the various commenters for their enlightening responses. I must say, however, that some of them apparently misunderstood the point of my piece.

    First, my intention was not to criticize Mr. Obama in particular nor only Democratic candidates in general. Rather, I sought to make a general point about a certain tendency, using Mr. Obama to illustrate the point simply because the circumstances of his candidacy provide, to my mind, the best illustration. Notwithstanding the assumptions of certain commenters, in my political leanings, I am neither a partisan Republican nor a doctrinaire conservative, although my positions may lean rightward most often (I hope to elaborate a bit in a future post).

    Second, my post was not about which candidate will ultimately make the best president. Not only is this inherently unknowable, but, as various commenters noted, past history provides examples of both inexperienced men who served us well and highly educated and/or experienced men who did not.

    Thus, irrespective of George W. Bush’s various mistakes and failures, and although he was quite untested and inexperienced when he came into office (although I do believe he was ahead of Obama in this regard; he was, after all, the son of a highly political family of president and senators), two things make me thank G-d that it is he who leads our country at this moment in history: his willingness to recognize and confront the evil that exists and seeks our destruction, and his apparent resolve to do so without regard for the polls, the opinions of the elites or his “legacy.” Were I to have the foreknowledge that Obama would mirror Bush in these ways, I might well vote for him as well, despite what I’ve written.

    Whcih leads to what, in fact, my post was about: the willingness of the masses to make critical, life-and-death decisions based on emotion, not reason.

    Of course, the signs of such tendencies are well-known and all about us. It is this that underlies the entire advertising industry, all election campaigns (I suppose that’s the same as the firstmentioned) and much else in modern life.

    I chose to make the point with Mr. Obama’s campaign because it contains the relevant features to show this tendency in extremis. To review, a) while the world is always a somewhat dangerous place, this is a much more volatile and ominous time than usual, for the reasons I briefly detailed; b) Obama is a virtual rookie in every way: 1) experience,whether political, managerial, business, international, domestic, anything 2) battle-testing of character, temperament and principled resolve. Rather, he offers tepid platitudes that so embarrassing as to be worthy of the Sellers’ character in “Being There”, like his “The enemy is cynicism,” with which James Taranto at Opinion Journal has had great fun. Frankly, in the little I’ve seen of him (and to repeat once more, I may end up wrong and hope I am), he comes off as a likeable airhead in the right place at the right time; 3) In view of everything in 1) and 2) above, the fact that there has been an infatuated rush to catapult him to the head of the race and fill his coffers with tens of millions, tells me that huge numbers of people are making — as stated above — life-and-death decisions based largely on emotion, not reason, and that’s Jewishly disturbing for the reason stated in my post. With all due respect to the commenters, I don’t know of a comparable electoral campaign with all of the above features, which is why I used this one.

    Again, who’ll best serve us is unknowable, so the post wasn’t about who’ll turn out to be the best. It was about how the American public goes about making crucial decisions which ought to be founded on reason, rather than on emotion.

    Two more brief points:

    1) Re my reference to the prevalence of belief in conspiracy theories about 9/11, which Rabbi Oberstein limits to Arabs: I don’t follow this stuff much, but my sense in this regard is based on things like a Wall Street Journal piece by Heather Wilhelm on 9/8/06 on a book by theologian David Griffin and published by a division of the Presbyterian Church, arguing that the Towers fell through controlled demolitions by the Bush administration in order to provoke a Middle East war. She writes:

    Indeed, there are a surprising number of people who share Mr. Griffin’s ideas. “Inside job” websites have mushroomed across the Internet, with an apparent growing fan base: according to an August Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll, 36% of American respondents said it was likely that “federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them.”

    Or this from a book review in the current issue of Azure:

    In February 2003, the Yale Afro-American Cultural Center invited . . . Amiri Baraka to speak on campus. Baraka had authored an infamous work . . . the previous year, which alleged that Israel had forewarned its citizens living in New York about the September 11 attacks. His entire program was devoted to a reading of his half-baked, paranoid poem. . . . At the end of his talk, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

    See there, by the way, for the Yale Jewish community’s response.

    2)Re Mr. Hall’s comment that he doesn’t find Obama’s pastor’s religious views more troubling “than many of the evangelicals whose support we court.”
    Are you willing to elaborate and substantiate? Also, does that include Wright’s quoted political statements, such as that Zionism has an element of white racism or his views on the causes of the 9/11 attacks?

  4. ak says:

    so Obama is inexperienced. What does that have to do with antisemitism or the holocaust?

  5. Bob Miller says:

    L Oberstein said, “Let’s get one thing straight, the people who believe in the conspiracy theories are Arabs.”

    But not all the people. We also have our home-grown radicals who publically share this bizarre view, as part of their overall desire to identify with any enemy of America.

    See http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=18223

  6. Larry says:

    Bob Miller (in comment no. 3, above), writes: “I don’t see any major Democratic presidential hopeful whose policy toward Israel would not be a major problem.”

    This sort of partisan political posturing was answered in a statement issued last November by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group whose pro-Israel credentials can hardly be doubted:

    “In recent weeks, some have suggested that it is better for Israel if one party or another is in control of the House or Senate.

    “AIPAC believes that strong bipartisan support for Israel exists in both parties and, regardless of who is in control, that support will remain steadfast.

    “AIPAC works closely with leaders on both sides of the aisle, each deeply committed to strengthening the bonds between the United States and Israel. No matter who wins the upcoming elections, AIPAC is confident that Congress will continue to support a strong Israel and a strong relationship between the United States and its most reliable ally in the Middle East.”

  7. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    Ralph Kostant’s comment regarding the inexperience of Lincoln is well taken. However, he didn’t really deal with any major international crises (had the Civil War not occurred he would have to deal with the French invasion of Mexico) and the world was a much simpler place back then. A better comparison would be the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson, the only President to hold an earned doctorate, whose entire public life had been two years as governor of New Jersey. His idealistic naivete after World War I resulted in a lost peace that lead directly to World War II and the Shoah. And to make matters worse, Wilson was succeeded by one term Senator Warren Harding, two year Governor Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, who had never held elective office (although he had been an effective Secretary of Commerce).

  8. Barry Kornblau says:

    Minor point: American blacks have repeatedly let the world know that they hear the word ‘articulate’ (used above as a description of Mr. Obama) as a putdown; as in, “Amazing! He’s articulate… for a black person.” (Whites may or may not hear or intend ‘articulate’ in that way, but blacks clearly hear it against a history of American racism.)

    Indeed, I know several former Harvard Law Review editors who, unlike Mr. Obama, are white. In praising them, I could use many words but, in all honesty, ‘articulate’ is not really one that I would use: witty, incisive, focused, sharp, exacting, nimble-minded, hard-working, etc., would come to mind first.

    I think it behooves us to defer to others’ historical sensitivities.

  9. Jacob Haller says:

    L Oberstein wrote

    “Let’s get one thing straight, the people who believe in the conspiracy theories are Arabs. You are writing as if this were an “American” phenomenon,”

    If what you say is correct why did a completely mainstream periodical like Popular Mechanics decide it was necessary to release a heavily-researched dissertation refuting the conspiracy theories and theorists?

    “I can’t figure out the insanity of the Arabs who somehow won’t believe that OBL was responsible, even as he takes “credit”.”

    You’re thinking too linearly. Columnist and author Mark Steyn wrote that the MidEast has many adherents who jointly see the events of 9-11 as a plus for Islamic Pride while simultaneously accuse the Mossad.

    “One saving grace is that this is not only a “Jewish” problem”

    But at present some are making into just that. Jonathan Rosenblum has written his theory on how increasing Radical Islamist terror activity in the UK is in direct proportion to its increasing anti-Semitism. Seems that many Britons find it more convenient to pin the problem on their Jews than to acknowledge a real existential threat to their greater society.

  10. L Oberstein says:

    “And so, when I see those polls showing the percentages of people, right here in America, who don’t believe Muslim terrorists destroyed the Towers, or who believe it was Bush, the CIA, Israel, aliens—take your loony pick—it’s scary. Those percentages translate into millions of people, some of whom we ride and shop and work next to, every day.”

    Let’s get one thing straight, the people who believe in the conspiracy theories are Arabs. You are writing as if this were an “American” phenomenon, it is not. Americans are fighting a war against Arabs because they believe Osama Biun Laden is an Arab . I can’t figure out the insanity of the Arabs who somehow won’t believe that OBL was responsible, even as he takes “credit”. There is some type of mental condition that affects the Arabs and they find a conspiracy under every rock. They are nuts.

    The problem of too many Arabs in the West is a real problem, but no one is willing or able to really deql with it. One saving grace is that this is not only a “Jewish” problem, so maybe the gentiles will help find a solution. If not, it’s not just Israel that is in big trouble.

  11. Larry says:

    We err when we wrap partisan political ideologies, generated on the basis of motivations and interests wholly apart from the quest for Torah knowledge, in religious garb. All too often, our Orthodox community is being cynically and successfully manipulated — on the basis of a call to allegedly shared values — to do the bidding of a Republican political establishment whose lack of commitment, integrity and personal morality has now been revealed. While I greatly respect Eytan Kobre, I fear that his current post is an example of this unfortunate phenomenon.

  12. Ralph Kostant says:

    Of course we have no one on whom to rely but our Father in Heaven. However, hitstadlut requires that we vote for someone for President, and HaKadosh Boruch Hu will not be on the ballot. I am not a backer of Senator Obama. My current preference is Governor Romney, who was the only Presidential candidate to personally appear at this year’s Herziliya Conference on Israeli Security, and who subsequently spoke at Yeshiva University. However, I will say in response to Mr. Kobre that experience is not everything. In 1860, the Republicans nominated another fellow from Illinois, named Lincoln, whose prior political experience consisted of a few terms as an Illinois state legislator, an undistiguished single term in Congress, and several unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate. Nevertheless, he managed to lead the United States through what was and is until today its greatest existential crisis. He was also a friend of the Jewish people, who immediately reversed an ill-considered order of General Grant that banned all Jewish civilians from Union military camps.

  13. SM says:

    Your description of Obama at the beginning is an absolute match for Bush.

    Your description of Obama at the end is an absolute match for Kennedy.

    Vote for the person that you think will do the best job. Try a positive choice rather than a negative one and you will be starting to put matters right.

  14. Loberstein says:

    There is a chance that the Republicans will win the next election. There is a chance that a meteor will strike Times Square tommorrow. The chances of either are about equal. So, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Both major parties have good and bad points and intelligent and ignorant people. Both are beholden to money and the politicians who are not for sale are the ones who are too rich to be bought.
    I think it is silly that so many otherwise intelligent people fall for the cynical pieties of the right wing Christian Fundamentalist Republicans. We enjoy our freedoms because of the separation of church and state . Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

  15. Harry Maryles says:

    Sure, we all know it can’t happen here, don’t we? America is so very different from 1930s Weimar Germany in so many ways and Western society as a whole doesn’t exhibit the conditions necessary for an entire nation to go murderously berserk while the rest of the “community of nations” stands by, right? Right? Reassure me, now.

    Anything is possible. We could be blown to bits tin a few years from a nuclear bomb from Iran too. We should not speak about absolutes. We must instead speak of probabilities. I can pretty clearly reassure you that we are more likely to be attacked by Iran than we are to be persecuted ala Nazi Germany by the United States in its current form. The cite even part if the evidence for that would take an entire post. Of course we should always be vigilant even during the best of times. And indeed we are in the best of times. Not even the golden era of Spain can compare to what we have now in the US.
    For those who continue to be paranoid about this, I would suggest they should just get over it.

  16. David Alt says:

    Bob: You are right but might not know the proverbial half of it. I sell retirment plans to public school teachers, so I’m often on public school or college campuses. The librarian at one L.A. high school has a huge Che Guevara poster on her office wall. Would the principal let her keep it up if the poster were of Pres. Bush? On many professors doors are leftist articles and comics; virtually nothing on the other side. Corridors are full of displays on Black Pride; every school has a M.L. King Hall, some have one named for Malcolm X or Kennedy, none for any conservative or Republican. This generation is being propogandized in countless ways from pre-school on up. If my politics were known I would hardly sell any policies. It would take hours or pages to give you a sense of what sort of “education” our tax dollars pay for.

  17. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    George W. Bush in 2000 had 6 lackluster years as governor of Texas, preceeded by a career of absolutely no distinction. Did his lack of experience disqualify him from becoming president? Or is the suspension of critical thinking a fault of the liberals alone?

  18. One Christian's perspective says:

    Our Father in Heaven , eternal everlasting G-d, has throughout all the ages been the only One anyone could rely on. I am reminded that when Israel wanted a king, they selected Saul. Yet, in G-d’s mercy, He selected a shepherd named David. I think this is true even today.

  19. Charles B. Hall says:

    I don’t see the religious views of Sen. Obama’s minister as being any worse than the religious views of many of the evangelicals whose support we court. Indeed, Sen. Obama’s church explicitly states the following:

    “God’s covenant with the Jewish people has not been rescinded or a
    abrogated by God, but remains in full force”

    Here is the source for the above statement:

    http://www.ucc.org/ecumenical/87-gs-jewish.pdf

    That is most definitely NOT the kind of statement that should remind anyone of 1938.

    Regarding Sen. Clinton, her voting record on Jewish issues since she entered the Senate has been just about perfect. She also has good relationships with much of the Orthodox community in New York. Her church (which is also President Bush’s church) has made similar statements to that above.

    I do agree, however, that Sens. Obama and Clinton don’t have that much experience. Sen. Clinton is just beginning her second term, and Sen. Obama is a first term Senator. I don’t understand why Gov. Richardson, or Sens. Biden or Dodd, are being ignored despite the huge experience of each. But we see the same thing on the Republican side. Neither Rudolph Giuliani nor Mitt Romney have ANY experience at the national or international level. The last two presidents came into office with no national experience and the country suffered as they learned on the job. It looks like we might be headed for that situation again. Any of the three Democrats I mentioned, along with McCain on the Republican side, have so much more experience and knowledge compared to the four other frontrunners that it is difficult to see how the populace can ignore it, but we are.

  20. mycroft says:

    Eytan Kpobre has a lot of good points in his piece-unfortunately comments tend to be on minor disagreements and thus I will demand consistency with his comments on Obama’s and Clinton’s experience.
    They both have more experience than GWB had before he was electedPresident. GWB was the governor of Texas but Texas is unique in the lack of power in the Governor-many officials eg Agricultural head are independently elected and thus the Governor doesn’t really run much.
    Hillary Clinton has essentially been in politics for 3 decades. H Clinton- valadectorian of Wellsley, Obama Harvard Law Review- are obviously bright.
    Attack them on the issues-but I don;t think it is wise inan OrthodoxJewish blog to get involved in American secular politics-but not their background.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    I don’t see any major Democratic presidential hopeful whose policy toward Israel would not be a major problem. When Sen. Clinton’s career path took her to New York, she had to mask her views favoring the Palestinian Arabs over Israel. That veil would come off (!) in a flash if she won in 2008.

    We can blame the voting public’s increasing political ignorance/denial/hallucination on the many left-leaning teachers at all levels who have dumbed down and subverted civics education for decades.

  22. David N. Friedman says:

    It is interesting that Obama is nonetheless generating a good deal of support among Jewish donors. It is not only Jewish liberals who seem oblivious to the world which Eytan Kobre describes, I would suggest it is the entire Democratic Party.

    Democrats have special proclivities towards both a bright new face and responding to a candidate for high office with raw emotion.

    Part of the country is aware that we are at war with a very real and dangerous enemy and part of country is in denial that there is even a conflict that cannot be solved by talking and negotiating.

    We can only hope that 2008 will mark a turning point that breaks the lock that holds the Jewish electorate captive to Dems such as Obama and that this will be an affirmative choice and not one made by harsh circumstances.

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    You can say a lot of bad things about the Romans, but one accusation that would never stick is that they didn’t know how to run a military or a government. They had something called Cursus Honorun to ensure that their leaders had experience. I wonder why the framers of the constitution didn’t adapt that.

    I think that the reason for the irrationality is that people don’t want to acknowledge that we are heading towards a painful global struggle. That stinks. It’s a lot more fun to say it’s all Bush’s fault and once we elect the anti-Bush like Barrack we’ll be safe. Unfortunately, that’s the frame of mind that leads people to throw The Sudeten Land to the wolves. I’m sure there are plenty of people who consider Israel as expendable as Checkoslovakia was.