Shattering the Political Trance of Inevitability: Obama Trusts Himself to Think in the Moment

Shattering the Political Trance of Inevitability

Photography by: Annie Leibovitz

Some political observers have begun to take greater notice of Obama’s capacity for deep engagement in contemplative observation and introspection. This is a characteristic that I referenced some time ago, a kind of thoughtfulness that Obama believes anchors political actions core decency and hope through detailed reflections about the myriad details of the issues underlying socio-political action in the here and now.

At first, commentators begin to observe that there is something exceptional about his manner and demeaner. As Peggy Noonan wrote in today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Barack Obama has a great thinking look. I mean the look he gets on his face when he’s thinking, not the look he presents in debate, where they all control their faces knowing they may be in the reaction shot and fearing they’ll look shrewd and clever, as opposed to open and strong. I mean the look he gets in an interview or conversation when he’s listening and not conscious of his expression. It’s a very present look. He seems more in the moment than handling the moment. I’ve noticed this the past few months, since he entered the national stage. I wonder if I’m watching him more closely than his fellow Democrats are.

Mr. Obama often seems to be thinking when he speaks, too, and this comes somehow as a relief, in comparison, say, to Hillary Clinton and President Bush, both of whom often seem to be trying to remember the answer they’d agreed upon with staff. What’s the phrase we use about education? Hit Search Function. Hit Open. Right-click. “Equity in education is essential, Tim . . .

Peggy Noon, who is a Contributing Editor of the WSJ, went on to say:

“You get the impression Mr. Obama trusts himself to think, as if something good might happen if he does. What a concept. Anyway, I’ve started to lean forward a little when he talks. But he doesn’t stand a chance, right? His main competitor, Mrs. Clinton, is this week’s invincible. She broke through 50% for the first time in a big national poll–53% saying they would support her, a full 33 points more than Obama. Her third quarter fund raising beat everyone else’s. “It’s all over but the voting,” said Rep. Tom Petri, who will probably get pummeled a bit by the campaign for premature triumphalism. But he only said what a lot of people are starting to think….

Mr. Obama’s experience, as we all know, is as limited as Mrs. Clinton’s, which is to say limited indeed. She has held elective office for only 6 1/2 years. Before that she was first lady of Arkansas and then first lady of the United States. He has held national office for only 3 1/2 years, and before that was a state legislator for eight years. But he has impressed people, and not with money, résumé or clout but something rarer, natural gifts. That’s not nothing. Big talent is rare, and deserves consideration. And yet the Democrats remain in their Hillary trance….

That to me gets to the heart of the problem and the heart of The Trance. Mrs. Clinton is so far ahead so early on for the same reason Mr. Bush was so far ahead so early on in 2000, and after only six years as governor, with no previous offices behind him. It is the nature of modern politics. A political family gains allies–retainers, supporters, hangers-on, admirers, associates, in-house Machiavellis. The bigger the government, the more ways allies can be awarded, which binds them more closely. Your destiny is theirs. Members of the court recruit others. Money lines spread person to person, company to company, board to board, mover to mover.

The most important part is the money lines. Power is expensive. The second most important part is the word “winner.” The Bushes are winners; the Clintons are winners. We know this, they’ve won. The Bushes are wired into the Republican money-line system; the Clintons are wired into the Democratic money-line system. For a generation, two generations now, they have had the same dynamics in play, only their friends are on the blue team, not the red, or the red, not the blue.

They are, both groups, up and ready and good to go every election cycle. They are machines. There are good people on each side, idealists, the hopeful, those convinced the triumph of their views will make our country better. And there are those on each side who are not so wonderful, not so well-meaning, not well-meaning at all. And some are idiots, but very comfortable ones.

Is this good for our democracy, this air of inevitability? Is it good in terms of how the world sees us, and how we see ourselves? Or is it something we want to break out of, like a trance?

I deeply hope that interested readers will take the time to access Peggy Noonan’s extraordinary WSJ article in its entirety here.

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Senator Larry Craig (NOT Gay-R) of “Brokeback Bathroom” Refuses to Leave Senate

Senator Larry Craig (Not Gay-R) of Idaho

Senator Larry Craig (Not Gay-R) of Idaho Now Refuses to Resign from the U. S. Senate

After being charged in an airport men’s room gay sex sting, U. S. Senator Larry Craig announced last month that he intended to resign Sept. 30. Then said that he’d stay in office pending the legal proceedings he’s initiated, now says that he’s going to remain in the Senate until the end of his term in January 2009. The newest statement from Craig, posted on his Senate Web site, came on the very same day that the judge in Minnesota rejected Craig’s request to withdraw his guilty plea in the Minneapolis airport men’s room incident.

Craig said that he was “extremely disappointed” by the judge’s ruling because, despite the fact that he pleaded guilty to them, “I am innocent of the charges against me.” Craig says he’s going to “continue to explore” his “additional legal options” and that he’s going to “continue to serve Idaho in the United States Senate.” There has yet not been much word from the Senate leadership, which will be hard-pressed to backpedal on Craig at this point, since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already previously declared Craig’s conduct “unforgivable.”

Senator John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, demanded that Mr. Craig keep his pledge and leave the Senate. “The type of behavior we are talking about here is not exactly something that I think a senator should be engaged in,” said Mr. Ensign, who again raised the possibility of public ethics committee hearings into whether Mr. Craig had brought discredit on the Senate, which could be grounds for action against him. The leaders of the ethics panel said that a complaint filed against Mr. Craig by the Republican leadership in August, when the news of his guilty plea initially became public, remained an open case, given his decision to remain in office.

Arresting Officer Reviewing Details of Charges with Senator Craig

(Audio: At the Scene of the NOT-GAY actions)

Larry Craig’s Mug Shots

The ethics committee has already signaled it is reviewing the facts of Craig’s case, taking the step after the Senate Republican leadership requested it. Craig’s decision to stay and fight raises the strong possibility of public hearings, virtually certain to be televised live, centering on the issue of gay sex. When the charges first surfaced, Craig had said he would resign by Sept. 30.

Senator Larry Craig’s Resignation Statement (September 30)

Senator Craig of Brokeback Bathroom Fame: I’m Not Gay, I’m Not Gay, I’m Not Gay!!

From the opening line of that statement, Sen. Larry Craig was in trouble. “Thank you all very much for coming out today,” he began. “Coming out” was at the very least not the best phrase for a guy who had pleaded guilty to some rather un-senatorial conduct in an airport men’s room, and who now stands accused in his home-state newspaper of a gay encounter at Union Station in Washington, D. C.

Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay,” Craig said. Evidently, Craig did not think this was clear enough, because moments later, he explained why he kept the arrest a secret. “I wasn’t eager to share this failure, but I should have anyway, because I am not gay!”

The Associated Press rushed out a bulletin: “Sen. Larry Craig says, ‘I am not gay.’ ” CNN put up a “Breaking News” banner announcing, “Sen. Craig: I am not gay, and never have been gay.” The Drudge Report went with the headline “Brokeback Bathroom.”

As the Craigs departed, somebody in the crowd that had gathered called out after the senator: “Hey, what if you were gay?” Heckling the disgraced lawmaker at that moment seemed a bit unseemly, but the question actually was a reasonable one. Craig hadn’t gotten into trouble for being gay. He got himself into trouble because he “engaged in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment.”

Craig Tries to Have His Guilty Plea Withdrawn

After the news of Mr. Craig’s plea was first disclosed on Aug. 27, Senate Republicans leaned heavily on Mr. Craig to leave, concluding that his acknowledged offense disqualified him from remaining. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called it unforgivable and the party stripped Mr. Craig, a popular lawmaker at home before this episode, of his committee leadership slots.

Republicans were also eager to quickly dispose of another scandal in light of the acknowledgment by Senator David Vitter of Louisiana that he had been involved with an escort service under police investigation for prostitution, and the problems of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, who is under investigation in a federal corruption inquiry.

However, Larry Craig was beginning to have other ideas. “I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away,” he said, blaming this on his failure to hire a lawyer. “I have now retained counsel, and I am asking counsel to review this matter and to advise me on how to proceed.” The decision that Craig ultimately made was to return to court and attempt to have the written guilty plea that he made in August to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct withdrawn. He said he would stay in office at least until a judge ruled on that bid.

Craig Plans to Attempt Withdrawing His Guilty Plea

Court Denies Craig’s Request to Withdraw His Guilty Plea

Craig’s attempt to have his earlier guilty plea withdrawn failed. Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter wrote, “Because the defendant’s plea was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and because the conviction is supported by the evidence … the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea is denied.” Minnesota law allows a plea to be withdrawn if a “manifest injustice” occurs, but leaves it to judges to define that. Porter ruled that none had occurred in Craig’s case. “It is not a manifest injustice to force the defendant to be bound by his plea bargain and the waivers and admissions which he made in conjunction with the execution of that bargain,” Porter wrote. He also wrote that Craig hadn’t produced any “newly discovered evidence” that would clear him.

The Court Rules that Senator Craig’s Guilty Plea Stands

But Senator Craig is Staying Put!!

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