Was Wright right about Obama's sincerity?
...It actually took Bill Clinton to spot some of Obama's parsing on the Iraq war when Clinton famously said "Give me a break." I guess sometimes it takes a slick politician to know one.
"He's a politician," Wright explained to Bill Moyers on PBS. "And he says what he has to say as a politician. He does what politicians do."
"Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever's doing the polls," Wright said of Obama at the National Press Club. "He does what politicians do."
Wright's insight on Obama highlights one of Obama's underappreciated skills: a Bill Clinton-like ability to say one thing and mean another, and to say things listeners must parse and parse again in search of a solid meaning.
One of the best examples of this kind from Bill Clinton is found in the transcript of a White House press conference held on March 7, 1997.
Reporters were pressing Clinton in those days on his campaign fundraising methods. "I don't believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I had changed government policy solely because of a contribution," said Clinton.
What exactly did that mean?
Give Clinton the benefit of the doubt and you must assume he meant to say something neater, cleaner and less ambiguous: I never changed government policy because of a contribution.
But it doesn't take much imagination to conjure up alternative interpretations: I never changed government policy solely because of a contribution, only partly because of a contribution. Or, I did change government policy solely because of a contribution, but I don't believe you will ever find the evidence.
Take a look at some of the things Obama has said in the past year on the campaign trail, and you will see a true talent for Clintonisms.
In the CNN-YouTube debate last July, the aspiring populist and newly minted multimillionaire was asked whether he sent his children to private or public schools. "My kids have gone to the University of Chicago Lab School, a private school, because I taught there, and it was five minutes from our house," he said. "So it was the best option for our kids."
Had Obama taught at a public school five minutes from his house would that have been the best option for his kids? Had the private school been 10 minutes away and a public school only five minutes away, would the difference in distance trump his status as a former teacher?
One wonders at the sort of decisional crisis Obama might have undergone had he taught at a reform school just a minute from his house....
Undoubtedly Obama's greatest Clintonism, however, is what he said about the Iraq War in a Jan. 31 debate in Los Angeles.
"So, I have said very clearly I will end this war," said Obama. "And I also think we've got to be very clear about what our mission is, and there may be a difference here between Sen. Clinton and myself in terms of the force structures that we would leave behind. Both of us have said we would make sure that our embassies and our civilians are protected. Both of us have said that we've got to care for Iraqi civilians, including the 4 million who have been displaced already. ... We both have said that we need to have a strike force that can take out potential terrorist bases that get set up in Iraq."
I will end this war, Obama was apparently saying, but after I have ended this war, I will keep troops in Iraq to fight people who attack our embassies, to fight people who attack our civilians, to fight people who attack Iraqi civilians and to fight terrorists who try to set up bases in Iraq.
Is it any wonder that even his former pastor parses what Obama says?