1.21.2008

Obama, and keeping honest bloggers honest

I try hard to keep away from politics and religion here at Modern Dragons. They make for divisive discussions, people (including myself) tend to have all sorts of dogmatic baggage about these topics, and often I have very little to add that can't be found elsewhere. But I think it's an unhealthy trend in modern life to turn vast swaths of the public sphere completely apolitical. The political process is messy and divisive, but if we remove it from our day to day life, or even try to segment society into "political zones" and "non-political zones" I think democracy breaks down.

So, here's a little dip into politics on a mostly apolitical blog.

Obama
I'm solidly behind Obama for president. Of all the candidates, I feel he most appreciates complexity, most understands the nature of corruption, and is most able to generate, adapt, and implement a positive vision for America. He's not perfect-- but I believe in him like I've never believed in any other political candidate.

Two items I would point readers who are curious about Obama toward are
1. Ars Technica's coverage of Obama's technology proposal;
2. Lawrence Lessig on why he supports Barack.

Steve Sailer
A rather odd thing about my political leaning is that, though I'm a fairly committed liberal, my favorite political blogger is the pretty hardcore conservative (and decidedly maverick) Steve Sailer. I'd like to say something high-minded like reading a conservative blogger was a conscious choice to diversify my information stream, but the fact of the matter is it wasn't: Steve is just the most engaging, self-critically honest, and fair political blogger I've found. Very smart as well, and drawn to what I think are important topics. Often, very difficult and divisive topics I would never feel comfortable writing about, but topics I see real value in building open discussions around. Maybe I'm corrupting my mind by reading Steve, but I simply haven't found a liberal political blogger of his blogging caliber (suggestions in the comments welcome!). So while we disagree on plenty of things, the way he approaches his topics compels me to take what he says seriously.

Steve's Latest Column
Steve has been writing a lot about Obama. His latest VDare column delves into questions of Obama's racial and religious identity, largely drawing from Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father and connections between Obama and the pastor of Obama's church. Like most of Steve's VDare columns, I don't think it's as fair or as balanced as what's on his personal blog. In fact, though I don't have any objections to its factual content, it may be the worst thing Steve has ever written in how it selectively engages some facts in order to tar someone's public persona. I think it's unintentional and completely non-malicious, at worst just willful selective engagement and willful ignorance of how the piece (and its 20+ siblings) will be interpreted.

Maybe I'm a little touchy when it comes to my political candidate. And maybe I'm a liberal, Steve's a conservative, and never shall we see eye to eye. But lots of Steve's other regular readers have been commenting about his odd and continuing implicit criticisms of Obama- I don't think I'm way out of line, bringing it up.

If it were some political hack writing this I wouldn't care. And Steve is entitled to run his blog as he sees fit. But damn it, Steve, you're my favorite political blogger. I'm not going to give you a free pass.

So in the interest of keeping an honest blogger honest, here's my reply to Steve's column (a draft of which was posted in the comments). One sentence version: Steve, you say you actually kinda like Obama? Prove it.

Based on this, and your 20+ other recent postings on Obama which largely concentrate on these issues, I believe you have an impressively nuanced (and, I think, generally fair) understanding of Obama's racial and religious identity. You touch on a lot of very interesting things in fresh ways.

But having said that, you write very critically, and your choice of topics-- both to write so much about Obama and not any other candidate, and to concentrate on racial and religious identity issues, at the expense of other candidates and other topics-- is not a neutral action. You've said you actually kinda like the guy, but these writing choices change the discussion, and I believe they hurt Obama's candidacy. If that's your intention, that's your intention, and I'll butt out- but based on what you've said in the past, I don't think that's what you mean to be doing.

To put it less delicately, if you don't want to be an accessory to electing someone you really dislike, such as Clinton, I think you should broaden your coverage of candidates or topics, or put a stronger "I actually like Obama because X, Y, and Z" disclaimer on your writings. Because, regardless of your intentions, I feel pieces like these generate and nurture anti-Obama feelings.

Tangentially... after reading your blog for years, I'm surprised you seem to identify so strongly with the Republican party. I think one can have good reasons to support the Republican party-- historically, at least, they've been the party of competence and realism-- but in your case, the blind consistency of support is a datapoint that doesn't really fit. You're not dogmatic about anything else-- why do you still consistently back said horse, especially after the dog's breakfast that neocons (and to some extent evangelicals) have made of things these past few years? Income from what you see as your base, perhaps. Income is important. And insidiously persuasive. I'm very far from calling your blogging money-driven or corrupt-- you're the least corrupt, most open-minded political blogger I've come across. That's why I read you. But I read these critical analyses of Democratic candidates, and I wait for similarly incisive analyses of Republican candidates, and they don't show up.

Well, maybe that's a bit of a cheap shot. Maybe not. It's hard to say.

To get back to my original point... you seem to secretly appreciate Obama. At least, you seem to have much less disdain for him than almost any other candidate. Why not write about some of his good attributes for a change? At minimum, you've said he's an interesting candidate-- I understand you write about what you know (and I wouldn't have it any other way, and Obama did write a book tackling his racial identity, so you're not just shooting in the dark), but surely there are non-racial and non-religious attributes about this complex candidate you find interesting enough to write about?

Mike.

3 comments:

Sam said...

Thanks for the recommendation Mike, I'll be curious to look into what Steve says.

Most of the political blogs I choose to read are light on opinions and heavy on news because I find most of the opinion based blogs to be incredibly over-the-top partisan. One decent news blog is from Politico's Ben Smith. Mostly just news and light analysis, but he covers a lot of the details of the Dems race that others don't.

I've also recently started up a blog on politics, called A Reasonable Exchange. It's mostly my thoughts on political strategies and events, focused almost entirely on the Dems race.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks. You are too kind in your comments on my writing.

Sorry to take so long to respond.

There are several reasons I write so much more about Obama than I write about other candidates:

1. I barely ever watch television, so I'm most interested in the one candidate who is a good writer, and that's Obama. Huckabee, for example, is apparently a very good oral performer, but I've never seen more than a few seconds of him and I don't recall ever reading more than a few words by him.

2. Obama is highly intelligent and comes from an intellectual background that I can relate to, which I doubt is true of, say, Huckabee's background.

3. Obama and I are on the same fundamental wavelength, both being very interested in "race and inheritance," the subtitle to his 1995 autobiography.

4. Nobody else other than Shelby Steele seems to have carefully read all the way to the finish Obama's 1995 autobiography. It's not an easy read, and it's so much at odds with the image Obama is projecting on the campaign trail, and it's so obsessed with issues that most white pundits would prefer not to think about, that it simply doesn't register on much of the press. They look at it for awhile, get bored, flip ahead to the part about taking drugs, then set it aside.

5. Nobody else other than Steele wants to be frank about what the book says about Obama. Steele has the exact same "race and inheritance" as Obama, so he can get away with it, but I get demonized as a racist for quoting from the Presidential candidate's autobiography. Who needs that? Well, I decided a long time ago to put up with it, but most people with more prudence about their net worth won't.

6. So, I have a comparative advantage in writing about Obama. In contrast, what would I have new to say about Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani that hasn't been said already by hundreds of other pundits? I'll admit that Huckabee is terra incognita, but I don't know much about his background (I have a hard time remembering the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists). I did spend a day researching Bill Richardson's quite interesting family background, which is indeed up my alley, but Richardson himself is a bore and his Mexican background bored most Americans, unlike Obama's part black background.

7. I've suggested several times that Obama might have changed substantially since he wrote his 1995 book, perhaps after being rejected by black voters in his 2000 House primary defeat. But, it's up to him to explain how he changed. I've suggested a couple of ways he could make clear the difference between the 1995 Obama, who is clearly not Presidential timber, and the 2008 Obama: e.g., reject his far leftist spiritual advisor Rev. Wright, and sit down with Shelby Steele for a long dialogue on TV on all the questions that white journalists won't dare bring up. But, it's up to Obama to make the case that he has changed and moved far toward the mainstream from the far leftist and racialist point where he was at 13 years ago.

Mike said...

Thanks for the reply, Steve. You make some very reasonable points (and your last connects things in a way I hadn't, or at least not as straightforwardly).