This week’s cover story on "Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President" is really part of an enormous package offering hope to liberals about defeating the conservative movement, especially the religious right. There is a six-page article by Joe Klein about being dazzled by Obama the "political rocket," a six-page excerpt from Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, explaining how "progressives" can neutralize religious conservatives, and, just to stay on point, a three-page excerpt from David Kuo’s book Tempting Faith titled "Why a Christian in the White House Felt Betrayed."
Klein's cover story, titled "The Fresh Face," tried to sound detached that Obama’s not "quite ready to answer the tough questions." (As you’ll see, Klein’s tough questions are pressing from the left, and he’s unhappy that Obama’s slow to commit.) Klein began in typical jaunty fashion about how Obama wows a Rockford audience with "sly hipster syncopation" and how his style is "quietly conversational, low in rhetoric-saturated fat; there is no harrumph to him."
We also learn "Obama is doing something rare in latter-day American politics: he is respecting their intelligence. He’s a liberal, but not a screechy partisan. Indeed, he seems obsessively eager to find common ground with conservatives." Not partisan? Captain Common Ground? But Klein’s just not pushing the button for that speech. Obama can sound a lot like Hillary Clinton when pressed, that somehow conservatives are stuffed to the gills with ideology and liberals are not, as in this remark in a Fox News interview:
"I think that George W. Bush is a good and decent man. I think he is a likable person. I think that he wants to do right by this country. I think he has been a far more ideological president than we've seen in many years. ... I think that's lead to significant mistakes.
"I think it's part of the reason we have seen the misjudgments in Iraq. It's part of the reason we have tried to cut taxes, fight two wars, without paying for it. I think reputably what you've seen in this president is ideology over fact and evidence. I think that always gets us in problems if you're on the right or on the left."
When Klein talks to Obama about his appeal, Obama pleads (perhaps to a less generous reader, boasts) that people should embrace more opportunities for young black men because "If you feel good about me, there’s a whole lot of young men out there that could be me if given the chance." Klein protests: "But that’s not quite true. There aren’t very many people – ebony, ivory, or other – who have Obama’s distinct portfolio of talents. Or what he calls his ‘exotic’ family history.
It’s clear that Klein sees glimmers of his hero Bill Clinton in Obama’s refusal to speak for absolute certitude, his use of self-deprecation and empathy as "powerful political tools," and his "obsessive-compulsive tic" for consensus. But he sees a flaw in that Obama doesn’t seem "willing to take big risks...with the exception of a bipartisan effort with ultra-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to publish every government contract a matter of some embarrassment to his pork-loving colleagues – his record has been predictably liberal. And the annoying truth is, The Audacity of Hope isn’t very audacious."
Klein expressed disappointment with an Obama speech on "alternative energy to an audience gathered by MoveOn.org at Georgetown University." What, no left-wing label? Klein only said it was "a chance for the best-known group of activist Democrats to play footsie with the party’s most charismatic speaker." It was, to Klein, "a disappointment, the closest I had seen Obama come to seeming like a standard-issue pol, one who declares a crisis and answers with Band-Aids. In this case, he produced a few scraggly carrots and sticks to encourage Detroit to produce more fuel-efficient cars. The audience of students and activists sensed the Senator’s timidity and becamse palpably less enthusiastic as Obama went on. Just two days before, Al Gore gave a rousing speech in New York City in which he proposed a far more dramatic alternative energy plan: a hefty tax on fossil fuels that would be used, in turn, to reduce Social Security and Medicare taxes."
Oh joy. We’re back to Time magazine’s habit of thumping the tub for gas taxes. From there, Klein presses Obama that he couldn’t have avoided thinking about these great liberal proposals, until Obama cried uncle on Gore’s gas-tax idea: "It’s a neat idea. I’m going to call Gore and have a conversation about it. It might be something I want to embrace."
In summary, a perfect demonstration of Klein in action, a man who never sees himself as a mere chronicler of politicians, but am activist, almost a campaign consultant: a man who presses and prods and coaches a Democrat into shape, urging and kvetching until the contender becomes everything Klein demands, pressing the candidate to join a consensus Klein is trying to build for bold liberal action. Obama’s struggling to win the Joe Klein Primary.
Obama’s book excerpt, titled "My Spiritual Journey," spent several paragraphs remembering his Senate run against transplanted-from-Maryland black Republican candidate Alan Keyes, and how Keyes implicitly accused Obama of doubt, "that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian." At the end of the excerpt, Obama presents himself as a father gripped with religious doubt. He also has a strange passage about how we would see the patriarch Abraham today as a child abuser for trying to kill his Isaac at God’s command because we can only "act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know," instead of a faith that is "true for us alone."
Obama’s central plea to liberals was in this paragraph:
"I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology. I am suggesting that perhaps if we progressives shed some of our own biases, we might recognize the values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We need to take faith seriously not simply to block the religious right but to engage all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal."
The Kuo excerpt, deeper into the magazine, was introduced hopefully: "For Republicans who fear that the Foley scandal might keep Evangelicals away from the polls in November, here comes another challenge – in hardcover format. A new memoir by David Kuo, former second-in-command of President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, has the White House on the defensive with an account of an Administration that mocked Evangelicals in private while using them at election time to bolster its support." Time doesn’t feel the need to verify if Kuo’s account is true. There is no rebuttal from other Bush officials, just an excerpt, highlighted with large text reading, "The back-office Republican political machine was able to take Evangelicals for granted – indeed, often viewed them with undisguised contempt – and still get their votes."
The excerpt concluded:
Now I am finding the courage to speak out about God and politics and their dangerous dance. George W. Bush, the man, is a person of profound faith and deep compassion for those who suffer. But President George W. Bush is a politician and is ultimately no different from any other politician, content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works. Millions of Evangelicals may share Bush's faith, but they would protect themselves--and their interests--better if they looked at him through the same coldly political lens with which he views them.
Kuo ought to know. It takes a "coldly political lens" to stab your former employer in the back three weeks before an election to sell books in a liberal "news" magazine that's anxious to suppress the conservative Christian vote.