The Daily Caller's front page is thick today with "Obama's Other Race Speech," an article that includes video and analysis of an address then-Sen. Barack Obama gave at Virginia's Hampton University in 2007. Here's how the Caller's Tucker Carlson and Vince Conglianese frame the super-fantastic import of the never-before-seen-and-exclusive-to-the-Daily-Caller vid:
The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama's carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.
What's more, the most Rev. Jeremiah Wright is not only in the audience but gets a special "shout-out" from the future president as "my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country."
The point of the expose? Write the Caller scribes:
Obama makes repeated and all-but-explicit appeals to racial solidarity, referring to "our" people and "our neighborhoods," as distinct from the white majority. At one point, he suggests that black people were excluded from rebuilding contracts after the storm: "We should have had our young people trained to rebuild the homes down in the Gulf. We don't need Halliburton doing it. We can have the people who were displaced doing that work. Our God is big enough to do that."…
The solution, Obama says, is a series of new federal programs, including one to teach punctuality to the poor: "We can't expect them to have all the skills they need to work. They may need help with basic skills, how to shop, how to show up for work on time, how to wear the right clothes, how to act appropriately in an office. We have to help them get there."
My reaction to this piece—and especially to the editorial bombast attending its release—is simply: What part of persistent 8 percent unemployment don't you understand?
I mean, seriously. Come on already.
The most interesting takeaway from the story for me was simply the point that Obama, like most politicians, is noticeably loosey-goosey with basic facts about government spending and reality. He spins a too-good-to-be-true tale of a baby born after the L.A. riots with a bullet in his her arm [correction: which turns out in fact to be true]. At another point, he compares the supposedly lavish no-strings-attached money thrown at New York after the 9/11 attacks to the stingy federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Why the differential, he asks? People in New York, Obama says, are "part of the American family." But the poor and mostly black residents of New Orleans? "Tells me that somehow, the people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much!"
As the Carlson and Conglianese rightly point out, this is not simply wrong but spectacularly wrong. "By January of 2007, six months before Obama's Hampton speech," they write, "the federal government had sent at least $110 billion to areas damaged by Katrina. Compare this to the mere $20 billion that the Bush administration pledged to New York City after Sept. 11." That sort of fisking and the attention paid to the differences between long-available prepared comments for the speech and Obama's extemporizing are interesting. And the variance tells you something about the media, which has long soft-pedaled the rough edges of Obama's candidacy and presidency.
But here's the point, which seems to escape conservatives hell-bent on revealing Obama as the sort of crypto-reverse racist that will bring down the entire country.
Whatever else you can say about Barack Obama before he beat John McCain four years ago, his actual presidency has been far, far worse than could have been predicted. Was his boyhood mentor "Frank" a secret communist? Did Bill Ayers write his books? Did young Barry harbor a soft spot for Franz Fanon and smoke dope like a Cheech & Chong extra? Did he get into Columbia despite being an adult illiterate raised in Kenya by Rosicrucians? Let's play along and say yes to all this and more.
So freaking what? Compare any and all of that to the grim landscape that Obama has presided over like a dime-store Ozymandias. The guy got just about everything he wanted—expanded auto bailout, mega-stimulus, health-care reform, troop surge in Afghanistan, a free pass to deport immigrants and raid legal-under-state-law pot dispensaries. And it hasn't worked. The best that the Obama administration can do to defend its objectively awful record—don't forget the inability to muscle a goddamn budget through the Democratic Senate or deliver a deficit under $1 trillion—is to say that it would have been even worse if McCain had been elected. That sort of counterfactual—and the insistence that it's alway George W. Bush's fault—is the last resort of a scoundrel. That was the essence of Clint Eastwood's bizarre but memorable appearance at the Republican National Convention: Obama hasn't gotten the job done. If anything, he's made things worse.
But the GOP must really be out of gas if a Republican-friendly platform like The Daily Caller is burning up even a few infinite pixels with what is ultimately a curious and irrelevant speech from 2007. Emphasizing what Obama was yapping about and his slangy patois (Obama slips into "an accent he almost never adopts in public") five years ago will not swing a single uncommited voter to the GOP column. But the piece's fixation on "racial solidarity" as some sort of secret key into Obama's mysterious ways may well scare alienate independents. Too many Republicans seem to be so on the hunt for the deep meaning of events that they can't stick to what is right in front of their faces. Even when what's in front of their faces might help them gain office. They remind me of JFK conspiracy buffs who insist that only a communist would have killed Kennedy and then wave away Lee Harvey Oswald from the heart of crime. Why are Republicans always sniffing around for the secret revelation that will—finally!—undo Obama when the terrible official record is hiding in plain sight?
Everyone in the country knows that Obama has been a failure (that's the essential acknowledgement of Samuel L. Jackson's sad-sack "Wake the F*ck Up!" video). All the Republicans needed to do to win in November was tie a bow around a vaguely plausible candidate and push him or her out on to the stage. All they had to do was produce someone who would hammer home the dismal failure of Obama's economic interventions, gesture a bit toward the Middle East and Central Asia where things are as messy as they've ever been, and promise to spend less and do less.
Alas, that task proved too difficult for the party of Lincoln and instead they nominated Mitt Romney, whose great political achievement during the few years he actually held elective office was…implementing the model for Obamacare. Who talks about needing more boats than the Navy had in 1917 and starting trade wars with Chinese "cheaters" and keeping the parts of Obamacare he "likes." And whose unconvincing spending plan is to ultimately limit spending to 20 percent of GDP or 2 percentage points higher than the average annual percentage.
There's a good chance that Mitt Romney may well win in November. But to the extent it's a contest, it's not the media's fault, or the Democrat's fault, or anyone else's fault but the Republicans and the person they picked as their standard-bearer. Sadly for the growing number of us who are neither Democrats nor Republicans, we will end up paying the freight for the major parties' failures.