Russert v. Obama

Was that Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" yesterday? Instead of the usual offering of gotcha questions and decades-old quotes, all designed to put the interviewer’s prey into a meltdown, Russert asked thoughtful, persistent questions of Sen. Barack Obama and even gave him sufficient time to answer. It is a shame that most Americans were not watching because some of Obama’s answers got at the heart of the choices facing the electorate. On the gas tax holiday, he cast the narrow issue of the efficacy of the proposal into the larger and more important issue of how politics has been practiced in Washington for the past several decades. In the event, Obama was right that it matters more to politicians to score electoral advantage than it does to actually solve one of the nation’s problems. It is anyone’s guess whether the persuasive phenom would be able to change the ways of Washington if elected. It is beyond guesswork that the person who most effectively runs against Washington, who casts him- or herself as the anti-politician, is the person most likely to win the next election. Obama’s finest moment came in response to Russert’s questions about Iraq and Iran. Whatever you think about Obama, there is no denying the sharp learning curve of his political skills. One year ago, his answers to foreign policy questions were halting and often disjointed. Yesterday, he was fluent and fluid in his replies. More than style points, he diagnosed the original and ongoing strategic problem of the Iraq War – there was no way it was not going to strengthen Iran. And, in contrast to the open-ended commitment that Sen. McCain has proposed, Obama suggested that if the Iraqis could not learn to put their house in order in seven years, why should we think they would be able to heal their religious and ethnic divisions in fourteen or twenty-eight or fifty-six years? He did not go all the way and endorse Sen. Joe Biden’s proposal to divide Iraq into three distinct groups, but it is difficult to see how he could make a withdrawal work without such a separation of warring populations. There is something histrionic about some of Obama’s more sweeping claims, his ambition to enlist average Americans and their voices in a campaign that will achieve large goals like universal health insurance, a goal that has eluded every Democratic president since Harry S. Truman. There is a great deal of self-confidence in his belief that he can change the political culture within the beltway, maybe a little hubris even. And, Lord knows, all Americans are well advised to be suspicious of such claims when we remember that George W. Bush promised he would be "a uniter, not a divider." Still, there is still something authentic and real in this man’s smile, and he clearly believes in the largeness of his promises in part because they are large. One of the ways to avoid being tagged as histrionic is by being genuinely historic. It is hard to believe Obama can deliver on the hopes he has raised and Americans have fallen in love with politicians before only to be disappointed. But, it is difficult to foretell what effect the election of the first black president would have on the nation’s psyche, let alone that of the rest of the world. It was not so much Barack’s performance on "Meet the Press" that suggested how profound those effects could be, it was Russert’s. He was thoughtful in ways he is not always thoughtful, he listened in ways he does not usually listen. Whatever else he has done in this campaign, Barack Obama has elevated the political discourse in America, even for Tim Russert. Maybe we should dare ourselves to hope again. Michael Sean Winters
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 6 months ago
The contrast of wisdom to Hillary's lack of it came through the discussion about "obliterate" Iran. Hillary's stance actually means a preemptive genocide. Israel is a small country. It is little comfort to obliterate Iran after the most unlikely clash in history. Now, with US politicians and the US media nonchalantly bandying around genocide preempts any US-Iran dialogue. At least Iran is unlikely to talk to the US until the US grows up. In the meanwhile, Iran will be looking East.
9 years 6 months ago
The statement "Americans are well advised to be suspicious of such claims when we remember that George W. Bush promised he would be 'a uniter, not a divider'" could be better compared that voters in North Carolina and Indiana should be advised that Hillary is promising a gas tax holiday that she knows Congress will never approve because it is a terrible idea. Every newspaper and TV program should be getting the word to voters that Hillary Clinton is a fraud that will do anything to win. How many times are Americans going to allow Hillary to tell blantant lies? I have heard MSM say that what Hillary did was smart politics because it has probably increased people voting for her and by time voters know the truth it will be too late. Hillary is another example why voters do not even bother to vote and tune out elections.
9 years 6 months ago
I expect better from a Catholic journal. Obama is a danger to this country. I urge you to take off the blinders and see his questionable judgment, friends with the likes of Ayers and Rezko. Yes, friends; his association with Ayers is longstanding. Ayers launched Obama's political career with a fund raiser at Ayers' home. How about his cousin Odinga, who ran for office in Kenya, lost and started burning down churches with people inside?? Yes, that cousin, whose campaign web page bears a marked resemblance to Obama's, including the word "Change." When you think of Obama, be reminded of Hitler and his false promises to the German people. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.
9 years 6 months ago
The notion that we should fear Obama as a secret fascist seems perhaps a touch excessive. And it's a bit ironic coming in the waning days of an administration that has launched a war of dubious morality and conducted it with disregard for the welfare of Iraqis and our own troops; effectively repealed habeas corpus; and "legitimized" torture; and basically destroyed America's standing in the world. And McCain promises to continue in most of Bush's disastrous policies. I think we have much worse to fear than Obama.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A 14-year-old boy receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque (AP Photo/Amr Nabil).
The pope described the attack as a “wanton act of brutality directed at innocent civilians gathered in prayer.”
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
“The Senate proposal is fundamentally flawed as written and requires amendment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in a Nov. 22 letter to senators.
Pope Francis greets people at the “Regional Hub,” a government-run processing center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Bologna, Italy, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)
Although he named no countries, Vatican observers believe he is referring especially to political leaders in several western and eastern European countries.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
For Thanksgiving, we give you an inside look into what Jesuit basketball teams to watch out for this season.
Olga SeguraNovember 24, 2017