July 30, 2008

Obama As Machiavelli


TheLittlestGator from Group News Blog wrote me this afternoon after consuming the latest NYT Obama background piece — Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Apart (link).

She was taken by how much the text/photo combo relayed two media memes I outlined at NetrootsNation, including: 1.) Obama as Machiavellian mastermind, and 2.) Obama as unknown figure, who is not who he says he is.  (… And, you can toss in an additional frame that is growing by the day, which I would characterize as: 3.) Obama, the ultimate climber.)

Although I’ve posted this photo before, it acquires a unique new angle in the present context.  TLG’s main point regarding the visual (provided by the Obama campaign, by the way) involves Professor Obama’s supposedly projective and confessional lecture topic: “RELATIONSHIPS BUILT ON SELF INTEREST.”  Of course, notice how the arrow — passing from the corporations, through the dollar sign — can be seen to be pointing out the future candidate himself.

TLG also pulls out key sections of the article emphasizing Obama’s supposed “unknowableness” (and calculation):

While students appreciated Mr. Obama’s evenhandedness, colleagues sometimes wanted him to take a stand. When two fellow faculty members asked him to support a controversial antigang measure, allowing the Chicago police to disperse and eventually arrest loiterers who had no clear reason to gather, Mr. Obama discussed the issue with unusual thoughtfulness, they say, but gave little sign of who should prevail — the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the measure, or the community groups that supported it out of concern about crime.  “He just observed it with a kind of interest,” said Daniel Kahan, now a professor at Yale.  Nor could his views be gleaned from scholarship; Mr. Obama has never published any. He was too busy, but also, Mr. Epstein believes, he was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically, as Ms. Guinier’s writings had hurt her. “He figured out, you lay low,” Mr. Epstein said.

The Chicago law faculty is full of intellectually fiery friendships that burn across ideological lines. Three times a week, professors do combat over lunch at a special round table in the university’s faculty club, and they share and defend their research in workshop discussions. Mr. Obama rarely attended, even when he was in town.  “I’m not sure he was close to anyone,” Mr. Hutchinson said, except for a few liberal constitutional law professors, like Cass Sunstein, now an occasional adviser to his campaign.

Because he never fully engaged, Mr. Obama “doesn’t have the slightest sense of where folks like me are coming from,” Mr. Epstein said. “He was a successful teacher and an absentee tenant on the other issues.”

Perhaps these hit pieces would make things a lot clearer if they simply referred to Obama as “Niccolo.”  Lest any of you are feeling complacent, by the way, don’t think any of these characterizations are going to go poof! if Obama wins the White House.  This is permanent architecture.

(image: The Obama Campaign)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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