Of all the Village Voice socialists, Nat Hentoff has always seemed the most intellectually honest, and the most willing to critically examine the received leftist wisdom. And now he’s disillusioned about Barack Obama.
During my more than 60 years of covering national politics, I have never seen a candidate’s principles and character so effectively tarnished — after so extraordinarily inspiring a start — as Barack Obama’s. He has come to resemble another mellifluous orator I came to know in Boston during my first time reporting on a campaign — James Michael Curley, the skilful prestidigitator whom Spencer Tracy masterfully played in the movie “The Last Hurrah.” Obama’s deflation has not been due to ruthless opposition research by John McCain’s team but by the “change” candidate himself. Like millions of Americans, I, for a time, was buoyed by not only the real-time prospect of our first black president but much more by the likelihood that Obama would pierce the dense hypocrisy and insatiable power-grabbing of current American politics.
Also, as a former teacher of constitutional law, Obama gave me “hope I could believe in” that he would rescue the Constitution’s separation of powers, resuscitate the Bill of Rights and begin to restore our reputation around the world as a truly law-abiding nation.
Savoring the high expectations he had secured among so many Americans, Obama has decided he can also come closer to securing the Oval Office by softening his starlight enough to change some of his principles toward the calming center of our stormy political waters.
In a defense by Dan Gerstein, a New York political consultant — echoing what you’ll be hearing more of from Obama’s campaign operatives — the gossamer script goes: “He is trying to broaden his appeal to a larger electorate and to be true to this postpartisan, unifying message that he’s been campaigning on.” But instead of the ennobling clarion trombones of CHANGE we have been promised, this “adjusting” of one’s principles has long been the common juggling of our common politicians.
Accordingly, as his presidential campaign gathered such momentum, Obama, with justifiable pride, pointed to the resounding fact that most of the bountiful funds he was raising came from small donors, “the people,” not the sort of supporters who move above us in private jet planes.
But after abandoning his pledge to abide by public financing, this apostle of cleansing the political culture is now going after the high rollers. As the July 3 New York Times reported, “Last week, the Obama campaign collected about $5 million at an event featuring celebrities in Los Angeles. The evening began with a dinner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for more than 200 people who had contributed $28,500 per couple, or raised $50,000.” Then there is the current furor among a rising number of Obama contributors with wallets far below the $50,000-a-pop crowd about his change on the “compromise” FISA Amendments Act of 2008 that passed the House and Senate, and has been signed by the grateful president.
He’s still wrong about a lot of things, but at least he isn’t wearing partisan blinders.