Belmont Club


MotivatedABC argues that one of Barack Obama’s critical campaign advantages is the enthusiasm of his supporters.  “Though McCain’s supporters have become more enthusiastic about the Republican nominee, he still suffers from an enthusiasm gap. Sixty-one percent of Obama supporters are enthusiastic about their candidate … forty-seven percent say the same of McCain.” This is no small edge. In sports, war and politics, victory often goes to the side that is the most committed.  Obama understands the enthusiasm of his supporters and is determined to use it. He recently told them:

“I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face,” he said.

It was an exhortation which sounded eerily like Al Pacino’s famous motivational “Inches” speech on in the movie “Any Given Sunday”. On that occasion, Pacino portraying a football coach, explained to his team the critical importance of going all-out. A team that was prepared to pull out the stops would prevail over one that was held back by reservations. “On this team, we fight for that inch.  On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.  … I’ll tell you this: in any fight it is the guy who is willing to die who is going to win that inch.” Obama’s “in your face speech”, while less dramatic, conveyed the same message: show no mercy,  take no prisoners; give no quarter. You’re going to make me President of the United States and nobody’s going to stop us.

Jim Treacher, watching Obama’s “Action Wire” supporters silence radio programs critical of the candidate is stunned by what he seems to regard as a shout-down. He was unprepared for the game of “inches”, unready for the meaning of “get in their face”.

In today’s Chicago Tribune, the Obama camp responds to nitpicky concerns about their attempts to shut down radio shows that might say things they don’t like, via their “Obama Action Wires”:

“The Action Wire serves as a means of arming our supporters with the facts to take on those who spread lies about Barack Obama and respond forcefully with the truth, whether it’s an author passing off fiction as biography, a Web site spreading baseless conspiracy theories or a TV station airing an ad that makes demonstrably false claims,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Having listened to the previous Milt Rosenberg show with Stanley Kurtz that got “Action-Wired” (which is available here), I can tell you what this translates to:

“We’ll provide a page of talking points for you to spout at the host and his guest. Just read it from your screen. Unfortunately, we’re unable to provide you with the necessary brainpower to keep up when the host asks you to explain the reasoning behind ‘your’ opinion, or poses any other question that isn’t found in our script.

“But that isn’t the point anyway. We just want to tie up their phone lines with thousands of angry calls, both to intimidate them and to prevent people with legitimate questions from getting through. Yes We Can… Shout Down All Blasphemers.”

This is not free speech. This is not “people expressing their opinion.” This is people expressing Obama’s opinion. This is a powerful politician arrogantly abusing that power to try to silence his critics, without even bothering to hide behind Media Matters or Kos, because he knows he can get away with it. This is wrong.

But hey, it works, insofar as it goes. “Wrong” isn’t an argument that works a lot in Chicago politics. Why should Treacher expect it to work anywhere else? Morality is an expensive business in politics. It was proved doubly expensive in war. In the rustic infancy of signals intelligence, some US policy makers were aghast at the idea intercepting confidential correspondence: that was blackguardly and low. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson said, “Gentleman do not read each other’s mail.”

in the early months of Herbert Hoover’s Administration, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson was presented with a small batch of Japanese telegrams that had been deciphered by a highly secret American code-breaking organization known as the Black Chamber. Appalled at the invasion of another nation’s private communications, Stimson immediately cut off funding to the cryptologists with the admonition ”Gentleman do not read each other’s mail.”

Events on December 7, 1941 showed Stimson’s scruples were expensive and they were subsequently abandoned. By August, 1945 the US was atomic-bombing Japan and razing its cities with firebombs. But it won. The gradual increase in the savagery with which the 2008 Presidential campaign is being conducted may establish, once and for all, that as in gridiron football, there are no prizes for a good loser.  One may need a court-order to read al-Qaeda’s mail. But Obama’s supporters — the ones without the “enthusiasm gap” — need none to read a woman’s mail: Sarah Palin’s. Hot Air explains the details to its readers how Palin’s Yahoo account was attacked and how the attackers congratulated themselves.

I mentioned an infamous group of hackers whose Internet bulletin board was the gathering place for those who bragged about and publicized the Sarah Palin private e-mail hacking.  A tech-savvy reader who monitors the hackers’ site e-mailed me a detailed explanation of how it went down, who was responsible, and how someone with a conscience warned a friend of the Palin family of the crime (language warning):

This in reality is what the “enthusiasm gap” means. And whether or not Obama intends it, this is what “get in their face” amounts to. Closing the “enthusiasm gap” is likely to be just as ugly. Balance in politics is often achieved in the same way it is effected in thuggery. If someone’s face looks a little lopsided from a black eye,  restore symmetry by blackening the other. The question is whether McCain’s supporters — whether or not he intends it — will follow Stimson’s spirit about what gentlemen may or may not do, or whether they’ll remember an adage that Richard Daley would be familiar with: don’t get mad. Get even.


I should say that Jim Treacher wrote a wonderful post, whose points I agree with. I cynical irony sometimes in argument and this, I guess, is one of my more ham-handed moments.  “Why should Treacher expect it to work anywhere else?” is a phrase I could have expressed as “but sometimes doing the wrong thing is expedient.”

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