Students, welcome to the final exam for POLI 1019.666: Introducing Artificial Controversy Into Political Campaigns. Now that we’ve spent the semester talking about misdirection, partisan spin-doctoring, and focus-group nitpicking, we’re ready to evaluate what you’ve all learned.
Our topic for today’s exam:
Barack Obama’s political career.
Honestly, students, this shouldn’t be too hard. Don’t be fooled by Obama’s overwhelming media presence, because like all sudden celebrities, a good deal of his coverage is ambiguous, confused, or downright negative. And don’t be intimidated by his well-rounded background and his refreshingly honest approach to politics either… this isn’t some high school debate where issues and substance actually matter. This is the strange, pliable world of public discourse.
Really, students, there are two specific, tried-and-true directions you could take this assignment. I’ll go over them briefly below, so you can get a head start elaborating on them in new and creatively useless ways.
It’s important to dwell on special-interest issues, even when they don’t figure significantly into the candidate’s platform or politics. Is Obama black? Certainly. Is he from Africa? Maybe. Is he a descendant of American slaves? That depends on your definition of “descent.”
As you can see, we have here a perfect opportunity to over-complicate a newly-announced presidential bid. Just take Debra Dickerson of Salon.com, a magazine whose content is usually annoyingly substantial. She discusses Obama thusly:
“I honestly can't look without feeling pity, and indeed mercy, at whites' need for absolution. For all our sakes, it seemed (again) best not to point out the obvious: You're not embracing a black man, a descendant of slaves. You're replacing the black man with an immigrant of recent African descent of whom you can approve without feeling either guilty or frightened” (Colorblind, Jan. 22, 2007)
She demonstrates seamlessly what we’re trying to get across in this course. She discusses Obama’s politics lightly, in passing, in order to come down hard on what she sees as the essential issue: his racial and cultural heritage. Despite being a proud Democrat, she uses these traditionally leftist concerns to undermine a Democratic candidate. That’s EXACTLY what we want to see!