Friday, March 28, 2008

Barbara Walters and her Obama is sexy comment

On yesterday's "The View," Joy Behar, one of the fearsome female foursome asked Obama about the new finding that he is related to Brad Pitt. Obama answered, "I guess we're ninth cousins removed or something.. .I think he got the better-looking side of the gene pool."

Barbara Walters then said, "Can I say this? ...We find you very sexy looking." Catcalls and cheers from the audience ensued.

I wish Whoopie had spoken up because she, for one, seemed a little disgusted.

Why did Walters feel the need to say she finds Obama sexy? He's running for President, right? He's not a movie star. And when you contrast Walters' words to how Hillary Clinton has been derogatorily sexualized in the media, how a brief show of cleavage on CSpan led her to being condemned by a female journalist in the Washington Post and how she is constantly criticized for her "unfeminine" appearance, this vote of approval for Obama's appealing sexuality by a respected woman journalist such as Barbara Walters just reeks of sexism, of how Hillary Clinton has been treated so negatively by the media because she is a woman. Think of it this way: a male TV speaking-head has never and would never call Hillary Clinton "sexy". Hillary Clinton is expected to desexualize herself, her image, otherwise she would not be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, and yet she is condemned for not being feminine enough. Yet Obama gets himself called "very sexy looking" on national TV by Barbara Walters.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama no longer a Messiah?

In today's New York Times, Dowd writes favorably about Obama's speech yesterday on race. In her view, that Obama's pastor and spiritual adviser of twenty years has spewed racist statements from the pulpit just shows that Obama isn't perfect, which is a good thing. As she writes:

"A little disenchantment with Obama could turn out to be a good thing. Too much idealism can blind a leader to reality as surely as too much ideology can. Up until now, Obama and his worshipers have set it up so that he must be so admirable and ideal and perfect and everything we’ve ever wanted that any kind of blemish — even a parking ticket — was regarded as a major failing. With the Clintons, we expect them to be cheesy on ethics, so no one is ever surprised when they are. But Saint Obama played the politics of character to an absurd extent. For 14 months, his argument for leading the world has been himself — his exquisitely globalized self. He should be congratulated on the disappearance of the pedestal. Leaders don’t need to be messiahs."

It's funny that she uses the word "messiah", because that's exactly what Obama has cast himself as in his run for presidency. (And weren't Michelle Obama's comments in Vogue about Barack's smelly breath and failure to pick up his socks also designed to not have him hoisted on a pedestal? And her remarks were criticized, largely, I think, because people want a messianic, perfect figure, someone to wrap their hopes in, in this empty spiritual age.)

This morning on NPR Jesse Jackson Jr., Obama's National Co-Chair, said that after his speech, Obama is "almost approaching deity." To me, that was a scary statement. I, for one, don't want my president to be a deity.

But all along, Obama's candidacy has been cast in religious terms.

When Oprah stumped for Obama in New Hampshire to an audience of thousands of mainly African-Americans, she introduced Obama with a reference to the book, “The Autobiography of Jane Pittman,” a story of an African-American woman. In a moving rendition, she said how the slave Jane Pittman asks of each new baby, "are you the one?," the one who will free her from her bonds of slavery. Oprah answered, "Obama is the one." This had both messianic and racial undertones: she was directly framing Obama as a savior.

And in April 2007, Jodi Kantor reported in the New York Times, "The day after the party for Mr. Wright [in March 2007], Mr. Obama stood in an A.M.E. church pulpit in Selma, Ala., and cast his candidacy in nothing short of biblical terms, implicitly comparing himself to Joshua, known for his relative inexperience, steadfast faith and completion of Moses’ mission of delivering his people to the Promised Land. 'Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go,' Mr. Obama said in paraphrasing God’s message to Joshua."

So, contrary to what Dowd writes, all along Obama has cast himself, using biblical imagery and rhetoric, as a kind of messiah.

Perhaps this explains the tremendous appeal among twenty- and thirty-somethings, the post-Boomers, for Obama. Princeton University professor Robert Wuthnow writes in After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty and Thirty Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion about "how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality." It's likely, therefore, that Obama's rhetoric holds an attraction to young people looking for spiritual meaning that they are not getting from their religious institutions.

And this explains why Obama's polling numbers have gone down since videos of Wright hit the TV news and Internet. These videos of Pastor Wright are so damaging because they speak to the YouTube generation in the their visual digital language. The other YouTube videos have been tremendously powerful for Obama: the Black Eyed Peas Yes We Can video, the Obama Girl video. But these clips of Pastor Wright might cloud the image of Obama as a post-racial messianic figure in the eyes of twenty- and thirty-something post-boomers who want to truly move beyond racial division.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tribune's Interview of Obama

Why such a softball question on the issue of Obama's pastor?

Obama sat down for an interview with the Tribune editorial board, to establish the notion that he is being forthright and honest. But if you sit and down and read the (edited) interview, he gets lots of free passes.

Read this question the Tribune asks him:

Tribune: The issue of [former U.S. Rep.] Geraldine Ferraro's comments on the role your race has played in this campaign. Then comes the video that has comments that your pastor Jeremiah Wright has made. How are we to look at these, what's the best way to look at this and in what context do you put them to the American people?

Why does the Tribune equate his pastor's racist and anti-Semitic remarks with Ferraro's? Obama has been a member of the church for 20 years and just this week denounces the pastor's comments, even though the pastor christened his children and married him, and he took his book title, The Audacity of Hope, from one of the pastor's sermons. Ferraro's comment wasn't even racist, and she isn't in the same position to Clinton as the pastor is to Obama. Here was an opportunity for the Tribune to make Obama explain himself, but instead, the editorial board asked an open-ended question that's basically allowing him to equate his pastor's remarks with Ferraro's. This is a question that reveals the paper's bias.

And what about this question:

Tribune: There's been some sense that you've treated Sen. Clinton with kid gloves on the issue of ethical standards. If she were to do a session like this, what do you think we ought to ask her about?

What is the Tribune talking about? The media has been giving Obama a "kid glove" treatment on the issue of ethical standards--haven't they seen the SNL sketch that Hillary Clinton made reference to? Whose sense are they talking about--their own warped one? Here again is an open question allowing Obama to turn the lens onto Hillary when this is supposed to be a chance for him to sit down and answer tough questions about himself, his association with Rezko and his pastor.

Notice how many times Obama says "I'll be honest with you." Why continually use this phrase--isn't it assumed throughout this whole "frank" interview that he's always being frank and honest?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer Sex Scandal-Another Reason to Vote for Hillary

Alessandra Stanley in an article in today's New York Times contrasts the stated reactions of female and male commentators on TV. The male pundits, like Alan Dershowitz, are largely sympathizing with Spitzer and claiming that Spitzer's was a "victimless crime" and that Spitzer is a victim of "selective prosecution."

On Anderson Cooper tonight on CNN, Dershowitz was actually yelling at a female anchor who dared to argue that Silda Spitzer should not have appeared by Spitzer's side, that she should have made a different choice and not humiliated herself by standing by him publicly. Dershowitz screamed, "how dare you judge this woman, this marriage, etc." He didn't get her point which was why don't the wives of these philandering husbands get to make a choice, a choice not to appear by their unfaithful husbands' sides?

As Stanley writes, "The female hosts on “The View” have also had their share of tabloid stories, but most of those scandals followed catfights behind the scenes, not lapses in morality or professional probity. Certainly there were no tears shed for Mr. Spitzer on Tuesday on “The View,” where for once all five women agreed emphatically on almost everything about the scandal."

“Aren’t you sick of men?” Joy Behar, one of the hosts, said. “Viagra is destroying our government.”

Again and again, male leaders have been found guilty of sex scandals, their desire for political power part of a thrill-seeking personality that leads them to commit these infidelities, in which power is at play, with the woman being used by a much more powerful man. A female political leader, no matter how powerful, would not commit such an act of hubris.

Hillary Clinton should argue that her presidency is the one that represents change--a presidency where there's no chance that her power-seeking personality will lead to a sex scandal, a distraction from her governing.

It's interesting, we don't have enough of a history of women in positions of political power to know what their overweening pride would lead them to do, whether it would lead them to go astray. Would a female leader even have hubris? I wonder.