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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sullivan On Obama: Both Sides Now

Atlantic magazine has made available an advance copy of a December article by Andrew Sullivan about Barack Obama. And whatever you think of this convoluted piece, it does nicely capture two very different takes on why the Illinois senator might be a “transformative” politician.
Sullivan begins by tying Obama’s post-baby-boomer rap, and his apparent appeal to Republicans, to a narrative of recent politics in which all the polarization is illusory:

The high temperature—Bill O’Reilly’s nightly screeds against anti-Americans on one channel, Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” on the other; MoveOn.org’s “General Betray Us” on the one side, Ann Coulter’s Treason on the other; Michael Moore’s accusation of treason at the core of the Iraq War, Sean Hannity’s assertion of treason in the opposition to it—is particularly striking when you examine the generally minor policy choices on the table. Something deeper and more powerful than the actual decisions we face is driving the tone of the debate.

Sullivan’s follow-up account of the “minor” policy differences between the two parties leads to the equally ridiculous, if more familiar, claim that polarization is purely the product of inflated baby-boomer cultural conflicts. And therein lies his initial argument for Obama, as the post-boomer candidate who could resolve all the petty, artificial differences between Ds and Rs. This High Broder case for Obama is hardly new, and hardly persuasive.
But Sullivan goes on to make an international case for Obama that’s a lot more compelling:

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

In general, Sullivan’s piece captures the MSM fascination with Barack Obama in its two basic dimensions: Obama as transcending American conflicts, and Obama as transcending America’s conficts with the world. My own view is that Barack Obama can acheive the former mission only if Americans begin to care about the latter.

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