Your favorite Radical won the teaching award some years back, just after getting tenure and about five weeks before her father's death -- yeah, the father who is up in heaven explaining to Ann Coulter's father why Joe McCarthy isn't currently available. It was kind of an emotional moment since Zenith honestly does value teaching, and our students are pretty sophisticated as an audience. But it was a particularly emotional moment since I knew of all the things I had accomplished up to that point, my father -- a physician and a great teacher himself -- would like that the best. And I was glad I could tell him about it before he died.
But speaking of teachers -- as Sherman once said outside Atlanta, Now that we're warmed up, let's get back to South Carolina, shall we? Barack Obama needs a good teacher before the next debate. I thought he did quite poorly last night, got flustered and unnecessarily angry, and said very little of substance about his policies or his record as a result. I was left utterly stumped as to why he commands such fervent loyalty. Obama's performance stood in great contrast to both Clinton's and Edwards' substantive summaries of their policy proposals, and it was also different from the easy confidence that he displays in his more formal speeches when, of course, he is alone and unchallenged. I mean, I have never liked the "Change" message, because I always want to know -- how will things change? Neoliberalism has been a big change too, and frankly I don't think it's so hot. But I thought Obama said virtually nothing last night about how he would govern.
Whether it is illusion or reality, Obama appears to be slipping and sliding around what appears to be a very odd record indeed, a record that has been carefully crafted for public consumption to emphasize three years as a community organizer over twenty-odd years as a corporate lawyer and a politician solidly embedded in the Illinois machine. GovTrack grades his record of actually appearing to vote in the Senate as Very Poor in comparison to his peers, and of course, his record of repeatedly voting "present" in the Illinois legislature was part of what made him testy last night, when the other two candidates didn't accept his explanation that this is just what politicians do in Illinois. Well, maybe it is, but then that wouldn't make him an agent of change, would it? Perhaps I am missing something here.
But back to teaching. In addition to a historian on staff,to explain to him that he's got to stop talking about how great it was that all of those white Democrats became Republicans because Ronald Reagan promised to bring affirmative action to a screaming halt, he needs a debate coach. In particular, he needs to learn how to cock his head and smile graciously, as Hillary does when people spout nasty accusations of various kinds at her and accuse her of being a liar (Obama twitches, fumes and interrupts.) And he needs to practice saying sentences that have a verb and an object and aren't only about him. Things like "My candidacy, and my life's work, is to end poverty," as John Edwards says so convincingly.
And as for change -- I'm not against change. Far from it. I'm just against people telling me there will be change and asking me to trust them that it will be a good change. Because after eight years of "What -- Me Worry?" Bush, the steady devaluation of my 401K due to White House mismanagement, a foreclosure rate in Shoreline that is going through the roof and reckless federal spending on a bad war, it's really hard for me to trust anyone who just tells me to relax and wait for him to deliver change because he's a good person and the change will be good. On the other hand, this is why I love John Edwards. Ending poverty, in my view, is a change that is concrete. It would even be a change if anyone tried and was only partly successful, which they haven't in over forty years. And unlike Obama, Edwards says how he will do the thing that he is making central to his campaign, not just that he wants to, which I also find heartening.
So when Obama can't say how change will come, this makes me think that either he doesn't actually know, or that he is just another neoliberal trying to woo conservatives and he doesn't want to say so because this would make the idealistic young not like him. Lord knows I'll vote for the man if he's the nominee, but I'd rather vote for Hillary if I can't vote for -- as Obama put it so succinctly and oddly (for someone who is above race) last night as he poked John Edwards in mock fun after all the fireworks -- "the white man."