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The Human Rorshach Test

Update, July 13, 10:48 p.m.
As if more proof was needed that the election is All About Obama, Jonathan Martin of politico.com reports that the cover of this week's issue of the New Yorker, out Monday, features a drawing of Obama, in an Osama-like turban, and wife Michelle, in an afro with an AK-47, doing a fist bump. This should make for several more days of thoughtful cable punditry about Really Important Stuff.

The candidate himself, meanwhile, has an op-ed about his Iraq policy in Monday's New York Times that puts the lie to media blather that he's changed his stance on the issue. It's all there, exactly as the guy's explained it throughout the primaries: the order to the military to begin "ending the war" on his first day in office; the framework for a 16-month pullback of troops; the nuanced language about consulting with commanders and conditions on the ground. Yet the logorrheic chattering class insists he's "switched his postion." First rule of political reporting: The conventional wisdom is always wrong.

And just because it's (still barely) Sunday, check out the astonishing video found here,which proves the sometimes dubious value of You Tube. Anything's possible, I suppose, including that someone might actually exploit a five-year old blind girl, but it's hard to see how this one could have been faked.

Back to original:

Why Jesse Jackson whispered that he wished to cut Barack Obama's nuts "out," rather than merely cutting them "off," seems, at best, a mildly interesting issue of lexicology.

Yet some among America's political savant class seized upon the question for a strenuous round of punditry about the presidential race, underscoring a fundamental fact about the 2008 campaign: It's all about Obama.

For the political commentariat, it seems, no issue, event or factoid about the Democratic contender can be too small or insignificant to generate breathless instant analysis and freshly-minted conventional wisdom. Obama let his daughters be interviewed on TV: Parental abuse or mere opportunism? Obama thinks American tourists should speak French in France: Contempt for the middle class or sidling up to effete elites? Obama thinks men who father children should take responsibility for them: Sister Souljah moment or betrayal of the 'hood?

To be sure, some of the Illinois Senator's recent actions raise substantive questions about what he really believes, how prepared he is to fight for it, and what the answers to those questions reveal about his leadership ability. Most notable is his sudden switch of position, from opposition to support, on the just-passed Bush-backed bill to allow warrantless wiretaps, and to absolve telecom companies of any legal liability arising from their past cooperation with the administration in facilitating them.

As a political matter, however, the unceasing bloviations that follow upon the Democrat's every word show how the campaign has taken shape less as a contest between two candidates then as a referendum on Obama. When the deal goes down in November, the crucial question will be: for him or against him? In this framework, Republican John McCain is just the foil, the anti-Obama, the Other Guy.

However, in the summertime, silly season of presidential politics, the conventions of campaign reporting require that the mano-a-mano story line be extended into the fall, and so the media will carry McCain for a few rounds. Obama has his every word, gesture and inflection deconstructed, picked over and pawed through; McCain meanwhile could blaze away at his feet with an AK-47 and get a pass, as superbly argued in this blog by Huffpost contributor Max Bergmann. Compare Bergmann's trenchant analysis with that of Mark Halperin, the Grand Poobah of Beltway Wisdom, who looks at the same set of facts and opines in Time magazine that McCain "won the week." Sheesh.

In the current environment, Obama has become a political Rorshach test, onto whom partisans and pundits alike project their own aspirations, disappointments or fears. This week alone, no less than three major, contradictory narratives unfolded in the MSM and the blogosphere about what his recent actions allegedly reveal about his _ real _ intentions and views.

He's moving to the right.Beyond his switcheroo on the FISA wiretap bill, which inescapably seems a stone-cold, opportunistic move calculated to avoid the soft-on-terrorist label, Obama also was reproached from the left for an alleged shift in his stance on Iraq, and his oft-repeated promise to begin implementing a phased withdrawl upon taking office. But as Richard Wolffe of Newsweek said on NPR, the candidate is saying the same things on Iraq policy that he has throughout the campaign. Lefties crying foul seem to have ignored stated nuances of his position during the primaries, hearing only what they wished, a point underscored by other political reporters more interested in facts than ideology.

He's moving further left.Taking flack from portside, Obama is also getting hit from starboard, where worthies within the echo chamber of right-wing bloggers, talk radio gas bags and Fox News stalwarts seek to caricature his statements in the same way they did Al Gore's in 2000. First they baldly misstate what he says, then draw breathtakingly phony conclusions from their own misstatements. In this way, for example, conservatives distorted his recent comment that learning Spanish is a useful skill for American students into an alleged assault on the primacy of English.

He's flip-flopping.The lazy lounge chair lizards of the Fourth Estate love this story line, taking Obama to task for purported inconsistencies in his remarks on everything from the role of religious groups in delivering social services to the Supreme Court's recent handgun decision. Even Obama booster Bob Herbert of the New York Times saddled up with the media posse chasing this easy narrative.

It was left to Gail Collins, Herbert's op-ed page colleague, to bring a grown-up, thoughtful perspective to Obama's recent words and actions. In a week when the chattering class wallowed in tried and tired plot lines, bristling with this season's favorite run-with-the-pack cliches (try Googling "Obama" and "meme" or "pivot" for starters), Collins broke it down in a column aptly titled "The Audacity of Listening."

"When an extremely intelligent politician tells you over and over and over that he is tired of the take-no-prisoners politics of the last several decades, that he is going to get things done and build a "new consensus," he is trying to explain that he is all about compromise. Even if he says it in that great Baracky way."

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