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Obama Unplugged

Lost without a Teleprompter.

11:00 PM, Feb 11, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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"Now I understand some of the excitement doesn't have to do with me. I know that whatever else happens whatever twists and turns this campaign may take, when you go into that polling place next November, the name George Bush won't be on the ballot and that makes everybody pretty cheerful. Everyone's happy about that. The name of my cousin Dick Cheney won't be on the ballot. That was embarrassing when that news came out. When they do these genealogical surveys, you want to be related to somebody cool. So, but, his name went be on the ballot.

"Each of us running for the Democratic nomination agrees on one thing that the other party does not--that the next president must end the disastrous policies of George W. Bush. No more Scooter Libby Justice! No more Brownie incompetence! No more Karl Rove politics."

None of this was in the prepared text. And all of it was a marked departure from the kind of successful campaign that Obama has run. One can imagine Obama, if he thought things through more fully, using the revelation regarding Cheney as an occasion to note something vapidly uplifting like how in America, we're all part of the same family.

Looking past the missed opportunity regarding the vice president, how many times has Obama deliberately pushed angry-left hot buttons like Scooter Libby and Karl Rove? Obama has run looking to the future, and thus hasn't felt it necessary to dwell on the purported horrors that the Bush administration has visited upon the nation. This tack has made him look above the fray.

Other improvised moments also contradicted the generally lofty tone of the Obama campaign. At one, point when addressing what we have to do for the economy, Obama ad-libbed, "The insurance and the drug companies aren't going to give up their profits easily . . . Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter." This is the kind of empty class warfare shtick that earned John Edwards an early exit from the race. What's more, it displayed the kind of simplistic sloganeering that Obama had previously eschewed.

Obama's shot at Exxon Mobil's profits is strikingly disingenuous. He seems to be implicitly saying that the healthy earnings are good news for Mr. Exxon and Mr. Mobil, who will promptly stash most of the profits underneath their obviously outsized mattresses. The two will then likely invest the remainder in foreign sweatshops that will facilitate the outsourcing of even more American jobs.

Of course, who benefits from corporate earnings is a slightly complex matter, and thus vulnerable to simplistic demagoguery. Just ask John Edwards. But Barack Obama is far too intelligent to not realize that many of the school teachers and union workers and working moms that so often people his more elegant speeches likely have an interest in Exxon Mobil's profits either from their retirement plan's portfolio or their union's holdings or their own investments that they actively manage. The implied notion that corporate profits matter only to the corporations in question is risibly counterfactual.

Worse still was the threat to take away the profits of the drug and insurance companies. Perhaps Obama thinks that the drug companies will continue to develop life saving therapies out of benevolence, and that their employees will happily take the pay cuts that will accompany the loss of profits. This is yet another simplistic piece of us-against-them politicking, the kind of thing that Obama has reliably eschewed--at least when he's on script.

What makes Obama's Jefferson-Jackson speech especially relevant is where he went when he went off script. The unifying Obama who has impressed so many people during this campaign season vanished, replaced by just another angry liberal railing against George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Exxon Mobil, and other long standing Democratic piñatas. The pressing question that Obama's decidedly uninspiring Jefferson-Jackson oratory raises is which Obama is the real Obama--the one who read beautifully crafted words from a Teleprompter after his victory in Iowa, or the tediously angry liberal who improvised in Virginia?

Dean Barnett is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.