“One of the things that I’m going to do when I’m in there,” Obama says with the extreme politeness he turns on when saying something that won’t fully please his interlocutor, “is to look at this faith-based initiative and see how it’s worked and where the money is going. What you don’t want it to be used for is a way of advancing someone’s political agenda and rewarding friends and not rewarding enemies. Know what I mean?” The reverend tightens his lips, nods his head, and gives Obama a fairly unconvincing “mm-hmm.” ~GQ
Of course, what this pastor probably wanted to hear was less of Obama’s transcendent unity piffle and more promises that Obama will be directing more of the rewards to his friends–that is, people such as the pastor and the other “right kinds” of people. The article describes this as Obama taking an “easy pander” and making it an occasion to tell a “hard truth,” but the trouble Obama seems to be having in this race is that he likes to tell a lot of “hard truths” to voters who haven’t yet committed to supporting him without doing much of the “pandering” first. (His advocacy for merit pay in the lion’s den of the NEA is typical.) He wants voters to respect that he has a sense of integrity, but many of the voters first want to hear that he will be looking after their interests in the most mercenary sense. He wants to campaign as a “change” candidate, but one constant problem with “change” candidates is that most voters actually don’t want their candidates to campaign in this above-it-all, supposedly meritocratic, reformist style. They want candidates who can deliver the goods to them, while Obama tries to project the appearance of someone who finds the act of doling out the goods offensive and beneath him. This doling out of rewards is “small” politics, but it is the sort of politics to which most voters respond. Having asked, “What are you going to do for me?” they don’t want to hear a high-minded answer that we should direct our resources where they are most needed. They want to hear that their needs are the most important, whether or not this is true, and that their needs have priority over everyone else’s. The truly cunning campaigner is the one who is able to say this to numerous, mutually antagonistic groups without anyone being able to notice the contradiction. Obama may want to change some of the things in the current system, but at the rate he’s going he will certainly not be doing it from the White House.