01 March 2008

Obamania Comes to St. Barths, or, With Friends Like These … .

Even in Paradise, there are politicians. Or would-be politicians, or would-be "insiders" who support politicians.

When I tried cases for a living, our watchword was "God save me from my co-counsel." Sound arrogant? It's real life.

Pinks and I were oh-so-pleasantly surprised earlier this week to learn there was an Obama rally at 4 PM at Eddy's restaurant in Gustavia. We came back from the beach early, brought yet another Obama check, and arrived at 4:15.


When we arrived, the restaurant was pretty much full—I would estimate 75 people, all above the age of 50. All sitting down. A bad start. I didn't expect Barack, or a rally where people fainted, but what I got was funereal.

Oh, boy, lucky us, we arrived just in time for the speeches. There were four speakers and six speeches. And all this while the sun was shining yet.


First up was a nice lady, the organizer of the affair, who said she lived four blocks from Barack in Chicago, and he was a nice guy. Always had been. She spoke for four minutes, and that turned out to be the high point of the rally.

Then followed a gentleman who introduced himself as a gay Episcopal Bishop from New Hampshire. Nice guy. When he spoke there was an audible buzz in the room: no, it was not excitement, it was sleep noises. I mean serious REM sleep. On second thought, perhaps that was the high point of the rally. Given the average age of the audience, the nap was welcomed by many. The good Bishop concluded by making a campaign donation appeal, compliance with which would have put both contributor and candidate in violation of federal law. Just as well much of the audience was not conscious at the time of utterance.

He was followed by nice guy from Boston, a lawyer I think, who said campaign contributions would be put to good use, he had met Obama in New Hampshire, and "Trust me, Obama is a good guy."


The piece d' resistance was a professor from the Chicago Business School, who was deadly, both in terms of substance and stamina. You've heard of stem-winders? In this time of super delegates, this talk was a super stem-winder. You know it is a calamity when the audience focuses on winding their electronic watches.

The professor clearly loved being the center of attention and did to this audience that which he doubtlessly does to his students: he bored them to tears and had everybody itching for the moment when class was over. They itched and scratched for a long time.

Personally, I suspect he was a talk-radio right winger under deep cover. I think he actually won a few votes for John McCain.

You be the judge; At this Obama rally, the professor made four points:

1. The economy was in such terrible shape that Obama was going to have to raise taxes, and possibly also reduce entitlements,

2. Obama would not keep his pledge to remove our troops from Iraq in one year because "we could not get our trucks and tanks home that quickly,"

3. While Obama was pro-Israel, in the professor's view, that was a mistake, the Palestinians were the real victims, and this was the most crucial foreign policy decision the new administration would have to make, and

4. Finally, we were treated to the Professor's personal views about what the Iranian leadership really believed and what their actual nuclear plans were. He did not favor us with his sources.


In all, it was a stunning display of arrogance and irrelevance.

When the professor finished, he invited questions, and as I was leaning forward in my chair to stand up, I got "The Look" from My Reason For Living and sat back and just chewed the inside of my cheek until it bled. It rains almost every night now: this is not a good week to have to sleep in our leaky shed.

At long last, the Boston lawyer, who, for some time had been plucking at the professor's elbow to no avail, finally regained the floor, said some more innocuous things about how well campaign contributions would be spent, and then the nice woman who started the meeting gave some more bad legal advice re political contribution limits and concluded the meeting with an inane comment as to how this was not as bad as a Jewish fund raising affair. Nobody had any idea what to make of that comment.


When we rose to depart, the people sitting behind me, in a conversational tone quite audible to surrounding rally-goers, said they had brought an Obama check but now had decided not to submit it.

Despite the free wine and hors d'oerves supplied by the restaurateur, when the speeches ended the audience fled the scene as if the plague had been introduced at the far side of the room.


On the way home, Pinks asked what I had intended to say. I only wanted to make two simple points:

If the professor knew anything about the history of WWII, he would recall that when Japan surrendered, we had a huge arsenal of materiel on remote islands in the Pacific, most of which stuff we simply tossed in the sea, or spiked, or disabled and abandoned. The important thing was getting the troops home, not saving jeeps and tanks, even though nobody was then shooting at us and the equipment was not ill-suited for the task, as is much of our Rumsfeldian armory.

Second, inasmuch as this an Obama rally, and inasmuch as the professor says the candidate disagrees with the professor's views about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just what is the relevance of the professor's views on this subject? I can think of only two options: i) there is no relevance to the professor's remarks, other than as a criticism of the pro-Israel stance of Senator Obama, and ii) there is no relevance to the professor's remarks but he just loves to hear himself talk.

I would simply take a pass regarding his other personal opinions.

As to the substance of what I intended to say, and her veto of my remarks, Pinks agreed that I was right, but so was she. Such is my lot in life.

No matter how you parse his words, the professor, billed as the keynote speaker, was an effective agent of change—he made some Obama supporters doubt their previously held convictions.

My Paradise has been defiled. For the duration of my stay, I will take my politics from Chris Matthews only.

A bientot.

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