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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama’s Oedipal Moment

posted by on April 29 at 8:30 AM

Via TPM, a take by sociology and journalism professor Todd Gitlin that I think places Obama’s current challenge in the right mythical context—and shows Obama what must be done.

Wright on video, preening, smirking, reveling in his star turn, has spun my mind around. I found him convincing in this sense: He’s convinced me that he’s a clear and present danger to Obama’s candidacy. The father has turned on the son—it’s the Laius complex in action. Sure, sure, Wright offers a heap of clever and not-so-clever self-extenuations for his kind words about Louis Farrakhan, and absurdly claims to speak for the entire black church. But he makes it clear that he believes Obama is simply “a politician,” meaning a shifty no-good. He’s broken the parental contract.

Obama has to overthrow his surrogate father.

One problem, as Ben Smith has pointed out, is this quote from Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia: “I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother….”

Maybe this bind is why Obama is off his game today, but he needs to find a way around that problem, fast. When the father—or surrogate father, or father figure, or man who claims to represent the Holy father, or father-like mentor—sees his own egotistical needs as more important than the future of his progeny then, as said above, the parental contract is broken.


Above: A re-imagining of the Oedipal drama, from a 15th Century French manuscript. Somewhat appropriately for this moment, it’s filled with Christian imagery that Oedipus and Laius (and the ancient Greeks who told their story) would never have recognized. However: It shows Oedipus’s father, Laius, leaving his son to die because an oracle has told Laius that his son will grow up to kill him. Which—take note, Obama—the son does.

RSS icon Comments


Camille Paglia writes for TPM now?

Posted by elenchos | April 29, 2008 8:21 AM

Hey, can we get a few more posts up about Obama? Please?

Thanks in advance. You guys are the best.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 29, 2008 8:22 AM

Mudede would have written this item better.

Posted by Matthew | April 29, 2008 8:33 AM

This is a problem because it's obviously a problem because we've said it's a problem. Will something someone else said spell the end of Barack Obama's campaign?

I are a Very Serious Blogger.

Posted by ru shur | April 29, 2008 8:35 AM

It is a problem because Rev. Wright cann't keep his god damn mouth shut!!

Christianity is truly evil!

Posted by Andrew | April 29, 2008 8:38 AM

Gitlin is an ass.

Posted by Trevor | April 29, 2008 8:50 AM

This analogy completely ignores the tragic part of the Oedipus story: that by killing his father Oedipus became king, but only temporarily; that disaster befell the city because of Laius's death; that Oedipus went mad when he learned the truth. WHERE DOES THAT FIT IN YOUR CAMPAIGN NARRATIVE?

Posted by Greg | April 29, 2008 8:51 AM

i didn't think wright was that big an issue. then i did. now i don't think he'll be an issue because he's so obviously a fool. a senile fool on par with mccain.

and a bad comedian. those accents were the worst attempts i've ever heard. almost every black person i know can do a better white person than that.

Posted by max solomon | April 29, 2008 9:05 AM

where is the quantitative evidence that this is hurting obama? there is none stranger staff? you mean you're just parroting what you see on the TV?

a lot of you are just a bunch of lazy ass reporters right now.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 29, 2008 9:07 AM

the thing about political "narratives" that always amuses me is that it is like an intellectual game some journalists and politicians play to try to reduce someone or something down to a pre-existing story line.

it has little relevance or standing in fact. it is interesting and engaging in an academic way--a kind of thought exercise--but when this is then construed as fact, the critical error is made. the idea of painting someone into a narrative, and then posing the artificial question of whether they can escape that imposed narrative, is one of the biggest mistakes one can make. just because it gets thrown into the echo chamber doesn't make it true.

unless you're cynical enough to believe that if it is said enough times, people will believe it, making it "true". in which case this post would be an inauthentic attempt at spin... disinterested in reality and more concerned with the perception of reality, or excuse me, the "narrative". a narrative that supports clinton's argument that obama can't win.

a "narrative" is one device a writer can use to add context and depth to a story. in non-fiction the narrative is subordinate to the truth.

creating or perpetuating a narrative to subjugate reality is a bit more insidious. unless it is fiction. in which case it is merely creative.

...because unless i'm mistaken, is the idea that obama has to overcome the prophetic powers of fate to win? really? wright has taken on classical proportions?

Posted by some dude | April 29, 2008 9:24 AM

Election Night Headline: McCain beats Clinton in a rout!

Posted by McCain/Crist '08! | April 29, 2008 9:30 AM

Oh, for God's sake, some dude, learn where the caps key is on your computer. That was fucking unreadable.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 29, 2008 9:30 AM

don't be a douche, yo. what's your opinion on "narratives"?

Posted by some dude | April 29, 2008 9:40 AM

Can you delete this post and save yourself further embarrassment?

Posted by teehee | April 29, 2008 10:05 AM

Hey! Listen to this narrative:

Jimmy Carter was on NPR this morn., and was asked about the good Rev. Wright's comments. Carter's experience from having attended predominately black Baptist churches his entire life, was that Rev. Wright's comments were typical of ALL Southern Baptist Ministers, and to paraphase the President: NO BIG DEAL!

I believe that this uproar over Wright is just exposing white people's innate racism. But what do I know? I'm just a white Euro-Trash descendent...

Posted by KeeKee | April 29, 2008 10:08 AM

I just bought Sophocles Theban Trilogy at half-price books, looking like i will be able to catch up on this Greek thing after finals.

Posted by vooodooo84 | April 29, 2008 10:58 AM

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