Obama’s unsung earlier career as a Chuck Norris wannabe

by Henry Farrell on June 23, 2010

“Steven Laniel”:http://stevereads.com/weblog/2010/06/22/barack-obama-for-state-senate/

Back when I was in college (Carnegie Mellon class of 2000), a friend who was attending the University of Chicago gave me a placard that was posted hither and thither on Chicago’s South Side: a dorky-faced guy with a ridiculously toothy grin smiling out at us. It read

“Barack Obama

for state senate”

My buddy Josh and I thought this was hilarious. Over the years, we turned the guy on the placard into a superhero. We’d be studying for one hard exam or another and would say to one another, “You know who could ace the piss out of this test right now?” The other would respond, “Barack Obama!” to which the first would respond, inevitably, “…for state senate!” Or we’d be at the gym: “Man, these weights are tough! … Know who could lift them without breaking a sweat?” “Barack Obama!” “…for state senate!

The years go by. It’s 2004. There’s a dude up on the stage at the Democratic National Convention who’s making everyone ask, “Why do I have to vote for Kerry? Why can’t I vote for this guy?” Josh and I called one another: “Uh … dude, do you see who’s on stage right now?” It was surreal.

It’s still surreal. Every few months it occurs to me afresh that Josh and I were making this obscure local politician the punchline of a joke probably a decade before he became president of the United States. Bizarre.



NomadUK 06.23.10 at 5:50 am

And the really bizarre thing is, he’s still the punchline of a joke.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.23.10 at 6:22 am

Steven Laniel,
You’d probably enjoy Paul Street’s articles on Obama over at zmag.org. He was a community organizer in Chicago back in those days, and sounded the alarm. But it seems not enough of us read zmag. But would things have been any better if ‘Hill’ had won? (Shudder)

I think I’m sorta glad I didn’t know anything about him. I just knew that Bush wouldn’t win, especially in California, where I live, so I could vote my conscience, namely Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. ANYONE but that stupid, money-grubbing cow, Hillary Clinton. So I had a few happy weeks thinking we might finally get somewhere, and being glad that at least people voted for the good things he lied about. It still bears remembering that people didn’t vote for him because he works for Golden Sacks.

It’s very frustrating how hard it is to criticize Obama from the left. All the media constantly call the Dimocraps the ‘left’, and no one calls them on this. So if you’re not careful, you’re lumped in with the tea-baggers.

I had a few laughs talking to those people when Obama came to SF to raise $$$$$ for himself and Barbara Boxer. There were two Ignored Speech Zones so no cops would be injured if a melee broke out between the tea-baggers and everyone else, IOW, the left critics of Mr. O. But I sneaked over to the dark side, and pointedly asked a few of them if they had any idea who the people on the other side were. “No” “Well,” I’d tell them, they are socialists, and they hate Obama as much as you do. They were always dumbfounded. They hadn’t any curiousity at all about the ‘other’ crowd, which, by the way, outnumbered them by quite alot.


qb 06.23.10 at 7:16 am

“Dimocraps.” God you backbiters are insufferable.


Tol Ondro 06.23.10 at 7:17 am

I’ve always liked this Obama-as-post-apoc-demigod-pirate tale:


ajay 06.23.10 at 7:42 am

3: no, I like Alice. She’s edgy! She’s authentic!


Broggly 06.23.10 at 9:54 am

Well, if you don’t get electoral reform it’s them or the Rethuglans.


rm 06.23.10 at 1:07 pm

Yes, “cow” is a very edgy and progressive way to dismiss a female politician you don’t like.


Hektor Bim 06.23.10 at 1:15 pm

What does Dimocraps even mean? Is it supposed to imply that the Democrats are stupid? Or just that people who register Democratic are stupid, and the politicians are clever liars?

I can’t actually figure out what Alice de Tocqueville’s real complaint is. It’s also a little surprising to me to see a soc1ialist using the modified moniker of a classical liberal.


Aunt Flo 06.23.10 at 1:31 pm

Come on. Dimocrap is at least as hilarious as Nu Liebore.


Paul K. 06.23.10 at 1:38 pm

You all should toss Steve into your RSS feeds. He is an uber-curious autodidact who writes great reviews about a wide variety of books. Good stuff indeed.


mpowell 06.23.10 at 4:39 pm

I don’t see why Alice is getting such a negative response. It’s not as if critiques from Obama’s left don’t exist (or are even invalid). Her post is a little crude, but the tea bagger stuff is amusing (those people really do have no clue). And at least she doesn’t appear to be a Naderite.


Seeds 06.23.10 at 5:59 pm

Aunt Flo:

ZaNu Liebore!!1111!


Seeds 06.23.10 at 6:01 pm

Multiple exclamation marks are banned???


rea 06.23.10 at 8:39 pm

“I think I’m sorta glad I didn’t know anything about him. I just knew that Bush wouldn’t win”

Here we are, talking about the 2008 election with somebody who can’t remember who the Republicans ran that year. So long ago!


Alice de Tocqueville 06.23.10 at 9:51 pm

Wow, I did say that! Very stupid of me! I did actually know who it was….um…but I’ve forgotten now…..No, really, I know. But don’t you agree he deserves to be forgotten? It seems the kindest thing. Kinder than spanking him hard for subjecting us to the pit bull with lipstick, which is what should happen to him.

In my defense, I do think of that election as a repudiation of all things Bush.


lemuel pitkin 06.23.10 at 9:57 pm

I don’t see why Alice is getting such a negative response. It’s not as if critiques from Obama’s left don’t exist

Oh, absolutely. Nothing wrong with Alice on the substance. But using terms like “cow” for a female politician (no one would ever use it for a man) is just not acceptable, any more than “that kike” for Joe Lieberman would be.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.23.10 at 9:58 pm

Hmmm, well, I can’t take credit for ‘Dimocraps’; I didn’t make it up; I got it from someone at Buzzflash, but to me, it means what it sounds like: Dim is their vision, crap is their legislation. I used to call them Demublicans, as in ‘We live in what is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Demublica, Inc.’ But this is all too cute by half, and hardly serious political analysis.

Mr. Bim,
Here’s a more serious comment: Yes, I think people who register Dem NOW are stupid, and have sold out their birthright, have settled for fairy tales instead of a future, because they are fat and lazy cowards. The ones I’ve talked to are not even well-informed, and don’t want to be, preferring to let party hacks tell them what to think. They are liberals; and may I never deserve that epithet, de Toqueville or no de Tocqueville.

As for elected Dems, have you ever talked to any? Without having your intelligence insulted? Somewhere on the Internets there’s a picture of me and Nancy Pelosi, taken while she’s telling me a big fat lie – that she and her party weren’t pushing the Iraqi Oil Law! “My’ Congressman, George Miller, was backing her up, and ‘shoo-ing’ me away when I asked for clarification. All my friends who lobby Congress tell of the same sort of treatment, since we’re not lobbying for money, but for sanity, honesty, and stopping murder and robbery.

Tol Ondro’s link – #4 – is hilarious, and pretty good writing; wonder why Old Kentucky’s not written anything lately.

This is only a test: !!!!!!!!


qb 06.23.10 at 11:05 pm

Never let it be said that calling people stupid, fat, and lazy isn’t serious political analysis. Talk about having your intelligence insulted some more, that was good.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.23.10 at 11:27 pm

Mr. pitkin,
You aren’t the only person here to object to my calling Mrs. Clinton a stupid cow, and I apologize to the posters here if I have lowered the tone of discussion in a thread that calls the POTUS a ‘Chuck Norris wannabe’. But I don’t apologize to her.

Words have power. Here’s an example. Last year there was a coup in Honduras, which virtually every nation called a military coup, especially Honduras’ neighbors. The word ‘military’ in this context triggers sanctions by American law which include a cutoff of $$. Had Mrs. Clinton (and the POTUS) also used that word, it is likely that the coup, which was peacefully protested by an unprecedented cross-section of Hondurans in huge numbers, would have fallen, and not only might old Clinton friend Lanny Davis’ PR (his firm was hired by the coup, perhaps with our money) been seen for the lies they were, but more than one hundred peaceful objectors to the coup would not have been assassinated.

I don’t think that was down to stupidity at least, I think she knew exactly what she was doing there. But I think she’s stupid because she obviously believes we can kill our way to security.

I stand with dear Mother Jones ( whose namesake mag is making news today) in quoting fellow Irish Chicagoan Finley Peter Dunne, that my aim is to ‘comfort the afflicted, and afflict the (careless) comfortable.”


Alice de Tocqueville 06.23.10 at 11:42 pm

By the way, I may be stupid, fat, lazy, and rude, but a racist I am not. Thanks for saying my comment has some substance, but I have to say, if I had in any way equated my insult of Clinton with a racist comment, I would never have said it. It’s not as if men are never stupid, fat, lazy and rude, and may as well be cows; some are. But not because of their race. And I’m sure there are lots of intelligent members of whatever race Mrs. Clinton actually belongs to.


Warren Terra 06.24.10 at 12:56 am

I think Alice might want to go back and review the events surrounding the coup in Honduras, as it is my recollection that the Obama administration refused to recognize the junta and tried very hard to achieve a peaceful reinstatement of the ousted President – indeed, that the US helped to broker a deal that later fell apart. Alice’s assertion that more and stronger language by the US government would have made all the difference is an interesting claim, but hardly testable. For one thing, I seem to recall a general consensus that the US government rather lacks for moral authority when it comes to determining who should rule other people’s countries (even when these determinations are limited to pronouncements, and especially when the implementation of these decisions goes beyond mere language), a deficit that is even more pronounced in Latin America than elsewhere.

Also, leaving aside the issue of species, cows are by definition female (I’m not sure there is a gender-neutral term for the individual bovine, other than “bovine” itself). That’s why it’s a gender-specific insult, one of those insults that is often more revealing about the person using it than about the object of their abuse.

In another trivial issue with your comments: the post never calls Obama a ‘Chuck Norris wannabe’. It says that in response to a seemingly implausible poster a couple people spent a decade using his name in jokes similar to the internet-famous Chuck Norris jokes. In any case, the behavior of these two college friends tells us nothing about Obama’s aspirations.

Still, good for you for going to demonstrations and standing up for your ideals. I hope you’re doing so at the local level and in ways more useful than throwing your vote away on the truly repellent Cynthia McKinney


The Afflicted 06.24.10 at 12:57 am

Thanks Alice, your help has been most wonderful.


Warren Terra 06.24.10 at 1:00 am

@ Seeds, #12

Multiple exclamation marks are banned???

WordPress (and perhaps some other commenting interfaces) try to interpret paired exclamation points as calling for some sort of smiley-face graphic. Because few people install these graphics, you get an “image failed to load” box instead of the multiple exclamation marks. I believe some other punctuation combinations also have such effects.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.24.10 at 1:37 am

@ Warren Terra, I completely agree with the notion you cited that the US government lacks moral authority, especially in Latin America, and that is because it never sees a reason to support democracy there. But you are ignoring, or perhaps, if you get your news from the US mainstream media, are not aware of the extent that US actions supported the coup, while posing as a disinterested arbitor. Surely you don’t believe that.

Here is a link to a summation of charges that the US, with a wink and a nod, was quite interested in seeing that coup succeed, to the detriment of the people and democracy of Honduras:

There is also a wealth of detailed evidence available to back up these allegations in a series of reports you can find if you google : ‘postcards from the revolution honduran coup’ .

Obviously I don’t understand why anyone would call Cynthia McKinney repellent. She’s a courageous and truthtelling former legislator. Perhaps it’s the truth you find repellent.


gocart mozart 06.24.10 at 5:22 am

Alice, did you vote for Nader in 2000 or was he not “pure” enough for you.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.24.10 at 5:34 am

Yes, of course I did, gocart Mozart! It’s one of the perks, I guess you could say, of living in California, voting for the best person. And yes, he’s pure enough for me. Who did you vote for?


Alex K 06.24.10 at 6:00 am

Well this was kind of a depressing thread.


rm 06.24.10 at 1:51 pm

I might as well end it by indulging in a spelling pet peeve. It’s “perqs,” not “perks,” you illiterate bovines! ! ! Short for “perquisites.” So there.


Anderson 06.24.10 at 1:58 pm

I think the lesson of this thread is to start calling Joe Lieberman a stupid cow.


chris 06.24.10 at 2:27 pm

@20: In fairness to Alice, the phrase “Chuck Norris wannabe” does appear in the post title, and if she is not aware of all internet traditions, she might not have made the connection to Chuck Norris jokes.

However, I very much disagree with Alice’s views on attempting to achieve political change through the Democratic Party. ISTM that if you expect to achieve actual results not through one of the existing major parties in the next 20 years (at least), it is you who are pinning your hopes to fairy tales, and if you expect to achieve *positive* results through the Republican Party you are an outright lunatic (or have a very different definition of “positive” than I do, which of course most of the Republican Party does, which is why they’re so determined to go in directions I consider harmful). Which leaves the Democrats, flawed as they are, as the least-bad option for near-term improvement.

But once you’ve started working on them, then you might as well just clean them up — the existing party establishment will age out in a decade or two anyway (Hillary Clinton, for example, is probably already in the last job of her career — she can’t run against her own boss, and will be too old to be credible in 2016, although I suppose she might try to return to the Senate), and be replaced by a new generation, probably less uniformly white, and (having lived through current events) possibly less obsequious toward corporations. (I know, you probably think that last bit is hopelessly starry-eyed. I think it’s achievable and worth working toward.)


ajay 06.24.10 at 3:38 pm

a new generation, probably less uniformly white

More tattoos, certainly.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.24.10 at 4:15 pm

Thanks, Chris, I am, indeed, unaware of lots about the internet(s), and also Chuck Norris jokes, except the guy himself. Are they funny? I’d love to hear some. Seriously.

I have, however, been active in Democrat politics since I was about 14, unless you count walking a precinct with my mom, who was a precinct committeewoman; have you ever heard of that? It’s ancient history, now.

Back in the 60’s I used to think that the old guard would die off, and politics would progress in my lifetime. That was before I started meeting brand new shiny-faced racists. I don’t know how many of you are my age, but if you’re not, it may be hard to know how it feels to see the Bush era and the Afghan and Iraq invasions after having lived thru the Vietnam horror. Or how it feels to see something like Fox News when you can remember when news anchors were actual journalists.

Of the hundreds of Vietnam vets I’ve talked to, only a handful had any idea what they were doing there. Most told me literally, without shame, “I was only 19, I didn’t know anything.” I wonder if the educators here think there’s a way we can at least have our young people not be like that.

I recently had a conversation with an Iraq invasion vet who was in his late 30’s. He recited all the boilerplate, and said without question that of course it’s a resource war, we need that oil. The people who have, or rather, had, the misfortune to live there were of no more consequence to him than the foliage of Vietnam that provided cover for the VC; something to wipe out as efficiently as possible.

Even tho I didn’t vote for Obama, I was in Denver during the Democrat convention, and it was amazing. People everywhere were talking about politics; the hope was palpable, and I felt that, too. My disappointment with him isn’t so much with the legislation, I know something about how that works – or doesn’t. It’s the things he’s done that he didn’t have to do, like his godawful cabinet choices and his gratuitous insults to anyone to the left of him.

Sorry if I took all the fun out of a funny thread. I didn’t mean to, honestly. It’s just that I’m never going to be any more patient than I am now, which is not very patient at all. I have grandchildren now, and the things I know they will never see, because they’re not there anymore, make me dread what they will see.


rm 06.24.10 at 11:12 pm

Well this was kind of a depressing thread.


cripes 06.25.10 at 10:24 pm

To Warren Terra :

I take exception to your unsupported statement that Cynthia McKinney is “truly repellent.” Because she called for an actual investigation of the WTC collapse? Well, so did the chair of the commission, Thomas Kean, who also wanted criminal prosecutions of government coverup and said we’ll never know what happened because of obstruction, destroyed evidence and general malfeasance of all agencies involved.

Because she doesn’t kiss Israel’s ass and dares to suggest palestinians have a right to life? That poor people have a right to housing and a living wage? By confronting Donald Rumsfeld in the 2 trillion “missing” from the defense department budget, never accounted for? Personally travelling on relief ships to Gaza and being taken hostage by Israeli commandos?

Sounds more like courage to me, something pansy “democrats” run away from.

As far as wasting your vote, WTF are you talking about, voting for the likes of O’bama? That’s wasting your life. Sucker.


Alice de Tocqueville 06.28.10 at 10:23 pm

Cripes! Thanks for that defense of Cynthia McKinney. I was away from all wired, and wireless, communications for awhile.
USA= Unlimited Suckers Available.


Hektor Bim 07.01.10 at 7:38 pm

So how do you anticipate taking power with a third party while calling all the people who would presumably make up the voters of this party fat, lazy, and stupid?

I understand that you are frustrated, but I don’t see how hurling abuse at people is going to help, and it seems to me that someone who is involved in politics successfully eventually learns that. I learned that myself the hard way.

I don’t have a problem with telling the truth or calling people out, but referring to Hillary Clinton with a gendered insult of indeterminate meaning sure doesn’t convince me that you have solid feminist credentials, which presumably would be part of the socialist utopia you claim to want to build.

I still don’t understand the Tocqueville reference.


chris 07.01.10 at 8:41 pm

So how do you anticipate taking power with a third party while calling all the people who would presumably make up the voters of this party fat, lazy, and stupid?

Isn’t anyone who anticipates taking power with a third party (in the US) deluded enough that it hardly matters what they call anyone? You need an existing party to reduce itself to Whig-like flaming rubble before you can even seriously talk about third parties having a non-spoiler role in a US election. And high-information voters (which also includes many potential campaign organizers/volunteers/contributors) know it, which makes it even more true — even people who partly agree with you will be repelled by the prospect of spoiling the election in the direction of the more-repulsive (to them) major party.

Furthermore, all the really voter-dense areas of the political space are already occupied by the major parties, which is what makes them major. If you really think there are tens of millions of voters eager for position X which nobody currently proposes, it is extremely likely you are projecting your own political whims onto the electorate and then proposing to build a political party around people who think like you do. But like Adlai Stevenson, you still need a majority.

Comments on this entry are closed.