Friday, December 21, 2007

rhetoric versus reality

Resently, there has been much hemming and hawing my front-pagers on the big national liberal blogs about Obama. On the one hand, they like some of his policy positions (on things like net neutrality, open government, ethics reform etc) but on the other, they hate his linguistic approach to the campaign--by saying he wants Republicans in his cabinet and talking about bipartisanship and coming together.

These same folks for the most part were clear supporters of Dean four years ago. Howard Dean was a New Democrat during his days as governor. And even when he gave his most famous speeches (such as "What I want to know" at the CA convention), he really never abandoned most of the policy perscriptions of the DLC...only the rhetorical and tactical approaches of the DLC.

The silly thing is, the DLC freaked out about Howard Dean, and Dean happily played off the DLC to help him in the primaries with activists. And if I remember correctly, Howard Dean only won his home state of Vermont in the end.

By contrast, Barack Obama was listed as one of the 100 to watch by the DLC in 2003, well after his "dumb wars" speech in 2002. In the profiles, which I was in charge of putting up on the website at the time, there were a few standard questions and then a "fun" question at the end. Here's a couple of them, and they still ring true in 2007 for Barack:
Top Issue: A fiscally sound and efficient program to deliver universal health care to all Americans and a high quality education, from pre-school to college, for all of America's children.

#1 Rule of Politics: You can compromise on strategy and tactics, but not on principles.
The strategy and tactics that Obama is compromising on, is to sound like a Beltway columnist's dream. He rhetorically calls for going beyond partisanship and working together across party lines.

The liberal blogosphere is founded on the premise that Republicans in power (and to a lesser extent Democrats in power) are not bargaining in good faith, and that change must be foisted upon them by the people. And if one reads Obama's speeches and statements literally, these bloggers foresee a naive President Obama that will compromise with Republicans Senators who's idea of compromise is to give them everything they want.

There are other ways of looking at Obama's rhetoric however. One is to see it as a cynical tactic to get the national media on his side, which is something neither Al Gore nor John Kerry would say they had in the last two presidential cycles. Having the media on your side against every Republican candidate except McCain (who appears to be coming back off political life support) would be a huge asset in the general election and in the first 100 days, assuming victory.

The other way to view Obama's talk is to see it as a gambit--by taking a Republican Senator seriously when they offer a critique to a policy and offer them a seat at the table, you are forcing said Republican Senator to offer up a real solution or admit their oposition to a policy is merely political.

A third view--which is mine--is that Obama views reforming the machinery of Democracy is more imparitive than and essential to getting important policy goals (like universal health care) accomplished. By "machinery of democracy," I mean campaign finanicing, election laws, government transparancy, government ethics reform, restricting lobbying, reforming various executive branch commissions and committees that have so much power (like the FCC and FEC), etc. In short, Obama appears to believe that if you create an environment where everyone knows who is attempting to legally bribe who in order to exact policy X, policy X will be less likely to be corrupted by monied interests. And therefore policy X will be a better policy.

And remember, by looking at Obama's actual voting record and previous jobs--community organizer, civil rights attorney, U Chicago law professor, Joyce Foundation Board Member, Executive Director of Illinios Project Vote in 1992--all point to a much more liberal politican than Howard Dean ever was.


rmwarnick said...

All is not well when we have to hope that a politician is being disingenuous in order to have faith in him.

I'd rather vote for someone who promises to undo everything Bush did, restore the Constitution, and get us out of Iraq by the end of February, 2009.

Obi wan liberali said...

I hope you are right about Obama. In the liberal blogosphere, there is alot of talk about Democrats being "Bush enablers" and to a degree, I agree with that assessment. The unwillingness of Democrats to stand up to the abuses of executive authority has been very disarming and challenges at the core our Republic's separation of powers doctrine.