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.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

question of the day

[Photo Credit: Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune. Caption: Rita Woodward holds lone survivor, Precious]

Who stuffs 14 puppies into a sack and then decides to toss said puppies into a dumpster to die?

Anyone with information on the litter should call Riverdale police at 801-394-6616. Animal abandonment is a class B misdemeanor, according to the Humane Society of Utah, which is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Of course, they still can't be charged with a felony because the Legislature "ran out of time" last session. I guess you could charge the perpetrator with 13 class A misdemeanors, which if sentenced consecutively would mean almost 13 years in prison. And in my book, they would deserve it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

adding to the dialogue

Some candidates run for president with the real expectation and goal of winning, others have other motivations. A third category exists of those who had a real expectation of winning but then realize they cannot win, and convert their campaign into a cause.

In 2004, US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) ran thinking he would be the anti-war candidate. Too bad for him, Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) decided to switch his campaign's emphasis from health care and balanced budgets to the Iraq war and the problems of the Democratic Party. Both lost badly, although there was a moment there where all the other candidates realistically though Dean would be the nominee. However, neither man's effort was in vain. The war went from popular from unpopular, and the party eventually rallied together (as much as Democrats can) against the war. Moreover, Dean's complaints about the Democratic Party struck such a cord with state party activists that he was able to convert his campaign into a successful race for DNC chair.

In 2008, it is happening on the Republican side now as well. The issue is illegal immigration. In this week's New Yorker, Ryan Lizza explains why the GOP candidates have veered right on immigration: US Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). When he first got to the House about 10 years ago, Tancredo could hardly interest his Republican colleagues on the issue. Now, it is a topic that is discussed in every GOP debate and the subject of attack ads between all the candidates. The issue even tripped up Rep. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and with her arguably Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NYC). Unlike Kucinich or Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), Tancredo openly admits he knows he will never be president. But his goal--putting the issue out there and having people agree with his views--has been achieved to a large extent in the GOP primary. Granted, he is the only one who advocated for "bombing Mecca" but even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)--the author of most of the compromise immigration bills--has reversed course on "amnesty," all thanks to Tancredo.

On the Democratic side this cycle, it has been argued that Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) is pushing Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Clinton to propose much more ambitious health care and energy Independence proposals. Edwards forced Clinton to say she wasn't going to apologize for voting for the Iraq War after he asked Americans for forgiveness. Now Edwards has a real chance still of winning the nomination, which is why the other top contenders have had to address his policy proposals seriously. Still I still can't figure out how he planning on winning New Hampshire or any February 5th state on anything other than momentum.

Other Democratic candidates have similarly impacted the debate. Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)--with help from national bloggers like Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers--have made beef with the 'no residual forces' gabit, forcing the top three to first say they would have troops in Iraq until 2013, and now making statements like Obama's pledge to get all American troops out of Iraq by the end of his first year.

Dodd's FISA fight is another example of this. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) knew he really had no chance of becoming president. His initial first goal of running was to rehabilitate his father's reputation. Why else make your campaign book about letters your dad wrote sixty some years ago? But the lack of Senate leadership on constitutional issues like torture, habeas corpus, and wiretapping gave Dodd an opening. He could safely "sacrifice his campaign" by fillibustering bills and offering his own, while calling out Clinton and Obama for never showing up while they campaign.

Some candidates really add nothing to the dialogue. For example, did you know US Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was running for president? He's running on keeping gays out of the military and building a boarder fence. Those two topics are pretty much covered by the other candidates.

Likewise, Kucinich again is running on the war, this time with added bonus of impeaching Cheney and shaming Congress for lack of action to stop the war. With all of the candidates on the Democratic side against the war, and with no hope of actually impeaching Cheney, he really has nowhere to go. His anti-corporate rhetoric has been overwhelmed by Edwards' populist message too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

annoying Christmas songs

Here is one of my biggest pet peeves about Christmas--there are only like 20 good Christmas songs, yet they have stations that play only Christmas music non-stop for over a month. The result, pressure for more Christmas songs, the vast majority of which are terrible.

The ones I dislike the most are ones that really have absolutely nothing to do with the idea that Christmas is Jesus' birthday observed. Or even the sentiment about thinking of others etc. Instead, they are a) capable of getting stuck in your head b) while talking about "Santa" or other creations by corporations [Coca-Cola created him to boost sales of their flavored sugar water during the winter]. The exemplars of this horrific-style are "Santa Baby" and "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree." The only time using songs like these is appropriate is for ironic purposes--such as in a Christmas comedy like "Bad Santa"-- or if you are having a party that mocks the worst parts of commericalized Christmas (complete with blinking lights and sweaters). Otherwise, these songs really should be put out of their misery.

It is fine if kids want to sing songs like "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman," but please don't make me hear it on the radio.

What are your most hated Christmas songs?