Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat

June 24, 2008, 7:45 a.m.

More on Believing in Change

Yesterday I commented about some problems I thought Senator Barack Obama was creating for himself. Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008 (a play on his campaign slogan, "Change We Can Believe In").

It produced a number of comments. [And you might also want to take a look at State29, "What Are Headed Towards 'Divorce, Default, and Defeat?'" June 22, 2008 (pointing out -- with videos in Obama's own words -- his shifts with regard to the Iraq War); and State29, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," June 21, 2008 (charging Obama -- unfairly I believe -- with "race bating").]

Today I'm going to respond to one of the comments following yesterday's blog entry as a way of trying to clarify what I thought I was, and was not, saying.

Yes, I know, this is very unusual for me. I run an open blog. I receive, and leave posted, critical comments -- as a practical application of my theoretical beliefs about the First Amendment, the Fairness Doctrine, and what I have called "the separation of content and conduit." The only ones I remove are those that attempt an inappropriate use of this blog as a billboard to advertise a product or service. Nor do I normally carry on the discussion, or otherwise respond to comments, in the comments section. I figure I've had my say, and the comments deserve to speak for themselves.

So my response this morning is not an effort to engage in a she-said-he-said, 'tis-'t'aint ongoing exchange to prove that I'm "right" and someone else is "wrong." It's simply an introductory way into a little more commentary by me about yesterday's blog entry.

The comment reads as follows:

These are the right-wing talking points. I can't believe you're falling for them! Obama is going to do everything he can to make sure we do not have a third Bush administration. This is worth a few necessary sacrifices. Personally, I am thrilled to finally have a candidate who is committed to winning, knows how to do it, and who doesn't foolishly hand the country over to the evil Republicans at his first opportunity. Please don't do the Republicans' work for them. Why not beat up on McSame? That would serve the country better.
Supportive-Constructive vs. Partisan-Mean-Spirited Criticism. During Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign I pointed out that she was not doing her campaign a favor by emphasizing her superior "35 years of experience," and having passed the "commander-in-chief test," including "traveling to 80 countries" and risking her life to sniper fire.

Why? Well, because there was no meaningful distinction between the amount of presidentially-qualifying life experience she'd had since law school and that of Senators Obama and McCain (all of whom were devoid of the range of experience one would hope for in a president -- such as that of Governor Bill Richardson or the first President Bush), when both of whom had more years of legislative experience than she did, there was nothing in 11,000 pages of White House records to indicate her significant involvement in decisions, and there was videotape documenting the absence of sniper fire.

I believe there is some evidence that my judgment was right, and that what was perceived by voters to be "politics as usual," her attempting to claim something that could not withstand analysis, did in fact do her much more harm than good during the primary elections and caucuses.

It was in a similar spirit -- I thought -- that I was pointing out what I believed to be a self-defeating move by the Obama campaign. I noted that when a candidate chooses to raise the electorate's expectations to incredible heights with promises of "change" in Washington, and getting rid of "the old politics" of corporate control, resulting in Independents and young people flocking to his or her side by the millions, they have created a much higher platform from which to fall from grace.

What he has created is a very precious and fragile asset that can very quickly disappear when and if supporters get a sense that the "change" he has promised is no longer a change they can "believe in."

These are not "yellow dog Democrats" (voters who are so loyal to the Democratic Party they would vote for an old yellow dog if it was in the Democrats' column on the ballot). Many of his supporters are Independents in fact as well as name, and young, first-time voters who have no "party loyalty" whatsoever at this stage of their political life.

On the one hand it is unfair to hold Senator Obama to a higher standard than other candidates; on the other hand, it is a standard he has created and chosen to run on -- like Senator Clinton claiming that we should vote for her because of her "superior experience."

So why, you might fairly ask, do I choose to offer the Obama campaign this advice by way of a blog entry rather than a private communication? Because this is the most effective means available to me, however feeble it may be, to get a message to the campaign. (So far as I know, the Obama Web site, http://www.barackobama.com/index.php offers no way for supporters to interact with the campaign staff -- unless they want to send money.)

Was I Right? Last evening alone -- just based on what I read and saw in the media -- I was far from the only person expressing these concerns. Senator Obama's flips on public financing of campaigns and other issues was a topic, or the subject of comments, from a number of sources one would assume lean in favor of Obama: Keith Olbermann, KOS, MoveOn.org, and Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" (which led with ridicule of him in this "Indecision 2008 - Finance Reform" video). (See from minute 1:43-2:57 in the video below.)

These are just what I happened upon; I haven't researched to see how much more there is.

So I scarcely think that, had I refrained from yesterday's blog entry, Senator Obama would have been spared this criticism -- not to mention what he got for his, now withdrawn, premature presidential seal.

John Nichols gives Obama the following advice in the current (July 7, 2008) issue of The Nation regarding one of the "change we can no longer believe in" topics I mentioned yesterday: his moves toward a more favorable view of NAFTA.

Obama also told Fortune that he no longer believes in unilaterally reopening NAFTA and earned praise from the magazine for "toning down his populist rhetoric." If he keeps this up, Obama will also receive a thank-you note from John McCain, a militant supporter of free trade, a position that ought to hurt him in states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where surveys show widespread anti-free trade sentiments. Only if Obama goes soft on trade issues will McCain have a serious chance to win over these disgruntled working-class voters. Unfortunately, Obama seems to be doing just that. It's a mistake Democrats like Al Gore and John Kerry have made in the past.
Note that neither Nichols nor I are talking about the merits of free trade or NAFTA. We are talking about both how to win elections and how and why Democrats continue to lose them -- by promising to represent the interests of the working class, and then switching positions to please the interests of corporations and the richest 1/10th of 1% of campaign donors.

"Right Wing Talking Points." I don't really believe these are "right wing talking points" -- "not that there's anything wrong with that" (to quote a Seinfeld line). If the right wing is attacking Obama in ways that are cutting into his support it would seem to me that pointing that out to the Obama campaign is doing the campaign a favor, rather than doing it a harm for which the messenger should be shot.

But who is it, truly, John Nichols and I or Senator Obama who "do the Republicans' work for them"?

It is Obama who is moving toward the Republicans' position on NAFTA. It is Obama who says he supports the Bush Administration's position on FISA and immunity for the telephone companies that illegally spied on Americans. Isn't that doing "the Republicans work for them"?

And how do our comments echo "right wing talking points"? Are Republicans complaining about Obama's shifts to more right wing positions on free trade and civil rights violations? I don't think so.

"Why not beat up on McSame" and "the evil Reublicans"? In fact, while I try to keep this blog relatively balanced (I've done a very favorable piece about Governor Mike Huckabee), as a result of doing so probably more of the entries would be said to "favor Obama" than any of the other candidates -- simply because he has, so far, offered less of which I was critical and much I found inspirational.

Governor Huckabee, asked if he really considered himself a "conservative," replied something along these lines: "Of course I'm a conservative; I'm just not angry about it." (That attitude is a part of what I find attractive about him -- notwithstanding the fact we probably disagree on every issue he's spoken to, including evolution.)

Well, I'm not "angry about it" either. I've never (so far as I now recall) referred to the Republicans as "evil." I have friends I enjoy talking politics with who are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party members, Naderites, and the old Kucinich gang -- and lots of Independents who are disgusted with both the national Democratic and Republican Parties -- all of whom have something to offer to the national dialog (and my own thinking). During the 2007-2008 Iowa primary I had some personal interaction with, and tried to be helpful in one way or another to, virtually all of the Democratic candidates.

So I'm not really very interested in "beating up on" much of anybody -- including those "evil Republicans."

On the other hand, I am certainly not a McCain supporter, and while I would not consider the things I've written about him as "beating up on" him I rather imagine he might.

At one point both Clinton and Obama supporters were saying that if their candidate did not receive the nomination they were going to vote for McCain. Among my responses was Nicholas Johnson, "Before You Actually Vote for McCain," April 30, 2008. In it I noted how the media were holding Obama and McCain to different standards. I discussed, and linked to, stories regarding his "anger problem." I included excerpts from MoveOn.org's well documented "10 Things You Should Know About John McCain but Probably Don't." And I had excerpts from Harold Meyerson's hilarious but scary "McCain on the Red Phone."

I can't know if the author of the comment would find that an adequate response to "Why not beat up on McSame? That would serve the country better." But it comes about as close as anything I'm likely to write.

"A few necessary sacrifices." Notwithstanding Senator Obama being labeled "one of" -- if not "the" -- most "liberal" U.S. senators, the fact is that his positions are far indeed from those of a Senator Russ Feingold, Congressman Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader. He has failed to vote on some potentially presidential-campaign-impeding issues. He has shown a willingness to switch positions from "liberal" to "Republican."

All presidents respond to pressure. The most public spirited actually seek out and encourage the public and media pressure that will make it possible for them to get Congress to do the right thing.

In my forthcoming book, Are We There Yet?, I relate the following:

The anecdote is told of President Franklin Roosevelt telling advocates of progressive ideas, in effect, “I agree with you. Now you go out there and make me do it” – at least with Frances Perkins (Social Security) and A. Philip Randolph (civil rights legislation), and probably many more. His point, of course, was a variant of the old adage, “When the people will lead their leaders will follow.” It’s very difficult to pass legislation over the opposition of the special interests without overwhelming popular awareness, involvement and support.
I have been, and remain, hopeful that Senator Obama, as president, will follow President Roosevelt's example. I base this on a conversation I had with Obama, his experience as a community organizer, his 50-state-strategy in the primary and now the general election campaign, his rejection of PAC and corporate money, and creation of roughly 1.5 million small contributors (and presumably the email addresses of even more supporters).

But that strategy, his strategy (if such it be), requires much from us. And so I say, "Ask not what a President Obama can do for you; ask what you can do for a President Obama."

And we best start now.

After he's elected it's too late. It is not enough, to quote from the comment, that he "
is committed to winning [and] knows how to do it." Winning is not, to respectfully disagree with football coach Vince Lombardi and yesterday's author of the comment, "the only thing." "There are," as Senator Joe Biden said on one occasion in Iowa City, "some things worth losing an election for."

If a President Obama is to truly follow President Roosevelt's example it is not enough that we support his policies when he asks; he must also support our positions and policies when we ask. And the earlier we get about it the better -- for us, for him, and for our country.

Aside from giving him some advice yesterday on how to best win this election, that was all I was about.

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