Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama's Geometry: Triangulation

June 30, 2008, 1:40 p.m.


Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat,"
June 24, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?" June 27, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Pragmatic Idealism," June 28, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Geometry: Triangulation," June 30, 2008.]


Krugman and Ducat: Why Is Obama Taking These Positions?

It was over a week ago that I first suggested here -- and was criticized for doing so -- that Senator Obama's flip-flops had the potential to attract a good deal of attention, and negative response from his most fervent supporters up to and including the loss of their support.

In the flood of comments since there has been ample evidence that I was right.

With the passage of time, the analysis has grown more sophisticated. Supporters grow disappointed for different reasons -- some of which are more powerful than others.

1. My candidate doesn't support all my positions. Few sophisticated "political people" would express this objection. They are satisfied with the Rolling Stones' advice: "You can't always get what you want/But if you try sometimes you might find/You get what you need." For them, elections have always been about picking the "least-worst." But there are some who refuse to do that.

2. There's one issue that's a deal breaker for me. Folks on either side of an emotionally charged issue, such as abortion, sometimes feel that who may end up getting appointed to the Supreme Court, say, trumps for them the candidates' positions on all other issues combined.

3. My candidate is shifting his/her positions from the primary to the general election campaign. However discouraging it may be, most voters have come to accept that some shift in their candidates' positions from primary to general is just a natural part of real politique in America.

4. It turns out my candidate is a very different person, with very different positions and approaches, from what they represented themselves to be. This is the most serious of the consequences of flip-flopping -- especially if a candidate has invoked "character," "change," "moral high ground," or getting rid of the "old politics as usual" as their "brand," and a reason to support them rather than their opponent (as Obama has done).

During the past week this is the category into which many Obama supporters and media commentators have been suggesting Obama may have slipped.

To these four, Stephen Ducat has now added a fifth, below. But first . . .

Here are excerpts from what Paul Krugman had to say this morning:

It’s feeling a lot like 1992 right now. It’s also feeling a lot like 1980. But which parallel is closer? Is Barack Obama going to be a Ronald Reagan of the left, a president who fundamentally changes the country’s direction? Or will he be just another Bill Clinton? . . .

Reagan, for better or worse — I’d say for worse, but that’s another discussion — brought a lot of change. He ran as an unabashed conservative, with a clear ideological agenda. And he had enormous success in getting that agenda implemented. . . .

Bill Clinton also ran as a candidate of change, but it was much less clear what kind of change he was offering. . . .

So whom does Mr. Obama resemble more? At this point, he’s definitely looking Clintonesque.

Like Mr. Clinton, Mr. Obama portrays himself as transcending traditional divides. Near the end of last week’s “unity” event with Hillary Clinton, he declared that “the choice in this election is not between left or right, it’s not between liberal or conservative, it’s between the past and the future.” Oh-kay. . . .

Progressive activists . . . convinced themselves
that [Obama] was a transformational figure
behind a centrist facade. They may
have had it backwards.

Progressive activists, in particular, overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama during the Democratic primary even though his policy positions, particularly on health care, were often to the right of his rivals’. In effect, they convinced themselves that he was a transformational figure behind a centrist facade.

They may have had it backward. . . .

[C]ritics argue that by engaging in the same “triangulation and poll-driven politics” he denounced during the primary, Mr. Obama actually hurts his election prospects, because voters prefer candidates who take firm stands.

In any case, what about after the election? The Reagan-Clinton comparison suggests that a candidate who runs on a clear agenda is more likely to achieve fundamental change than a candidate who runs on the promise of change but isn’t too clear about what that change would involve.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Mr. Obama really is a centrist, after all. . . .

The real question is whether they [Democrats] will take advantage of this once-in-a-generation chance to change the country’s direction. And that’s mainly up to Mr. Obama.
Paul Krugman, "The Obama Agenda," New York Times, June 30, 2008.

And here's what Stephen Ducat had to say yesterday:

OK, we all knew, deep down, that our wondrous golden boy of change would one day reveal his feet of clay. What most of us did not anticipate was just how easily they would fit into jackboots.

There has emerged a conventional wisdom among progressives that is not entirely wrong about why Obama has so readily embraced police state surveillance, and why he felt compelled to express his solidarity with Scalia, et al, on the death penalty. As the thinking goes, these moves are simply the expectable, if disheartening, political positioning typical of Democratic presidential candidates, once they enter the general election campaign. . . .

Facing the possibility of [right wing attack ads], it is not surprising to see so many erstwhile liberal politicians preemptively surrender their principles. That Obama, too, would adopt this strategy has been particularly demoralizing for his progressive supporters. After all, he has . . . very vocally eschewed the Machiavellian political calculations that we have come to expect from other members of his party. To see Barack Obama behave like any other invertebrate Democrat is an especially painful blow.

Obama's resort to the triangulation of
the old politics is an admission
of a much more serious

However, this conventional wisdom on his political cowardice doesn't plumb the problem deeply enough. Obama's resort to the triangulation of the old politics is an admission of a much more serious limitation. It tells us that he does not believe in his own ability to reframe certain key issues in a way that makes a progressive stance the one that is obviously the most moral. It shows that he does not feel up to the task of rendering some liberal principles intellectually clear and emotionally compelling.

His limited ability to exercise moral leadership leaves him with no choice other than to accept Republican frames on issues. So, on the FISA bill, for example, loss of privacy and immunity for criminal telecom companies become a trivial price to pay for protection from unfathomable and pervasive Evil. . . .

In spite of his limitations, there is too much at stake to not work hard to make sure Barack Obama moves into the White House. And, once there, we must hold his clay feet to the fire.
Stephen Ducat, "Understanding Obama's Recent Right Turn," Huffington Post, June 29, 2008.

In short, Ducat has given us yet one more category:

5. My candidate "does not believe in his own ability to reframe certain key issues in a way that makes . . . liberal principles intellectually clear and emotionally compelling." In other words, it's not that Obama actually holds and advocates conservative Republican beliefs; and it's not that he's willing to do so just to get elected. The problem is that, notwithstanding his Harvard Law School education and record, he doesn't have the ability or isn't willing to put in the effort to come up with compelling ways to present -- to sell the public, to lead in that way -- on public interest policies and programs.

Which is it?

# # #

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pragmatic Idealism

June 28, 2008, 9:30 a.m.

Don't Drop Out; Do Tune In

I received an email this morning from a reader following yesterday's blog entry that I think really requires a recognition and response from me.

While continuing to support Barack Obama, I have been sharing in this blog some of what I have been discovering about his history, actions and true positions -- positions that are somewhat at variance with what he has been willing for his supporters to assume.

Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat,"
June 24, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?" June 27, 2008.
Garry B. Trudeau, author of the widely popular Doonesbury comic strip, has been addressing the matter this week from his own insightful perspective. He's depicting a woman whose job involves an Obama Web site designed to promptly counter the untrue charges that move around the Internet at the speed of light.

On Thursday, for example, she's working at 4:00 a.m., having noted that "some slimbag blogger" is circulating that "Obama's back on Drugs." On Friday there was this exchange with her friend: "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff that's out there!" He replied, "Yes, I would. I've heard some pretty bizarro claims myself." "Like what?" she asks. He says, "Like he's the second coming of Lincoln." She smiles: "Oh, I checked that one out -- it's true."

Today . . .

she's saying in the first three frames, "Yup. A new post from a known bad actor." "This wingnut has put more lies into play than anyone on the Web . . ." "Oh, damn!"

"What is it?" her friend asks. She replies: "Legitimate criticism. We're not allowed to touch it."

Frankly, I wouldn't even consider what I've been writing as "criticism," legitimate or otherwise -- though I wouldn't expect rabid Obama enthusiasts to agree. I think of it more as a matter of sharing with others what I am discovering about the candidate I have been supporting and intend to continue to support. I just think the more full and accurate our perception can be of our candidates the better -- and the less likely to leave us with greater cynicism and buyer's remorse when we discover, after we've elected them, what we've done.

And I certainly would not want anyone to come to the conclusion that what I am leaving them with -- let alone encouraging -- is no option but to drop out of the political process, or vote for a third party. So here, with little or no editing, is the incoming email and my emailed response.

I've voted in every election, primary and general, since I was 18.

After reading your blog entry from today ["Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?" linked above] I'm done. What's the point?

We're doomed. OK, we're probably not doomed; we'll all most likely be dead before the grand experiment completely fails; but America is going the way of the Roman Empire. Things are going to get very ugly, especially for those who will be around after 2040 or 2050.

You said: "Does any of this mean that you shouldn't vote for and otherwise support Senator Barack Obama for president? Not at all."

Yeah, right. Are you serious? I'd say you laid down a very good case for not only not supporting Obama, but for not participating at all. Either that, or voting for a Green Party or write-in candidate.

Any shred of idealism I had left is gone.

We had a pretty good run -- 230+ years isn't too bad, relatively speaking. Maybe others will learn from our mistakes.
To which I have responded:

Want to know why you should still vote?

Consider the absolutely worst case. And no, I'm not suggesting this is a real portrayal of our political parties. It's exaggerated by many orders of magnitude to make a point.

Two criminal gangs are competing for control of your neighborhood. The police are corrupt and take money from both gangs in exchange for not interfering. One gang leader is notorious for burning down residents’homes (whether they are inside or not), tying up the parents, and making them watch as they pull out the fingernails of their children.

The other gang leader is campaigning in the neighborhood for your support. He says, “It’s true we’ll insist on stealing your car, and we may break your arm in the process if we have to, but at least we’re better than our opponent.”

Would you really not care, not express a preference, for one over the other?

In fact, I think the choices offered you by the two major parties are far, far better than that -- while still being very significant.

The Republicans may not do much to help you after your home is destroyed by natural forces, but the only ones they deliberately destroy, and the only people they torture, are civilians in other countries.

The Democrats may permit those who provide goods and services to raise their prices on you (pharmaceuticals, gasoline, and virtually everything else), and permit the banks to take your home from you -- in exchange for campaign contributions -- and they may not provide you universal, single-payer health care so you can fix your broken arms, but they are not personally participating in the thefts or intentionally causing you physical harm (if you’re willing to overlook workplace injuries that OSHA is supposed to be preventing, but is too underfunded and misdirected to do much about).

In short, there IS “a dime’s worth of difference” between Obama and McCain -- actually probably at least $1000 worth of difference. You may wish for more, but to paraphrase the former Senator Everett Dirksen, "$1000 here and $1000 there and pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money."

I really do believe that Senator Obama is more likely than Senator McCain to pursue diplomacy before going to war, more likely to shift the tax burden toward the wealthy, more likely to work with the other countries of the world, support treaties (like Kyoto, and land mines), and improve our international reputation and relations, more likely to provide a better health care plan, more likely to promote alternative energy sources, campaign finance reform and financial aid for college students, and less likely to give away public lands to private profiteers -- among a great many other things that could be mentioned.

It is true that third parties have, in the past (and can in the future), provide an incentive to changes in the positions of the two major parties. But I really do think the best approach for a rational voter, inclined in that direction, is the advice given by Molly Ivins regarding Ralph Nader (and repeated recently by Paul Street): In what may be a close election, only vote for a third party candidate if you live in a state where there is virtually zero likelihood that it will end up doing anything other than going overwhelmingly for either Obama or McCain -– in other words, if it is virtually impossible that you voting third party could make a difference in who gets the electoral votes from your state.

That is, don’t risk that your exercise of the luxury of voting third party might actually cause the Republican candidate to end up winning the national election.

Meanwhile, there is a rational basis for a rational idealism. The fact is that and other Internet efforts have, and do, and will continue to, make a difference; the recent Senate blocking of the FCC’s ownership rules expansion is only the latest example. There is not, yet, drilling for oil in the Alaska wilderness. Senator Grassley was embarrassed into withdrawing his $50 million grant of taxpayers’ money for his friends' "indoor rain forest” project. Locally in Iowa City, the SEIU was able to organize the nurses in the University Hospital; and Wal-Mart’s proposed expansion, normally a slam dunk, was stopped by organized local opposition.

I have recently been watching the DVDs of HBO’s series about President John Adams. It has been a reminder that from the birth of our nation until now there has always been a struggle between the forces of Jefferson and those of Hamilton -– a struggle that remains to this day (see, e.g., Paul Street’s noting Obama’s ties to what are still called Hamiltonian groups).

What is "democracy"? Democracy IS a struggle; it's a process not a destination. I’m calling my next book “Are We There Yet?” And the answer is, of course, that we are not. There is a "there there;" and we need to keep it always before us; but it's unlikely it's a destination we'll ever reach.

We’ve come a long way from the early days when the only folks who could vote were: (a) white, (b) males, (c) over 21, (d) who owned land and John Jay could assert that it was only right that “those who own the country should govern it.” Hell, we've come a long way from the 1950s when I was clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals judge whose court covered the states from Texas through Florida, Jim Crow laws were enforced, and you had to pay a poll tax to vote.

And, lest it be overlooked, the Democratic Party’s two finalists this year were a woman and an African-American – candidates from groups that, not that many years ago, could not even vote, let alone realistically run for office.

So, don’t abandon your idealism. Just revise it from time to time to keep it realistic and pragmatic. And stay in the struggle. We need you.
If and when you, too, may despair try to reflect on these things, get a good night's sleep, and come back into the fray determined to make the most of what democracy makes possible.

# # #

Friday, June 27, 2008

Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?

June 27, 2008, 7:40 a.m.

Obama, We Hardly Knew Ye

Given Iowa's essentially year-long primary this time, I've been blogging about this presidential race for a good many months.

And so it with some considerable embarrassment that I confess it has only been this week that I've begun to look very thoroughly beyond Senator Barack Obama's own writings in taking a much closer look at his near-three-year path to the presidency, his voting record, his major financial contributors, and his shifting positions on the issues.

Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat,"
June 24, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008.
The blogosphere generally has been doing the same.

As of this morning NPR's "Morning Edition" picks up the story. Renee Montagne and Mara Liasson, "Obama Edging Toward Center," June 27, 2008. Charles Krauthammer may not be the most unbiased source of commentary about Democrats in general and Obama in particular. But that's all the more reason not to be giving him the ammunition to shoot with. See, Charles Krauthammer, "The Ever-Malleable Mr. Obama," Washington Post, June 27, 2008, p. A17. CBS' Jeff Greenfield has noted Senator Obama's "relentless march to the center." Kyle Drennen, "CBS’s Greenfield: Obama’s ‘Relentless March to The Center,’" News Busters, June 26, 2008.

And see, Michael Powell, "For Obama, a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center," New York Times, June 27, 2008:

Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal political positions, his path toward the political center marked by artful leaps and turns. . . .

“A presidential candidate . . . [hopes] their maneuvering and shifting will be seen in pursuit of some higher purpose,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. . . .

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for generations a liberal Democratic lode star, was no easier to define. He slipped and slid his way through the 1932 election. “Herbert Hoover called him a ‘chameleon on plaid,’ ” Mr. Dallek said.

Mr. Obama has executed several policy pirouettes in recent weeks, each time landing more toward the center of the political ring. . . . Mr. Obama describes his new turns as consistent with long-held beliefs. . . This most observant of politicians has throughout his career shown an appreciation for the virtues of political ambiguity.
The NPR list of issues on which Obama has "edged" is a long one (as are the lists of others) -- starting with the flip-flop on public funding (which started my, and others', second looks earlier this week) through this former constitutional law professor's convenient conversion yesterday to the NRA (and now Supreme Court's) interpretation of the Second Amendment, while supporting the conservative wing of the Court's enthusiasm for the death penalty the day before.

(Just for the record, and to keep this in balance, (a) I can't imagine my voting for Senator John McCain in November, and (b) when it comes to flip-flopping for political convenience Obama can't hold a candle to McCain.)

Let's parse a bit this business of candidates' positions on "the issues."

The Candidates' Conundrum. Anyone who follows politics is aware that our political system creates a bit of an embarrassing inconvenience for any Democrat or Republican wanting to run for office. The membership of both parties, as parties, tends to over-represent their extremes. Candidates have to run in, and win, party primaries before they can even run, let alone win, general elections. So Republicans run to the right in primaries and return to the center for the general. Democrats do the reverse: run to the left in primaries and return to the center for the general election.

This need not require them to lie. With a sufficiently mixed record of voting on genuinely held beliefs one can merely select carefully which are presented to which audiences at which times; a Republican might, for example, campaign on "tax cuts" during the primary and "environmental protection" during the general.

Of course, it's also possible to obfuscate, deny and lie; to miss votes; to develop a voting record on amendments and bills that permits one to say that one voted both for and against a given piece of legislation; to acknowledge that one has changed positions.

The Voters' Contribution. "Single-issue voters" don't make it any easier for candidates. A candidate who honestly acknowledges that with $40 trillion in unfunded obligations, as a responsible office holder he or she is going to have to raise taxes, is going to lose a good many potential supporters' votes. Ditto for issues like abortion, "God, guns and gays" -- regardless of the position taken.

Positions vs. Character. However, most voters are sophisticated enough to know that our political system is never going to produce what they might consider the "perfect" candidate or elected official -- nor enable them to accomplish much in the center of our corrupt system even if it did. Those voters are willing to support a candidate with whom they disagree on an issue or two.

But character issues are, for many, another matter -- even though they may arise from a candidate's changes in positions: President Clinton's lies about his extra-marital sexual behavior, or President Bush's lies about going to war. A candidate who represents himself or herself to be one thing, to embody a cluster of character qualities, or positions on public policy issues, and then turns out to be something else can also be perceived by voters as having a character flaw -- regardless of the issues in question.

And Senator Obama is dangerously close to creating that problem for himself. He has promised "change we can believe in." He has said he wants to "turn the page," to abandon the "old politics," to rid the system of the influence of PACs, special interests and lobbyists. He has, admittedly, been relatively careful not to promise anything more specific than "change," but he has clearly left some impressions as to how our government, and our lives, will be different with him as president.

If it turns out that we cannot "believe in" either the specifics or the impressions he's left us with, that in Washington's shell-and-pea game of corporate money and influence he has only put the pea under a different shell while we weren't watching, that (as, in fairness, Senator Hillary Clinton pointed out) the only reason he is not taking money from lobbyists is because he is getting it directly from those who pay those lobbyists, then -- precisely because he has presented himself as a new kind of politics -- he is in more trouble than if he had not built his campaign on the inspirational moral high ground he chose.

Government of, by and for the Corporations. As the embedded George Carlin routine that I put in yesterday's blog entry explains (Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008), those with the power and influence in this country still believe, as Noam Chomsky quotes John Jay as saying, that "The people who own the country ought to govern it."

To me this is the single most important issue in any election.

Are the candidate's primary loyalties with you and me? Do they walk the walk when it comes to standing up to the powerful special interests -- or is it all just talk, if even that? Do they believe, as Senator Joe Biden said in Iowa on more than one occasion, that "there are some things worth losing elections for"? Or do they agree with Vince Lombardi that "winning is the only thing" -- that their re-election for life is more important than what they do once in office?

Is their willingness to "reach across the aisle" just another name for a willingness to capitulate to whatever the largest campaign contributors want? Are their attempts to appeal to the masses -- whether the evangelical religious right or the 1.6 million "small donors" of Obama's -- a genuine reflection of their desire to serve those people, or merely an effort to amass the votes necessary to win an election under our system, in order that they may then continue to serve those who own them?

I don't really care when people of good will get together to address the problems of the poor if they decide that food stamps are better than distributing cash -- so long as their analysis and ultimate decision is driven by data, research, and reason, and a desire to truly help "the least of these" in America, rather than polls and the preferences of corporate lobbyists. In short, it's not where they stand on the issue, it's how they got there, and why, and who urged them along the way, and with what.

Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed used to say, "I don't care who does the electing, just so long as I do the nominating." Today it is not a political boss, it is the corporate-financial-wealthy complex that does the nominating -- for both parties.

And when we who do the electing neither notice nor care we deserve the prices Congress authorizes the pharmaceutical and oil industries to charge us, and the other ways in which our elected officials "further comfort the comfortable and further afflict the afflicted" -- to turn on its head the "Mr. Dooley" line written for him by Finley Peter Dunne (and subsequently used by many).

All of which brings me to Paul Street.

For there is an enormous difference between being (a) slightly disappointed that a candidate whose positions and values one knows well and agrees with needs to bend and misrepresent those positions slightly in order to win a general election -- knowing with great confidence that they will return to who they really are once elected, and (b) being very, very disappointed to discover that the positions one's candidate is taking to win a general election are, in fact, "who they really are."

Which is now the case with Barack Obama? Are these new-found positions he's taking something we can excuse and overlook, knowing that he'll return to who he "really is" after the election? Or do they represent who he really is, and has been all along, and will continue to be once we put him in the White House?

Paul Street is no McCain supporter:

John McCain is a chronic liar and Olympic-level flip-flopper . . . -- on tax cuts, offshore drilling, lobbyists, immigration reform, and more. He also happens to represent an extremist and dangerous right-wing agenda . . .. There's more than "a dime's worth of difference" between the two candidates . . . because the Republican standard-bearer and party is so dangerously far right. Once, again,as in 2004, this isn't "Coke" (the Democrats) v. "Pepsi" (the Republicans): it's corporate-neoliberal Coke versus arch-authoritarian and messianic-militaristic Crack.
Paul Street, "Obama Lies," ZNet, June 22, 2008.

But neither is he drinking the Obama Kool-Aid. I won't string this out with lengthy quotes, but here's an illustrative sample:

During the pivotal Iowa campaign, Obama sought to burnish his populist "tinge" by telling a misleading story about his response to an Exelon nuclear accident that outraged Illinois residents in late 2005 and early 2006. . . . [R]adioactive tritium was discovered in a home drinking well near the plant and Exelon revealed that this substance came from millions of gallons of water that had leaked from the plant over many years. Exelon had not been required to report the leaks since the radioactive discharges had not reached the level of what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called "an emergency."

Last November, Obama told a campaign crowd in Iowa that . . . [the bill] was "the only nuclear legislation that I've passed. I just did that last year," Obama claimed, eliciting "murmurs of approval."

But, as the New York Times reported in a front-page story two days before Super Tuesday, the truth of what happened after the Braidwood leak was very different . . .. Times reporter Mike McIntire noted, "Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon, and nuclear regulators. . . . But contrary to Mr. Obama's comments in Iowa, it ultimately died . . . despite the removal of language mandating prompt reporting. Instead, the bill simply offered guidance to regulators . . .."

* Obama had received at least $227,000 in campaign cash from Exelon since 2003.

* "Exelon's support for Mr. Obama far exceeds its support for any other presidential candidate."

* Exelon executives met repeatedly with Obama's staff to discuss Obama's ultimately diluted and aborted bill.

* Obama's chief political strategist David Axlerod had worked as a consultant to Exelon since 2002.
Paul Street offers many more such examples, but this provides a sense of Street's take on Obama's record and positions.

Street has written a book about Senator Obama, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, which should be available before the election, and published an earlier article in Z Magazine that is actually much tougher than the "Obama Lies" piece: Paul Street, "The Obama Illusion," Z Magazine, February 1, 2007.

Even assuming that 50% of it is not true, even assuming that 90% of it is not true -- and I have no less basis for believing that it is not all true than I have for believing that any of it is not true -- it makes a shocking read for any liberal or progressive who is supporting Obama because he is perceived as "one of us."

Here are some excerpts from the piece:

If the Democrats' candidate in 2008 is Obama, we can be sure that the right-wing Republican noise machine will denounce the nation's potential first non-white male president as a dangerous "leftist." The charge will be absurd, something that will hardly stop numerous people on the portside of the narrow U.S. political spectrum from claiming Obama as a fellow "progressive." Certain to be encouraged by Obama and his handlers, this confusion will reflect the desperation and myopia that shaky thinking and the limited choices of the U.S. electoral system regularly instill in liberals and some squishy near leftists.

So what sorts of policies and values could one expect from an imagined Obama presidency? There is quite a bit already in Obama's short national career that has to be placed in the "never mind" category . . ..

Never Mind

Never mind, for example, that Obama was recently hailed as a "Hamiltonian" believer in "limited government" and "free trade" . . ..

Never mind that Obama . . . has lent his support to the aptly named Hamilton Project, formed by corporate-neoliberal Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and "other Wall Street Democrats" to counter populist rebellion against corporatist tendencies within the Democratic Party . . .. Or that he lent his politically influential and financially rewarding assistance to neoconservative pro-war Senator Joe Lieberman's ("D"-CT) struggle against the Democratic antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont. Or that Obama has supported other "mainstream Democrats" fighting antiwar progressives in primary races . . .. Or that he criticized efforts to enact filibuster proceedings against reactionary Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Never mind that Obama "dismissively" referred -- in a "tone laced with contempt" -- to the late progressive and populist U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone as "something of a gadfly." . . . Or that "he posted a long article on the liberal blog Daily Kos criticizing attacks against lawmakers who voted for right-wing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts." Or that he opposed an amendment to the Bankruptcy Act that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30 percent. Or that he told Time magazine's Joe Klein last year that he'd never given any thought to Al Gore's widely discussed proposal to link a "carbon tax" on fossil fuels to targeted tax relief for the nation's millions of working poor . . ..

Never mind that Obama voted for a business-friendly "tort reform" bill that rolls back working peoples' ability to obtain reasonable redress and compensation from misbehaving corporations . . ..

In an interview with Klein, Obama expressed reservations about a universal health insurance plan recently enacted in Massachusetts, stating his preference for "voluntary" solutions over "government mandates." The former, he said, is "more consonant with" what he called "the American character" -- a position contradicted by regular polling data showing that most Americans support Canadian-style single-payer health insurance.

Never mind that Obama voted to re-authorize the repressive Patriot Act. Or that he voted for the appointment of . . . Condaleeza Rice to (of all things) Secretary of State. Or that he opposed Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) move to censure the Bush administration after the president was found to have illegally wiretapped U.S. citizens. Or that he shamefully distanced himself from fellow Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's forthright criticism of U.S. torture practices at Guantanamo. Or that he refuses to foreswear the use of first-strike nuclear weapons against Iran. . . .

Embracing Imperial Criminality

. . . Consistent with his denial and embrace of Washington's imperial ambitions, Obama has refused to join genuinely antiwar forces in calling for a rapid and thorough withdrawal of troops and an end to the occupation of Iraq. In a critical November 2005 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Obama rejected Rep. John Murtha's (D-PA) call for a rapid redeployment and any notion of a timetable for withdrawal. Obama's call for "a pragmatic solution to the real war we're facing in Iraq" included repeated references to the need to "defeat" the "insurgency"—a goal that means continuation of the war. As commentators Ford and Gamble noted in a critical analysis of Obama's CFR address: "In essence all Obama wants from the Bush regime is that it fess up to having launched the war based on false information and to henceforth come clean with the Senate on how it plans to proceed in the future. Those Democrats who want to dwell on the past -- the actual genesis and rationale for the war and the real reasons for its continuation -- should be quiet. Obama and many of his colleagues are more interested in consulting the Bush men on the best way to ‘win' the war than in effecting an American withdrawal at any foreseeable time."

Obama's November speech to the CCGA advocates a vaguely timed Iraq "scenario" in which "U.S. forces" might remain in the occupied state for an "extended period of time." Obama advances a "reduced but active [U.S. military] presence" that "protect[s] logistical supply points" and "American enclaves like the Green Zone" (site of one of the largest and most heavily militarized imperial "embassies" in history) while "send[ing] a clear message to hostile countries like Iran and Syria that we intend to remain a key player in the region." U.S. troops "remaining in Iraq" will "act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and go after terrorists." This is part of what Obama meant when he told a fawning David Brooks that (in Brooks's approving language) "the U.S. may have no choice but to slog it out in Iraq" . . .. Never mind that the recent mid-term elections and a mountain of polling data show that the majority of Americans support rapid U.S. withdrawal, as do the vast majority of the Iraqi people -- the purported beneficiaries of Cheney's "dreams of democracy."

The only polling data that Obama referenced in his CCGA speech and in the foreign policy chapter of his recent book is meant to illustrate what he considers to be the real danger in the wake of the OIL fiasco: that Americans are leaning dangerously towards "isolationism" and thus turning their backs on the noble superpower's global "responsibilities." . . .

"He's a Player"

Liberal bloggers and writers at places like Daily Kos and the leftmost sections of the corporate-neoliberal punditocracy (e.g., Frank Rich at the New York Times) can speak and write all they wish about the "progressive" potential of a Barockstar presidency. As David Sirota rightly observed last summer, Obama is "interested in fighting only for those changes that fit within the existing boundaries of what's considered mainstream in Washington, instead of using his platform to redefine those boundaries. This posture," Sirota notes, "comes even as polls consistently show that Washington's definition of mainstream is divorced from the rest of the country's (for example, politicians' refusal to debate the war even as polls show that Americans want the troops home)." It is because of Obama's "rare ability to mix charisma and deference to the establishment," Sirota finds (in an overly respectful assessment), that "Beltway publications and think tanks have heaped praise on Obama and want him to run for President."

But then, Obama would never have risen so quickly and remarkably to his current position of dominant media favor and national prominence if he was anything like the egalitarian and democratic "progressive" that some liberals and leftists imagine. In the corporate-crafted and money-dominated swamp that passes for "representative democracy" in the U.S., concentrated economic and imperial power open and close doors in ways that preemptively suffocate populist potential. Big money is not in the business of promoting genuine social justice or democracy activists (so-called "gadflies" like Wellstone, to use Obama's description). Viewing public policy as a mechanism for the upward distribution of wealth, it promotes empire and inequality by underwriting what Ken Silverstein calls "the smothering K Street culture and the revolving door that feeds it . . .."

Obama (a former editor of the Harvard Law Review) knows this very well. He's been "trimming his sails," as he likes to say when he's telling more genuinely progressive interviewers . . . why he had to support one corporate or militarism-friendly policy or position after another. He's been expressing his deep deference for the national and global politico-economic establishment in accord with harsh plutocratic realities. He has had to make his "charismatic" way through Mammon's polyarchic vetting rounds, impressing the critical gate-keeping powers-that-be with his "reasonable" commitment to working within the existing dominant domestic and imperial hierarchies. . . . As a Washington lobbyist recently told Silverstein, "Big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn't see him as a ‘player.'" . . .

Consistent with his secret identity as a corporate "player," Silverstein notes, Obama assiduously supported the ethanol-promoting objectives of the Illinois-based firm Archer-Daniels Midland, which has provided him with private jets on at least two occasions. He has also defended the interests of Illinois' gigantic electrical firm Exelon, America's leading nuclear plant operator . . .."
Does any of this mean that you shouldn't vote for and otherwise support Senator Barack Obama for president? Not at all.

Some are comfortable with keeping the governing in the hands of "those who own the country," "the business of America is business," and all that. You may be one of them.

Even if not, you may agree that there is, indeed, "a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats," and that it is that difference that makes you a Democrat -- notwithstanding the fact that, when it comes to corporate welfare (and the campaign contributions it produces) there often isn't a dime's worth of difference between the parties.

Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, your party affiliation (or lack thereof), there is a value to knowing what you're likely to be getting -- if for no other reason than to avoid a very severe case of buyer's remorse come 2009.

# # #

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Getting in Bed with Bundlers

June 26, 2008, 7:30 a.m., 9:20 a.m. (addition of George Carlin routine)

The Bundling Business

The online includes the following definition for "bundling":

(esp. of sweethearts during courtship in early New England) to lie in the same bed while fully clothed, as for privacy and warmth in a house where an entire family shared one room with a fireplace.
Indeed, when I was growing up that's the only definition I knew for the word, aside from "a bundle of sticks." There were even "bundle boards" that could be put in beds to further separate the couple.

In today's politics the word means pretty much the same thing -- except the couples are naked and there's no bundle board.

In order to prevent the appearance that PACs, corporations, CEOs, and their lawyers and lobbyists are obtaining untoward influence with elected officials by way of exorbitant campaign contributions, "bundlers" have taken their place. (As the Times editorializes this morning, see below, whether the headline writer chose the words deliberately or not, the candidates are "Snuggling Up to the Bundlers.")

For example, the board of directors of a corporation wishing to influence a president, or senator with the power to affect the corporation's bottom line, might vote to give all of the company's top executives big raises. Thereafter, an individual known to be the designated bundler pays a call on each of them with the request they write out a check for the maximum legal amount ($2300) payable to the candidate's campaign. With 100 executives, that means that (in effect) the corporation is able to send its bundler to a meeting with the candidate, offer him or her $230,000, and remind them where it is coming from. (The same process works with contributions from an industry as distinguished from an individual company -- or for any influence-seeking individual with enough wealthy friends to put him or herself on the team of $100,000 to $1,000,000 bundlers.)

The candidate can honestly say that he or she is not accepting money from PACs, corporations, or lobbyists; their only contributors are individual supporters. But the assertion is a little deceiving, as the Times editorializes this morning:

In his self-serving retreat from the spending restraints of public financing, Senator Barack Obama hailed his formidable Internet army of small donors as “a new kind of politics.” Maybe so. But just in case, the senator is not about to neglect the old politics of special-interest money bundlers in his presidential campaign.

Senator Obama is scheduled to meet Thursday with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her platinum card money raisers. One group specialized in amassing $250,000 packages for the campaign, while another excelled at hitting $1 million jackpots.

Now that Mr. Obama has forsworn the public spending limits that he initially pledged to defend, campaign aides have great expectations for Mrs. Clinton’s bundlers. If Mr. Obama woos and wows them, his aides hope they can generate an extra $75 million in private donations for the Obama campaign in coming weeks.

In Vegas, that’s called covering the board — continuing to work the 1.5 million small-bet donors who helped Mr. Obama set grass-roots records, while attending to the political high rollers, too.

Senator Clinton has her own practical interests for this meeting. Mr. Obama is offering to help her with the $22 million she owes after her campaign went bust.

In real-world politics, none of this is a surprise. But in ideal politics — the realm Mr. Obama often purports to speak for — the meeting could mean another coffin nail for public financing. Senator Obama should at least pledge to make the updating of the public subsidy system a top priority of his first year in the White House.

Senator John McCain — who is also vying for the mantle of reformer in chief — is opting for the public subsidies that begin after the conventions. In the meantime, he is relying on his own flock of special-interest bundlers to raise all the private funds he can.

The voters should not be fooled. They must demand that both candidates explain how they will reform the campaign-finance system so no future candidate has any excuse for going into hock to the bundlers and their special-interest donors.

Editorial, "Snuggling Up to the Bundlers,"
New York Times, June 26, 2008.

Senator Obama's spin team argue that his flip-flop on public financing of campaigns is of little consequence. After all, they say, he's created an alternative system of public finance: his 1.6 million contributors have removed the special interests' big money, and influence, from campaigns. So what's the big deal?

But the New York Times' concern is shared by Fred Wertheimer, once President of the campaign finance reform group Common Cause who now heads Democracy 21. His Web site carried an article on the subject last September. And here is an excerpt from the NPR story quoting him last Friday:

Obama will be the first candidate of either party ever to turn down public money for the fall campaign. He's counting on his new, Internet-driven strategies for raising cash.

"We've won the Democratic nomination by relying on ordinary people coming together to achieve extraordinary things," he told supporters in a video Thursday.

That's true of Obama's 1.5 million donors today. But Fred Wertheimer, head of the watchdog group Democracy 21, says it didn't start out that way.

In 2007, when Sen. Obama was raising the money that was essential for him to become a serious candidate, "54 percent of his contributions came in contributions of a thousand dollars or more, and much of that money was raised by bundlers," he says

Bundlers are people who solicit friends and colleagues for checks that they bundle for delivery to the campaign. Wertheimer says Obama wouldn't be where he is without them.

"He has not created a parallel system of public financing," he says.
Peter Overby, "Obama Puts Faith in Army of Individual Donors," NPR Morning Edition, June 20, 2008; and see,
"Effectiveness of Key 'Bundling' Disclosure Provision in New Lobbying Disclosure Law Depends on FEC Implementation," Democracy 21, September 20, 2007.

Ironically, the article notes that not only did Obama support public financing before he decided not to, he and Senator Russ Feingold actually sponsored legislation to prevent what he subsequently decided to go ahead and do.

For balance, let me make clear that what Senator John McCain did (accept public financing for purposes of getting a bank loan, and then, once the bank loan was obtained, reject public financing) is even worse, and as the Times notes he's as deeply indebted to the bundlers and those for whom they speak as Obama -- and probably much more so.

Hillary's Debt. There's a lot at least bizarre, and even troubling, about Senator Obama's efforts to help Senator Clinton pay off her debt.

(1) It makes it look like her support is being bought. Coupled with President Bill Clinton's (a) 17-day-delayed, (b) very limp, (c) "support" of Obama, (d) not even spoken by him, but offered only through a "spokesperson, I don't think it reflects favorably on any of them.

(2) It's kind of like people who repeatedly rebuild on floodplains asking the taxpayers to either buy their houses or help them rebuild. (a) Virtually all independent political observers acknowledge that Clinton's campaign was very poorly managed when it came to expenditures -- among other things. (b) Much of her debt was a result of continuing her campaign way beyond the time when it made any real sense to do so. That's something she had a perfect right to do; that's not the issue; the issue is whether it is now anyone's responsibility but hers to pay for the added costs, and now debt, that those decisions created. (c) Why is she more entitled to this "bailout" from donors than a mis-managed corporation is entitled to a bailout from taxpayers?

(3) The distinctions between the "debt" to herself (and her husband) and the debt to third parties is bogus (though legally significant). Money is fungible; money is money. It's like someone asking you to borrow $2000 for an "emergency" transmission repair because, after all, they "have to get to work," when they've just spent $3000 on an ocean cruise. Your $2000 loan goes into a pot and can as well be thought of as paying for two-thirds of the cruise as for the entirety of the transmission repair. She has an ability to raise on her own some fixed amount of money; to the extent others pay off the third-party debt they have enabled her to keep more of what she can raise on her own as a "repayment" of the debt she owes herself.

Why I'm Supporting Obama My interest in Michelle and Senator Barack Obama goes well beyond his simply winning the election in November. It is mostly focused on what he does with the presidency thereafter. I point up problems that I see at this time because after the election it's really too late.

We know what he's asking of us: money, and enthusiastic political activist support.

And the bundlers have made clear to him what it is they are asking for in return for their support.

[After writing this morning I was looking through State29's tribute to George Carlin, who he says provided some inspiration for State29's standard of "insightfully vulgar" commentary, and came upon this video of one of Carlin's routines. If you find Carlin's version of "insightfully vulgar" to be offensive I'd urge you to skip it. Otherwise, I find it a much more effective, sharp and to the point, way of putting what I'm trying to say. Start at 1:30 into the routine and run to the end. Enjoy.]

If Senator Obama's 1.6 million non-bundling supporters are simply taken for granted, if we follow him like lemmings to the sea -- only then to discover that he cannot walk on water after all -- if we let him take our votes for granted, it is only the bundlers whose wishes will be granted.

I believe his supporters need to make clear to him, now, what it is we are asking of him: Why it is we care about FISA, letting phone companies off the hook when they spy on us illegally, the inequities of NAFTA, public financing of campaigns, restrictions on bundling, universal single-payer health care, getting our troops out of Iraq -- whatever is important to you. I want his political courage, his leadership, in pushing the politically difficult causes that require him to take, and hold, a stand -- including when he needs to take a stand against the interests of his bundlers.

I am perfectly capable of performing a cheerleader's role with regard to Obama. But I don't think he needs that; he's demonstrated a very, very impressive ability to produce plenty of that.

What I think the campaign needs is to be reminded of the price it pays as it veers towards the center, and the right, and abandons those changes "we can believe in," and with them the enthusiasm of those who were attracted to what they thought really was something different in American politics.

Some 80% of Americans think our country is on the wrong track. Scarcely more than 20% identify themselves as Republicans. President Bush's approval ratings are below 30%.

And yet, in most recent polls, Obama leads McCain by no more than 3-6%. (The Newsweek poll is an outlier at 15%.) This election is Obama's to lose. And he could lose it. It will not be a slam dunk. The points I, and others, are raising should be taken seriously, not dismissed as "opposition" when they are, in fact, the strongest form of support.

Do I Criticize McCain?

So why don't I criticize McCain? I have and I do.

But for the same reason parents take more interest in optimizing the behavior of their own children than that of the neighbors' children, I have little interest at this point in time in helping McCain win his election.

I was criticized recently for not "beating up on McSame." Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat," June 24. Here's what I replied:

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'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.
What Happened to "Promises We Can Believe In"? The blog entry that brought forth the critical comment was Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008. Now I would never suggest that any blog entry of mine would even be read by an Obama campaign worker, let alone influence a change in the campaign's direction. In fact, the change I'm about to note may well have been in place before that entry was written.

But I did notice in a televised news item yesterday that the sign on the front of Senator Obama's podium no longer offered "change we can believe in." It now merely represents that the change he promises is "change that works for you." Here's the video. "Barack 'Confident,'" ABC World News, June 25, 2008.

The candidate and his campaign are to be commended for the candor represented by the retirement of "change we can believe in." But its replacement is still, at this point in time, in need of the same verification as its predecessor.

# # #

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iowa's Everglades

June 25, 2008

Hold the Raindrop Where it Falls

Des Moines Register
joined the chorus of thoughtful Iowans who are calling for Greenbelts, Greenways, and other water and soil conservation approaches to flood control. Yesterday Florida Governor Charlie Crist announced a $1.7 billion purchase of 187,000 acres of sugar fields. We have a lot to learn from the Florida Everglades preservation efforts -- and the Register.

The Register notes that today's emphasis on turning floodplains into parks that can withstand flooding, rather than condo and business developments that cannot, is . . .

a reminder of the simple advice shared many years ago by former Register cartoonist Ding Darling, a renowned conservationist: "Hold the raindrop where it falls."

Beyond battling Mother Nature with man-made structures to control her rivers and streams, Iowa must work with Mother Nature to help her keep the raindrops where they fall.

That will require a change in how Iowans collectively view our water, not as a hindrance - to be drained off fields and parking lots as quickly as possible, often carrying animal waste, fertilizer and street runoff downstream - but as a natural resource to soak up and savor.

It also will require a collective commitment from everyone in a watershed, everywhere the raindrop falls.

Commit to conservation

That means stepping up farm conservation efforts. If Iowa's rolling hills include more trees and swamps, excess water is more likely to be sponged up and slowed.

Curbing flooding downstream means working upstream to restore wetlands, prairies and natural barriers to control water.

Editorial, "Embrace a New Water Ethic for Iowa,"
Des Moines Register, June 22, 2008.

Imagine Iowa 1000 years ago, with its prairies and river systems. Look at a map of Iowa that highlights our vast network of rivers. And then look at, and learn about, the Florida Everglades -- the so-called "River of Grass."

No, I'm not suggesting what Iowa tourism needs is more alligators.

What I am suggesting is that we have some problems, and opportunities, in common with Florida.

Here's a brief excerpt from Wikipedia's detailed entry on the Everglades:

The Everglades are a subtropical wetland located in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The entire system begins in the vicinity of Orlando with the Kissimmee River. The Everglades includes the region that spans from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay, as well as the interconnected ecosystems within the boundary. The Kissimmee River discharges into Lake Okeechobee, a vast shallow fresh water lake. Water leaving Lake Okeechobee in the wet season forms the Everglades, a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a slightly angled limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. It is such a unique convergence of land, water, and climate that the use of singular and plural to refer to the Everglades is appropriate.[1] Characteristics of the climate of South Florida include annual wet and dry seasons, and the region has a history of recurring flooding and drought that has shaped the natural environment.
"Everglades," Wikipedia. The piece goes on to provide details about the variety and extent of water plans and projects from the past and for the future.

The Everglades is one very wide River of Grass, covering much of the state. The Iowa rivers system is one vast river system covering all of the "State of Grass" -- or what once was a prairie state.

The Everglades has become polluted from, among other things, fertilizer. Development is encroaching. That creates rapid runoff and flooding.

Sound familiar?

Iowa ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of public lands, park and forest lands, wetlands and prairies. Some of our rivers are the most polluted in the country.

What is Florida doing about its problems? Read on.

Two sides that rarely agree on anything celebrated Tuesday a "monumental" but still tentative $1.7 billion buyout that would put the nation's largest sugar grower out of business in six years but fill a gaping hole in Florida's long-stalled Everglades restoration.

The deal, expected to be final by Nov. 30, is good for the environment -- the nearly 300 square miles of sugar land is "the holy grail," one Everglades advocate said. And it's good for U.S. Sugar Corp., which will get $1.7 billion and six years of rent-free operations with the state as its landlord.

In return, Florida gets a chance to reinvigorate the stalled restoration of the Everglades, end years of bickering over pollution by "Big Sugar" and -- years from now -- get more much-needed clean water flowing into the River of Grass.

"I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, or the people of Florida, than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration," Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday, likening the announcement to the creation of America's first national park, Yellowstone. . . .

No one has drawn up specific plans yet, but a likely scenario involves massively expanding reservoirs and the 44,000 acres of treatment marshes that the state is building, at a cost of more than $1.2 billion.

The marshes scrub farm runoff to the pristine water quality level needed to protect the sensitive Everglades system. . . .

Michael Sole, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, . . . said the deal would have the added benefit of easing pressure to pump polluted water out of Lake Okeechobee to protect its deteriorating dike, discharges that have choked estuaries on both coasts in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers with repeated, damaging algae blooms.
Curtis Morgan and Scott Hiaasen, "Sugar buyout hailed as Glades `gift,'" Miami Herald, June 25, 2008.

There is no shortage of ideas that simultaneously eliminate or reduce flooding, purify our rivers and streams, encourage wildlife, reduce greenhouse gases, minimize the pollution from runoff, increase recreational opportunities, promote tourism, and stimulate economic growth.

Florida has just invested $1.7 billion in one such effort. Johnson County residents will be given the opportunity to provide roughly 1% of that amount to produce similar benefits here.

If we continue to re-build in floodplains, if we refuse to change our water runoff practices where we can, and fail to build Greenbelts and Greenways where we can't, if we fail to demonstrate the political courage to put in place the solutions that have already been worked out by others, we will deserve what we get in future flood losses -- and don't get in future benefits.

Its our grandchildren and great grandchildren who don't deserve the former, and do deserve the latter.

# # #

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, 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,, 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'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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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Change We Can No Longer Believe In

June 22, 2008, 6:30 a.m.

And see further comment on the topic in Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat," June 24, 2008.

Obama: No Longer "Change We Can Believe In"?

I really doubt that there will be many of Senator Barack Obama's supporters who will stay home, let alone vote for Senator John McCain, because of Obama's recent flip-flops on major issues. And apparently he's counting on that as well since he's just left $85 million of public money on the table.

But can he now continue to count on his supporters' continued financial support, and enthusiastic campaigning, between now and November? That has become more problematical.

As anecdotal evidence, a friend has shared with me an email she received from an Obama supporter in California that reported,

"Barack Obama owes me $600.43. I sent him my [federal government economic] stimulus rebate with the proviso that if he opted out of public finance he should return my contribution. I enclosed a self-addressed envelope with a 43 cent stamp attached."
Another friend who has been a nearly monthly contributor to Obama tells me she swears she's not sending him another dime -- as much because of Obama's switch on FISA as because of his switch on public finance.

At least a part of what brought out Obama's crowds of thousands, the new voters and contributors, and the enthusiasm of the young, was the Robert Kennedy-esque suggestion (some would say "promise") of a new kind of politics, "change we can believe in," the practical implementation of a bottom-up-community-organizing approach to national politics, a small-d democratic replacement for the "to-get-along-go-along" expediency, campaign-contributor-lobbyist-sub-government control, compromise-anything-and-everything-to-win, special privilege, and corporate welfare of which we've all grown cynical and disgusted.

The story is told of Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long
that when asked by a staffer what he could tell some Baton Rouge constituents who had come to the governor's office to claim some of his campaign promises, he replied, "Tell them I lied."

Had Senator Obama presented himself as "just another conventional politician" he, too, could try telling his supporters that he lied, knowing that while they might be disappointed they could certainly not claim to be surprised.

After all, with Congress' approval ratings at an historic 18% low who could fairly claim to be surprised by anything a senator might have done?

But he has marketed himself as something more than that, something better than a conventional politician or manipulative "Pied Piper." So his every change in position, his every abandoned campaign promise, further alienates the supporters who are both disappointed and understandably surprised -- and when his behavior is repeated, ultimately discouraged, disaffected, distant and depressed.

After all, they were promised "Change We Can Believe In." In fact, you can still buy a fan with that message on it from the Obama "store" for $3.00. But the number of "fans" "buying" that slogan may be declining.

Because now, in the course of two or three days, Senator Obama's enthusiastic supporters are discovering that what he has been talking about is not "change we can believe in." We needn't characterize it with the "L" word; let's just say he "misspoke" when he pledged to use public financing to fund his campaign; when he said he opposed spying on Americans and granting immunity to the telephone companies which did so illegally; when he said he would eliminate taxes for the working poor and seniors earning under $50,000; when he said he opposed NAFTA.

If you hadn't noticed, there are a lot of other days between now and November 4. So stay tuned. Remain attentive.

And if you have been, or are still, an Obama supporter you might want to let him know how you feel about changes in the positions you thought you and he were supporting, positions that were important to you. Don't let him take your vote for granted. You know he's going to hear from the lobbyists and major campaign contributors -- regardless of what he says -- and he also needs to hear from you to keep it all in balance and remember who got him to where he is. You can email him here.

Meanwhile, here are brief excerpts from the media's reports regarding these four changes in which his supporters can no longer believe, plus excerpts from a David Brooks column, and my concluding thoughts along with a video of President Bush.

Public Financing of Campaigns

Sen. Barack Obama reversed his pledge to seek public financing in the general election yesterday, a move that drew criticism from adversaries and allies alike but could provide him with a significant spending advantage over Republican rival John McCain. . . .

"It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections," Obama said in a video message to supporters, circulated yesterday morning by his campaign. "But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system." . . .

In the hours after the announcement, McCain indicated he would consider forgoing public financing as well, but he later indicated that he will opt into the system. "We will take public financing," he said on the Straight Talk Express bus. Asked why, he said simply, "Because we decided to take public financing."

But earlier in the day the senator from Arizona lashed out at Obama. "This is a big, big deal," McCain told reporters . . .. "He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people." . . .

Yesterday, government watchdog groups expressed disappointment with Obama's move. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook called $85 million "plenty of money" and warned that private funding -- even in the mostly small sums that Obama relies on -- "comes with the expectations of special access or favors." . . .

"Senator Obama knew the circumstances surrounding the presidential general election when he made his public pledge to use the system," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a co-sponsor of the [campaign finance reform] bill, called Obama's decision "a mistake" but added: "I look forward to working on this and a wide range of other reform issues with him when he becomes president." . . .

Although campaign finance issues rank low on lists of voter concerns, the McCain team pounced on Obama's move, along with his rejection of the 10 town hall meetings that McCain has proposed, as evidence that his claim to represent a "new politics" is empty rhetoric. The campaign circulated Obama quotes praising public financing and accused him of breaking his pledge to negotiate the issue with the GOP nominee. McCain spokesman Brian Rogers dismissed an account by Obama aides of recent talks between the two camps on the issue, saying it was "flat-out false."

"He's broken his word," said Charles R. Black Jr., a top McCain adviser. "He said he believes in the new politics; to me it sounds like the old politics. If you're going to change politics in America, that's a step backward." . . .
Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr., "Obama to Reject Public Funds for Election," Washington Post, June 20, 2008, p. A1.

Spying on Americans: FISA

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) today announced his support for a sweeping intelligence surveillance law that has been heavily denounced by the liberal activists who have fueled the financial engines of his presidential campaign.

In his most substantive break with the Democratic Party's base since becoming the presumptive nominee, Obama declared he will support the bill when it comes to a Senate vote, likely next week, despite misgivings about legal provisions for telecommunications corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program of suspected terrorists.

In so doing, Obama sought to walk the fine political line between GOP accusations that he is weak on foreign policy -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called passing the legislation a "vital national security matter" -- and alienating his base.

"Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program," Obama said in a statement hours after the House approved the legislation 293-129.

This marks something of a reversal of Obama's position from an earlier version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate Feb. 12, when Obama was locked in a fight for the Democratic nomination with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Obama missed the February vote on that FISA bill as he campaigned in the "Potomac Primaries," but issued a statement that day declaring "I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty."

Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) continue to oppose the new legislation, as does Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). All Obama backers in the primary, those senior lawmakers contend that the new version of the FISA law -- crafted after four months of intense negotiations between White House aides and congressional leaders -- provides insufficient court review of the pending 40 lawsuits against the telecommunications companies alleging privacy invasion for their participation in a warrantless wiretapping program after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. . . .

Paul Kane, "Obama Supports FISA Legislation, Angering Left,"
The Trail/Washington Post, June 20, 2008.

Tax Cuts

On the presidential campaign trail, Democrat Barack Obama promises to "completely eliminate" income taxes for millions of Americans, from low-income working families to senior citizens who earn less than $50,000 a year. . . .

To which the folks who monitor the nation's financial situation can only say: Good luck. Because, back in Washington, tax collections are slowing, the budget deficit is rising, and the national debt is approaching $10 trillion. Whoever wins the White House this fall, fiscal experts say, is likely to have a tough time enacting expensive new initiatives, be they tax cuts or health care reform. . . .

Meanwhile, the first baby boomers started receiving Social Security checks in January. Without major policy changes, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to devour half of all federal spending by 2050. But the more immediate problem is the depletion of excess cash in the Social Security trust fund, which has been used for years to cover a portion of the annual budget deficit. Government economists predict that the Social Security surplus will start shrinking in 2011 and dry up completely by the end of the next decade, exposing government-wide budget deficits of a magnitude not seen since Bush's first term.

In a new paper titled "Facing the Music: The Fiscal Outlook at the End of the Bush Administration," University of California at Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach and two co-authors from the Brookings Institution conclude that, if spending grows at historic rates, simply keeping the Bush tax cuts and halting the spread of the AMT [alternative minimum tax] would drive the budget deficit to $481 billion by the end of the next president's first term, or 2.7 percent of the economy. Subtract the cash borrowed from Social Security and other retirement funds, and it would be $796 billion, or 4.4 percent of GDP.

"It's a train wreck," said Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), a member of the House Budget Committee. "The government is making promises to people right now it knows it can't keep. And you have some candidates piling more promises on top, which are clearly unfulfillable."

Former House Budget Committee chairman Leon Panetta, who served as President Bill Clinton's first budget director, said the financial situation is "much worse" than it was in 1993, when Clinton was forced to abandon promises of a middle-class tax cut before he took office. Instead, Clinton wound up devoting his first State of the Union address to a plan that aimed to tame rising deficits with one of the largest tax hikes in history.

"It's worse because there are a huge number of crises out there that are going to confront the new president," Panetta said, . . .. The likelihood is that it's going to get worse. And the fundamental problem has been that there's very little willpower by Republicans or Democrats to confront the issue." . . .

Obama has not made balanced budgets a priority. Instead, he promises numerous tax cuts likely to make the situation worse, including subsidies for education, child care, homeownership, "savers" and people who work. Obama also vows to extend the Bush tax cuts for families who earn less than $250,000 a year. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of Brookings and the Urban Institute, his tax plans would deprive the Treasury of nearly $900 billion in his first term, and increase the national debt by $3.3 trillion by 2018. . . .

The analysis also excludes a possible reduction in corporate tax rates, which Obama first mentioned in an interview this week with the Wall Street Journal. . . .

"They're promising the world with ways to pay for it that are really suspect," Bob Williams, one of the authors of the Tax Policy Center study, said . . ..
Lori Montgomery, "Big Promises Bump Into Budget Realities; New President Won't Have an Easy Time Paying for New Initiatives, Fiscal Experts Say," Washington Post, June 21, 2008, p. A1.


OTTAWA — American presidential hopeful Barack Obama appears to have moderated his opposition to NAFTA just ahead of Republican rival John McCain’s extraordinary visit to Canada to praise the trade pact.

Obama, who said in March he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement if he’s elected, said he might have gone too far.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," the Democratic nominee told Fortune magazine in an interview.

Were his attacks on NAFTA a product of that brand of campaign posturing?

"Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself," he answered.

The admission was published shortly before McCain was expected to pour unvarnished praise on NAFTA, drawing a clear distinction between America’s two combatants for the White House. . . .

North American free trade and Canada played a pivotal role in at least one state — Ohio — during the U.S. primaries.

A Canadian government memo written after a meeting with an Obama adviser suggested the Democrat’s biting opposition to the pact was rooted in politics that would not blossom into policy if Obama becomes president.

That memo was leak to The Associated Press and many of Obama’s own supporters believe it cost him the Ohio primary, which was won by Hillary Clinton.
The Canadian Press, "Obama Softens Stance on NAFTA," The ChronicleHerald [Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada], June 20, 2008.

David Brooks

Although you may find it hard to believe, it really is the case that it was only after I had written and assembled the material above that I came upon David Brooks column of June 20. You should read the entirety of it. It makes what I wrote look like the chants of an Obama cheerleader by contrast. Brooks may be a conservative, but he's my kind of conservative: normally much more both "fair" and "balanced," as well as reasonable, informed and soft spoken, than the network that markets itself with that claim. Here are some excerpts:

Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.

This guy is the whole Chicago package: an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator. He’s the only politician of our lifetime who is underestimated because he’s too intelligent. He speaks so calmly and polysyllabically that people fail to appreciate the Machiavellian ambition inside. . . .

[O]n Thursday [June 19], Fast Eddie Obama had his finest hour. Barack Obama has worked on political reform more than any other issue. He aspires to be to political reform what Bono is to fighting disease in Africa. He’s spent much of his career talking about how much he believes in public financing. In January 2007, he told Larry King that the public-financing system works. In February 2007, he challenged Republicans to limit their spending and vowed to do so along with them if he were the nominee. In February 2008, he said he would aggressively pursue spending limits. He answered a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire by reminding everyone that he has been a longtime advocate of the public-financing system.

But Thursday, at the first breath of political inconvenience, Fast Eddie Obama threw public financing under the truck. In so doing, he probably dealt a death-blow to the cause of campaign-finance reform. And the only thing that changed between Thursday and when he lauded the system is that Obama’s got more money now. . . .

If he’ll sell that out, what won’t he sell out? . . .

All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo. Republicans keep calling him naïve. But naïve is the last word I’d use to describe Barack Obama. He’s the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades.
David Brooks, "The Two Obamas," New York Times, June 20, 2008.

Concluding Thoughts

Senator Obama and his staff should reflect on these reactions -- and the fact that Senator Clinton has only "suspended" her campaign. He's not yet the nominee, and super delegates can change their votes at any time.

Nor is the only rational response for Obama supporters to suddenly drop him like last week's moldy pizza as a result of these recent flip-flops. He may not be all they thought -- and he promised -- and still be head and shoulders above the mediocre, far better than merely the "least-worst" alternative.

But meanwhile, what are voters in general, and Senator Obama supporters in particular, to make of this behavior? Should they assume that these will be the only four shifts in position, that he is really, deep down inside, the same person he represented himself to be, the same person they believed in? Or should they ask, with David Brooks, "If he’ll sell that out, what won’t he sell out?"

Or is the lesson a much more serious and depressing one? Should they listen much more closely to the lyrics from the 1951 film, Royal Wedding (starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell), "How Could You Believe Me When I Told You that I Loved You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life." Not because of Senator Obama, but because of politics and life in general. Will it always (or virtually always) be the case that offerings of "hope" and promises of "change" -- regardless of context -- are, like the enticement of winning the lottery, as ephemeral and short-lived as the morning fog on a hot summer's day?

There are many contexts and stories leading to the punch line, or "lesson," "Don't ever trust anyone, not even your own father." Is that the great lesson of the Obama campaign? "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me"? Or, as President George Bush puts it, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Sadly, we can get fooled again -- and again, and again, and again.

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli's famous works, The Prince and The Discourses, were published in 1531, four years after his death, and have been read -- and to some extent followed -- by most politicians since. Is it perhaps the case that politics can't be changed? That it has always been thus? Do we have nearly 500 years of history to warn us that the "change we can believe in" was inherently unbelievable?

No, there have been changes, some improvements, and there can be more. But we must work for them -- with or without a President Obama. The changes will only, can only, have only, come from the peoples' sustained efforts.

"When the people lead, their leaders will follow." It's up to us to lead, not to look to the rear of our marching ranks in search of our "leader."

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