Warner Out. Obama In?

From Big Tent Democrat

Mark Warner is not running for President. Unlike Markos and Jerome, I never saw the window for Warner. Their view appeared to be summed up today by Markos, by implication -- Warner was a Southern Governor. Seemed like a thin reed to me. In any event, does this give space for an Obama run? Markos says:

Obama? Perhaps still too raw, but he's ambitious and the rumors are flying fast and furious. His recent dis of Daily Kos might even be a sign he's burnishing his "centrist" credentials . . .

Um, that centrist credential burnishing has been going on for some time. As those who have read me on the subject know, I am not impressed:

Obama has learned nothing from Lincoln and nothing from Hofstadter. As wonderfully talented a politician he is, until he does, he will not best serve the interests of progressives and the Democratic Party.

And the quote Markos references seems more of the same:

One good test as to whether folks are doing interesting work is, Can they surprise me? . . . And increasingly, when I read Daily Kos, it doesn't surprise me. It's all just exactly what I would expect.

Well, it is true that consistency CAN be bad. For example, Obama's statement is pretty consistent with his disdain for the base of the Democratic Party and of a piece with his flirting with the DC Beltway mentality. You can be sure that David Broder loves this kind of stuff from Obama. I do not.

Ezra Klein gets at one of Obama's clear flaws -- he appears to be calculating and rudderless ideologically. Let me be clear, all politicians are and must be calculating. What they can not be is OBVIOUS about it:

But if Obama avoided being battle-tested in 2004 by the grace of God, it's his own timidity that has kept his name clean since. Given his national profile and formidable political talents, he could have been a potent spokesman for Democratic causes in the Senate. Instead, he has refused to expend his political or personal capital on a single controversial issue, preferring to offer anodyne pieces of legislation and sign on to the popular efforts of others.

Exactly. There is no fight in Obama. There appears to be nothing but calculation, and of the unwise variety in my opinion. And it is fed by the naivete that we find in some surprising quarters:

"Barack may be the first post-ideological candidate," says Rahm Emanuel.

Post-ideological how?

"Name me a state he can't go to," he says. "John McCain can go to New York all he wants, but it ain't gonna happen. New York ain't gonna vote for him. Or George Allen, for that matter"a Republican senator from Virginia, also a presidential hopeful"or Mitt Romney." (The governor of Massachusetts.) "But I think Barack could be a player in all 50 states, if he wants to. Or 40. There are states we have lost, historically, that he'd be a major player in."

This is sheer foolishness, and coming from the man who has done nothing but attack Howard Dean's 50 state strategy, hard to fathom. Unless Emanuel is thinking about AFTER Dean's 50 state strategy is successful, what can he be thinking? the fact is Emanuel and Obama suffer from the same disaease - too much political me-ism. Perhaps this is the Curse of Clintonism - many of the most talented Democratic politicians have no conception of the importance of political party, our party - the Democratic Party.

Obama likes to talk about himself, unity, etc. but he really does not like to talk about being a Democrat. He does not think much of the Party one surmises. He may find that, in the end, the Party faithful may not think much of him.

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    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#1)
    by scribe on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 09:27:31 AM EST
    All well and good to be talking about potential presidential candidates for 2008, but the discussion assumes there will be both (a) a presidential election in 2008 and (b) a Democratic party to participate in it. Given the state of affairs in this country currently, one can say neither of these assumptions is necessarily valid. One wishes Rahm Emmanuel, Charles Schumer and those who print the bs they spout would kindly, immediately remove their heads from their respective fourth points of contact. Then they could devote their full attention to something far more imminent and pressing - a congressional election in 20-some days and a Preznit and Repug party on the ropes. Because, if the Democrats do not succeed in winning at least one house of Congress, then Bushco (a) will succeed in their crimes (to use a tasty phrase from Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"), (b) try more radical stuff (try, say, declaring Democrats to be enemy combatants - like they already haven't thrown that gauntlet), (c) ratify the radical stuff than the atrocities they've already. Or, perhaps, you'd like to see Mr. Justice Yoo appointed to the Supreme Court? And, as to President Obama? (a) never happen - not only does he have a black face (which eliminates the possibility of winning any of the Confederate states), but his name alone will turn people off ("some furriner", they'll think...), and (b) the man strikes me, sadly, as an empty suit with a golden voice. You can sing the songs of angels, but if there be no spirit in you, you are merely a clashing cymbal, a ringing gong ... or something like that. I still like Edwards best.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#2)
    by dab on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 10:51:41 AM EST
    I am greatly disappointed Warner is dropping out. I disagree with you on Warner and Obama in part because I disagree on the "lessons" to be learned from Lincoln (and FDR, mentioned in your linked post). You quote Lincoln's Cooper Union speech (in the link) as a template for how Dems should shape political dialogue today, apparently divorced from what Americans today actually think. That is not what Lincoln (or FDR) did. First, Lincoln was, by all accounts, a "moderate" politician in his day. That is how he won the Democratic nomination against a more famous opponent whose views were considered too "radical." Despite his Cooper Union speech, Lincoln made clear that he would not seek to ban slavery in the South, and would enforce such repugnant laws as the "fugitive slave" laws requiring the return of escaped slaves from free states. He was able to win the general election because there were more people who agreed with him in the free states than there were people in the slave states, and the democratic party had split in two, so the republican candidate was assured of winning. But he regretted the division his election caused (despite the clear morality of his position) and appealed to his opposition in his inaugural address, telling them not to worry, he would not take away their "rights" and would only act against them if they maintained their secession. "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it cannot break the bonds of our affection . . ." Lincoln's political strategy was staking out a relatively moderate position that would be accepted by enough voters to get him elected. He did not take a more polarized position in hopes of "defining the terms of the debate" and changing people's views. In my view, Obama is trying to stake out similar ground. Recent election history has shown that the majority of Americans have views that are not consonant with the positions the Democratic "base" may wish Dem candidates to espouse. To national elections, in my view, Dems need first to emphasize their superiority in advancing the economic interests of the average American. That should be an easy case to make to the extent we can stay on message. All one must do is compare all of the advances in social welfare (e.g. Social security, medicare, progressive taxation, pension rights, etc.) that Dems have accomplished, with the declining economic conditions and rich-poor gap that Repubs have created recently. But when countered with attacks on Dems stemming from their purported animosity toward the principles of American's religious beliefs, Dems cannot hope to change the "terms of the debate". They will have to be able that voters do not have to choose between their faith and voting for Dems. They will not (and should not try to) convince voters that the words of their clergy should be ignored. It may be unpleasant, but all great politicians have been master strategists at conforming their words and deeds to popular opinion. FDR was one of the most skilled at that. For example, faced with vehement opposition from isolationists (even though his presidential opponent's views were not extremely different than his own) FDR promised Americans that their sons would not be sent to fight in Europe. He angered African-American leaders and his own wife with his reluctance to implement civil rights reforms in the face of opposition by the American majority. the same is true for his approach to unions and breaking strikes, and to cajoling businesses to increase defense production, and the list goes on. But despite his tactician's attention to public sentiment, and assuming "moderate" positions to gain support, FDR unquestionably accomplished major reforms and improvements. I have been impressed with Dems' willingness to support "moderate" candidates in these congressional races, particularly in red states, in order to gain control of congress (hopefully). The party's base has been willing to back candidates with whom they disagree about social policy issues because they have recognized that their goals will be advanced when Dems are in control, even if those Dems are more "moderate". That is what I believe we need to win in 2008.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#3)
    by ShochuJohn on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 11:10:52 AM EST
    Exactly what dab said, with some small additions. Howard Dean was wildly popular amongst the Democratic base because he was anti Iraq war when few people were. Despite media portrayals, Dean is very much a moderate. The difference is he stuck to the moderate position when most of the country bought the delusion. Why? Because it was the rational position to take. Obama is similar to Dean in a lot of ways. He's a moderate, but he's an unflinching moderate. Better, I think to have a true moderate than a fair weather liberal. Unlike Dean, however, Obama can speak well on the fly without saying anything stupid, and hence will come across as the mainstream candidate he is. I don't see the point of this ideological purity testing of Obama that has been going on in the lefty blogs. Throw Kos to the dogs if you must, as long as we get an electable Democratic presidential candidate. Eyes on the prize, people.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 11:14:32 AM EST
    Dab: You also fail to learn the lessons of Lincoln FDR and Hofstatder. The point is not to predent yourself as extreme, the point is to label you adversaries as extreme. Lincoln did. FDR did. And a smart politician today would as well. That is Karl Rove's secret - he has turned GOP extremism into moderation. And Warner and Obama have played along. Please reread my piece because you have fundamentally misunderstood it.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Molly Bloom on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 02:59:09 PM EST
    First, Lincoln was, by all accounts, a "moderate" politician in his day. That is how he won the Democratic nomination
    This would be news to Douglas, Breckenridge and Bell...

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 03:31:07 PM EST
    Wasn't Abe Lincoln much less experienced in actual political office than even Obama is?

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 05:45:09 PM EST
    The former piece cited in this one was a bit too thick for me, sorry, though I welcome your efforts. Lincoln actually had a bit more federal experience that Obama (served a term in the House) and (I guess) about the same statewide (served a few terms locally). OTOH, he was a key voice in the party since its origins in the mid-1850s, so probably should be said to have more overall national exposure by the time he was elected president. Obama has a place in the party, but comparing him to Dean because both are overall moderates doesn't work for me. Dean is more forcibly moderate, while Obama always seems to want to be "reasonable" even when the other side is not. Cf. Durbin's early firm opposition to the Military Detention Act to his late in the day moves (I'm not from IL but someone from there agrees with my sentiment here). Likewise, his Liebermanesque (who he supported in the primary -- qed) comments against an Alito filibuster as it was being proposed. His problem very well might be that he cannot frame the other side as extreme. But, my concern is that he has not shown the moral spine to firmly defend basic Democratic values when they are threatened. This is not a matter of let's say demanding federal support of gay marriage or the like. Implications that 'the base' do not have the views of a majority these days is a bit silly given the very basic values (no torture, right to use birth control, etc.) that are not being upheld. Submitting to conservative frames ala the religious values speech doesn't seem promising to me. As to his skin color, I don't know. I do think sex is a factor (other than the fact a chunk of the population just hates her) re the Clinton route. I'll scream if she's the candidate. Sorry Susan Estrich.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 09:02:19 PM EST
    I have been a huge FDR fan for years. I think his skill, humor, intellegence, willingness to be flexible made him one of the greats. The fact that he overcame polio in the point that he became president despite it shows the willpower and strong sense of self he had. He did show he was a strong leader in the face of adversity due to this. I had not seriously concidered Obama for 08, though I voted for him for senate. But, more and more I'm leaning to this concept. I really think the country is tired. Tired of fighting, the verbal and political civil war we are in, the eroding of the middle class, ect. divisions everywhere. I don't think he is an empty suit. He is studying. He is learning and navigating. I'd be really leary if he came out blazing during his apprenticeship in the senate. And dealing with navigating the great divide of the parties these days. Washington is poison right now and you tread warily. He has progressive leanings but, he is at heart a moderate. He is closer to the old democratic party of before than what it became in the 70s. He came of age in the Reagan and conservative explosion. I do not think his race will be an issue. I think we are past that in our need for someone to give us what Kennedy and FDR did. Bringing the country together in times of crises.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#9)
    by dab on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 12:13:27 AM EST
    BTD: I am not sure what I am missing. I agree that framing the other party as extreme is effective, I just think there are limits to where it can be done. I profess to not being a close follower of Obama, but I do not agree with your distain for the Obama quote in your linked post. As I read the quote, he said the republicans do not have a monopoly on religion, and if dems do not speak up and tell voters that, then the repubs will cynically exploit religion for their own partisan purposes. I think you can define republicans as extreme on many issues, particularly economic ones, but you cannot do so in the sphere of religion, because they are espousing social issues positions that clergy members are telling their congregants are important. Molly: I meant "Republican nomination" but I stand on my statement that he received the nomination in significant part because a more well known adversary was considered too radical. Joe: I may have overstated a bit the disagreement between the majority and "the base" but I do not think all that much has changed with respect to social issues in particular, e.g., gay marriage. It is not clear to me that Americans view torture in interrogations of foreign detainees as being as obviously wrong as you do. BTD: Having re-read (skimmed) your previous post,I do not quite understand the point of the whole resentment tribalism discussion. I think the point makes a lot of sense (although its impact is overstated), but where does it lead? In the end, dems need to convince the majority of Americans, wherever they may live, to vote for them.

    Re: Warner Out. Obama In? (none / 0) (#10)
    by dab on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 12:13:27 AM EST
    I should have added to my previous post: FDR may have labeled his opposition as extremists in some instances, but he knew when he could not. He acknowledged the isolationist desire to avoid entering a foreign war even though he believed entering the war was both moral and in the security interests of the U.S. He did not simply brand as extremist those who opposed equal opportunity. He acted "moderately", making change where he thought he could.