The Problem With Obama
Obama is scared. He hasn't had to make choices for a long time . . . We haven't yet seen what a Barack Obama would fight for in a public debate, and it's something I'd like to see. . . .
Fighting. Obama is not a fighter. That is the problem. In July 2006, I wrote:
How did FDR do it and can Democrats defend FDR liberalism today? Maybe not by calling it FDR liberalism but they surely can and do when they have the courage of their convictions. The most prominent of these instances was the fight to save Social Security Faced with Media hostility, Republican demagogy and flat out lies, Democrats rallied to the FDR liberalism banner and crushed the Republican attempts to roll back the clock. FDR would have been proud of Democrats in that fight. No triangulation. Good old fashioned political populism won the day. And that is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.
Obama refuses to fight for Democratic and progressive values. He holds them of course. But he does not fight for them. He believes in finding "common ground" and, in the process, simply does not fight. He does not work to persuade the persuadable. As a politician fighting for issues, he fails (while perhaps succeeding in burnishing his own image.) If you are committed to Obama, you can be pleased with his political style. If you are committed to Democratic and progressive values, I think you can not be satisfied. More.
In essence, Obama is a politician who has taken high Broderism to heart. A progessive no doubt, but one who believes that progressive goals can be achieved through bipartisan consensus with today's Republican Party. This is consistent with his political style and it is, in my view, an absurd notion. In an earlier post, I wrote:
Unlike Barack Obama who is still searching for "common ground" with extremist Republicans and foregoing the partisan fight for the Party he belongs to, Bill Clinton has realized that his Third Way approach does not work in this climate:
Clinton -- who regards Rove with a mixture of admiration and disdain as the most effective modern practitioner of polarizing politics -- said in an interview that he has become fixated on the problem of how Democrats can learn to fight more effectively against the kind of attack President Bush's top political aide leveled. Associates of the former president said he thinks that Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in 2004 lost the presidency because they could not effectively respond to a modern media culture that places new emphasis on politicians' personalities and provides new incentives for personal attack.
While the Foley and Allen episodes burned Republicans, Clinton said in an interview earlier this year that he thinks the proliferation of media outlets, as well as the breakdown of old restraints in both media and politics, on balance has favored Republicans. Without mentioning Gore or Kerry by name, he complained that many Democrats have allowed themselves to become unnerved and even paralyzed in response.
"All of this is a head game, you know. . . . All great contests are head games," Clinton said. "Our candidates have to get to a point where they don't allow other people to define them as either people or as political leaders. Our people have got to be more psychologically prepared for it, and there has to be more distance between them and these withering attacks."
Associates said he regards this as his most important advice to his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), if she runs for president in 2008.
On the other hand, Barack Obama is living in a different reality:
Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.
Obama the political consultant. What Dems should do is what Obama has been about. Not about electing Democrats. Predictably, Broder and Klein love him.
Me, I'll take Bill Clinton every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
This is what is wrong with Barack Obama. He is running the wrong campaign with the wrong political style for the time we live in. And it is a great shame, for he has the political talent to be the answer for our time. He has decided not to be.
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