The Problem With Obama

The Problem With Obama is the discussion of the day. I especially liked Stoller's and Bowers' discussion. Stoller quoted an earlier piece:

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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    Post-mortem? (none / 0) (#1)
    by magster on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 01:45:14 PM EST
    I think it's premature to write a post-mortem, like the Open Left guys have done, but only if he starts beating Dodd to the punch on leading the Senate to standing up to Bush and only if he quits triangulating.

    I think a post-mortem (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 01:50:56 PM EST
    is only slightly premature.

    Iowa will be the end for Obama.


    Well, he's the only thing that (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 01:55:13 PM EST
    could stop Hillary.

    And he's not doing too shabby down there, certainly better than the nationwide #'s reflect.

    That said, I'm not advocating on his behalf until the clown show gets fixed inside his campaign.

    I think Doug Feith handled the Gospel concerts.


    Two things (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:08:04 PM EST
    Reading a poll properly. To understand an Iowa caucus poll it must be understood to tat te top line numbers are meaningless.

    In the likeliest caucus goers segment, te one tat matters, Obama simply is not doing that well and as not real message to drive his voters. Indeed, he is going backwards with is latest moves.

    And fighting illary is NOT the answer. Figting Republicans is. And seems incapable of doing that.

    If only Obama had half the fight his supporters have.


    One more thing about post-mortem (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by magster on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:21:22 PM EST
    Hillary's vote for Kyl-Lieberman will be her downfall if Iran is attacked before the Christmas.

    Very good point (none / 0) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:26:56 PM EST
    I think Iran will not be attacked at all personally.

    But if it is, it will be disastrous for Hillary.


    Yes (1.00 / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:25:05 PM EST
    And fighting illary is NOT the answer. Figting Republicans is. And seems incapable of doing that.

    Everyone, Democratic and Republican is fighting Hillary


    I don't know if anyone's noticed, but George W. Bush is being disappeared from the presidential campaign and everyone's running against incumbent Hillary Clinton. Subtly, but relentlessly, the public psyche is being prepared to deny Junior ever existed. And it could work. For many different reasons, most Americans want nothing more than to forget George W. Bush was ever president. So, we see a very odd subliminal narrative taking shape in which the blame for the nation's failures of the last seven years is being shifted to Clinton (and the "do-nothing" Democratic congress) as if the Codpiece hasn't been running things since 2000.

    The joys of being a frontrunner. (none / 0) (#9)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:30:57 PM EST
    The inevitability campaign has its drawbacks.

    Really? (1.00 / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:47:03 PM EST
    You don't think it has anything to do with the fact that she is not a man?

    Lower life forms often reveal unspoken fear of the elite:

    If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.

    You don't think that this has to do with Hillary?

    Bottom line: I don't think that it is just because she is a frontrunner.


    I think it is part of it (none / 0) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:55:27 PM EST
    because part of the entire hillary personna for 15 years has been so wrapped up in the men who hate her.

    but I tink Geek's point is also valid - it is part of being the frontrunner. The exact lines of attack are very much a form of sexism.


    Four points in response: (none / 0) (#8)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:29:25 PM EST
    1.  Likely voter screens are notoriously unreliable for Iowa caucuses.  Even the best poll severely overestimates the incidence of actual caucus goers

    2.  Obama is doing very well in terms of second-choice preferences, which does matter a great deal

    3.  Look at the trend lines at pollster.com--Obama is gaining ground, not losing ground in Iowa.  On the other hand, John Edwards has steadily lost support since January.

    4.  The McClurkin thing was a fiasco, and his entire SC clown show belongs in the Dunce Hall of Fame.  But, it's not something that people in Iowa are paying attention to.  Unlike Clinton's Iran vote, which is drawing attention.

    Advertising (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 02:46:29 PM EST
    Richardson "gained ground" when he advertised as well.

    That is a pretty easy thing to see.

    Edwards as not advertised.

    Let me put it this way. I think we can almost predict Edwards' result now - 26-32%.

    The other results are the issue.

    Obama has not evidenced a message that will give him a meaningful swing.

    Does he have something new to bring to the table?


    Edwards has very little money to spend (none / 0) (#13)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:15:39 PM EST
    on television advertising in Iowa.

    He's capped at just over a $1 Million.  That will get drowned out with what Clinton and Obama have.

    The joy of public financing.

    Obama's campaign themes actually play pretty well in Iowa--just a matter of closing the sale.

    Clinton's #2 choice polling is not very good.  She is vulnerable.

    But, all she has to do is beat Obama.  She steamrolls in 3/6 scenarios:


    She emerges as a co-frontrunner in this scenario:


    She's in a real fight for her life under this scenario:


    She's in big trouble if:


    Keep in mind that Edwards is going to be attacking her from now until January.  As will his 527 group.


    Contradictory points (none / 0) (#15)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:33:22 PM EST
    Edwards can't spend and yet he will use all his money on attacking Hillary?

    Actually, I think Edwards is counting on Obama to do the dirty work. And he is probably rigt.

    As you can see, I think Edwards is in the best position in Iowa.


    You have it backwards. (none / 0) (#17)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:51:16 PM EST
    Obama is counting on Edwards to do the dirty work.

    Edwards thinks Obama is too wimpy to take Hillary head-on.

    We shall see.

    Edwards's themes are all about Hillary.  Which make sense.  Second place behind Hillary is a tiretread mark across your face.

    Reality is that Edwards is losing support every month instead of gaining it.  Losing traction.

    He's also not viable past Iowa.  Can't win New Hampshire.  No prayer in South Carolina (barely outpolling the margin of error amongst African-Americans there), not enough money to contend on Super Duper Tuesday.

    And he'd be out of money between February and August while the Republicans would pound the hell out of him if he did get the nomination, which cuts against his electability.


    Counting on Edwards (none / 0) (#25)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:51:19 PM EST
    Weren't we just promised Obama is going to "take on Hillary?"

    Chart of trendlines in Iowa (none / 0) (#14)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:26:45 PM EST
    Well (none / 0) (#16)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:35:52 PM EST
    As you know, I do not think much of those trendlines without looking inside the numbers and considering the ad expenditures.

    Sure, Edwards got outspent badly (none / 0) (#18)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:52:43 PM EST
    in that time period.

    And he'll get badly outspent from here on out.

    Money matters.


    Not as much as you think (none / 0) (#23)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:47:55 PM EST
    Obama-ism is not Broderism (none / 0) (#19)
    by Anonymous Liberal on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 03:55:14 PM EST
    BTD, I agree with much of what you're saying, but I think it's pretty unfair to equate Obama's governance philosophy with Broderism. Obama is a straight down the line liberal on almost all issues.  He doesn't think that the right answer is always the median point between to two parties, as Broder does. He just thinks that in order to get anything done, you have to appear not to be a partisan. You have to appear to understand where others are coming from and pay lip-service to their concerns, even when those concerns are unreasonable or objectionable.

    In other words, he thinks he'll be able to advance a progressive agenda more effectively if non-progressives believe that he respects their views (even though he doesn't share them).

    That may be naive, but it's not the same thing as Broderism.  

    It wouldn't be Broderism (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Alien Abductee on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:40:06 PM EST
    if he stuck to actually advancing liberal issues while holding out a hand to opponents in order to bring them along with his vision. But too often he's had to be dragged kicking and screaming to forthrightly stand up for progressive, Democratic principles. He's let reaching out to the other side take the place of advancing the principles of his own side. And that's Broderism - harmful compromise for its own sake.

    The point of reaching out isn't to agree so everyone feels good, it's to find substantive grounds that have solid value for both sides, that everyone can buy into. And that's where he keeps letting us down, as in this latest episode, apparently not understanding where he went wrong. (Though it's hard to see how he could have made anything right with this fiasco from the moment McClurkin was signed on.) He's trying to paint it as complaints that he's reaching out to fundamentalists, not seeing that the point of reaching out is to bring them along with you, to educate them to your more expansive vision, not to throw your own allies under the bus to pander to their narrow prejudices.

    Your theory would explain why Obama's distanced himself from the progessive netroots, who would seem to be natural allies for his professed progressive beliefs - something which is otherwise utterly incomprehensible. Even right-winger Hillary is trying to court the netroots.


    Netroots are more about a confrontational style (none / 0) (#21)
    by Geekesque on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:43:17 PM EST
    than they are about a coherent ideology.

    That is simply incorrect (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:53:49 PM EST
    We are about a confrontational style not for te sake of confrontation.

    This is the new myth from Obama supporters.

    We are for confrontation because it is wat will work politically.

    Anyone who has live troug te past 6 years and is not yet convinced of that simply is not paying attention.

    I do not dislike Obama's policies at all. I have always been clear on this.

    You can disagree but please describe the view accurately.


    True to some extent (none / 0) (#24)
    by Alien Abductee on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:48:08 PM EST
    and probably their (its?) most significant characteristic, but you wouldn't try to argue the netroots don't tend progressive, would you?

    Broderism as political style (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 04:47:16 PM EST
    not as governing philosophy.

    Interesting how he just pulled a Babe Ruth (none / 0) (#27)
    by kovie on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 06:14:27 PM EST
    (and, ironically, right after the Bambino's curse was once again broken). I.e. calling a home run before hitting it, by telegraphing that he was about to go on the attack against Hillary. This was either the dumbest thing I've seen in a while, or the most brilliant. I'm hoping against hope that his laid-back approach till now was calculated all along, to create overconfidence in Hillary's camp, and then attack just when they thought that they had it all but sown up. If so, then calling this just before doing it is interesting, perhaps brilliant. More likely, though, he's still just a very good AAA player who got called up mid-season, had a good run, but isn't quite yet a major leaguer. I'm guessing that it's the latter. Still, I'm quite open to being pleasantly surprised. It's getting late, but still possible.

    Btw, has anyone checked out the hit piece on Obama in today's NYT?

    He barely mentions Columbia, training ground for the elite, where he transferred in his junior year, majoring in political science and international relations and writing his thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament. He dismisses in one sentence his first community organizing job -- work he went on to do in Chicago -- though a former supervisor remembers him as "a star performer."

    Senator Obama, an Illinois Democrat now seeking the presidency, suggests in his book that his years in New York were a pivotal period: He ran three miles a day, buckled down to work and "stopped getting high," which he says he had started doing in high school. Yet he declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years, release his Columbia transcript or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate or friend from those years.

    "He doesn't remember the names of a lot of people in his life," said Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman.

    Mr. Obama has, of course, done plenty of remembering. His 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," weighs in at more than 450 pages. But he also exercised his writer's prerogative to decide what to include or leave out. Now, as he presents himself to voters, a look at his years in New York -- other people's accounts and his own -- suggests not only what he was like back then but how he chooses to be seen now.

    Some say he has taken some literary license in the telling of his story. Dan Armstrong, who worked with Mr. Obama at Business International Corporation in New York in 1984 and has deconstructed Mr. Obama's account of the job on his blog, analyzethis.net, wrote: "All of Barack's embellishment serves a larger narrative purpose: to retell the story of the Christ's temptation. The young, idealistic, would-be community organizer gets a nice suit, joins a consulting house, starts hanging out with investment bankers, and barely escapes moving into the big mansion with the white folks."

    In an interview, Mr. Armstrong added: "There may be some truth to that. But in order to make it a good story, it required a bit of exaggeration."

    The obvious implication, of course, is that he's shady, not quite who he seems to be, a lurker, even a bit creepy, a Democratic Mark Foley (but in a different way). He did drugs, slept in an alley, lived in a dangerous black neighborhood, hung out with homeless people, is secretive about his formative years. It almost reads like the typical writeup done on a serial killer after he's finally caught, with the neighbors saying that he was polite but kept to himself, and no one quite knew what he was up to or about.

    The writing is on the wall for anyone to see. If he somehow beats Hillary, the smear campaign against him is going to make what they did against Clinton, McCain, Gore, Cleland, and Kerry look like an unfavorable movie review in the NYT. It's going to reveal a side of the GOP that's always been there but rarely quite this openly creepy. And the article didn't even mention the inevitable middle name. This is going to get unbelievably ugly real fast if he gains traction (and I'm not sure that it will all be coming from the other side--Wolfson strikes me as just the type).

    Well, the one good thing that can come of this is that it forces Obama to show the world what he's really made of. Is he going to continue to try to get by on a smile, charm and a bland message of hope, or is going to give as good as he gets, and then some? Does he understand strategy and tactics? Does he want to? Does he care? We're going to find out very, very soon.

    Wack article (none / 0) (#28)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 06:17:41 PM EST
    Stunk even as a hit piece. How did it make page 1?

    How? Keller, Abramson and Pinch (none / 0) (#29)
    by kovie on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 06:39:43 PM EST
    They ultimately allow such crap in their paper, and have to answer for it. Forget the excrable content. This person doesn't even know how to write. Something happened to the Times starting in the early to mid-90's (i.e. when Pinch took over) that made it take a turn towards being a broadsheet that wants to be a tabloid (hell, it even recently did this in a physical manner by cutting down its size). I used to worship this paper, growing up, in college and in my first years out of school. Now it's spotty at best. They can't even get people to write with good style, let alone with intelligence and journalistic competence and integrity.

    Hugely ironic that a NYT "journalist" would try to make Obama look like the political version of Jayson Blair. Janny Scott, you truly suck.


    How cynical (none / 0) (#30)
    by diogenes on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 07:55:50 PM EST
    What exactly has Hillary been fighting for in the past seven years?  Why does she get a free pass?  She can't even answer a question about Social Security.  Every scripted statement since the NY 2000 Senate campaign has been with the goal of not blowing her free ride in 2008.  Do any of you know what she personally stands for, what she will really fight for, or even if she will personally withdraw any troops from Iraq if elected?
    If you have two candidates who don't openly take far-left stands, as many here contend, then why not elect the charismatic one who will inspire the country to go along.  THAT is what FDR did.  THAT is what JFK did.  Hillary will win with 53% and govern with the same tin ear and locked up Congress that Bill had in 1992-1994.

    Looks like the Clinton supporters are scared (none / 0) (#31)
    by Aaron on Tue Oct 30, 2007 at 11:50:57 PM EST
    Because every time you turn around they are attacking Obama, an opponent who supposedly isn't even close in the polls, so what are you so afraid of, perhaps it's the fact that the American people still have a say in who they elect President.  No doubt this frightens many elites on the left and the right.  And the corporate controlled media is also deathly afraid of a president who will be more concerned with representing the interests of the people instead of the interests of their bosses.

    Sure it looks like Hillary's going to get the nomination, but you never know, the American people might decide to start thinking for themselves once again.

    Hillary would be wise to offer Barack the vice presidential seat now, and perhaps head off a tidal wave of support which may wash Queen Hillary offer her throne.

    there are those of us (none / 0) (#32)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Oct 31, 2007 at 12:17:40 AM EST
    who have thought that's what he should have been campaigning for all along.

    No, I don't think Hillary will pick Obama, although that would be fine with me. I think it won't be a Senator and it will be someone from the west or southwest.