Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kennedy for Obama

Guest post by Greg Prince

I'd like to welcome back one of the good friends of The Reaction, Greg Prince, who hasn't guest-posted here in some time but who, hopefully, will do so more frequently once again.

In this post, Greg raises serious concerns about Obama -- concerns I share, for the most part, and that have prevented me from a) being more enthusiastic than I am about his candidacy and the whole phenomenon that has built up around him, and b) supporting him in a two-way race with Clinton, particularly now that my preference, Edwards, is out of the race. Back when he first jumped into the race, I wrote that he had a lot of potential but also a lot to prove. He has proven to be a viable, exciting, even inspirational candidate with a good shot at the nomination, but, to me, he still has a lot to prove in terms of substance. And it's getting awfully late in the process to do much more proving of anything. -- MJWS


Obama has received the endorsement of the Kennedy dynasty, and the media's hearts are a flutter. Here's a very well done ad featuring Caroline Kennedy (h/t: MNPublius):

It's a well-done ad, and at a very fundamental level I "get" the excitement over Obama's candidacy. Indeed, I have myself been looking forward to his greater exposure in the national media and his viability as a candidate for higher office for some time.

It goes without saying, if he's the candidate for the Democrats this go-around, he'll have my vote. But I'm afraid at this point in time he's still my third choice, not my first. For all his motivational rhetoric and bipartisan platitudes, there are some genuine concerns about what it might all mean in terms of an Obama administration.

Melissa McEwan has also been thinking in this direction and has compiled a list of concerns that is a wonderful place to start. She begins by pointing out that Obama says he wants to be applauded by both sides of the aisle in the annual SOTU ritual. She observes:

1. Why will the Republican members of Congress rise to applaud you, and the conservative half of the nation tune in to support you, unless you pursue an agenda that appeals to them? How do you pursue an agenda that appeals to conservatives, but is also progressive?

2. What is the common purpose around which you envision the country rallying? Do you regard "transcending partisanship" an end in itself, and do you foresee the GOP rallying around this goal? If so, how and why do you imagine that will happen?

These are important. The vision thing is wonderful and exciting to behold. But what do you actually plan to DO that is different in a meaningful way from what has been done before? I'm sick of partisanship getting the short end of the stick, particularly when it comes about in part due to legitimate and significant disagreement on major issues, and a desire to bring about policy change for the better.

What the hell does "bipartisanship" mean anyway? As practised by the Republican'ts since 1994, it means, "You be bi, while we are partisan," and unless one is in the habit of bending over and saying "ahhh" on every substantiative policy debate, you're criticized as a partisan hack and divisive. Bipartisanship is not a virtue in and of itself but only as a means to an end, and the only thing it's accomplished over the last eight years is a spasmodic dance toward the extreme right in terms of policy.

Look at the Senate. A Democratic "moderate" is one who votes with Republicans an unfortunate percent of the time. A Republican "moderate" is one who quietly thinks unkind thoughts about Bush before falling into line and voting like a good doobie. The whole reason Arlen Specter's recent (correct) vote on FISA closure is noteworthy is precisely that he actually DID instead of just talked.

3. Assume for a moment that you are nominated and subsequently elected, and, despite being "the kind of president" in whom Americans can believe, the profound partisan rancor that currently plagues the nation doesn't evaporate, that Americans fail to rally around a common purpose. What is Plan B? Do you move ever rightward trying to find support among those who refuse to rally, or do you say, "Screw 'em," and go leftward to honor those who voted for you?

This is a question that simply MUST be addressed. Look, there are a lot of people out there with a process fetish. These are the "Unity '08" nerds who whine about partisanship and conflict but lack any signature issues -- other than the process itself -- to drive their campaign forward or give it meaning.

Dialogue for the sake of dialogue, negotiation for the sake of negotiation, compromise for the sake of compromise... it's all moot if the end result isn't defensible policy. We've been working for years to find a happy middle, a reasonable compromise. And the results are not pretty.

So Obama, I'm not interested in compromise and discussion with the wingnut caucus. Been there, done that. It's time to recalibrate and I want to defeat them utterly. Can you be trusted to use your bully pulpit to move things in the correct direction? And don't feed us the lines about limited presidential power, congressional responsibility, etc. Clinton and Reagan both had hostile Congresses during parts of their administration, and they made progress on their agendas notwithstanding.

What are YOU willing to go to the mat on?

4. Noting that the most bitter partisan divides on domestic policy regard issues of basic rights, such as reproductive rights and marriage rights, and noting further that the two sides of these issues are unlikely to come to spontaneous agreement, those subjects are likely to continue to play a divisive role in American politics. How do you plan to prevent such bedrock divisions from undermining the national unity you imagine? Do those of us on the progressive side of these issues have reason to worry that you will not be a vociferous advocate for any controversial or ideologically discordant issues?

Obama, let's be brutally honest here. You've thrown gays under the bus, you've attacked your primary rivals using the same right-wing talking points that would be used against you in the fall, you've fallen into scaring people about Social Security... Your track record here doesn't lend itself to optimism. What are the issues on which you have distinguished yourself as a real leader, and what are your policy goals in those areas?

Don't get me wrong -- there are legitimate concerns about Hillary, too. But at least she has a lengthy record on the national stage. We have a sense that there are lines she's willing to draw in the sand, battles she's willing to fight. Obama... still hearing crickets chirp in the background.

So what are we to make of the Kennedy endorsements? Certainly, they're significant in terms of nostalgic yearnings for Camelot and a passing of the torch of sorts. But we can't get starry-eyed and forget that the Kennedy mystique is what it is in large part because JFK was assassinated. In objective terms, his record was mixed, and the real accomplishments of the times were driven by LBJ.

Which isn't to say Caroline and Teddy didn't do a good job -- they did, and the symbolism is powerful. But let's not lose our heads and think it means more than it does.

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