Thursday, April 6, 2006

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama?

(Title sung to the tune of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" from The Sound of Music)

I've been giving Barack Obama a pretty rough time here lately, and most readers have either agreed with me or given me grief for not being tough enough on him. However, one inveterate blogger, Katherine, has been especially vigorous in his defense, both here and on her blog, Move To The Left. FWIW, Katherine has solid lefty credentials (she was in Venezuela, for real, while I was pretending to be a reactionary reprobate in Vichy). The question has since been picked up by Alexander "Benjamins" Hamilton and Solomon Grundy at Left Behinds.

It's a wonderful debate, and while I'm not yet swayed -- I still think Obama's at fault for playing power politics along DLC lines, whether he's officially a member or not -- I am learning a lot, and remain open to being persuaded. It's a fun and informative discussion that the rest of you might like to join in.

It's a lot of reading, but the discussion is far enough advanced that it's worth taking a little time to come up to speed. You can follow the evolution of my thoughts about Obama here, here (actually gives the views of a pro-Pennacchio, anti-Casey Pennsylvania ex-pol with strong views about Obama's meddling in their primary), here, here, and then with increasing fervor here, here and here. Katherine has written about him primarily in comments on this thread and at this post on her site. The Left Behinds take can be found in A Little Hating On Obama and A Little More Hating On Obama).

There's your smorgasbord. Please, dig in, fire away, have fun, be polite.

(link link link link)


Antid Oto said...
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Antid Oto said...

Sorry, I was going to link to what my co-blogger said today, but I saw you already did it.

I'm not entirely sure whether to respond to Katherine here or on her own site, since you said you're trying to get discussion going in one place, so I guess I'll post the following comments both places as well as my own blog.

Two of the points Katherine raises in defense of Obama actually seem to me more like mild condemnations.


Lieberman absolutely stabbed Obama in the back by supporting McCain’s weak-kneed lack-of-reform for lobbyists, rather than the legitimate proposal that would have curbed the extravagances at the heart of the lobbyist scandal. Obama had managed to gain the support of 40 Democratic Senators (we have that many?) before Lieberman stayed true to form and raced over to join the Republican effort, squashing Obama’s.

Why has Obama gone so far out of his way to back Lieberman, then, when Lieberman has not only undercut him on legislation but, as Matt Stoller wrote a while ago, stabbed him in the back on radio? He doesn't need to attack Lieberman, of course, but neither does he need to stand up for him.

I suspect the answer lies in something else Katherine says:

Unlike Dick Durbin, who seems happy to remain the Senior Senator from Illinois and gain prominence on committees and legislative issues, Obama clearly has his sights set on a larger arena, and pissing off the machine that operates out of your home state might not be the best way to go about things.

That sounds to me like simply a more positive spin on what Thersites linked to at Huffington Post:

Obama may have been paying Lieberman off for some favors, but he was also sending a message to the Party's insiders that says "I'm one of you." He's been doing that since he voted to confirm Condi Rice. In addition, he was sending a message to the commentariat that he's not "crashing the gate." He was signaling instead that he's an insider politician who - never fear, Mr. Russert et al - will play the game the ways it's always been played.

I don't believe Obama is necessarily relinquishing his principles, though not having seen him in action in Illinois, I have little sense of those principles. But like many politicians with ambition and ego, he may believe that ascending to a seat of greater power is in fact the best way to advance what he believes in. In other words, he need not be selling out his constituents to be operating like an insider.

Anonymous said...

One thing I should make clear: I've taken the (sometimes-derided) position that even liberal politicians can be anti-little-d-democratic, party-insider, poll-watching triangulators. I see Obama's interference in the Casey-Pennacchio primary, the Duckworth-Cegelis primary, his support for Lieberman over Lamont in their primary, etc. as evidence he's one of those. In other words, being liberal isn't enough in my book; I'd rather have a more centrist team player who's committed to the party's base than a more "liberal" triangulator.

Antid Oto said...

Part of that is an inferiority complex so ingrained most Democratic politicians aren't even aware they have it. Not to get too far off-topic, but when Chuck Schumer says "We have no base in North Dakota," he's revealing something quite profound: that he does not believe forthright, spirited support of Democratic principles is a winning formula. In other words, he believes Democratic principles are in fact held by the minority of Americans. If you take that assumption as given then it only makes sense to interfere in Democratic primaries, since if allowed to vote for what they believe, the "base" will nominate only losing candidates.

Katherine said...

I spoke to Obama's staff. I'll have my response up on Monday. Until then, perhaps we can all spend the weekend criticizing Republicans?