Posts Tagged ‘Howard Dean’

Defending Obama’s First Year in Office

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]When the press mentions the online hordes who gathered on the tubes of the internets to push Obama to victory, they are talking about people like me. I started a blog because (along with my unhealthy compulsion to write) I decided to support Obama in 2007; I raised several thousand dollars from dozens of my friends and online contacts; I sent out emails making the case for Obama to my family; I bought a sign to place in my front yard and attended rallies in Brooklyn and Manhattan; I fought against smears in emails and in the social media (on reddit, on digg, on Stumbleupon, on Facebook, and on discussion boards); and on November 4, 2008, for the first time in my life, I walked out of the polling center proud of who I had cast my vote for.

A year on, there has been much commentary about what people like me think now – the young, the wired, the inspired. Were we were just naive and now feel fooled by Obama’s promise of “Hope, change, blah, blah, blah,” as speechwriter Jon Favreau referred to the Obama’s magic formula? Do we think that Obama sold-out to the banks and health insurance industry? Has he disappointed us with his escalation in Afghanistan? Certainly, a good portion of the left has turned against Obama with the passion of scorned lovers – as demonstrated by the histrionic pronouncements of Howard Dean (who denounced the health care bill as a “bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG“) and the Village Voice (which labeled the president, “George W. Obama.”)

I cannot speak for all of my fellow liberal bloggers, my fellow redditors, my fellow Obama supporters – but I, for one, am not disappointed. During the campaign, I saw Obama as – and exhorted others to support him because – he was an idealistic tinkerer. He inspired with his grand rhetoric but his policy proposals and instincts were epistemologically modest. He understood that the status quo was difficult to change, and that change brought with it its own perils. His proposals sought to pragmatically improve our society a bit at a time – creating processes that would allow for organic change rather than imposing radical top-down measures. For anyone who took the time to investigate his policy proposals, this was clear – that Obama had learned deeply the lessons of Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement – that centralized government action always had unanticipated consequences; yet at the same time, Obama had not rejected the lessons of Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton – that government could also do much good, that collective action was needed to shape our society, and that times of crisis called for, “bold, persistent experimentation.”

Obama has met my high expectations; he has governed seriously and with bipartisan substance. His Congressionalist approach has led to a string of legislative accomplishments rarely seen in Washington and a stronger record of spending cuts than George W. Bush. (Though his predecessor admittedly did not set the highest standard.) He passed a massive stimulus bill supported by policy wonks on the left and right, composed of more than a third tax cuts, but including much needed funding for education, infrastructure, and technological innovation. He pulled the nation back from the brink of a financial crisis and recession without nationalizing the banks or bailing them out yet again. He moved America back from the panicked emergency measures adopted by George W. Bush in the aftermath of September 11. He salvaged some deal from Copenhagen despite the Chinese attempts to undercut America’s position. He appointed a moderate, liberal pragmatist to the Supreme Court. He has made many long-term bets in domestic and foreign policy which we have yet to see play out. And of course, there is his attempt at health care reform – combining the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation with the most significant expansion of access to medical insurance. (The two goals being surprisingly compatible as Milton Friedman acknowledged.) Though this last bill still has not had its fate decided, these are serious and substantial accomplishments that form the basis of a solid legacy. Yet Obama hasn’t been able to achieve his core promise: to overcome the Freak Show that has dominated our political discourse for a generation.

This is the one profound disappointment I have with Obama’s presidency to date. His core promise (which helped him defeat Senator Clinton) was that he would be better able to move past the rabid partisanship and petty squabbles of the Baby Boomers – that he could surmount the influence of the “idiocrats” on our political conversations, as they jumped from petty scandal to scandal, from one moment of faux outrage to another. This Freak Show that dominated our political conversation forced politicians to treat their constituents as children incapable of understanding either why their leaders might be less than perfect or that they could not both lower taxes and increase spending forever. As Obama addressed the issue of Reverend Wright in his campaign, he proved he was capable – at least for a moment – of surmounting this Freak Show mentality, treating the American people as if they were adults capable to wrestling with the difficult issues of race and religion. But since this moment, Obama has seemed unable to fully rise above this Freak Show. With the Tea Party demonstrations in August 2009 rallying against “death panels,” handouts to illegal immigrants, “government mandated abortion” and other myths that were useful in rallying the Republican base (if not in describing the bill), he seemed finally to have lost the conversation. Those with legitimate and conservative concerns, as well as those with progressive ones, were overshadowed by the inchoate anger of the hysterical.

Now that Scott Brown has replaced Ted Kennedy – and with the pundits and media figures and Republicans circling – the Freak Show has declared health care reform dead. Again. For Obama to resurrect this bill, to restore the momentum in his presidency, and prove he is capable of governing and dealing with long-term issues (rather than the political posturing which have marked the past 15 years), he will need to break the hold that the idiocrats have over our political discourse and reconnect with his grassroots supporters instead of playing the inside Washington game. While Obama spent his first year focused on governing and policy, with his State of the Union last night, Obama began to focus on the political task of getting the American people behind him as he attempts to tackle the difficult, long-term issues that have been festering for so long unaddressed by our dysfunctional politics.

We should remember one thing as Tea Party supporters jubilantly support their momentum and energy with Scott Brown’s election: 14 months is a very long time in this political age. Interpreting political movements in light of the Feiler Faster thesis, it’s not surprising that it was just 14 months ago that the Obama grass roots which seemed ascendant now seem dormant; and 14 months from the August birth of the Tea Party movement happens to be November 2010.

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Palin 2012

Friday, October 24th, 2008

A liberal friend of mine thought it was preposterous that Sarah Palin could have a legitimate shot at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. And if it was true, he thought it was a suicidal move.

He cited the fact that Palin was dragging McCain’s polling numbers down, her numerous Alaskan scandals, her constant flubs in interviews, and “speeches that could only impress a six-year old.”

I disagree with him on her speechmaking ability – in my opinion, her Republican convention speech was electrifying. It was a truly impressive performance – even without taking into account that this was her first time on the national stage. Her appearance certainly electrified the conservative base – and inspired Democrats to donate to Obama in heretofore unprecedented numbers.

Her issues interviewing I think can be fixed with some more time in the limelight and less “handling.” She was much better in the Charlie Gibson interview than in the Katie Couric one – even if her answers in both were similar content-wise – because she bs’ed with confidence to Gibson, even if everyone watching could tell.

But her ability to tell such shameless falsehoods with conviction – or perhaps, her lack of interest to know that she is telling lies – has helped to make her a star in the Republican party. She can really give it to Obama – she’s tough – they say. McCain usually seems somewhat ashamed of himself when he goes overboard. This shameless quality will help her in interviews later – as she polishes her style and continues to develop her political personality.

If she is seen as the person who brought McCain down – then that will hurt her. But if that sentiment can be pigeon-holed as merely what “the media” is saying – then the Right will be perfectly fine to right this off as more media bias against attractive Republican women.

As for her numerous Alaskan scandals – they say only two things can end a political career – a dead girl or a live boy. I’m not sure how that aphorism gets de-genderized to fit Palin – but none of her scandals fit. Plus – given the context of Alaskan politics, Palin’s dipping into state funds has been modest.

Which is why conservative strategist Patrick Ruffini is asking if Palin will be the Howard Dean of the Republican Party in the next few years – the unofficial leader of unabashed conservatism who will lead the party out of the wilderness. Marc Ambinder, politics reporter for The Atlantic, explains the many reasons Palin will be well-positioned come 2012 including this one – which is the strongest:

The Republicans are going to want someone willing to really go for Obama’s throat, and be able to do it with a smile.

Remember how hated Hillary Clinton was in 1994? In 1998 even? Yet, ten years later she was almost able to coast her way to inevitable victory – winning over, in the end, many of the same figures who had most hated her while she was First Lady.

Sarah Palin turns off liberals – and scares them. She invigorates Republicans. Independents loved her inititially, and then turned against her as she proved to be inept and shallow. But a few years will give her enough time to develop some gravitas.

I’m certainly not rooting for Palin – but it would be wise not to underestimate her.

Hillary: Stay in this Race!

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]A few weeks ago, when the electoral math began to indicate that Senator Hillary Clinton had little no chance of catching Senator Barack Obama, the voices of the Democratic establishment who had remained mainly neutral began to push a new meme. These establishment voices clearly wanted to send a message to the Clintons: “Stay in the race as long as you want. But keep it clean.”

Bob Shrum wrote in the New York Times two weeks ago:

She has very little chance of winning, but Hillary Clinton has no reason to get out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — for now. A long shot isn’t the same as no chance at all. And an extended campaign doesn’t have to wound the nominee, assuming a measure of self-restraint on both sides…

The degree of aggression on each side may not be comparable, as both sides argue on their own behalf. But the Democratic nomination may not be worth winning if the victor is lacerated as unready, unfit to hold the office, or un-American — not, as expected, by the vast right-wing conspiracy but by a Democratic rival.

The editors of The New Republic wrote:

[C]alls for Hillary to withdraw – calls that invariably rest on the mathematical case against her candidacy – are premature. By winning Ohio and Texas, Hillary won the right to continue in this race.

… [But] it’s imperative that, as Hillary Clinton continues her campaign, she conduct it in a certain manner: She can’t run the type of campaign she ran in the lead-up to Ohio and Texas. For weeks, Clinton attacked Obama with a relish not previously seen in this race. But it wasn’t the fact she was attacking Obama that was problematic, it was how she was attacking him–namely, in a way that will make it more difficult for Obama should he, as is still likely, be the Democratic nominee in November. For instance, it would have been fine for Hillary to argue that she’d make a better commander-in-chief than Obama; but it was wrong for her to essentially argue, as she did on more than one occasion, that she and John McCain would make better commanders-in-chief than Obama. Similarly, her strange hedging on “60 Minutes” about whether she believes Obama isn’t a Muslim only added fuel to the unfounded rumors that are already circulating about his faith. Frankly, Clinton’s chances are slim enough that a win-at-all-costs mentality from her campaign is not worth the risk of doing irreparable damage to the candidate who will likely be her party’s nominee.

Yet – for whatever reason, despite the fact that she has little chance of winning – Ms. Clinton has continued to attack Obama using Rovian tactics of guilt-by-association, character assassination, the questioning of patriotism, and divisive identity politics. Barack Obama’s campaign has not been pure – from the beginning, he made it clear that he was willing to fight when challenged, as the hiring of David Axelrod as his campaign manager demonstrated. But the restraint he has shown has been truly remarkable. Just a taste of the topics he hasn’t brought up: cattle futures; Travelgate; Filegate; her own pastor; pardons by her husband of terrorists that were intended to help her 2000 Senate campaign according to internal documents; the many shady deals her husband has made since leaving the presidency, often acting against his wife’s public positions. All of these directly relate to the kind of president she might be. We’re not even touching on Monica Lewinsky, on Whitewater, on Vince Foster, and the dozen other scandals of her husband’s administration as well as the persistent rumors of his continued infidelities and disconcerting business deals.

If Mr. Obama’s campaign has showed great restraint, Obama personally has shown even more restraint. Ms. Clinton has not – and her campaign has been worse. Last night, she demonstrated – in front of over ten million viewers – that she has no shame.

Perhaps that is why, today, without any significant event to move him except Ms. Clinton’s unconscionable performance at last night’s debate, Howard Dean demanded that superdelegates make their decisions “now.”

The Democratic party is worried about the damage Ms. Clinton is doing; as a co-worker of mine listens to hard-right talk radio through much of the day, I can hear the memes starting to spread – I can hear them gaining traction. Ms. Clinton is damaging herself, her party, and Obama – and she is attacking him using the very tactics she abhorred and laying the same groundwork for the “conservative” attacks on Obama that the right launched at Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Max Cleeland, and many more Democrats (and a few Republicans).

That’s why I want Ms. Clinton to stay in the race. As I wrote almost two months ago:

If Ms. Clinton wants to help her party win the White House this November, she can give Mr. Obama the “vetting” she claims he lacks, and with ever increasing histrionics, throw every smear, every false allegation, every innuendo at him. She can make her name synonymous with the sleaze she throws at him; she has proven that she is capable of a viciousness reminiscent of a Karl Rove. And by playing the villain, she can discredit and de-fang the many attacks that are sure to come at Mr. Obama after he secures the nomination.

It is better for these attacks on Obama to come out now than in September or October before the election. And Mr. Obama must overcome this type of politics if he is to win in November. Perhaps it is best if these attacks come from a source reviled on the right, so they can be more easily dismissed as time goes on. Though I doubt that Ms. Clinton is thinking in these times, I am trying to determine the best way Ms. Clinton’s destructive course could be used to benefit Mr. Obama.

Most observers thought that Mr. Obama looked weary last night. He wasn’t able to – and didn’t seem to even try to – launch the “knockout punch” that would end the race. Some quip, some throwaway line that would undermine the basis of Ms. Clinton’s candidacy, as Lloyd Bentsen’s response to Dan Quayle:

What Obama did – again and again – was to respond to the allegations and pivot back to the issues. Mr. Obama was tired and off of his game, and Ms. Clinton was on point – yet, my gut feeling is that Mr. Obama won more votes last night than he lost, because a weary Obama was far more compelling and far more presidential than an invigorated, desperate, and affected Clinton.

Ms. Clinton is playing the villain well so far. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like an act last night.

Here’s my proposition: the Pennsylvania primary is less than 10 days away. Let Ms. Clinton bring everything she has to this – which is to say, let her throw all the mud she can. We’ll see in 10 days who the mud is sticking to – and if Mr. Obama survives these Rovian, Atwater-style attacks, he will be a significantly stronger candidate. If he can rise above them, then he will be a truly great candidate.

I say let Ms. Clinton play the villain – because she is not giving us a choice. She is staying in this race. Obama has bet his candidacy on the fundamental decency and good sense of the American people. And he’s gotten this far. I have hope that he can make it a bit farther.

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