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Obama at Three Roads Blog
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Obama

Disclaimer: the following post is my unfiltered opinion on matters political. Read it at your own risk.

I stand to the left of Obama on a lot of issues. So you’d think I would be troubled by his recent veer to the center.

Rejecting public financing; issuing wishy-washy statements on court rulings on gay marriage, capital punishment and guns; affirming Bush’s practice of allocating taxpayer money to religious charities; and airing uber-patriotic television ads—it has been quite a few weeks for Obama. The Economist referred to his recent behavior as “posturing, hedging and outright flip-flopping.”

Those things don’t bother me. They don’t because they make it clear that he is in it to win—and thank god for that, because I don’t think the country can afford—literally, figuratively, politically, militarily, diplomatically, environmentally, spiritually—a McCain presidency.

Obama is a pragmatist (that word has positive connotations for me). He knows that unwavering public commitment to every item on the progressive agenda will result in one thing: our country’s rapid movement away from every item on the progressive agenda.

NGOs, lobbyists, pundits and party apparatchiks derive strength from their strident adherence to a specific agenda. Candidates for president do not. When liberals ask Obama for total progressive purity, they essentially ask him to alienate 80-90 percent of the electorate. They ask him to lose.

I know what you’re saying—winning isn’t everything. But I would argue that this is a special case; it’s special for a number of reasons, but I’ll pick just two: the global climate and the U.S. Supreme Court. Both are inching toward the point of no return.

The Supreme Court: All of the liberal judges are, to be blunt, really, really old. Even crotchety Scalia is spry by comparison. And then there’s Thomas, Alito and Roberts, who have decades in front of them and seem to still exude a youthful extremism. If McCain is given the opportunity to replace any of the aging liberals on the bench, it could take half a century or more before the court regains a semblance of political moderation.

The Global Climate: We might be too late, but if we aren’t, it’s essential that we elect a president who believes in doing something about global climate change—not someone who merely uses the issue as a marketing tactic to differentiate himself from President Bush.

And then there’s the “Who is more likely to start another war in the Middle East?” test. We all know who fails that one.

Lest it be interpreted otherwise, please understand that I have a lot of positive reasons for supporting Obama, but above all of them, there is the fact that he is not John McCain.

I hold no personal animus toward McCain—just a strong conviction that he would be a terrible president.

39 Responses to “Obama”


  1. 1 Jared

    Jeb,

    I am glad that you have posted something on which I can comment. I don’t have much time, but a few brief thoughts before a longer response sometime next week.

    Left of Obama? I did not know there was such a place; only the abyss from there, I thought. I stand corrected. But consider: if 80-90% of the electorate disagree with what Obama really thinks, then might he NOT be the candidate that a democracy should elect, as he would in no way represent the will of the majority of the people?

    As for global warming, I will leave that alone. The Goracle has spoken and declared that the discussion is over. Yet, there is the odd fact that the world’s temperature has actually declined steadily over the past ten years…But, as I said, the Goracle has spoken and I obey.

    Lastly, your comments about judges make me think that you are not really a libertarian. The last thing any freedom-loving person (let us say, a libert-arian) should want is ‘liberal’ judges. ‘Liberal’ judges are sure sign that the end of democracy is near and that our most important questions won’t be decided by the will of the people on the senate floor but by the judicial fiat of an unelected oligarchy.

    More to come.

    Warmly,

    Jared

  2. 2 Jared

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    One might also be concerned that the man who promised to transcend politics, who said he would blaze a new path in Washington, and would speak truth to power has turned out to be such a thoroughly conventional politician. Moving to the center is not surprising, but Obama’s reversals smack of an opportunist who lacks real principles.

    Maybe he is not the candidate who can deliver on Hope and Change, but will just deliver More of the Same. The formerly-doting New York Times shares this concern: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/04/opinion/04fri1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

  3. 3 Jeb

    Great to have you back, Jared.

    If 80-90% of the electorate disagree with what Obama really thinks, then might he NOT be the candidate that a democracy should elect, as he would in no way represent the will of the majority of the people.

    To be more clear, there are probably only 10-20 percent who agree with Obama on every issue. With the diversity of political viewpoints in our country, that’s not a particularly big deal. That said, I would venture that the majority of the population agrees with Obama on the majority of issues. But we’ll see in November … either way, his positions ought to be pretty clear to anyone with a television or internet connection.

    As for global warming, I will leave that alone. The Goracle has spoken and declared that the discussion is over. Yet, there is the odd fact that the world’s temperature has actually declined steadily over the past ten years…But, as I said, the Goracle has spoken and I obey.

    Scientists are still trying to figure out the short- and long-term effects of pumping our atmosphere full of C02. While warming is the prognosis for the long term, we may in fact see global cooling in certain places in the short term. Who knows. That doesn’t refute the core reality that if you release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the global climate will change.

    And just to be clear, Jared, do you disagree with McCain and Bush that global climate change is real?

    One more thing—Gore’s real contribution to the world is that he synthesized reams of scientific data, all of which pointed to an ‘inconvenient truth’: our actions have consequences. He didn’t invent the data or strong-arm the world into taking his side. He simply presented the evidence—via PowerPoint no less.

    Lastly, your comments about judges make me think that you are not really a libertarian. The last thing any freedom-loving person (let us say, a libert-arian) should want is ‘liberal’ judges. ‘Liberal’ judges are sure sign that the end of democracy is near and that our most important questions won’t be decided by the will of the people on the senate floor but by the judicial fiat of an unelected oligarchy.

    Do you know what ‘judicial activism’ is? For the most part, it’s when a court issues a ruling that a person or group doesn’t like. At least that’s what the term has come to mean of late. Kudos to conservatives for their politically effective (if ultimately deceptive) rhetoric. Liberals have recently hopped on the bandwagon and started to label unsavory court rulings as evidence of conservative judicial activism. The term has pretty much lost all meaning.

    Anyway, the irony of your comment is that today’s crew of liberal justices is actually quite moderate when compared to liberal judges of old. Stevens, the most ‘liberal’ judge we have, is a centrist when compared to his predecessors. He’s certainly no Earl Warren (so you can take comfort in that!).

    To be sure, the judiciary is the least democratic of our three branches of government. To a dyed-in-the-wool democrat (lower case D), we’d be better off ditching it. But to someone who thinks separation of powers is a good thing and sees the potential for tyranny in both minorities and majorities, the court serves a useful purpose, even when it occasionally goes against the will of the majority.

    You’re right: I’m not a true libertarian. Just one who leans that way.

    Maybe [Obama] is not the candidate who can deliver on Hope and Change, but will just deliver More of the Same. The formerly-doting New York Times shares this concern.

    It sure is tough to please the Times’ editorial board.

  4. 4 Jared

    Jeb, it is good to be back. I hope your wedding plans proceed apace.

    A few thoughts, but first a belated disclaimer:

    I worked with Michelle Obama for two summers in the late nineties at the University of Chicago. I watched B. Obama rise to political prestige during that time. Related: I have been to Trinity Church two times and will attend a wedding there this summer. I know Fr. Pfleger and have been to St. Sabina’s. I have also met Bill Ayers.

    Jared

  5. 5 Jared

    That disclaimed, I offer the following thoughts: anyone with a television or an internet connection will know that Obama said one thing during the primaries and another thing now. Those who don’t have either of those or don’t spend much time on them might buy what Obama is now selling. But the facts tell a different story. What does Obama really think?

    As for climate change: I agree that our actions have consequences, but that climate change is among those consequences has not been proven. I poked at Gore because he dogmatically proclaimed that the “discussion is over,” whereas the discussion is far from over. Scientists actually disagree on whether climate change is real and whether global warming is a threat. They may very well be real and threatening, but when scientists are ridiculed and silenced, even dismissed from academic posts, for challenging the climate change orthodoxy, we should slow down a bit. Let us proceed with caution and let the scientists debate. I insist only upon that point.

    As for judicial activism, I originally took issue with the idea that “liberal judges” were a good thing for democracy. I suggested that they were inimical to democracy. You responded with something about judicial activism, saying that it now means ‘when the court issues are ruling that someone doesn’t like’. Now, I agree that the term has come to mean this in some circles, but that is not what the term originally meant or what it should mean. It is not how thougthful people use the term. Can we agree that judicial activism means something more than just ‘a ruling someone doesn’t like’ (even if some people abuse the term this way)? Can we, preliminarily, define it as the court encroaching on the tasks of the legislative branch, overstepping the proscribed bounds of the judiciary?

    The courts should be non-political. To have liberal or conservative judges, if these terms are understood politically as left-leaning and right-leaning, is contrary to the mission of the courts and the good of democracy. I don’t think we would disagree here.

    But, if by liberal and conservative you mean something like ‘judicial philosophy’, then we can have a conversation. In judicial philosophy speak, a ‘liberal’ judge would be one who would interpret the constitution freely, say, as a “living document.” A ‘conservative’ judge would try to preserve the original meaning of the Constitution, because the Constitution is not a living document, but a ‘dead’ one. These judges are called ‘originalists’ or ’strict constructionists’.

    In this understanding, I still think that ‘liberal’ judges are problematic as there is nothing to prevent them from ‘judging’ according to their preferences (whether they be left or right preferences). A ‘conservative’ judge, one who tries to discern the original meaning the founders’ intended, would judge according to the text. A ‘conservative’ judge would practice ‘judicial restraint’ both in his rulings AND in which cases he decided to accept.

    I have to run. More later if I can.

    Jared

  6. 6 Con Queso

    Excellent post, Jeb. Could not have said it any better.

    The big concern I had with Obama was not that he would move to the center for the general, it’s that he wouldn’t do it.

    I believe that Obama is the most committed progressive that the Democrats have put up as their nominee in decades—-at least since McGovern.

    The fact that Democrats have a sincere progressive as their nominee who is not above making shrewd move to capture independents in the center so that he can put together a governing coalition is something that the netroots and progressive activists should be celebrating, not criticizing.

  7. 7 Jared

    Dear CQ,

    The following questions may sidetrack the thread (and if so, then don’t worry about answering them), but I have always wondered about the term ‘progressive’ and what it means. It has, I think, replaced the word ‘liberal’ which has been turned into something of a dirty word. But what does ‘progressive’ mean? From whence are ‘progressives’ progressing and where are they progressing to?

    Jared

  8. 8 Con Queso

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    This post does a better job explaining than I probably could.

    http://gbixler.newsvine.com/_news/2008/07/05/1640343-why-did-liberal-become-a-curse-word?threadId=306519

    Basically, over the years, “liberal” became a pejorative term for many reasons, and people broadly on the left wanted a new term that didn’t have such negative associations. For whatever reason, they kind of (unofficially) settled on “progressive.”

  9. 9 Jared

    CQ,

    I read the link you posted. The fellow writes well, but is rather confused on some points, especially his comments on religion. He doesn’t really address why “liberal” has become a bad word or why “progressive” is better (that was not the purpose of his post). The article also did not address my question of where progressives are progressing from and where they are progressing to. How do we measure whether we have “progressed”? What are the principles by which we move, or should move, forward? How do we know we have “progressed” and not “regressed”?

    Jared

  10. 10 Jeb

    If I may chime in …

    A major coup of contemporary conservatives is that they have been able to denigrate the left with its own terminology. It’s an impressive feat, but the left has also been silly to allow it to happen.

    In essence, if you snark about the word “liberal” enough, you can successfully re-brand it as undesirable, even if there isn’t any substance to your attacks. And that’s what conservatives have done. (I suspect they’re trying to do the same thing with “progressive.”) Well, I don’t suspect—it’s already happening . Provocateur Jonah Goldberg has comically tried to show a link between progressivism and fascism.

    Jared: if you want a primer on progressivism, here’s a good place to start. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressivism) You’ll see that it’s not necessarily a synonym for liberal, and its origins in America are probably most closely tied to a conservative—Teddy Roosevelt.

    As for the word itself, yes, it does connote making progress, as well as improvement and—get ready for it—change. Those are nebulous concepts, as the attacks on Obama’s campaign rhetoric go, but no more so than the abstract ideas that go along with conservatism (tradition, stability, preservation).

  11. 11 Nick

    Hi Jeb,
    I’m chiming in from Sweden, you know the spot. I think your wrong in thinking that judicial activism is a kind of rhetorical myth invented because one side disagrees with the verdict of the Supreme Court. Take, for example, Brown V. Board. I am all for desegregating schools, i.e. However, the decision amounted to an unprecedented grab of power by the court itself from the legislative branch of our government. The Supreme Court has become more and more powerful since its inception, and especially so in the last fifty years. The same thing is happening in European courts as well. I think it important to think about what the purpose of the court is, not simply whether we happen to agree or disagree with some particular verdict.

  12. 12 Jeb

    Nick:

    Man, Sweden sounds perfect right now …

    I agree with you—there is such thing as judicial activism. My point was that lately the term has been so misused as to render is meaningless (at least less effective).

    I think Jared neatly outlined the two primary judicial philosophies—though I don’t share his preference for ’strict constructionist’ judges. I would also tweak his definition and say that those who think of the constitution as ‘living document’ also endeavor to discern the founders’ intentions and issue judgments accordingly. That was certainly the case in the D.C. hand-gun case recently.

    Nick, I have to agree with you that the court has become more powerful in recent times, and that is indeed something to consider. The Brown v. Board decision was right on the merits—it redressed a wrong—but perhaps it did usurp power from the legislative branch, as you say.

  13. 13 Jared

    Jeb,

    A quick thought (or two):

    The problem with liberal judges, as defined above, is that they are not bound by anything. If they do not guide their decisions by the light of the Constitution, then what do they guide it by? If judges are not bound by the text of our founding documents, then they are free (’liberal’, at liberty) to hand down decisions as they please based on whatever they like. Then you get things like “penumbras” and “emenations” and invocations of other countries’ laws. This is, in short, judicial madness and has nothing to do with the the Constitution or the rule of law of this country.

    In terms of judicial philosophy, the Brown v. Board case is no different from the Dred Scott case. We like the Brown decision because we think black people should be treated fairly and we dislike the Scott case for the same reason, but both were decisions made based on the same ‘liberal’ principle. In each case, the judges tried to help a divided nation come to some kind of compromise. In each case, the judges egregiously overstepped their bounds and ignored the Constitution because they distrusted the democratic process.

    Lincoln, couragous and prudent man that he was, refused to execute the Dred Scott decision. Would that we had such couragous and prudent leaders today.

    Last point: as I understand it, the real problem with the Brown case is that it actually undermined the very causes that black people were rightly fighting for, namely, to be fairly treated by the government, to be protected by the law, and to be able to fully participate in our democracy. The court that is allowed to hand down Brown is the same court that can hand down Dred Scott (or its future incarnation); it is the same court that can violoate or sidestep the rule of law for sake of domestic “peace”; and it is the same court that undermines the democratic process by usurping the power of the people to decide their most important issues democratically. Decisions like Brown actually disenfranchise the very people who are fighting to be enfranchised.

    Jared

  14. 14 Nick

    The thing about the word progressive I find both funny and insulting is the fact that the opposite side is by default regressive.

  15. 15 Jared

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    Speaking of progressive, here is a very interesting article on the Obama phenomenon. I am particularly interested in the phrases “post-masculine” and “political-redeemer,” but am also persuaded by the idea the Obama does not believe in some form of original sin. Check out the article here: http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_3_obama.html

  16. 16 Jared

    Here is a taste of the article, so you can decide whether you want to read more:

    The danger of Obama’s charismatic healer-redeemer fable lies in the hubris it encourages, the belief that gifted politicians can engender a selfless communitarian solidarity. Such a renovation of our national life would require not only a change in constitutional structure—the current system having been geared to conflict by the Founders, who believed that the clash of private interests helps preserve liberty—but also a change in human nature. Obama’s conviction that it is possible to create a beautiful politics, one in which Americans will selflessly pursue a shared vision of the common good, recalls the belief that Dostoyevsky attributed to the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionists: that, come the revolution, “all men will become righteous in one instant.” The perfection would begin.

    Or consider this tidbit:

    Of course, he would not have gotten far had he simply defrosted the ideas of Henry Wallace and George McGovern. Obama’s charisma is tuned to the mood of the moment. The charisma of American political leaders has typically rested on images of unflinching strength and masculine authority: Teddy Roosevelt in the North Dakota Badlands; Kennedy, the naval hero whose sexual prowess was acknowledged even in his Secret Service code name (”Lancer”); Reagan, the man on horseback whom the Secret Service called “Rawhide.” Obama’s charisma, by contrast, is closer to what critic Camille Paglia has identified with today’s television talk-show culture, in which admissions of weakness are offered as proof of empathetic qualities. Talk-show culture is occupied with the question of why we feel so bad, when it is our right under the liberal dispensation to feel eternally good. The man who would succeed in such a culture must appear to sympathize with these obscure hurts; he must take pains, Paglia writes in Sexual Personae, to appear an “androgyne, the nurturant male or male mother.”

    Obama, in gaming this culture, has figured out a new way to bottle old wine. He knows that experience has taught Americans to suspect the masculine healer-redeemer who bears collectivist gifts; no one wants to revive the caudillos of the thirties. Studiously avoiding the tough-hombre style of earlier charismatic figures, he phrases his vision in the tranquilizing accents of Oprah-land. His charisma is grounded in empathy rather than authority, confessional candor rather than muscular strength, metrosexual mildness rather than masculine testosterone. His power of sympathetic insight is said to be uncanny: “Everybody who’s dealt with him,” columnist David Brooks says, “has a story about a time when they felt Obama profoundly listened to them and understood them.” His two books are written in the empathetic-confessional mode that his most prominent benefactress, Oprah, favors; he is her political healer in roughly the same way that Dr. Phil was once her pop-psychology one. The collectivist dream, Obama instinctively understands, is less scary, more sympathetic, when served up by mama (or by mama in drag).

  17. 17 Jeb

    … he phrases his vision in the tranquilizing accents of Oprah-land.

    Oh, snap!

    Jared: Speaking of rebottling old wine, this sounds like the age-old right wing gambit: paint your opponent as a wuss.

    It is beautifully and seductively written, but the author is doing nothing short of calling Obama a “girlie man.” It’s the same old low shenanigans but with classier wrapping.

  18. 18 Jeb

    Nick:

    I understand your ire when it comes to the term progressive. It is perhaps a little ham-fisted, depending on how it is used. My use of the word (as a synonym for liberal) is not an attempt to paint political opponents (for lack of a better word) as backward ‘regressives.’

    It’s an interesting thing. On the other hand, people who oppose Republican (the party) ideas aren’t branded as promoting the opposite of Republicanism (what would that be? fascism? socialism? totalitarianism?). Nor are opponents of Democrats derided as anarchists or Nazis. In short, I don’t believe that people who oppose Progressive ideas are themselves regressive. Our political parties are quite far from being opposites. If one is black, the other closer to gray than white. Would you agree?

    And just to complicate things even further, in my great home state of Vermont the term progressive has come into favor among liberals who don’t particularly like the term ‘Democrat.’

  19. 19 Jeb

    Jared:

    Another thought: it seems there are two Obamas in the world. The mythic creature created by disenchanted liberals (the Obama caricatured in the article), and the actual Obama, who is pretty much a liberal guy with excellent writing skills and oration, and who has a penchant for necessary compromise in the service of a larger goals.

    The real Obama is not an ideologue. Times writer Gail Collins said it well recently:

    But if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb.

    Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns — attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance.

  20. 20 Nick

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    Jeb,
    I know you didn’t mean that I was regressive. And there is much truth to the fact that the differences between the parties is often quite grey. Why pro-lifers are tied to lowering capital gains taxes is mostly a matter of historical outcomes, and has no real logical rational. And your point that people who oppose republicans aren’t the opposite of republicanism, whatever that might mean, is also right. However, I do really think that progressives sincerely think they are, well, progressive, in the sense that they are trying to make real progress in the world. Democrats do have pretty unified and clear political goals. They are more or less trying to make America like Sweden. The real question is, is this real progress? And at the heart of the matter, and underlying all of these political beliefs and specific policy questions is the question of what man is. And then the question, are sin and evil real? When Adams or Madison (I can’t remember which one said it, but it’s in the Federal Papers) said that if men were angels laws would not be necessary, he had a specific and traditional view of man, upon which this government was founded, and which Obama & co. disagree with. Here is an interesting article by the film maker David Mamet who discovered that man is different than he had thought. Please excuse the rude title, he was probably trying to provoke the village voice readers. http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-03-11/news/why-i-am-no-longer-a-brain-dead-liberal/

  21. 21 Jeb

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    Nick:

    I read the Mamet article. I liked it. I’m still trying to form something halfway intelligent to say about it, but in the meantime, I’ll say that I’m not at all surprised that the writer of Glenngary Glenn Ross has a low view of humanity. Have you seen that movie? Whew! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TROhlThs9qY

  22. 22 Jared

    Well, isn’t Obama a wuss?

    Still, Jeb, I thought that the article had more substance than you give it credit for. Wasn’t it driving at what Nick mentioned and what Mamet’s conversion highlighted, namely, that Obama has a rather distorted understanding of what man is? If this is true, then maybe the deeper differences between left and right ARE closer to black and white rather than shades of grey?

    The article also discussed the dangers of charisma, the different visions of the state of America, Obama’s thought on the role of government in ameliorating America’s problems, Obama’s thought about his own role in healing America, Obama as secular redeemer, Obama as relativist, and, yes, the article also framed these observations in terms of Obama’s personality (which he himself made central in the primaries and his books), which is peculiarly modern and effete.

    I think Mamet’s conversion gets at the heart of it. Obama is just one particularly attractive incarnation of what Mamet converted from.

    Jared

  23. 23 Jared

    Jeb,

    A thought on your two Obama’s theory: consider the following quote from Obama’s speech after he beat Clinton. Does he see himself as just a liberal anti-dumb guy, or a mythic creature, say, a secular Messiah?

    “If we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless. (cheers) This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. (cheers) This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. (shouting) This was the moment, this was the time when we came together so remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals. Thank you, Minnesota! God bless you. God bless the United States of America.”

  24. 24 Nick

    Jeb,
    I´m happy you liked the article, and I think I remember watching one of his movies with you. I watched the clip and found it unsurprisingly painful. I´m enjoying having these conversations and I only wish I had more time to devote to them.

    You should see the blueberries this year, they are quite incredible, and Denise made an awesome pie the other day. I would send some through your blog if it were a little more high tech, but its not. Oh, and thanks for telling me what business socks are, I was never sure why they were called that.

  25. 25 Jeb

    Obama’s soaring campaign rhetoric—about hope and changing our politics—is just that: campaign rhetoric. Every candidate for president throughout American history has given speeches that are heavy on inspiration and lofty goals while being light on substance and only partially tethered to reality. Obama simply does it better than most, and a few people have come to the mistaken belief that that’s what he’s all about. They’ve taken everything at face value. Whereas people just sort of shrugged when George W. Bush promised to be a compassionate uniter (and not a divider), writing it off as pretty but meaningless speechcraft, they have held Obama to his airy pronouncements and are perhaps expecting delivery. Indeed, Obama may be the biggest victim of his impressive oratory skills. By doing what every candidate for president has done, but much better, he has set himself up for liberal disillusionment and much conservative sneering (as well as erudite-sounding but disingenuous claims that he’s some kind of Machiavellian, androgynous, collectivist, anti-Constitution, Oprah-watching, your-pain-feeling wuss).

    Good leaders have two abilities that are seldom found together—the ability to rouse and inspire people, and the ability to come to work every day and toil in the messy and slow process of making positive change. Obama is not going to transform our politics, nor will he “ordain a civic happy hour and give a people a sense of community that will make them feel less bad.” There are perhaps a few people out there (my guess is they’re mostly starry-eyed college students) who view Obama as a sort of secular messiah, but Obama himself is not one of them. He does, however, seek to reduce partisan acrimony in Washington. The founders envisioned—designed even—conflict as necessary check on power. But I don’t think they could have foreseen the sheer ridiculousness of the current situation, nor could they have foreseen the enormity of the problems we face, notably climate change and terrorism.

    The American public has clearly had enough of the status quo (congress’ approval rating is in the single digits, Bush’s isn’t much higher), and Obama’s desire to change things has struck a chord. Will he create a perfect union through politics? Nope. But will he try to solve pressing problems as best as he can, making compromises occasionally and standing firm when necessary? I hope so.

    Obama’s campaign style may conjure images of a secular political messiah. But his actual policy proposals (not far at all from Clinton’s) and writings reveal someone who understands the messy reality—and the likely messy future. I think that if Obama believes in anything, it’s his country’s ability to make things less messy. (For one thing, he wants to make the tax code less messy. If he can succeed in doing that, then I’ll kneel and bow …)

  26. 26 Jeb

    Nick: You’d think, what with all these intertubes connecting everything, that they would’ve figured out the bptp—the blueberry pie transfer protocol. One day!

  27. 27 Nick

    Jeb and Jared,
    I wouldn’t go so far as to call Obama a wuss because I think he´s pretty bold. However, I thought the bits in the article about charistmatic leaders and the points made about Obama´s androgynous charisma were essentially true. Yes, from a conservative perspective that believes men and women are different this can be viewed as a bad thing, but from a liberal perspective that openly embraces homosexuality and metrosexual men (whatever that means) it shouldn’t be a problem, perhaps it is even viewed as a virtue. But I don’t think it is a smear tactic, it stems from differing perspectives on masculinity. Jeb, you are right to point out the campaign rhetoric is only partially tethered to reality. So you say Obama is simply better than everyone else and he doesn’t mean what he says. But that means he’s essentially lying to everyone, and that he is just like (but better, or worse, than) all the other politicians he has promised not to be like. There is a difference between campaign rhetoric and lying, albeit a fine one, but one that is very important. And I think you also have to make room for sincerely changing one’s mind, like when he said he might reconsider his position on Iraq from evidence he will see on his visit – I respect that. My thesis is that there is one Obama, not two as you say. I think he’s more honest than you say. Not because I think Obama himself thinks he can deliver all that he promises (as you rightly point out), but that he sincerely wants to (although cognizant that he probably won’t have the power to do so) and believes in all of the promises he is making as laudable goals. His voting record fits his rhetoric. The campaign rhetoric made with his silver tongue are really his goals. Yes it is rhetoric, but he’s not dishonest. Therefore his words should be taken seriously and not dismissed as Machiavellian rhetoric. His ideas should be judged on their own merits. Besides, if he gets elected and the house and senate go democrat, then he may have enough power to actually deliver his promises.

  28. 28 Jeb

    Nick:

    Good thoughts. I agree that Obama isn’t dishonest. I think his stump speeches can sometimes get a little grand—like the one Jared quoted—but that seems par for the course for those kinds of things. I do agree that he believes what he says, while being aware of his limited ability to deliver on his larger goals. (I’m two sips into my coffee this morning, so if that last sentence didn’t make sense, I apologize.)

    I also admire his willingness to change his position on Iraq. It’s sort of sad, though, that that is something to admire. It should be a given. Reminds me of this great John Maynard Keynes quote:

    When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

  29. 29 Jared

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    Jeb and Nick,

    I wrote some comments yesterday in direct response to Jeb’s post, but after your irenic exchange, they do not seem to fit as well. So, I have modified the comments a bit. They still address Jeb’s comments directly, while, I think, disagreeing somewhat with Nick’s most recent post.

    Every campaign engages in rhetoric and, many, if not all, campaigns engage in rhetoric beyond what they can deliver. Still, a few distinctions are in order. First, there is a big difference between Bush claiming to be a “compassionate conservative” and Obama claiming that his primary victory reversed the tides, healed the planet, and ended war. Bush can, in fact, live up to his compassionate conservative title. Some think he has fallen radically short (starting wars, Guantanamo, etc.) and some think he has lived up to it all too well (his domestic spending is very high; his support of life issues, etc.). Obama, no matter what happens, cannot claim any primary night responsibility for the sea, the planet, or war. Obama’s claims here are not even partially tethered to reality.

    Second, lofty rhetoric usually has to do with principles, what a person stands for. There are, generally speaking, a limited number of principles that politicians employ, though they have their emphases and these emphases are telling. What each man emphasizes tells us much about how he organizes his thoughts and priorities, what he holds dear. So, for example, Bush speaks a lot about freedom and democracy; McCain understands many things in terms of honor; Obama speaks of hope and change. These terms are not terribly groundbreaking political rhetoric in themselves, but each of these men breathes new life into these concepts based on who he is, what he believes, and how he organizes other principles beneath these primary ones.

    But here is the rub: Obama’s rhetoric is often not about principles, but about himself and about how things will be radically different when he is in office. Often enough, he is the principle, he is the emphasis. He is the change we can believe in. I don’t think this argument is erudite-sounding but disingenous. I think it is a sound conclusion based on Obama’s speeches and deeds. I don’t think that the Obama craze is limited, as you suggested, to starry-eyed college kids. It includes fellow politicians, religious leaders of many faiths, celebrities, and the news media. I once again refer you to the rather humorous website http://obamamessiah.blogspot.com/. It has real quotes from real people, including many kooks, but also people that are generally considered sane citizens of our republic.

    But even if we leave this argument aside for a moment, we could argue that hope and change are rather nebulous, if not dubious, principles. Change smacks of a Heracleitan flux (what is the principle of change? change from what to what?) while hope is a liberation theological virtue stipped of its transcendant content. This is worth considering further; maybe in another thread.

    But, in truth, it is Obama’s deeds that most concern me. First, that there are so few of them. Second, that they have not done much to “reduce partisan acrimony.” As has been pointed out many times in the news, Obama has the most liberal (progressive) voting record in the senate. A very clear example of this is his unyielding, uncompromising stance on abortion issues, especially such non-controversial issues like the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act (even NARAL supported the Act). Or, his opposition to John Roberts who had wide bi-partisan support. Despite his rhetoric, Obama has done little or nothing to reduce partisan acrimony (John McCain, on the other hand…).

    Now, you say good leaders should inspire and be diligent. True enough, but most dictators have these qualities as well. What good leaders need in addition to inspiration and diligence is prudence, first and foremost. And they can only have this if they have some sense of virtue. I honestly believe that Obama has a decent heart and wants to do the right thing, but I also think that he sorely lacks prudence and does not know what the right thing is. We could point to any number of things, including his voting record, his response to the recent judicial activism in California, his post-primary shifts of opinion, his original claims about the surge, his membership in Trinity for twenty years, his friendship will Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, Michael Pfleger, Tony Reszko, etc, his comments on the Constitution, etc. It seems to me that Obama is not a man of prudent judgment who could lead a nation, but talented man of political expediency who discerns well which way the wind is blowing.

    Jared

  30. 30 Nick

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    Jeb and Jared,
    I just finished reading the excellent article Ryan Lizza about Obama in the most recent New Yorker and I feel the need to modify my previous opinion a little. The purpose of my previous post was to not let Obama off the hook by simply dismissing his words as rhetoric. After all, he has not done anything and all we have to judge him by are his words.
    But I want to start with Hendrik Hertzberg’s comments in the same issue of the New Yorker, “Obama, it turns out is a politician. In this respect he resembles the forty-three Presidents he hopes to success, from the Father of his Country to the wayward son, Alpha George to Omega George. Winning the Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to some of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more of less the same things in ways that are understood in different ways. They’re all politicians, yes – very much including Obama, as Ryann Lizza shows elsewhere in this issue. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.”
    The first argument is the old, ‘but, everybody else did it’ which is never an excuse for not doing the right thing. Hertzberg’s other argument in this paragraph is that he’s not inconsistent; rather, it’s just a matter of rephrasing so that different people understand the same thing in different ways. Right. The most telling, however, is the surprise (tinged with sarcasm) mentioned in the first sentence. Lizza writes, “perhaps the greatest misconception about Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channeled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to becoming a practicing Christian.” But what Lizza tries to dismiss as an unfortunate ‘misconception’ is a result Obama’s deliberate calculation and creation of his own image. For, “He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game,” i.e., he pretends to be one thing, but is in fact another. He campaigns on a “renewal of morality in politics” which as Lizza points out is what he rhetoric of change is about, but he is himself by his own standard immoral. What does he do? Here is Lizza again, “Dionne wrote about a young Obama, who artfully explained how the new pinstripe patronage worked: a politician rewards the law firms, developers, and brokerage houses with contracts, and in return they pay for the new ad campaigns necessary for reelection. ‘They do well, and you get a $5 million to $10 million war chest.’ Obama told Dionne. It was a classic Obamaism: superficially critical of some unseemly aspect of the political process without necessarily forswearing the practice itself. Obama was learning that one of the greatest skills a politician can possess is candor about the dirty work it takes to stay and get elected.” He gets off the hook with his personal candor?! Being honest about being dishonest still makes you dishonest. Before I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, that his character was good, but I have changed my mind upon reading this article. The only thing Obama has done, besides writing two memoirs about himself, is become very good at amassing power. He has no accomplishments (even from liberal principles), he has done nothing to promote the ‘change’ his words are so full of. He has pretended to be what he is not.
    I didn’t used to think he was a Machiavellian, but now I do. Consider his business with the Church. The article makes it very clear that Obama was only there as a matter of political expediency. He didn’t choose a church based on its theology, but based on what political gain he could get from it. The Machiavelli of The Prince (I specify because the article Jared mentioned showed me there was much more to Machiavelli than I had previously thought) would be very happy with him. Either you believe it, or you don’t, then go to church or not; but using it for political expediency shows that he isn’t a Christian, but lies about it because he wants Christians to vote for him. You don’t go from agnostic to religious when it’s politically expedient. This is a question of character, and more and more, it seems that Obama’s is not very good. John McCain’s, on the other hand, is excellent, take a look at this article: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1214492529435&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

  31. 31 Jeb

    Couple thoughts.

    I think it’s hard—if not impossible—to judge the sincerity of any public figure’s religious beliefs. It may be easy to be cynical of Obama’s religious convictions, but let’s not judge him on that issue—how can we know?—let’s evaluate his ideas and proposals, and analyze how they fit the current problems we face as a country. I truly think that’s the best we can do from our distance as voters.

    The New Yorker profile shows that Obama is an incredibly political person. John McCain is similarly political and calculating. (Check out this story in the Times.) Nick’s contention—that Obama is worse because he pretends to be above politics—seems valid but ignores McCain’s contradictions and ill judgment (hey, we’re going to be forced to choose this November, so it’s important to compare the two), and also ignores the nature of the quest for the presidency itself. For better or worse, we’ve created a situation where it is impossible to become a candidate for president without being a bit of a Eddie Haskell or Tracy Flick. I’m not embracing that fact, but if we’re going to judge candidates for being political and opportunistic, then we’re going to be disappointed with all of our choices.

    To the extent that I can judge Obama’s character through his resume, writings, legislative record, speeches and debate appearances, I believe Obama is a good person with good judgment. I may ultimately be wrong, but I haven’t observed anything that has told me otherwise. I don’t think he’s perfect—nor the messiah—but I’m prepared to vote for him based primarily on his proposals, which I believe stand a better chance of success than McCain’s. I like Obama’s ideas. However, I also understand our political system enough to know that positive change will come in small increments over a long period of time, not in his waving of a wand.

  32. 32 Jared

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    Maybe this will convince you to change your mind:

    http://www.johnmccain.com/video/love.htm

  33. 33 Jeb

    Jared:

    This video convinced me of one thing: John McCain needs me. To run his campaign. For some reason, the political veterans he’s got on his squad are failing miserably, and I’m officially offering my services. I’m no Dick Morris or Karl Rove, but I think I can do a better job than whoever gave the green light to this video—which simply reveals the McCain team’s bitterness about the popularity of their opponent.

    Ok, on to the actual accusation—that the media hearts Obama as much as Germany does. Partially true, at least it was for much of the Democratic primary. But I sense that the media is falling back into its usual routine: cynicism and a desire to cover a flap, flip-flop or scandal, be it mini or mega, Obama- or McCain-related. Loving a new story, it seems the media is picking up on the meme that Obama is an arrogant guy who thinks he has the presidency in the bag.

    Anyway, the accusation of media bias is a little funny coming from McCain, who has enjoyed **decades** of fawning coverage. Now, seeing a rival in Obama, McCain has decided to denigrate the very people who have boosted him all these years, the same press that has anointed him (falsely) as a ‘maverick.’ That’s a really bad idea, and that’s why I’m offering my services.

    And what about passing out luggage tags that read “JV Squad” to the people covering your campaign? What is that all about?

    This video shows that the McCain campaign is desperately reaching into the old and dusty bag of Rovian tricks. Accusations of bias intended to work the referees? These guys need to get some new moves.

    What’s more, this kind of whining goes directly against the brand that McCain has slaved to cultivate over the years.

  34. 34 Jared

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    Jeb,

    I think you missed the point of both my post and the McCain website. It is not bitterness at all. It is a sense of humor (something Obama and Co. are sorely lacking). For more evidence of a sense of humor, check out this foray into fun of days of yore:

    http://wheatandweeds.blogspot.com/2008/07/heh.html

    Jared

  35. 35 Jeb

    Jared:

    If we selected our presidents based on their sense of humor, McCain would probably win this one in a rout. By all outside appearances, Obama is a pretty serious guy, one who not is given to joking and spontaneous banter. And yes, many of his supporters could stand to lighten up a bit. Still, the video about the Obama media bias was simply not funny, regardless of the merit of the claim. I’m not a McCain fan, but I do know that he can do better.

  36. 36 Jared

    C’mon. Is not Pork Invaders the “better” you are looking for?

  37. 37 Jeb

    Jared:

    To answer your question, yes, “Pork Invaders” is the better I’m looking for!

  38. 38 Nick

    Jeb,
    I just got back from my sister’s wedding at your old home town, Missoula, yesterday. It was great, she got married on top of Snowbowl on a perfect day. I drove by your old place and wished you were there.

    It sounds like this conversation is winding down.

    I agree that we should look at policy proposals, but I also think it’s important to look at character and judgment because there are so many decisions which a president will have to make which have nothing to do with the policy issues being discussed on the campaign trail. I wasn’t discussing specific policies, rather I was questioning his character. And that is not an ad hominem attack; it is legitimate to desire our leaders to be men (or women) of good character because they have such important decisions to make. I don’t know what you think character is, but I think it’s a persons moral qualities which are founded on and developed by the free choices he has made in the past, and as such is an indispensable aspect of decision making.

    Yes we cannot know exactly what Obama thinks about anything, but we ought to learn from his deeds and words and make the best judgment possible. Why Obama drove his family a long way to sit in that church every week for years and years is inexplicable to me, especially when Obama has been so explicit in his disagreement with Wright. There are too many signs that reveal what he really thinks about it. Take for instance his ‘bitter’ comment. It’s the classic Marxist sentiment that religion is the opiate of the masses. Again, this is not about religion per se, but rather about Obama’s character. The contrast between Obama’s and McCain’s religious actions could not be starker; compare McCain’s religious activities while he was a POW to Obama’s choosing of his church.

    Of course McCain also knows how to use the political levers, as the New York Times article shows, but he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and furthermore he sticks to his principles and judgment. That article shows that he would be much better at uniting the two parties than Obama, although Obama would like you believe that he’s done nothing but work with republicans. My last post was about Obama’s character, not his policy. That being said, I also disagree with most of Obama’s policies, but not all (cf. David Brook’s most recent piece).

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