Saturday, January 21, 2012

Disappointed by Obama?

As a moderate, my two favorite current politicians (not counting Elizabeth Warren, who's not yet been elected to office) are Mike Bloomberg and Barack Obama. I like sensible, practical-minded non-idealogues who don't showboat, propagandize, or spew ditzy talking points. People who, whether you agree with them or not, are clearly trying to do their practical best (not for themselves but for their constituency) within the limits of circumstance.

So I'll be voting for Obama - though I'd have considered a moderate Republican, like Massachusetts Governor Romney, who's unfortunately been replaced with candidate Romney, who doesn't believe in evolution, hates the sort of health policy he himself initiated, and rubs his hands in glee at the thought of attacking Iran.

Make no mistake about it: Barack Obama is, clearly, plainly, oh-so-obviously, a moderate. If you were watching carefully, you saw that he was branded as a Socialist radical shortly after he took office (when he chose to continue the Bush bailout policy), and they've kept the sticker affixed to him with much tape, spit, and Elmer's glue. If Barack Obama's a radical, then Richard Nixon was a commie.

So at least one of the oft-repeated lies about Obama is untrue. The other is that he's done nothing. It's true that his promise of conciliation and joint effort was a non-starter (I used to talk about that stuff, too, until I realized the radical wing of the Republican party would prefer to permanently harm our global fiscal leadership than compromise or reconcile). Yes, it's true that Gitmo is still open and we're still sending drones inside sovereign borders out of American exceptionalism (creating collateral damage certain to fuel ongoing hatred completing the vicious cycle). And it's true that the conciliatory attitude he was elected for was used against him in many negotiations with Congress, making him appear weak.

But in the case of foreign policy, I think Obama was profoundly shaken when made fully aware of threats we know little about (his reversal on issues like Gitmo and drones certainly weren't done to garner political capital - conservative hawks may have been quietly pleased, but they ain't ever voting for the guy). And in terms of conciliation, geez, that's what he was elected for! He's damned for trying to do what he said, and he's damned for not trying to do what he said.

Democrats are, by definition, awfully hard to please.

But the thing is, he's quietly done much good, despite the complaints of uninformed folks (and pundits) who mindlessly parrot conventional wisdom. There are lists circulating of Obama's often under-celebrated accomplishments, and they're actually quite impressive. Moderates who share my dislike of political showboating, should take the time to seek such information out, since Obama is - per our preference! - not one for showy proclamations of "Mission Accomplished".

The problem with accomplishment lists is their cold, empty terseness. But have a look at this curiosity: a paen to Obama from a conservative (Andrew Sullivan): "How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics" ("The right calls him a socialist, the left says he sucks up to Wall Street, and independents think he's a wimp. Andrew Sullivan on how the president may just end up outsmarting them all"). But the title doesn't go as far as the article does.

It's a great read, but if you don't have time, check out Andrew Tobias' highlighted encapsulation.

If you're a conservative who imagines Obama's too liberal, this may change your mind. If you're an Obama supporter who thinks he's been ineffectual, this may reassure you.

If you're a liberal who resents Obama's moderation....well, I can't help you there. In this country, in this time, a true liberal couldn't possibly win. Consider that George McGovern, an establishment liberal running against an ominous sweaty kook back in a far more lefty era with a hugely energized and energetic base, was pummeled. There will be no viable liberal candidate in the forseeable future, and America will remain center/right, so get real and support a smart, practical, moderate like Obama, who'd fit your bill far better than a doctrinaire conservative pressured to pander to his nutty base.


vhliv said...

A couple of thoughts. First problematic as Nixon was, he was much closer to the establishment mainstream than your brief sketch suggests. Indeed one of the things that made Vietnam so wrenching for America was that the establishment view had been supportive of the war for so long, and the anti-war movement, while by no means limited to young kids with long hair was so readily portrayed as such. The line that has gone down in history is "only Nixon could go to China," but far important was that only Nixon could end the Vietnam war and contain revolutionary chaos at home.

I agree that Sullivan is right, Obama has consistently been underestimated -- a great trait for a politician. And key here I think is while Obama will likely not get quite the groundswell of support among new voters he got in 2008, the comparison with Romney and even more if Gingrich were to pull off an unlikely coup will drive left of center critics to the polls.

The big question right now is what does center right mean? In my observation basically all populations gravitate to the center right on some level or other. Even ostensibly left-wing strongholds are paradoxical bastions of conservatism in as much as they are reluctant to break with the left of center party. The American right has been telling rolling out the America is center-right line for sometime, but has done so even as the American right moves the goal posts further and further towards the fringe. The expectation seems to be that this will bring Americans ever further to the right. The problem now for the American right is that they have moved so far that they are brushing up against Americans' conservative desire to maintain a modest safety net, We will not I think ever talk about an Obama Revolution, but if Obama wins this year, I think historians will say his presidency marked the end of a 30 year period of Republican dominance.

Jim Leff said...

"problematic as Nixon was, he was much closer to the establishment mainstream than your brief sketch suggests.

But I agree! AS I said, "If Barack Obama's a radical, then Richard Nixon was a commie". Most Democrats now are considerably to the right of Nixon. I also described nixon as an "ominous sweaty kook", but that referenced his political weakness (i.e. McGovern wasn't facing some smoothie phenom), rather than to his actual policies and positions.

The prospect of President Gingrich will indeed drive center-left voters to the polls. But I'm not so sure about Romney. Consider how twisted up and visibly uncomfortable Romney's been in his base-pandering mode these months (and how resistant that base is to those efforts). Once he wins the primary, that coil springs, and he will tack more to center. That's more comfortable for him (making him a better candidate) and a LOT more comfortable for moderates - who still may not vote for him, but will be less energized about voting at all than they would facing a monster like Gingrich.

"The big question right now is what does center right mean?"

In our case, it's the eye of the hurricane. An empty place between extremes. Looking within the context of a 50-year view, Obama's obviously center-right. But in present context, there IS no center right. The few of them that were in power all got voted out by the tea party in the midterm elections, and this so terrified the Republicans who were merely "very conservative" that they're all afraid to get anywhere that line. Hence: an empty space.

"The expectation seems to be that this will bring Americans ever further to the right. The problem now for the American right is that they have moved so far that they are brushing up against Americans' conservative desire to maintain a modest safety net"

We keep expecting the pendulum to swing resolutely back to center. But the radical right is extremely good at marketing, and consider that every day millions of dollars are spent on foul-tasting nutritionless fizzy water. So don't underestimate the power of modern marketing (which, so far, only the radical right has mastered, mostly with appeals to tribal instincts). It can overcome reason and it can overcome self-interest.

vhliv said...

Forgive me for missing zeroing in on sweaty kook" and missing your other point.

As for the marketing power of the right, I agree. Heck I thought one term of Reagan was going to be sufficient to send Americans back to the Dems. The power of marketing, however, is not infinite, and here I am not simply whistling in the graveyard. As the great medieval historian Charles Haskins noted, nothing breeds failure like success, and there are several signs that that is now what the Republicans are experiencing. First, the teaparty has stalled out, and establishment Republicans, who even a year ago might have been shy about going against the teaparty have instead rallied around Romney. Second, as I stated in my previous post the right has run up against a wall when it comes to their long dreamed of plans to dismantle Social Security, and I am inclined to believe that this is also true of the much more misunderstood Healthcare reform for reasons I will go on further below. Third, maybe this reflects my particular political persuasion, which is further to the left than yours I suspect, but the way the Occupy Wall Street movement has refocused attention on fairness strikes me as a theme that will resonate throughout the election cycle and for some time to come. The significance of changes to the capital gains tax initiated in the 1980s, and which really didn't seem so bad back then, has suddenly become plain.

As for Mitt Romney's abilities to appeal to the middle ground, they should not be underestimated -- again underestimation is the great politician's greatest ally. That said, Romney and the Republican establishment's decision to support him is symptomatic of the weakness outlined above, and that is going to be constantly on display in the coming election. In a moment when tax fairness is a buzz word, he has handled his taxes poorly -- not to the point where he cannot under any circumstances win the general election , but the fact that was caught flat-footed by his Republican colleagues/opponents was striking. NOr is it from what i have seen uncharacteristic of how he approaches the race.

Similarly, his central role in the pioneering health care proposal, and his current talk about repeal are a serious long term problem. If he veers back to the center and says something like, "Obamacare is deeply flawed but it is too late to start from scratch, then he will alienate the Republican base he must energize to win. If he sticks with his current position then his claims to be a moderate will be weakened, and this is going to push moderates back towards Obama. Indeed even if he follows the first course he while have reinforced his his image as a serial flip-flopper, who might just be saying that to win but might then pursue the Republican complete repeal policy.

Peoples' sense of their economic well being will likely remain the most important factor in the election, but in as much as that is closely related to issues of tax fairness and spiraling healthcare, Romney is not as well positioned as he appears, a fact many Republicans are themselves well aware of. Still, the Republican Superpacs will be out in force in the general election, and maybe they can pull something off I cannot foresee, but myself as of 1/30/2012 would be amazed if it happens.

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