Monday, March 03, 2008

On the eve of Last Stand Tuesday

I started to respond to some comments in response to one of my recent Obama posts and decided to move it into a new post.

Here is my problem with Obama. I appreciate that politicians speak in grandiose language. It is, for the most part, the response of Obama supporters that I find creepy. This type of hagiography was not present in 1980.

When I try to understand how it is that Obama might warrant such a response and we look to his stump speeches, I hear a hard left populist who seems to want to talk about what "they" have done to you and who spouts largely erroneous statistics about CEOs wrapped into meaningless non sequiturs about Main Street and Wall Street.

In response, smart commenters like Seth Zlotocha and friends that support Obama tell me that he's not that liberal at all. What's so extreme, they say, about a 1 % tax credit for companies that don't outsource jobs or extending ordinary income treatment to hedge fund managers?

Of course, the answer is nothing. But it's also nothing to get excited about.

Seth's response seems to be - repeatedly - to say that Obama wants to change the "tone" of politics and to encourage participation and to "reach out" to the other side. With all due respect, I have no idea what any of this means.

Obama's stump speeches are unifying only if, by unity, you mean bringing "us" together against "them."

Reagan did not move the country around incremental reform, but by a paragigm shift. He did not do that, contrary to Democrat myths, by the strength of his personality but by the fact that these ideas were right for his time.

He may have spoken about hope but it was linked to something substantive. That substance was not about having the government change your life. He wanted the government out of your life. Is that what Obama has in mind? Because that's not what I hear.

I understand that there is a difference between recognizing a limited role for government in facilitating opportunity and overweening statism. I just wrote an op-ed about it. But the over the top rhetoric and response does not seem to point to anything that is so modest.

If Obama is offering a paradigm shift that is other than what his stump speeches suggest that it is, e.g, a significant increase in collectivization whether through increased governmental spending or reregulation of the economy in the guise of fighting global warming, more protectionism as expressed by hostility to NAFTA and the imposition of costs on companies who respond to the pressures of global markets, or an increased willingness to subject American interests to some type of international system, I don't know what it is.

Suggesting that Obama will change the country just because of the kind of guy he is leaves me unimpressed. I am old enough to remember when Jimmy Carter promised a government as good as the American people. We fell for that once. I hope that, if Obama wins, we have a better reason than that.


Craig N said...

Obama isn't necessarily opposed to NAFTA, rather his position is a political one that he never intends to follow up upon. Obama's Double Talk Express doesn't look like it will be slowing anytime soon.
The politics of unity and change he seeks are those in which he will look to force others to support his ideals through any means necessary. His unity is not about compromise, but rather about forcing citizens who disagree with him to agree with him by enacting legislation which is counter to their ideals.

Craig N said...

This Story Confirms His Stance on NAFTA is political

Anonymous said...

Seth's response seems to be - repeatedly - to say that Obama wants to change the "tone" of politics and to encourage participation and to "reach out" to the other side. With all due respect, I have no idea what any of this means.

Exactly. And Obama clearly benefits from this stress on necessarily ambiguous atmospherics: he can sweep to power as an agent of fundamental change even though he proves to be quite prosaic in the event.

And, with a mandate of ill-defined "change" (chant after Andrew Sullivan: the rest of the world will like us again!) we can't really know what Obama thinks "change" will consist of; nor can we be certain that Obama's reaching out to "the other side" will prove so blissful after all:

Whether Obama leads his flock coldly and calculatingly -- as the article in Stranger suggests -- on his own authority using the structure of religion as a convenient organizing principle or whether like Moses in Exodus 17 he inwardly listens for a presence beside him as upon a rock in Horeb, is something we cannot know. At the heart of the Obama mystery lies a curious duality. He is man who self-identifies with a particular race on the way to achieving the vision of making all men brothers; a man who appeals to our better natures yet speaks to Tony Rezko; a man who would lead a brotherhood of the downtrodden but with George Soros at his side; a man who distances himself from Louis Farrakhan yet receives his accolades on Saviour's Day.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Glad to see you addressing this, Rick, but you still haven't spelled out specifically how the excitement over the prospect of an Obama presidency is dangerous to American society or democracy, which is a theme you've hit on in more than one post. Sure, I can see how you think some of the reaction to Obama is "creepy," and we can reasonably disagree on the issue of whether Obama is encouraging or highlighting these types of reactions (particularly the far over the top ones). But that still doesn't mean it's characteristic of all the excitement or, most importantly, dangerous in any substantial or tangible way for the country, which is what you've wanted your readers to believe with language like "messianic," "totalitarian," "whiff of trouble in it," etc.

As for what it means to change the tone of politics, I think it's pretty clear. The current administration has made a habit of secrecy, even beyond the places where you'd reasonably expect it such as national security. One example is energy policy, which was crafted behind closed doors during Bush's first term and the administration consistently refused to even acknowledge the special interests it met with during that process. Tied to this is the administration's unilateralist policies that have not only infected foreign policy, but also laws in general with Bush's extreme use of presidential signing statements. And I could write similar things about Clinton's triangulation.

What Obama represents is a renewed emphasis on open dialogue and confronting issues in an inclusive manner, which is something he demonstrated while in the IL state legislature. You may not believe him, and that's fine, but to many people -- myself included -- he represents the best chance at taking the White House in that direction. You may think that's naive, but there's clearly a current in the American populace that wants to feel good again about our federal government and Obama has tapped into that in a similar manner as Reagan in the late-70s.

And what Obama is proposing here is more than just "incremental reform." It's a paradigm shift, as well. The emphasis is just on the process rather than policies since, and I think Obama nails this critique on the head, the biggest political problem we have today is cultural, not a dearth of policy ideas. There is little doubting that special interests have played an increasingly powerful role in American politics over the last 25-30 years, which has coincided with a time of increasing citizen disillusionment with the political process.

But that's not to say Obama doesn't want to make changes in policy. He does. You seem to be trying in your posts and your op-ed to establish the Carter administration as a foil for Obama, which is quite a perverse use of the past. For starters, the economic decline in the 70s started at the beginning of the decade, not under Carter. Second, the major driving factor in that decline was deindustrialization throughout much of the country. In other words, our economy was going through a massive transformation in that decade from an industrial-based economy to what has become a primarily service/knowledge-based economy. Over the last 30 years this country has learned how to generate great amounts of wealth from our new economy, but that prosperity hasn't been shared nearly as well as the postwar industrial/consumer boom of the 40s, 50s, and 60s; that was the last period of significant shared prosperity in this country.

So the goal for the next president -- which Obama has firmly set his sights upon and McCain has largely ignored -- is how to increase the number of opportunities for shared prosperity in our new service/knowledge-based economy. This means investing public money in new sectors like green and bio technology; increasing aid for higher education to make college affordable again; provide access to affordable health care for those who want to take risks by heading into entrepreneurial endeavors; leverage American purchasing power by negotiating common labor and environmental standards in trade agreements to allow American workers a seat at the table in the global economy.

And, as I've stated before, Obama hits the same "us" against "them" themes that Reagan did; that is, both emphasize the failure of government. Reagan just thought it was a failure of a government that was too active; Obama thinks it's a government that has been too active for a narrow set of interests and too inactive on concerns of the broader public.

So there's much more to Obama's campaign than just an emphasis on process, but that emphasis is still as crucial, substantive, and paradigm-shifting as any policy platform.


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Anonymous said...

Seth Zlotocha said...
"Glad to see you addressing this, Rick, but you still haven't spelled out specifically how the excitement over the prospect of an Obama presidency is dangerous to American society or democracy,"

Gee, for starters, how about there is no critical thinking. As long as he can sing the song some want to hear he'll be our star.

Seth Zlotocha said...

So are you saying, Anon, that the Obama campaign encourages people not to critically think about politics, and therefore an Obama administration would do the same? Do you have any evidence to suggest Obama supporters have thought less about politics or their support than McCain or Clinton supporters? Is it that Obama's exciting, so people must just be swept up in that, whereas McCain and Clinton are comparatively bland so people must really care to support them?

I'm not buying it. But I'm curious to hear if Rick agrees and if that's what he was referring to with his ominous language.

And, just for the record, I think the rest of my previous comment -- along with my other comments on Rick's blog, as well as comments by decidely nonpartisan Obama supporters like Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, which you can (and should) read here -- demonstrates that there is plenty of depth to and thoughtfulness in the support given to Obama.

Anonymous said...

Hi Seth -

I guess what I'm saying is that critical thinking requires reasons of what he has done that makes you think that he would be a good President. There is nothing so there must not be any critical thinking.

I guess we would just be accepting every idea he has because, well, he had it. Isn't that exciting!

3rd way said...

I am sure that Paul Volcker, Reagan's choice for chief of the federal reserve, was just swept up in all the excitement when he decided to support Obama.

Oh these crazy kids these days and their celebrity worship, they will ruin this country.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Is this the same Anon I chatted with a couple of weeks ago on this thread? If so, people can just go there if they're interested in how this conversation of tangible experience is going to play out.

And the Andreessen commentary I linked to in my last comment gets into the issue of experience, and I think he does a pretty good job of explaining how Obama's experiences are evidence that he has the leadership capabilities necessary to be president...and certainly more than enough to not present a danger to American society and democracy.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Here's the link to that previous thread, again. Looks like I forgot to add the url to the last one.

Anonymous said...

Seth: As for what it means to change the tone of politics, I think it's pretty clear.

Yes, indeed:

Somehow I’d missed the following extraordinary statement (HT: Obama Messiah) made by Obama in a speech he gave at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, shortly before the primary in that state:

My job this morning is to be so persuasive…that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.

Compare this to Marc Andreessen's ephiphany, per Seth's recommendation:

Senator Obama, in contrast, comes across as a normal human being, with a normal interaction style, and a normal level of interest in the people he's with and the world around him. ... There's no fire in the eyes to realize some utopian or revolutionary dream. Instead, what comes across -- in both his questions and his answers -- is calmness, reason, and judgment. ... Smart, normal, curious, not radical, and post-Boomer.

jp said...


love them Buckley-esque words

Anonymous said...

from Marc Andreeson blog -
"We asked him directly, how concerned should we be that you haven't had meaningful experience as an executive -- as a manager and leader of people?

He said, watch how I run my campaign -- you'll see my leadership skills in action"

Seth - this is an admission by Obama that he doesn't have any experience to be President. Running a campaign is not equivalent to being President. Actually, I think Oprah had more to do with his popularity.

It looks to me that he wants the job without earning it (something for nothing). Maybe that is acceptable to what was referred to as the post boomers generation. Perhaps this is also what our forefathers feared the most, when people learned that they could vote to get something for nothing.

I know younger people that haven't fallen for this something for nothing campaign and while you keep defending it, it will lead our counrty to a worse place then it is right now. Frankly, I think Bill Cosby would have been a better choice.

Seth Zlotocha said...


As for your 3:38 comment, it's pretty clear you're missing the sarcasm in Obama's statement. In fact, I remember hearing that line around the time of the NH primary and it got a laugh from the audience of college students at Dartmouth. I can try to find video of it, in case you want to see for yourself.

this is an admission by Obama that he doesn't have any experience to be President. Running a campaign is not equivalent to being President.

Nothing is equivalent to being president. But, as Andreeson noted (emphasis mine): "Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama's opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win -- and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns. This speaks well to the Senator's ability to run a campaign, but speaks even more to his ability to recruit and manage a top-notch group of campaign professionals and volunteers -- another key leadership characteristic. When you compare this to the awe-inspiring discord, infighting, and staff turnover within both the Clinton and McCain campaigns up to this point -- well, let's just say it's a very interesting data point."

Running a successful national campaign is no small potatoes, and it arguably demonstrates at least as much leadership ability as being elected and re-elected numerous times as a US Senator in a state that leans to your particular party or heading up any number of senate committees. Taken with his experience as state legislator and US Senator, in combination with his noticeably impressive intellect and reasoned demeanor under pressure, I'd take the skills that Obama has demonstrated in this race over people with loads of executive experience but who ran, by all accounts, pretty poor (like Tommy Thompson) or horrendous (like Rudy Guiliani) national campaigns, and I'd put him at least on par with those who have more legislative experience but who haven't demonstrated a strong knack for managing even their own campaign organizations (like Clinton and McCain).

In the end, there's really no sense re-hashing this same experience debate we've already had. It's clear nothing I'm going to say is going to convince you that Obama has demonstrated enough competence for the presidency; and nothing you're going to say is going to convince me that Obama's lack of tangible executive experience presents a danger to American society or democracy should he get elected.

joe stalin said...

Let's cut to the chase, shall we?
If Obama isn't liberal. Very liberal...why are all the libs engorged with love for him?
Why don't you liberals just admit what you are?
Oh. You can't can you.
It's pretty obvious. Mrs. Rodham-Clinton has the bureaucratic and union base, and Obama has the rest of the idiots, and the newbies.

Anonymous said...

Seth: As for your 3:38 comment, it's pretty clear you're missing the sarcasm in Obama's statement

Yes, well, that is one of the charms of a Rorschach-test candidacy: you can be what each voter thinks you are.
Just a bit of sarcastic funning with concerns of the likes of Shark about that messiah thing? Leavened perhaps by excessive vanity? Sure, find the video; the answer will be on the hidden scrawl.

Anonymous said...

More sarcasm from the Rorshach-test candidate? ...

"Ultimately I am an imperfect vessel for your hopes and dreams," Obama told several thousand people at Iowa State University's basketball arena.

Ultimately imperfect or not Obama had no difficulty conveying his substantive message:

Obama's audience here was filled with supporters such as Jeff Edmonson, 20, an Iowa State student who says he's been a fan since Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004.

"He's someone that will bring change: less corruption, more excitement," Edmonson said.

Will the Imperfect Vessel bring change in the form of less corruption? Perhaps, if being entangled with a kickback-scheme artist under federal indictment is less corrupt than the usual DC fare. But young Mr. Edmonson is surely correct in assuming that disentangling this relationship -- and others -- will indeed bring more excitement.

Seth Zlotocha said...

It looks like the substantive part of our discussion is done. Taking quotes out of context and a little old fashioned guilt by association just for good measure. That's quite a lot you packed into your last couple of comments, Anon.

Anonymous said...

That's quite a lot you packed into your last couple of comments, Anon.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I guess Obama isn’t all that different from President Bush after all.

If you check the NY Times today, you'll see that his public pronouncements cloak secret meetings. Now, that's only a problem if the message between the two is inconsistent, as it appears to be. An example of the left hand not knowing what the right was doing? Unlikely. Senior policy advisors tend not to just strike off on their own on behalf of the campaign.

I'm still waiting for the politics 2.0 that Obama and his supports claim he will bring.

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. The Ineffable One develops a bit of a 'tude when called on to open up.

Anonymous said...

Fox news (not local) last night aired an interview with a college student that said that on campus all you see is Obama posters and kids handing out Clinton flyers. He said that he is a McCain supporter and tried to hand out information and was stopped by the school.

Are liberal universities the ones really behind this Obama thing? It wouldn't surprise me if that turns out to be true.

Seth Zlotocha said...

The right wing news feed is coming fast and furious on this thread now. A "liberal university" conspiracy against John McCain, huh? Wow.

As for the point about Austan Goolsbee's interactions with the Canadian embassy somehow serving as evidence that Obama wouldn't be "all that different from President Bush," that's quite a manipulation of the facts and a logical leap.

The Canadian embassy contacted Goolsbee -- as it has done with advisors from other campaigns -- to stress the importance of NAFTA. Goolsbee, the Obama campaign, and the Canadian embassy have consistently said that nothing in that discussion contradicted the Obama campaign's consistent public position on the need for strengthened environmental and labor standards in NAFTA. A memo leaked by the conservative-led Canadian government has a line that reads: "[Goolsbee] cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans." The ambiguous "political positioning" phrase is where the entire supposed controversy hinges. But the memo -- which the NY Times described this morning as "as much a piece of analysis of Mr. Goolsbee’s remarks as a reporting of the meeting" -- also has a line that reads: "On NAFTA, Goolsbee suggested that Obama is less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favour of strengthening/clarifying language on labour mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more 'core' principles of the agreement," which is exactly what Gooslbee, the Obama campaign, and the Canadian embassy have said all along. The Obama camp has never said it would unilaterally opt out of NAFTA; renegotiation has always been the sole position of the campaign. So where's the secrecy? Where's the deception?

Yet you take from that story that an Obama administration wouldn't be "all that different from President Bush," who has refused to release details on meetings where policies were crafted behind closed doors and consistently issues signing statements that skew the intent of Congress?

Anonymous said...

The right wing news feed is coming fast and furious on this thread now.

Though the torrent has slowed, let's get it rolling again ("the pressure of these low-grade 'parsing' questions over NAFTA and RezkoGate is causing Obama to sound and act much more like the lawyer he is").

Anonymous said...

Seth -

I think you are proving the point that Rick has tried to make, which is that Obama followers think he is perfect, that he has no faults thus making him a savior in your eyes.

Every single thing that has been raised has been dismissed by you as if there is a total lack of judgment. You have never expressed that you think he's anything but perfect. Is he your savior?

Seth Zlotocha said...

Is he your savior?

I don't believe in saviors.

And I don't need to think Obama is perfect to disagree with the criticism of him that's been dished out on this thread, particularly the absolutist nature of the criticism (e.g., Goolsbee allegedly talked to the Canadian embassy in Chicago about Obama's "political positioning" on NAFTA, therefore Obama is no different than Bush on open government).

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