Monday, February 18, 2008

More thoughts on Obama

There seems to be a lot of interest in talking about Obama. Here at S-squared, a series of posts last week attracted a fair amount of traffic and comments.

I think there are actually two issues here. The first has to do with the particular message that Obama is advancing. While that message (as opposed to what you could find in position papers) was a bit obscure at first, I think the campaign has moved to harden it and it is a fairly unreconstructed economic populism and protectionism.
While the rhetoric does not match Obama's particular policy proposals (which, while certainly expensive, seem more modest than his claims for global and generational change suggest), the message seems to at least imply that we are all suffering and it is the fault of a few.

This message is, in my view, false and informed by bad economics. It is demagogic and points toward some dangerous policies. But I know that others disagree and, to the extent that Obama can argue eloquently for their view of the world, he is like Reagan. But there's more.

The message is not unrelated to the messianic tendencies of Obama's campaign because it promises a degree of deliverance from the state that it cannot possibly deliver and that can, if attempted, cause more harm than good. But there's more.

The excitement over Obama seems to outstrip his particular policy positions and, for many, doesn't seemed tied to any particular view of the world but to the atmospherics surrounding his campaign. Obama has done a good job of capitalizing on the understandable enthusiasm of African Americans (and not a few whites) for a black presidential candidate (it's another post but I don't intend this as a criticism) and the weakness of young voters (in most places and at most times) for millenial politics.

This has resulted in the trope that Obama represents something new that transcends old politics. In the comments to my earlier posts, some tried to argue that Obama is somehow changing how we do politics but, for the life of me, I can't see how that is supposed to be so. The message is not new and it's not unifying. If you like the message, I can understand your enthusiasm for the "new" world you believe it will usher in, but what you are excited about is victory in the old political battles, not their transcendence. That you want people to be excited and "believe in" government is not particularly distinctive.

The enthusiam that has, so far, masked this is not simply "popularity." It threatens to give allegiance to a political candidate and cause a degree of intensity that it is out of order with what candidates and politics can deliver. It gives the candidate the role of a Messiah and the campaign the aspects of a Crusade. If that doesn't make you uncomfortable, then we are not simply on different pages, we are reading different books.

(NB: Of course, we have these dangers on the right. Folks on the left have rightly criticized some of my conservative brothers and sisters for conflating support for every aspect of the War on Terror with patriotism. )


Anonymous said...

Mainstream liberal organs like the New York Times have run articles on whether Senator Obama's success is based largely on a "cult of personality," so it's entirely proper for this blog to ask the question, too. People may disagree over whether Senator Obama's substance is commensurate with his style, but it's certainly legitimate to raise the issue.

Seth Zlotocha said...

You seem to be shifting your point throughout the post into a criticism of Obama's policy positions, which is something I can respect (though still disagree with) given your ideological viewpoint.

But, again, your completely stretching on the danger of the enthusiasm that Obama elicits, which is something you come back to in the end of the post. The only concrete point on this that you've identified in this post is that people are responding more to Obama's rhetoric than his specific policies, which would lead them to give enthusiastic support to policy positions they may not actually support, at least as enthusiastically. But what appealing politician hasn't that been true about? It was certainly true with Reagan, whose rhetoric about American exceptionalism wasn't explicity connected to his trickle-down economic policies. He made people feel good about the country again, and there is no evidence to suggest those same people had any clear knowledge about or interest in the policy ideas he was pushing. Of course, those policy ideas come up in Reagan's speeches, but Obama's policy ideas come up in his, as well; in neither case, though, were they the driving force behind the enthusiasm of most supporters. And insomuch that Obama's promises of "change" refer to increasing the democratizing potential of government -- which is really what it's all about -- there is a pretty clear connection between his rhetoric and policies given that ethics reform is a major agenda item he's pushing and one that he has a demonstrated history of delivering on during his time as a state senator.

I appreciate your blog, Rick, but I spent way too much time on it this past weekend (which was entirely of my own doing, not yours), so I'm going to leave this as my sole comment on this thread (assuming nothing is raised that wasn't in your previous threads) and encourage those who haven't read the discussions on your previous posts to take the time to do so (here and here) if they're interested in this discussion.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I know I need to learn when to stop, but I do have one other concluding remark that I forgot to mention in the previous post.

The bottom line in all of this is that your use of ominous language such as "messianic," "dangerous," "whiff of trouble," and "totalitarian" suggests an effect of an Obama presidency that goes well beyond the enactment of what you even admit are fairly standard liberal policies. Those words imply that something truly bad is going to happen to either the fabric of our society or our democracy under an Obama presidency. And, left unsubstantiated or undeveloped as they have in your posts, this type of language really suggests little more than a calculated attempt to use fear to turn one of Obama's greatest assets -- his ability to create excitement and, as a result, renewed buy-in to the political process -- into a profound negative. As concerning and disappointing as that is to me as someone who respects your political commentary -- I don't spend this much time on everyone's comment threads -- it is understandable in the basic sense that it's pretty clear to most observers that the best chance at a Republican presidency in 09-12 is an Obama-less general.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Seth for putting in the work to counter Ricks Obamaphobia. The Obamanistas do appreciate it.

Never has a skinny big eared black man put such fear into the hearts of the conservative establishment.

Anonymous said...

Rick -

I think your point is quite valid in many different ways. There is a huge void in our country that allows people to easily be fooled into thinking that a person could have some supernatural power. As you know, this was a common problem throughout history.

It's simply that when people don't stand for something they will fall for anything.

Anonymous said...

3rd way race baiting.
Typical liberal crap.
Yes, conservatives are afraid of his big ears and his blackness.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I should know better than to say I won't leave any additional comments.

Based on my reading of Anon's comment above and my re-reading of your concluding paragraph -- in which you say "It threatens to give allegiance to a political candidate and cause a degree of intensity that it is out of order with what candidates and politics can deliver" -- is your concern about Obama not that he will be successful in enacting change, but that he won't be able to deliver on his attempt to bring people back into the political process to counteract special interests and this, in fact, will further disillusion those people by not living up to their hopes and expectations? If so, that's quite different than what you implied in previous posts -- which emphasized, though in an undefined way, that what the excitement would do was in itself threatening -- and still, in my view, doesn't live up to the ominous language you've been using to describe Obama's candidacy.

Anonymous said...

No doubt that Senator Clinton is deathly afraid of the "skinny big eared black man," but I don't know that the conservative establishment is any more afraid of him than the liberal establishment is afraid of an experienced, substantive, true war hero who has actually demonstrated that he can draw support from independent voters (e.g., the Democrat's candidate for vice president just a few years ago).

Anonymous said...

Shorter Shark: "Politics as religion: dangerous. Religion as politics: moral good."

Anonymous said...

We need less shark and more shepherd around here.

Anonymous said...

something wrong with your math. Shark and Shepard would be notated as S+S, or maybe 2S, but not S x S, which you write as S-Squared.

Anonymous said...

Um, okay, Fibonacci.

Anonymous said...

I still cannot understand how anyone can support someone (Obama) that won't say the Pledge of Alligence.

Is this the kind of change his supporters are looking for?

Anonymous said...

Obama ... won't say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Is this the kind cheapjack innuendo his detractors are fabricating?

(Answer: Yes.)

Anonymous said...

The kind of, that is.

Anonymous said...

Whether Senator Obama declines to say the pledge of allegiance is either true or false, but it's not innuendo. I do know that he declines to wear the American flag lapel pin that is a standard part of the politician's uniform.

Anonymous said...

[Obama] declines to wear ... a standard part of the politician's uniform.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

I don't know about you, but many of us don't judge "patriotism" or commitment to constitutional principles by how many flags a politician sews onto her pantsuit.

You ever heard that song, Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore?

True story.

Anonymous said...

McCain Received $100,000 From Firm Of CONVICTED FELON Abramoff Notoriety

February 12, 2008 02:38 PM
On the stump, Sen. John McCain has touted his work tackling the excesses of the lobbying industry to bolster his reputation as a "maverick" reformer.

"Ask Jack Abramoff if I'm an insider in Washington," McCain often contends. "You'd probably have to go during visiting hours in the prison, and he'll tell you and his lobbyist cronies of the change I made there."

But how much change did McCain actually effect? And is he all that removed from Washington's special interests?

A review of campaign finance filings shows that the Arizona Republican has accepted more than $100,000 in donations from employees of Greenberg Traurig, the very firm where Abramoff once reigned.

Those donations include several thousand dollars from registered lobbyists who represent, or have represented, businesses such as NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch's media empire; Spi Spirits, a Cyprus based company that has fought with the Russian government for the rights to the Stolichnaya vodka brand name; El Paso Corp, a major energy company; General Motors; and the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a group of businesses and trade associations "concerned" about the shortage of lesser skilled and unskilled labor.

All told, McCain has received more than $400,000 from lobbying firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And among his major fundraisers ("bundlers") 59 have been identified as lobbyists by the non-profit organization Public Citizen.


From a recent copy of Newsweek magazine, I learned an interesting fact about McCain. When he got shot down over North Vietnam, he had sufficient warning that a SAM was tracking him to jink and avoid the missile.
Instead, in a fit of rage or stupidity or just plain idiotic stubbornness, McCain stayed on course, kept his eye on the target, and got his pretty little airplane blown all to smithereens.
He was shot down, captured, and endured five years in a North Vietnamese prison because he was unwilling to LISTEN TO A SAM WARNING AND TAKE PREVENTIVE ACTION! This is not the kind of person we need as President. This is the kind of 'leader' that would 'lead' the United States right over the brink of disaster.

Author Message
ALIPAC Apprentice 2
ALIPAC Apprentice 2

Anonymous said...

The term, "EMPTY SUIT" came from the KKK and bigots from the south use to call Black Man EMPTY HEADED, or NO BRAINS, NOTHING IN HIS HEAD.

The Clinton's love to use this in regard to Obama, no matter that Bill Clinton was younger than Obama when he ran for President.

Hillary and Bill Clinton are Race Baiting to try and say Obama as a Black Man has no Brains. That is why she is going to lose this election.
Hillary is still a GOLDWATER GRIL at Heart and Bill used Black People to get elected just like the Republicans used Christians to get elected.

Published on on February 15, 2008.

Who was it that defined neurosis as repeating the same mistake again and again, and expecting a better outcome each time? That’s really what the Clinton campaign is doing in its post-Chesapeake primary strategy. Now Hillary defines Obama as the candidate who makes speeches, while she is the one who provides “answers” and “solutions.”

Why is Hillary embracing this new line? It’s not that she has any great record of solutions or answers of which to boast, but rather that she wants to highlight Obama’s lack of a legislative record. Once again, she and her campaign geniuses are making the same mistake they made when they decided to use the experience as their defining difference with Obama. It’s not that she had much, but they sensed an opportunity to highlight that he had even less.

Of course experience not only didn’t work. It backfired massively. By co-opting the experience tag, Hillary bought into the status quo and left Obama to be the agent of change. A candidacy that could have excited tens of millions of women, the first serious prospect of a female president, became merely a boring part of the status quo, shorn of its novelty.

Hillary’s claim to be the solution-person won’t work either for the same simple reason: She hasn’t passed any. If she were McCain, she could tout a long history of legislative success on key issues and herald her ability to pass bills and engineer progress. But she hasn’t done that. She hasn’t walked the walk so now she cannot talk the talk.

As a first lady, Hillary’s sole important legislative involvement came during the first two years of her husband’s presidency when she sought to pass her ill-conceived health care reform, an effort that failed so miserably that it cost her party control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

Between 1995 to 1997, she was largely absent from the White House, traveling the world, promoting her best selling book and helping to raise funds. She never attended strategy meetings and her only intervention in the singular legislative achievements of Bill’s administration — welfare reform and the balanced budget deal — was privately to urge a veto of the former and to oppose the latter because it provided for a cut in the capital gains tax.

Hillary returned to the White House in 1998 to oversee the defense to the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment attempt, but the Clinton administration essentially folded its legislative efforts during those years and hung on for dear life. No portfolio of accomplishments there.

In the Senate, she has largely spent her time raising funds for herself and other Democrats (in hopes of attracting the votes of super delegates) and promoting her best selling memoir Living History. In part because of a lack of attention and also because of the Democrats’ minority status during much of her Senate tenure, she has passed very, very little of note.

Her legislative accomplishments in her first term in the Senate were almost entirely symbolic. She renamed a courthouse after Justice Thurgood Marshall. She passed a resolution honoring Alexander Hamilton and another celebrating the win of a Syracuse University lacrosse team. She renamed post offices, founded a national park in Puerto Rico and expressed the sense of the Senate that Harriet Tubman should have gotten a federal pension 150 years ago.

Her only actual legislation included one bill to increase nurse recruitment, another to aid respite time for Alzheimer’s care givers and another to expand veterans’ health benefits, a paltry output for six years’ service.

In her second term, she has spent full-time campaigning for president and has the worst attendance record of the three senators now still in the presidential race.

So who is she kidding? If she wants to hit Obama with a negative based on his inexperience and limited legislative record, she should go right ahead. But to pretend that she is the “solutions” and “answers” person while he gives speeches is absurd.

Clintons' Terror Pardons

Obama need to read TNR TALKBACK

New York Times N.Y. / Region NEW YORK VOTE RIGGED

Unofficial Tallies in City Understated Obama Vote

Anonymous said...

"it said", in typical liberal fashion makes disrespect for America the Pledge of Allegience and our Flag into positives for his lib candidate.
Being unpatriotic is patriotic to libs.
I suppose Obama "supports" the troops too.

Anonymous said...

BARACK OBAMA is not only intelligent, but he's also genuine and real. America has had the Bushs' and the Clinton's for the last 24 years. Did they have solutions, No. Instead we received a War in Iraq, No change with any proposed Health Care plan, No change with the Economy. Did these past president have experience or solutions, if so, thats the worst king of experience there is. OBAMA has already proven he can bring about change. He's extremely inspirational. He has a love for people, for America and he wants us all to come together and change America. i am more involved now in Politics than I've ever been, this is an example of the effect Barack Obama has on people. The endorsements he's received are from people who knows him and knows his capabilities. Come on America, lets make a change, a real change. Vote for Barack Obama!

Anonymous said...

All speech and NO solutions. This is ridiculous and Hillary should not have to stoop to this level. They're campaigning, speeches are apart of your campaign. Its obvious Barack is a genuine man with a genuine concern and love for people and America. I have a friend who lives in Illinois and witness this mans kindness as well as his fight to improve the lives of those in Illinois. He was on the streets of Chicago physically marching, physically, speaking on behalf of the under represented. This is a man who could have received a job at any Corporate Law firm in America, but instead chosed to walk the streets of Chicago and fight with DC to make change in his State. This same man wants to make changes in America. He see the problems, he's lived through the problems, he understands and want to use his experience with uniting people, fighting for RIGHTS, and making changes, to help ud turn this economy around in ways we have never seen before.


Anonymous said...

Obama has less on his resume than Britney Spears.
Obama is a Castro wannabee or is that a Che Geuvarra wannabee.
He is without merit. His backers are young maliable morons.
He shits candy and peanuts and half of liberals eat them gladly.
Hillary owns the power structure and unions. For now.
Obama is nobody. He has no achievements on record. The usual suspects eat his pablum and thank him as they ask for more.
If Hope and Change are his clarion call, then, why does he defecate on America and tell the masses that they are failures in need of more government??
Silly liberals, tricks are for kids.
He tells them... "friends, you suck, your life sucks, somebody screwed you, and America sucks. I'll save you comrades."
It's getting old quickly.

Anonymous said...

Comrade Djugashvili, your laughably unhinged rants make your namesake seem placid and reasonable by comparison. Quite an accomplishment, I must say.

Anonymous said...

"it said".
FIAT is an Italian brand.
You'd do yourself a comedy service if you could back even a modicum of your laughable screeds.
You are as lacking in substance as Mr.Obama. My advice "it said" mayhaps you could find reality.????
"it said", Madison digs your happy horse-shyte. In your world...saying so, makes it so!!
You're a joke son. No offense.

Anonymous said...

FIAT is an Italian brand.

Let the record reflect that Djugashvili got something right.

:pat head:

It takes a Djugashvillage (except one of them's missing its idiot).

Anonymous said...

"It", I think the vast majority of voters will view the refusal to wear the flag pin as a bad thing, your cute song notwithstanding.

arkansas said...

you are right. barack obama cannot accomplish all the things he is promising. he campaigns like a teenage boy:
say anything
take advantage
dump her
but we will be stuck with him until he messess up enough to be impeached. his cult like following eliminated a lot of competent candidates so he could gain the title of president of the united states and get more book material.
his young followers watch too many shows like american idol. they think he is good looking. they believe all the promises without asking questions. i remember one of obamas speeches and the blond lady behind his left shoulder losing her dignity. commentators thought every candidate should have such enthusiastic fans. well i think michelle should have gone over there and whomped on her. i guess if we are dumb enough to elect him, we deserve it. a lesson for the future when we will know to go back to the old ways to survive.

Anonymous said...

To Arkansas: Are you a complete idiot?????? Care to take a look at all the promises Dubya made seven years ago and has YET to make good on any of them? Oh my favorite--I'm a uniter, not a divider! Any impeachment that comes should be at Dubya and Dark Cheney! Get over it baby, you're about to lose the White House!