Obama: Everything Change is Same Again

This is a painful post to write.  Contrary to his campaign slogan, Barack Obama does not represent change we can believe in.  He represents change we want to believe in.

I don’t think his campaign realizes the enormity of his promise to change politics, and the powerful emotions it has evoked in his supporters.  If they do, then I resent them for banking on it as they set their sights on the failed course of running to the middle:

the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake. Tacking to the center is a losing strategy. And don’t let the latest head-to-head poll numbers lull you the way they lulled Hillary Clinton in December.

Running to the middle in an attempt to attract undecided swing voters didn’t work for Al Gore in 2000. It didn’t work for John Kerry in 2004. And it didn’t work when Mark Penn (obsessed with his “microtrends” and missing the megatrend) convinced Hillary Clinton to do it in 2008.

Fixating on — and pandering to — this fickle crowd is all about messaging tailored to avoid offending rather than to inspire and galvanize.

But Barack isn’t pandering to the center.  He’s pandering past the center.  As evidenced by his nuanced position on abortion to the list of broken promises detailed in a must read editorial by the New York Times:

The Barack Obama of the primary season used to brag that he would stand before interest groups and tell them tough truths. The new Mr. Obama tells evangelical Christians that he wants to expand President Bush’s policy of funneling public money for social spending to religious-based organizations — a policy that violates the separation of church and state and turns a government function into a charitable donation.

He’s aiming past the center at the religious right. He’s aiming into a paranoid fantasy land with his other position changes:

The new Barack Obama has abandoned his vow to filibuster an electronic wiretapping bill if it includes an immunity clause for telecommunications companies that amounts to a sanctioned cover-up of Mr. Bush’s unlawful eavesdropping after 9/11.

In January, when he was battling for Super Tuesday votes, Mr. Obama said that the 1978 law requiring warrants for wiretapping, and the special court it created, worked. “We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend,” he declared.

Now, he supports the immunity clause as part of what he calls a compromise but actually is a classic, cynical Washington deal that erodes the power of the special court, virtually eliminates “vigorous oversight” and allows more warrantless eavesdropping than ever.

Standing up for our rights was a centerpiece of his campaign.  It still is if you don’t count privacy.

From the nytimes editorial (emphasis mine):

We are not shocked when a candidate moves to the center for the general election. But Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.

There are still vital differences between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain on issues like the war in Iraq, taxes, health care and Supreme Court nominations. We don’t want any “redefining” on these big questions. This country needs change it can believe in.

And so we are caught in a crude but effective trap.  Whereas Obama let’s us down, McCain would go so far as to engender and further the same boiling rage Bush provoked.

If anyone from the Obama campaign is listening, damn him for doing so much to lose my trust, knowing full well he will not lose my vote.

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11 Responses

  1. Ok, on behalf of all those for whom this election is about more than politics, I just want to take this moment to ask that we focus our negative attentions on the McCain camp and the RNC. I know your intentions are good, and I don’t disagree with most of what you’re saying. However given the importance of this election, I really think that instead of tearing our own candidate down we should be attacking the very flawed policies of John McCain.

    As an aside, Obama’s career began as a community organizer in Chicago where he worked extensively with churches. I would like to believe that his cozying up with faith based programs comes from his belief that they can act as agents of social networking and social change. I don’t personally agree, but to suggest that it’s a shift to center may be an exaggeration.

  2. So no matter where Obama is lying or not, vote for him cause he’s black? I don’t think so!
    http://goodtimepolitics.com/2008/07/05/obama-puzzled/

  3. This post brought up a disturbing thought to me. You talk about pandering to the religious right as though it’s something wrong. Most liberals do. But even if we don’t particularly agree with them, don’t they live in this country too? Isn’t Obama going to represent them just as well as us if he is elected? One thing the man is consistent on is that he will work for the people. Doesn’t that include all the people?

    So if we take recent actions from a standpoint of him actually trying to build a platform that addresses the interests of a wide range of people, doesn’t it make sense?

    Anyway, the disturbing thought I had was that this type of thing seems to point to a scenario where it’s not possible to have a government that looks out for the people as a whole, because we’ve split into such disparate groups. You can’t please everyone. You may not even be able to please the majority. Doesn’t that kind of mean we’re screwed?

  4. Actually, goodtime, if you read my response as well as the rest of the commentary on this topic you’ll find that you are the only person mentioning race as a reason to vote for Obama. You should examine your own opinions and try to figure out why you immediately jump to that conclusion.
    If you take the time to listen to what Obama says you’ll find that he has consistently argued that the only way for us to move forward as a country is to find the values that we share and use them as a basis to move forward. Which is why (and I know that there are many who will disagree with me on this) his moves toward the center don’t bother me. I actually see them as being consistent with his desire to move beyond partisan divisions and lead this country forward.

  5. I was a John Edwards supporter from the get-go. And I mourned when Edwards suspended his campaign. I thought the Democrats had lost their true “change” candidate.

    I still think that.

    Two things have long bothered me about Obama’s primary campaign.

    One is the disconnect between Obama’s actual positions and what Obama’s supporters believe them to be. Obama was always a centrist in his Senate voting record; Hillary Clinton was to Obama’s left. Tacking to the center doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, as it’s the “real” Obama coming to the surface. One commentator called Obama’s campaign “deceptively dishonest” several months ago, and I can’t disagree that assessment. (Even if it was a Hillary partisan making the argument — I think it was Saul Wilenz — to prop up her campaign during April and May.)

    The other is the sense that Obama wasn’t playing to win, he was playing not to lose. Obama came out of Super Tuesday and the Potomac Primaries with a very large pledged delegate lead, and he never lost that lead, even though the primary campaign went on another four months. But his campaign, essentially, limped across the finish line. It started out strong, lost ground, but never had a blow-out victory. Obama, essentially, never closed the deal. Time closed out the deal for him. He won by not losing.

    I find the latter worrisome. I’m not sure that he can get to a general election victory by the same strategy. I’m afraid the general election will be, despite the vast disparities in resources between the two campaigns, far closer than it has any right to be. Obama’s path to victory will be rocky.

    I want to think that I’m wrong. I so hope that I’m wrong.

    I have the terrible fear, however, than I’m not. :/

  6. If you’re going to mention his funding proposal for religious institutions, you should mention that he has proposed to do so while restricting them from hiring based on faith and from proselytizing. Which, if you believe the evangelicals he’s supposedly catering to, would act as a Trojan horse against those institutions:

    “But evangelical leaders said not allowing religious groups to hire based on their beliefs would strip them of the very basis for religion-based programs.

    “If you can’t hire people within your faith community, then you’ve lost the distinctive that is the reason why faith-based programs exist in the first place,” said Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

    And, if you’re going to mention his turns to the center, you should probably mention how he’s kept from it as well (opposing the California referendum to outlaw gay marriage, ditching the DLC conference, etc). Then again, that would trouble the narrative of Obama’s run to the center, a strange Frankenstein attractive for different reasons to both the McCain campaign and the Left. (ignoring for the moment that the center is basically where Obama always was in the first place, especially if you look at American politics from the eagle’s perch comparing the US to, say, Canada or Europe).

    And, if you’re going to mention his Abortion stance, you might want to say something about NARAL saying it’s consistent with Roe, or even why this move is indefensible. Is it a bad position? A good one? Just taking it isn’t enough.

    The only thing that is seriously troubling is FISA. Is and will be.

    I am reminded of a passage from Judith Shklar from her book Ordinary Vices, although I’m still uncertain how much it is relevant, beyond the superficial:

    “In effect, representative government is a fine balance between trust and distrust. The trouble is that feeling betrayed in politics does not, any more than in personal life, correspond to acts of betrayal, much less prove the existence of conspiracies to betray. As change is itself quite sufficient to create the sensation of betrayal in marriage, so also in politics. Altered arrangements and distributions of power and prestige are perceived as betrayals by those whom they affect adversely. The consequences of perceiving betrayal, however, may be–especially after wars–disproportionate, disturbing, unjust to individuals, and dangerous to public liberties.” (185)

  7. If you’re going to mention his funding proposal for religious institutions, you should mention that he has proposed to do so while restricting them from hiring based on faith and from proselytizing. Which, if you believe the evangelicals he’s supposedly catering to, would act as a Trojan horse against those institutions:

    “But evangelical leaders said not allowing religious groups to hire based on their beliefs would strip them of the very basis for religion-based programs.

    “If you can’t hire people within your faith community, then you’ve lost the distinctive that is the reason why faith-based programs exist in the first place,” said Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

    And, if you’re going to mention his turns to the center, you should probably mention how he’s kept from it as well (opposing the California referendum to outlaw gay marriage, ditching the DLC conference, etc). Then again, that would trouble the narrative of Obama’s run to the center, a strange Frankenstein attractive for different reasons to both the McCain campaign and the Left. (ignoring for the moment that the center is basically where Obama always was in the first place, especially if you look at American politics from the eagle’s perch comparing the US to, say, Canada or Europe).

    The only thing that is seriously troubling is FISA. Is and will be.

    I am reminded of a passage from Judith Shklar from her book Ordinary Vices, although I’m still uncertain how much it is relevant, beyond the superficial:

    “In effect, representative government is a fine balance between trust and distrust. The trouble is that feeling betrayed in politics does not, any more than in personal life, correspond to acts of betrayal, much less prove the existence of conspiracies to betray. As change is itself quite sufficient to create the sensation of betrayal in marriage, so also in politics. Altered arrangements and distributions of power and prestige are perceived as betrayals by those whom they affect adversely. The consequences of perceiving betrayal, however, may be–especially after wars–disproportionate, disturbing, unjust to individuals, and dangerous to public liberties.” (185)

  8. I agree with kate. But I want to add, that Im an independent thats voting for Obama.
    Time and Time again the dems mess up their chances to actually get a president in the white house because they attack their own candidate during the election. Can’t you do that after the election and hold him accountable then. Also why aren’t you going after McCain who holds a more dangerous view on these topics. Also theres nothing wrong with a democrat going to the center or going for the religious right. Candidates always move to the center after the primary season its nothing new.
    Also Obama is a different kind of change candidate because no other democrat is reaching out to the religious right, which is on of the most important constituency that the republicans have, so why not court those voters, they already don’t like McCain. Just because we don’t agree with them doesn’t mean Obama should not court these voters. They are just as important as any other constituency.

  9. Kate,
    Thanks for speaking on their behalf.
    I still support Obama, and will continue to write pieces that reflect that.
    And I still absolutely oppose McCain, and will continue to tear him apart.

    But when Obama makes a move that I disagree with on a fundamental level, I will absolutely call him on it. To do otherwise would be dishonest of me.

    Working with Churches is awesome, and they definitely can be agents of social change, as they were during the civil rights movement. That said, blurring the line between church and state by expanding federal funding of faith based programs is a line I’d prefer Obama not cross. To be certain McCain, given his cozying up to radical right wing churches and dominionist organizations, makes Obama’s misstep look inconsequential.

    It is important, I think, to be sure to call it out now, especially since it is also a matter of proper strategy. A move to the center at this stage in the campaign is not a reflection of political reality, it is a reflection of the percieved and established manner of doing things. That is precisely why I hope to add my voice critically in the hopes of steering Obama on a surer path to victory.

    goodtimepolitics,
    Who is voting for him based on race? Kate’s comment raises a sharp point, perhaps you should look at your own motivations and judgements of people more carefully.

    Marco,
    This gets into the problem of whether one can represent everyone on a given issue when the public is split. Sometimes compromise isn’t a logical option. In that sense, yes we can be screwed.

    Kate,
    Well said.
    I think Obama uses the language of the center. He does say that, and consistently. However his policy positions have always told of a commitment to certain bedrock values. We do need to move forward on shared values, but that should never come at the cost of compromising one’s principles or one’s platform.

    allyngibson,
    Very much the same. I think its the “backbone” part of that campaign I miss the most.

    I disagree that Hillary was to Obama’s left. Not on a number of key election issues. I was impressed from the start with Obama’s democratic campaign. Where I saw Hillary pander, I saw Barack listen. Which is why I wrote this. In the hopes he listens and strengthens his campaign. I want him to win.

    He’s playing a sharp game, and I intend to help make sure it wins.

    sensico,
    I do go after McCain. One “Obama you screwed up please listen and fix it” post doesn’t equate to ignoring the frightened old panderer from Arizona. The religious right can be courted without being pandered to. Obama’s emphasis on ethics is the surest way to do that. He’ll never get the anti-choice crowd simply because he doesn’t support a full ban on abortion, and his judicial picks will never be as desirable to religious conservatives as McCain’s would. The only religious right folks he can get are the ones who don’t vote based on homophobia or the restriction of reproductive rights. That doesn’t sound like a large crowd.

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