Barack Obama's War
On Of Triangulation
In the past months, I've been comparing the voting records and policy positions of Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Edwards (and sometimes also Sen. Dodd and Sen. Biden) in a series of posts on a variety of public policy issues that are important to corporatist interests, the Bankruptcy Bill, Bush's controversial judicial and AG nominations, campaign contributions from PACs/"special interests" (here, here and here), Iraq (here, here and here) and Iran (here, here and here). This brings me to another important topic - which I've only written about sporadically (mostly in the context of Senator John Edwards) - that I believe is now both timely and critical to talk about, particularly in the context of Sen. Obama.
You see, Sen. Obama's campaign has been very critical of Sen. Clinton for being a Triangulator.TM Here's a recent comment from his campaign (emphasis mine throughout this post, unless otherwise stated):
Barack Obama said Monday the nation has had enough of ''triangulation and poll-driven politics,'' a reference to the presidency of Bill Clinton, the husband of his chief Democratic rival. Addressing a convention center rally dominated by students, Obama said that he had spoken out against going to war in Iraq in 2002, even as advisers told him it would be a mistake to challenge a popular president, George W. Bush. Then an Illinois state lawmaker, Obama said he did so because he did not want to ''enter the United States Senate already having compromised on core principles.''
''We've had enough of ... triangulation and poll-driven politics,'' he said. ''That's not what we need right now.'
Well, maybe Sen. Clinton is a triangulator or maybe she isn't. What is clear to me, though, is that since Sen. Obama has made this one of his key lines of criticism, it raises the obvious question:
If Sen. Clinton is a triangulator, what is Sen. Obama exactly?
In this post, I will focus on Sen. Obama's past positions and statements that, to me, are pretty revealing of what he really believes and how he stacks up on the topic of triangulation against the Eeeevil Calculating TriangulatorTM Sen. Hillary Clinton. The data shines a bright light on the real "elephant in the room": there is the usual, huge Clinton Double Standard at work when it comes to portrayals of Sen. Clinton as a triangulator in comparison to the almost saintly portrayals of Sen. Obama. (Please refer to the Conclusions section for a synopsis of my findings).
For clarity, I've divided this post into the following segments:
1. No Compromises Before Getting Elected
In the short extract I cited at the beginning of this post, Sen. Obama cited his own good judgment in opposing a war against Iraq in October 2002 and said that he did so because he did not want to "'enter the United States Senate already having compromised on core principles" (almost sounds like he expected he would have to compromise on his core principles once he came to the Senate!). What is most fascinating about this comment is how it is a convenient rewriting of history. Sen. Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004. Not long before he became a Senator he had this to say (h/t Alegre at MyDD):
MR. RUSSERT: You were not in the Senate in October of 2002. You did give a speech opposing the war. But Senator Clinton's campaign will say since you've been a senator there's been no difference in your record. And other critics will say that you've not been a leader against the war, and they point to this: In July of `04, Barack Obama, "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know," in terms of how you would have voted on the war. And then this: "There's not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush's position at this stage." That was July of `04. And this: "I think" there's "some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war." It doesn't seem that you are firmly wedded against the war, and that you left some wiggle room that, if you had been in the Senate, you may have voted for it.
SEN. OBAMA: Now, Tim, that first quote was made with an interview with a guy named Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS during the convention when we had a nominee for the presidency and a vice president, both of whom had voted for the war. And so it, it probably was the wrong time for me to be making a strong case against our party's nominees' decisions when it came to Iraq.
Before you rush to point out that Russert misleadingly cropped Obama's full statement, let me point you to the end of this comment thread (of this post) for a discussion on that very point. Obama did say that the case for going to war was not made from his "vantage point" of a person who was not in the U.S. Senate at that time (Oct 2002), but at least on this one occasion he professed to not know for sure how he would have voted if he had been in the Senate in Oct 2002. So, in 2004, prior to his becoming a U.S. Senator, when he still had apparently had all his principles 'intact' and was apparently not a triangulator driven by poll-tested politics, he said he kinda kept quiet about his real opposition to the ongoing war because it would not help the Democratic party in the polls (incidentally, this was no aberration, as we shall see in other parts of this post). To me, that's a form of "poll-tested triangulation", but according to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, this is not triangulation.
Once in the U.S. Senate, how did anti-Iraq-war U.S. Senator Barack Obama, who has apparently always been committed to *not* being a triangulator who relies on poll-tested politics, vote in the U.S. Senate in comparison to The TriangulatorTM? As I've noted before:
[Sen. Obama's] voting record on Iraq once he entered the Senate was virtually identical to the voting record of Senator Clinton. As Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld noted at TPM Election Central:
So here it is: A massive compilation of Iraq-related bills -- and the votes by Hillary and Obama on them, side by side -- beginning in early 2005, when Obama first joined the Senate.
Of the total of 69 votes we compiled -- some significant, some not -- it turns out that the two differed on only one.
As you can see, Clinton and Obama have voted the opposite way on only one vote on our list: The confirmation of General George Casey to be Chief of Staff for the Army, held just this past February. Hillary voted against confirmation, while Obama voted to confirm.
So, while this doesn't take any credit away from Sen. Obama for his original anti-war position, it does raise the obvious question of what exactly he did in Congress differently that distinguished him on Iraq from Sen. Clinton, whom he claims to be "fundamentally different" from on this issue. As a corollary to this, his go-forward vision on Iraq is also not dramatically different from Sen. Clinton's, as Taylor Mar[s]h has observed. The differences are mostly in nuance, not substance.
I'm not sure what it means when one is against the Iraq war on principle but votes just like someone believed to not be against the war, especially during a time period when the President who took the country to war had a lower approval rating in the polls (2004-2007) than when Sen. Obama originally opposed the war (Oct 2002). All I can say is that if this is not triangulation then I don't know what is, but then again I am sure that the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook might feature a different conclusion.
As Taylor Marsh pointed out yesterday:
But Mr. Obama has never had any trouble going to the right to attack his own. There was the "Bush-Cheney lite" slam against Clinton. Now you don't have to like Hillary Clinton to understand you don't ever use right-wing talking points to attack a fellow Democrat. There was Mr. Obama ducking out on being counted on the MoveOn.org ad. But who can forget his ducking the Kyl-Lieberman vote? His campaign didn't even release a statement on it until late at night; then at the next debate when John Edwards went on the attack against Clinton on the vote, Obama stood absolutely mute. He didn't even bring it up until much later, when it was politically popular to attack on it. Never mind that he supported a similar piece of legislation earlier in the year.
As I pointed out here:
(a) Sen. Obama co-sponsored a Bill in early 2007 that supported the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, just like the Kyl-Lieberman "Sense of the Senate" resolution (which is much weaker than a Bill) did. Moreover, as Jeff observed here at TLC, if Kyl-Lieberman was such a defining vote that gave Bush a "blank check" to go to war against Iran (it did not), it is disappointing that Sen. Obama did not even show up in the Senate to vote on the resolution even though he said he opposed it and had sufficient notice to show up to vote.
In response, a commenter argued that the Obama campaign was not given enough notice. I responded as follows:
1. On KLA, Taylor Marsh and the "two unnamed" Democratic senators aides are wrong: check the congressional record. Reid tabled for the foreesable future on Sept. 25. On September 26th, it was brought to the floor during the afternoon session as part of a UC Agreement between Biden and Kyle-Lieberman. This was announced at 12:14. The vote on the Biden Amendment occured at 12:16. The vote on KLA occured at 12:44 (the times of the votes can be confirmed at Roll Call).
Your timeline, even if correct, does not in any way prove that the campaigning Senators were not alerted the previous night that the Bill would be brought up to a vote the next afternoon. I have a hard time believing that every other campaigning Senator, who considered it less of an earth-shattering vote than Sen. Obama did, made it a point to know when it was coming up for vote and attended the vote while Sen. Obama who considered it a radical "blank check" couldn't do the same.
Again, if there is something called triangulation, this is it: claim that you are against something after a vote has gone through but not show up to vote and make it clear exactly where you stood at the time of the vote - and worse, give interviews later (see #III in this post) that also suggest you might be thought of as supportive of the key provisions in the vote. This seems to have been a bit of a trend in some aspects of Sen. Obama's political career, as I discuss further in this post - i.e., a refusal to take a bold stand one way or the other and repeated use of calculated triangulation to preserve one's options for the future. In other words, he appears to be one of those people who are sometimes called Politicians.TM
4. MoveOn.Org and Petraeus
Let's recall Garance Franke-Ruta's post in the American Prospect earlier this year (emphasis mine):
A third example: Just a few weeks ago, Obama managed to be absent from the floor of the Senate when it came time to vote on a controversial resolution to condemn MoveOn's advertisement about Gen. Petraeus. Clinton and Dodd voted against the measure; Obama issued a statement condemning the entire exercise as distracting theatrics.
All told, these episodes have started to make me wonder if maybe Obama would have somehow managed to be absent from the Senate the day of the 2002 vote on authorizing the use of force in Iraq, as well. It is a harsh thing to suggest, but his own campaign is now arguing that "we're seeing history repeat itself" when it comes to the power of a vote he decided to skip, and his track record on missing controversial votes is increasingly disturbing...
Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake also noted that:
Obama wanted to take credit for opposing the bellicose Kyl-Lieberman bill -- a vote he ducked. He then said he ducked the MoveOn vote because it was political theatrics -- even though he showed up and voted "yea" on the politically theatrical Barbara Boxer bill that very morning.
Per the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, no triangulation to see here. Let's MoveOn to the next topic.
When it came to issues pitting pro-choice progressives against the anti-abortion crowd, Sen. Obama did something very similar to what he did with Kyl-Lieberman and the MoveOn vote and his "friend" narrated the exact same excuse that Obama used to explain away his changed position on the Iraq war shortly prior to getting elected in the Senate.
Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake (emphasis in original, unless otherwise stated):
Note to Obama: Either You're Pro-Choice or You're Not
Obama wanted to take credit for opposing the bellicose Kyl-Lieberman bill -- a vote he ducked. He then said he ducked the MoveOn vote because it was political theatrics -- even though he showed up and voted "yea" on the politically theatrical Barbara Boxer bill that very morning. Now he wants us to think he's pro-choice because he ducked yet again and voted "present" on important abortion legislation, ostensibly to "give cover" to Democrats in vulnerable districts who couldn't afford to vote "yea" themselves.
Oh please. Would this pass muster if Obama had voted "present" on important civil rights legislation to give cover to Democrats who lived in districts with lots of bigots? Somehow I don't think so. [Eriposte emphasis]
Obama's rationale for voting 'present', lacking plausibility, is probably more simple:
Obama's friend Link offered another reason for the strategy: to protect those with plans for higher office [Eriposte emphasis]. A "present" vote helped "if you have aspirations of doing something else in politics," Link said, "and I think [Obama] looked at it in that regard."
It's single-issue politics and not particularly helpful to a big tent strategy, but among democratic primary & caucus voters, particularly women, it seems like a pretty big opening for groups like NOW and Emily's List to go after Obama.
I seriously doubt it. Illinois Planned Parenthood is standing behind this stupid "present" strategy like it was some kind of brilliant tactical move. But then again, Planned Parenthood national told their membership to thank Joe Lieberman for his Alito vote. This smells a lot like NARAL endorsing the "fetal pain" torpedo that right-to-lifers were trying to launch into the abortion debate in order to give cover to Democrats who didn't want to take a side on a potentially divisive vote. It's a chickenshit move to give cover to people who don't want to take a stand, and the fact that pro-choice organizations engage in this kind of ass-covering rather than defending the rights they're given big money by their membership to uphold is largely why people think their opinion on these things is worth squat these days. [Eriposte emphasis]
The institutional pro-choice groups may line up based on who is supporting who, but I don't expect any courageous stands on principle here.
It ain't the moral trump card it used to be.
Let's also recall this comment by Garance Franke-Ruta in the American Prospect earlier this year (emphasis in original, except where stated):
Indeed, Obama's track record on controversial votes is something I've been thinking a lot about over the past few days, ever since he appeared to call for new regulations on abortion in response to a question from an anti-choice listener in Iowa on Saturday. According The New York Times Obama said:
there is a large agreement, for example, that late-term abortions are really problematic and there should be a regulation.
As there is no such movement toward a new late-term abortion regulation among any pro-choice group I am aware of, I asked Obama spokesman Bill Burton for elaboration on this over the weekend. He said:
Obama did not suggest that new regulations were needed or appropriate. He simply stated the fact that there is agreement that late-term abortions should be limited to the rare instances where the life or health of a woman is at stake. And he has consistently made clear that abortion regulations, such as the Federal Abortion Ban, that lack exceptions for the life and health of women are unconstitutional and endanger women's health.
Both those statement suggest some comfort with banning second-term abortions, however, as most states already ban early third-trimester ones, as Roe permits them to do. And Obama is correct in that there is very little public support for keeping second-term abortions legal. Still, it would have been easier to interpret Obama's statement if he had a clear voting record on this topic. Instead, Obama managed to absent his opinion from the Illinois legislature twice during votes on a partial-birth ban in Illinois -- voting present rather than yes or no -- muddying the actual record about his beliefs. Clinton in 2000 said that she would be open to a ban on late-term abortions, as well, but when push came to shove in the U.S. Senate, she voted against the partial-birth abortion ban which Bush signed into law in 2003 and which the Supreme Court upheld earlier this year. So her record is clear. [Eriposte emphasis]
In other words, Sen. Obama said he was in favor of legislation against late-term abortions and when he had an opportunity to make it clear what his position was on the so-called "partial-birth abortion" he avoided revealing his true position by voting "Present", unlike Sen. Clinton who clearly voted no, allegedly due to the political concerns of his friends and colleagues. That's quite a record against poll-tested triangulation.
Sen. Obama has stated he will fight for gays, but it is not easy to forget who he invited to a campaign event to give a speech in order to shore up his Primary vote in South Carolina: a virulently anti-gay bigot who had previously agreed to perform for a Republican National Committee event. Taylor Marsh:
The disgusting views of [Donnie] McClurkin are only a small part of this issue for me. Having Barack Obama invite him in on a South Carolina tour is the same as embracing McClurkin's dangerously bigoted view of homosexuality, all based on the fact that he was molested as a child and now -- praise the Lord! -- is "cured." Right. But that the most visible black leader today is embracing McClurkin in order to win a state is not only disgusting but dangerous.
Barack Obama's cozying up to McClurkin in South Carolina is as craven as politics gets. There is nothing "Christian" about McClurkin's views of gays or Mr. Obama's willingness to be associated with McClurkin. These types of "religious" people are why individuals like me, a wayward Christian because so much bigotry abounds, have been driven to practicing faith and spirituality in different ways beyond the traditional. I'll meditate for these men tomorrow morning, both of whom are most certainly lost.
The Obama campaign's initial press release announcing the event was sort of priceless:
All three of the dates of the “Embrace the Change” tour are in South Carolina, where Mr. Obama is locked in battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for black voters.
Gospel acts including Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin and Hezekiah Walker, Byron Cage and the Mighty Clouds of Joy are scheduled to appear.
“This is another example of how Barack Obama is defying conventional wisdom about how politics is done and giving new meaning to meeting people at the grassroots level,” Joshua DuBois, the campaign’s religious affairs director, said in a release. “This concert tour is going to bring new people into the political process and engage people of faith in an unprecedented way.”
Sen. Obama, naturally, later distanced himself from the views of McClurkin, but let's not forget. According to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, this was not triangulation at all.
7. Faith and Religion
Let's start this section with an extract from Chris Bowers' post at MyDD back in 2006:
One of the reasons there is so much angst over what Obama said about Democrats and religion today is that, in Peter Daou's formulation, Obama's comments lend tri-partisan support (Democrats, Republicans and the media) to a narrative that Democrats are hostile toward people of faith. This tri-partisan support will result in a "closing of the triangle" against Democrats where it become conventional wisdom that Democrats are hostile to people of faith. This has been how the DLC has managed to reify ever anti-Democratic narrative it likes within the national discourse. So thanks Senator Obama, for reifying this Republican-driven talking point about Democrats. Now almost everyone will think that Democrats are hostile to people of faith. Well done. Your mentor, Joe Lieberman, would be proud.
This is how the "all powerful conservative base" narrative after the 2004 election was not a success for Democrats. Whatever impact it had on making Republicans seem extreme (which I am sure has helped to drop their support among Independents below 30%), when this narrative is reified by Democrats it helps create a permanent conservative governing structure in America no matter which party is in charge. All of the recent media about the rise of the progressive movement, specifically in relation to the Connecticut Senate primary and the netroots, had gone a long way toward convincing Democrats and the media that in order to govern, it is necessary to pay attention to progressives. This is the sort of narrative that will help produce progressive legislation. However, when Democrats start wallowing in post-2004 Republican talking points like Obama did today, we wipe all of that good work away. We will never get progressive legislation in this country unless politicians think they have to be responsive to the progressive movement.
Here's Chris later in 2006:
We're now in a packed room at Eastern Illinois University. A woman stands up and tosses Obama what I assume she thinks is a bit of red meat. What, she asks, does the senator think of the pervasiveness of religion in public discourse these days? Obama doesn't take the bait.
"No one would say that Dr. King should leave his moral vision at the door before getting involved in public-policy debate," he answers. "He says, `All God's children.' `Black man and white man, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic.' He was speaking religiously. So we have to remember that not every mention of God is automatically threatening a theocracy.
Who ever said that any mention of God is automatically threatening a theocracy? Did the woman who asked the question say that? If not, then why did he respond that way? Even if she did say that, why is what one woman in a crowd at Eastern Illinois University the equivalent spokesperson for the left as, I don't know, Sam Brownback is for the right? Where is the equivalence in making everyone on the left accountable for every statement of every random person who shows up to any event or a protest and, say, the right being only accountable for what Dick Cheney says?
I find these left wing strawmen disturbing on a very personal level. Whenever a right-wing pundit or politician uses those exact same strawmen, I feel as though I am personally being attacked. This isn't paranoia--right-wing politicians probably are referring to me when they make statements like that, since their intention is often to slander any American who would refer to herself or himself as a progressive or a liberal. The problem is that when Democrats who seek to capture the "middle ground" use the exact same strawmen, I have a hard time believing they are not referring to me. What's worse, is that when it comes to someone like Barack Obama, for who I worked and tried to get elected, I am not really sure what I did to deserve being talked to that way.
This man has potential for all-time, worldwide greatness for the first half of the 21st century. However, if he insists on continuing to use left-wing strawmen to describe himself and what he believes then, to use his own words, he will just become another "DLC-type commentator" more worried about being "tagged as a liberal" then about doing what "people need."
Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left, also in Dec 2006 (emphasis in original, except otherwise stated):
...On June 28, 2006, Barack Obama said some things that are harmful to Democrats and liberals and quite frankly, were contradictory and make little sense. It was an exercise intriangulation and predictably, the only thing reported about it was Obama's criticism of Democrats [Eriposte emphasis]. Let's review part of the speech that day:
. . . Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, his arguments not worth entertaining. What they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take him seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion - he claimed knowledge of certain truths.
Perhaps so, but does Obama deny that Keyes is an extremist? If so, why so? Keyes is undoubtedly an extremist and Keyes was his political opponent. Did Obama fear telling voters the truth about Keyes? Did he fear damaging his image?
...This of course is a red herring and Obama well knows it - the biggest political divide is between black and white voters. Why no discussion of that?
Conservative leaders, from Falwell and Robertson to Karl Rove and Ralph Reed, have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.
I assume this was an unfortunate turn of phrase by Obama as it is false that Democrats disrespect the values of evangelical Christians. [Eriposte emphasis]
Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.
These are utterly false R[i]ght Wing strawmen as described by Chris Bowers [link]. It was very wrong of Obama to embrace these falsehoods.[Eriposte emphasis]
We first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people believe in angels than do those who believe in evolution. This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.
Who does not understand this? What is Obama doing here? Is he spreading more falsehoods about Democrats? [Eriposte emphasis]
This is why, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.
Obama is more than welcome to fully embrace whatever he likes but he needs to stop accepting falsehoods about Democrats in the process. [Eriposte emphasis]
Expanding on what Big Tent Democrat said, this was the worst kind of triangulation from Sen. Obama, much worse than anything I've seen or heard from Sen. Clinton or Sen. Edwards. However, let's be clear! According to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook [eds. Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Andrew Sullivan, Robert Reich, Barack Obama, John Edwards, et al.] this is not triangulation, because Sen. Clinton wasn't the one who did it.
8. War, Corporations, Supreme Court
In 2005, Sen. Obama wrote extensively about his beliefs on a number of topics in a diary at Daily Kos. In this diary he basically chided the progressive community at Daily Kos for criticizing Senators who voted to confirm Far Right extremist John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Having read extensively about his statements, voting record and having observed his campaign tactics closely, this diary is an epitome for how I believe Sen. Obama views the progressive community - through the eyes of right-wing straw-men. Let me cite an extract (emphasis mine):
According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.
I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.
It's this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts' confirmation hearings. A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don't think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession. Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence, a judge appointed by a conservative president who could have done much worse (and probably, I fear, may do worse with the next nominee). While they hope Roberts doesn't swing the court too sharply to the right, a majority of Americans think that the President should probably get the benefit of the doubt on a clearly qualified nominee.
A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt. That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.
I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning. But short of mounting an all-out filibuster -- a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations -- blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.
In such circumstances, attacks on Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and the other Democrats who, after careful consideration, voted for Roberts make no sense.
Based on the polls I've seen [and that I will pretend to not see when I run for President], most Americans don't think that America is imperialist or that corporations are evil or that John Roberts is a bad ideologue. The polls don't support a filibuster of Roberts and my colleagues may not win elections if they do, so I consider a filibuster of Roberts quixotic.
Needless to say, Sen. Obama's blatantly inaccurate portrayal of those on the left who opposed Roberts as being equivalent to those who believe America is imperialist and that all corporations are evil was a completely false equivalence - the kind of right-wing framing and triangulation that Joe Lieberman would have been very proud of (more on that topic later in this post). He also mixed in, for good effect, how it was important to keep public opinion (polls, anyone?) in mind while indulging in such triangulation. No wonder his campaign is now against poll-tested triangulation!
9. Social Security
Sen. Obama decided to pick one of the topics on which progressives successfully beat back the Republicans in 2005 - one that helped reduce Bush's approval rating as well - to mount his initial false attack on Sen. Clinton's character. Suffice it to say that when confronted with the fact that he was unfortunately promoting the destructive and false right-wing frame that social security is facing a crisis (or severe problems) - contrary to what he said in his own book last year - and with the fact that his rhetoric was helping the enemies of reform (as Paul Krugman noted, right-wing talk radio started saying "even Obama" believes social security is going bust), Sen. Obama's response was:
I know that people, including you, are very sensitive to the concern that we repeat anything that sounds like George Bush. But I have been very clear in fighting privatization. I have been adamant about the fact that I am opposed to it. What I believe is that it is a long-term problem that we should deal with now. And the sooner the deal with it then the better off it's going to be.
So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake. This is part of what I meant when I said we're constantly reacting to the other side instead of setting our own terms for the debate, but also making sure we are honest and straight forward about the issues that we're concerned about.
In other words, if Sen. Clinton - who was not in favor of a war with Iran and had introduced legislation to prevent Bush from invading Iran without Congressional approval - misguidedly voted for Kyl-Lieberman, a non-binding resolution - she was one of the worst enablers of Bush because this allegedly supported Bush's attempt to invade Iran. However, if Obama promoted the social security crisis rhetoric that Bush used to push for privatization, Obama was in no way an enabler of Bush because, um, he didn't believe in privatization. See, it's all so clear!
As I show elsewhere in this post, Sen. Obama's statements on social security are a continuation of a very consistent theme over the years: His tendency to adopt and repeat negative right-wing framing against progressives or to dismiss progressive positions, and when criticized, declare that his critics just don't understand that he really is progressive and that we can't cling to the [strawman] orthodoxy that we apparently cling to.
This is even worse than triangulation in my book but I can only imagine the nuclear explosion in the blogosphere if Sen. Clinton took this kind of a position overtly. Which tells you a lot about the situation Sen. Clinton faces today.
Something's really gone off the rails when the Obama campaign decides to release an oppo document on Paul Krugman. It's not only the actual attacks that are weak (most of them rely on misinterpreting one comment, then misinterpreting the next, then pretending there's a contradiction), but, seriously, it's Paul Krugman. Arguably the most progressive voice in American media. When I argued that the campaign should take the gloves off, I really didn't expect their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism. [Eriposte emphasis] What in hell is going on over there?
Update: To say a bit more on this, the campaign's attack on Krugman raises the question they don't want to answer: What changed? When Obama's plan came out, Krugman, and me, and Jon Cohn, and all the usual suspects criticized it for lacking an individual mandate, but said that, on the overall, it was pretty good, and Obama had passed the bar. Suddenly, we're all up in arms. Why?
Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality. Previously, he'd gotten some flack for buying into the conservative argument that Social Security was in crisis. Now he was constructing a conservative argument against far-reaching reform proposals. And he kept doing it. [Eriposte emphasis] And now his campaign is misrepresenting Krugman's comments in order to imply contradiction. But Krugman hasn't contradicted himself. Where his original comments focused on Obama's plan, his newer arguments are attempting to beat back Obama's rhetoric. And Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact. [Eriposte emphasis]
Imagine Sen. Clinton doing the same thing that Sen. Obama did. If Sen. Clinton advances anything that even remotely deviates from the orthodoxy of progressive critics, she would be mincemeat in a day. How many references to Lieberman would we have seen in the blogosphere? I think probably too many to count.
Which brings us to the topic of Joe Lieberman, which I'm only adding because at the end of the day, Senator Obama's and Sen. Clinton's [not Bill Clinton's] approach to Lieberman and Lamont is very illustrative of the Inner ObamaTM that is often hidden by the his rhetoric on TV and the campaign trail.
11. Joe Lieberman
At the outset, let me make it clear that the voting records of both Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are very similar and much more progressive than Sen. Lieberman's. Yet, according to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, Sen. Clinton is the one who gets compared to Sen. Lieberman at the drop of a hat ("Lieberman Democrat") and Sen. Obama is an almost saintly figure who is nothing like Lieberman. One way to look at the (un)fairness of this comparison is to examine how Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton handled Ned Lamont's challenge to Sen. Lieberman in the 2006 CT-Sen race.
Before the CT-Sen Democratic primary, Sen. Clinton put out what, in political circles, is known as a "tepid" endorsement of Lieberman:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), a longtime supporter of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, said Tuesday that she will not back the Connecticut Democrat's bid for reelection if he loses their party's primary.
"I've known Joe Lieberman for more than 30 years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for reelection, and hope that he is our party's nominee," the former first lady said in a statement issued by aides.
"But I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary," Clinton added. "I believe in the Democratic Party, and I believe we must honor the decisions made by Democratic primary voters."
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama rallied Connecticut Democrats at their annual dinner Thursday night, throwing his support behind mentor and Senate colleague Joe Lieberman.
Obama, an Illinois Democrat who is considered a rising star in the party, was the keynote speaker at the annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner.
Lieberman, Connecticut's junior senator, is under fire from some liberal Democrats for his support of the Iraq War. He was key in booking Obama, who routinely receives more than 200 speaking invitations each week.
Some at Thursday's dinner said that while they were pleased with Lieberman's success in bringing Obama to Connecticut, they still consider Lieberman uncomfortably tolerant of the Bush administration.
Obama wasted little time getting to that point, calling it the "elephant in the room" but praising Lieberman's intellect, character and qualifications.
"The fact of the matter is, I know some in the party have differences with Joe. I'm going to go ahead and say it," Obama told the 1,700-plus party members who gathered in a ballroom at the Connecticut Convention Center for the $175-per-head fundraiser.
"I am absolutely certain Connecticut is going to have the good sense to send Joe Lieberman back to the U.S. Senate so he can continue to serve on our behalf," he said.
Lieberman became Obama's mentor when Obama was sworn into the Senate in 2005. They stayed close at Thursday night's event, too, entering the room together and working the crowd in tandem.
Wow, here was one of the prime triangulators against Democrats - Joe Lieberman - also one of Bush's biggest enablers on the war - and Sen. Obama put out a full court press to unconditionally extol his character, intellect and qualifications! Imagine if Sen. Clinton did anything remotely close to this - she would have been torn to bits by her critics.
The story gets more interesting after Lieberman lost the Democratic primary race to Lamont.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont over for coffee Friday, discussing campaign strategy and offering to host a fundraiser, a spokesman for the senator said.
"It was a great meeting. Senator Clinton thinks Ned Lamont did a fabulous job in Connecticut," spokesman Howard Wolfson said, referring to Lamont's upset victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman in the state's Democratic primary.
Lieberman is running as an independent in November, and Republicans have attempted to cast his primary loss as a sign that the Democratic Party has been taken over by its extreme left wing.
At Clinton's Westchester County home, she and Lamont "talked about what Mr. Lamont can expect from the George Bush-Karl Rove attack machine," Wolfson said. "She told him Republicans were invested in defeating him."
Clinton has contributed $5,000 from her political action committee to Lamont's campaign and will do "whatever works for the campaign," Wolfson said. Wolfson, one of Clinton's senior political strategists, also said he will join the Lamont campaign as an adviser.
Clinton had offered tepid support to Lieberman, but moved quickly after the Aug. 8 primary to endorse Lamont, a Greenwich businessman who heavily criticized Lieberman's support of the Iraq war
The net result? Sen. Obama continues to be portrayed as a saint and Sen. Clinton is the one continuously and falsely compared to Sen. Lieberman. Quite some
calculated triangulation principled courage on the part of the Obama campaign, huh?
12. The Piece-de-resistance
This extract from Sen. Obama's lecture to the Daily Kos community back in Sep 2005, at a time when Bush's approval rating was not exactly earth-shattering is perhaps the most revealing of his fundamental belief system (emphasis mine):
A pro-choice Democrat doesn't become anti-choice because he or she isn't absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn't become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn't become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.
I'm not going to tire of saying this, but if Hillary Clinton were to have explicitly said that, she would have been attacked on a daily basis for being an opportunist and triangulator without principles (oh wait, she didn't say it and is still being attacked anyway - no surprise there!). But, Sen. Obama is the one who said it - and.....?
The most priceless part of Sen. Obama's essay is the following:
When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.
13. The Non-Ideologue v. The Partisan
As Taylor Marsh has pointed out, Sen. Obama has proudly discussed how he does not consider himself an ideologue and has taken pains to try and dissociate himself at times from the "left wing" and showcase his "conservative" inclinations:
I'm not an ideologue, never have been. Even during my younger days when I was tempted by, you know, sort of more radical or left wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit conservative in that sense; that believes that you make progress by sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody's concerns, seeing other people's points of views and then making decisions." - Barack Obama (on ABC's "This Week")
Hoo boy - a double whammy here. He was actually equating conservatism with the belief "that you make progress by sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody's concerns, seeing other people's points of views and then making decisions". Astounding.
In contrast, Sen. Clinton never stops pointing out the need to fight the right-wing Republican noise machine that (a) constantly misrepresents Democrats and (b) continues to preserve the myths of conservatism that Sen. Obama repeatedly uses to attack other Democrats. All I can say is, if Sen. Clinton is a 10/10 on the triangulator chart, Sen. Obama is probably 50/10 - except, according to the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Rulebook, Sen. Obama is the The Progressive SaintTM and Sen. Clinton is the Desperate Calculating Triangulator.TM Perhaps this explains why Senator Obama likes the Villagers, the traditional media machine that has been trained for decades by the Republican and conservative establishment:
I've been considering these questions for some time, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that Obama is trying to win the "media primary" (which I referred to awhile ago). My suspicion is that Barack is attempting to appease/manipulate the class of establishment pundits, and with them the press corps as a whole. It's not a bad strategy as far as it goes. As Rove knew, if you can get the press to attack a candidate, you don't have to do it (or pay the price with higher negatives). An opponent, no matter how formidable, isn't so scary if he or she is busy fighting the press AND the opposing campaign. By making noises about Social Security and mandates, Obama is feeding the media beast. Heck, it might even work, if recent polls are any evidence.
What concerns me is that the beast is always hungry. I know Obama doesn't want to go on some crusade against the powers that be (look what that's done for Edwards), but do you really have to suck up to them that much? Do you really think the press will stay friendly to you forever? Did you read that execrable Washington Post piece on the "Madrassa" rumor?
In other words, Sen. Obama will be torn apart if he wins the nomination, but right now the media is his friend and he's going to use them - just as they are going to use him to bring down another Democrat they dislike (Sen. Clinton).
One of Sen. Barack Obama's major attack lines against Sen. Clinton is that she a poll-reliant, triangulator unlike him. In this post, I systematically examined key aspects of Sen. Obama's voting record and statements over the years to assess how his record stacks up on the issue of triangulation. I used his votes, statements and behaviors on a large number of topics, grouped into the following sections in order to reasonably assess his inclinations: No Compromises Before Getting Elected, Iraq, Iran, MoveOn.Org and Petraeus, Abortion, Gays, Faith and Religion, War, Corporations, Supreme Court, Social Security, Healthcare, Joe Lieberman, The Piece-de-resistance, and The Non-Ideologue v. The Partisan.
Here is a summary of my findings:
(a) Sen. Obama has shown a tendency to either say nothing on controversial matters, or vote "present" or skip controversial votes, or enlist the help of controversial supporters for winning votes, and claim later that his position was different from what the vote or position entailed or what the supporter believed. On some votes or policies, he offered the excuse that he did what he did to help fellow Democrats win elections or avoid election losses.
(b) Sen. Obama has shown a very strong tendency to repeatedly use false right-wing frames to negatively describe the left or Democrats in sweeping fashion on a number of issues. He has also exhibited a significant comfort level with the use of false right-wing frames to discuss policy or criticize other progressives or Democrats, even while he misleadingly criticizes Sen. Clinton for allegedly enabling Bush and the right with her vote on Kyl-Lieberman. Yet, when criticized for his repeated use of false right-wing frames, he has responded by saying that "the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake" and also sometimes by launching misleading attacks against his progressive critics. [Taylor Marsh has a post on what she calls "The Progressive Cannibalism of Barack Obama"]
(c) The voting records of both Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are very similar and much more progressive than Sen. Lieberman's. However, contrary to the false, yet common knee-jerk linkage of Sen. Clinton with Sen. Lieberman, Sen. Obama's rhetorical history has a lot more in common with his mentor Sen. Lieberman, whom he went out of the way to support prior to Ned Lamont's win in the Democratic primary - by giving a speech praising his character, intellect and qualifications, despite the fact that Sen. Lieberman was perhaps the worst triangulator against Democrats/progressives and Bush's #1 enabler on Iraq and national security in the Democratic party at the time. Post-primary, Sen. Obama supported Lamont via a letter to supporters and a donation. In contrast, Sen. Clinton offered what was tepid support for Lieberman before the primary, stating up front that she will support the eventual winner of the primary, and then went out of her way after the primary to meet with Lamont, donate funds, offer to do a fundraiser and offered one of her top campaign strategists (Howard Wolfson) as an advisor to Lamont's campaign.
In way too many of these instances, it is clear that if Sen. Clinton had acted in the same way as Sen. Obama, she would have been trashed relentlessly as a Desperate Calculating TriangulatorTM and torn to shreds by her critics (oh wait...). Sen. Obama, on the other hand, generally continues to enjoy The Progressive SaintTM status. This Clinton Double Standard is as interesting as it is appalling.