Thursday :: Jan 3, 2008

LIEB 102 at The University of Iowa: Sen. Obama's Uncivil and Polarizing Democrats (or) An Ode to Tom Daschle

by eriposte

UPDATE: You just can't make this up. We now have a Daily Kos Recommended Diary pointing to this very video to say "Obama Answers DKos critics (UPDATED)".

This pretty much takes the cake. Take a minute to watch this video of Sen. Obama (h/t BTD at Talk Left) explaining yesterday how he intends to bring about a working majority for ChangeTM.

This is important, so I'm going to first transcribe much of what he said (emphasis mine, throughout this post) and then explain why this is important:

If you know who you are...if you know what you stand for...if you know your principles that cannot be compromised...if you know who you're fighting for...

Then you can sit across the table from people you don't agree can reach across the aisle...

Not because I expect that insurance and drug companies will suddenly roll over...

Not because I think all those Republican operatives will be so charmed by me that they will do what I wanna do...

It is because...if you show yourself to be willing to work with those who don't agree with you, then suddenly there's going to be some Republicans and some Independents outside of Washington who I believe are also frustrated with our Government...have also lost trust that they are being listened to...who are willing to be part of a change movement...and that's how you form a working majority...

Let me tell you something, when you have a working majority you can afford to be polite. You can afford to be courteous. Because you've got the numbers. You've got the votes. When I've got the American people behind me I will say yes ma'am and no ma'am. But if the insurance companies get in my way, we'll just push them aside very politely and go ahead and do what's right for the American people. That's how you bring about real change.

According to Sen. Obama, the biggest problem in Washington is that Democrats have shown themselves to be so unwilling to work with the Republicans and opposing interest groups that they, um, have happily passed Bill after Bill after Bill that the Republicans and those interest groups wanted them to pass from 2001-2006 and have allowed the Republican minority to block Bill after Bill after Bill (without even a real filibuster) even after the Democrats took over Congress.

Let me try and say the following, very politely and with the utmost courtesy I can muster right now.

Is there any real progressive who actually believes this nonsensical drivel?

Sen. Obama's claim is straight out of the right-wing and Lieberman talking point manual - i.e., that Democrats have essentially been impolite or uncivil obstructionists who caused gridlock and therefore have been unable to bring about needed change. The reality of course is exactly the opposite. The party that has been impolite and unwilling to work with those whom they disagree is the Republican party. The Republicans have been successful with this strategy entirely because the media has helped them propagate the myth that it is the Democrats who are polarizing obstructionists, when in fact the Democrats, following Sen. Obama's OriginalTM rulebook, have been polite, courteous and repeatedly shown a deep willingness to be "bipartisan" and work together with the Republicans to pass one ruinous Bill after another. The result? People believe the Democrats have not done a good job of opposing Bush and the Republican agenda, especially on Iraq. Progressive activists - at least the ones Sen. Obama has been busy throwing under the bus, if not the ones who are cultishly defending him today - believe that some of these Democrats lack a "backbone" to stand up for what is right, have shown that they don't stand for any real principles and have forgotten who they are fighting for.

Sen. Obama actually wants to not just endorse the Republican myth, he wants to multiply that myth by a factor of ten and adopt the Politics of Politeness and CourtesyTM as his formal campaign strategy in order to please people who are not in Congress who will magically then vote for polite Democrats and vote obstructionist Republicans out of the office. (After all, it's not enough if Sen. Obama becomes President if Congress is still made up of obstructionist Republicans - Congress is the one that passes all the Bills). See, it's simple really! This playbook worked very well for the Democrats in the 2002 election and the 2004 election. It certainly helped Tom Daschle mightily when he showered Bush and the GOP with politeness, courtesy and showed a deep willingness to work together with them after 9/11. He was rewarded by, um, being portrayed as an obstructionist, Al Qaeda supporting loser who subsequently got kicked out of his Senate seat by his constituents based on that portrayal. Which of course completely explains why Tom Daschle is a big supporter of Sen. Obama!

There are a number of well-intentioned progressives who are backing Sen. Obama. People who don't understand the first thing about the actual concern that people like me have with Sen. Obama. As Big Tent Democrat observed at Talk Left:

In a very eloquent and well written defense of Senator Barack Obama and his political style (the central POLITICAL issue of this campaign imo), MYDD diarist Shaun Appleby makes the sincere case for Obama's political style, as opposed to Mark Schmitt's defense of Obama's political style as schtick. But Appleby mi[s]understands the key question in my opinion. He writes:

It could be argued readily that Obama is a potent progressive, and that his strategy for his own candidacy is his prerogative, as long as the end result advances progressive ideology significantly. But he is critiqued for his strategy as well as his positions . . .

(Emphasis supplied.) The reason he is critiqued for his strategy is precisely because those of us who do so believe "the end result does [NOT] advance progressive ideology significantly." This is perhaps the most frustrating thing about discussing these issues with Obama supporters. They seem incapable of understanding that we do not criticize Obama's political style on aesthetic grounds; we criticize his style because we think it will not work to actually EFFECT CHANGE. We believe that despite his being touted as the change candidate, his political style is the one LEAST likely to achieve progressive policy change. [Eriposte emphasis]

Here's another diarist, Wmtrialawyer (irony of ironies), this time writing a spirited defense of Sen. Obama's BrillianceTM in a Daily Kos Recommended Diary (emphasis in original):

[Obama] told the cheering crowd how he looked forward to November and said the following:

"I want to whoop 'em so good so that the election won't be close and they won't be able to steal it again."

I was shocked, I tell you, shocked.

I mean, how dare he latch onto a message many of us have been saying for years now? How dare he look to run a national campaign for the hearts and minds of the American people?

Of course, put into context, that statement about how he doesn't want Democrats to be in the same position as 2000 or 2004 makes a little more sense.

See, herein lies the problem of latching onto any one single statement of any candidate and claiming it as a "right-wing" talking point. Because such statements can be twisted out of context to the extreme. Sort of like Al Gore inventing the Internet. Or John Kerry being for it before he was against it.

It's not clear how Sen. Obama's statement has been in any way "twisted out of context". Gore and Kerry did not become polarizing (and 47-50%ers) because they sought polarization or declared a deep preference for being polarizing. If anything Gore and Kerry were establishment candidates who wanted to play to Democrats, Independents and Republicans - and win the "hearts and minds of the American people" - and win much more than 51% of the vote - and were sometimes accused by progressives of being too polite and courteous and Bush-lite when they were running for President. Rather, they were declared to be polarizing by the Republican machine and the media propagated that myth - just as the Republican machine has described Democrat after Democrat (including Sen. Clinton) as polarizing or obstructionist or [fill in the blanks] and now Sen. Obama gladly propagates those myths to try to win the Presidency using Independent and Republican support - not unlike his mentor Joe Lieberman. (In fact, I can't think of any major Democratic candidate who intentionally seeks to be polarizing, who does not reach out in some form or the other to Independents or Republicans. So, with due respect, it is beyond an insult to any reasonable person's intelligence to defend Sen. Obama's position using such a stupendously moronic argument.)

Chris Bowers at Open Left noted something similar not too long ago:

OK, so Obama knows that Republicans in Washington will continue to fight to block good legislation as they always have, but also argues that "turning up the heat on Republicans" won't stop them. Instead, he argues that hope will stop them from blocking good legislation. He then gives the following four examples of hope:

In the face of tyranny, it's what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it's what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it's what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it's what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause. That's the power of hope - to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.

Achieving independence in the American Revolution, freeing slaves in the Civil War, freeing Europe in World War Two… does Obama notice that three of the four examples he gives of "hope" solving major problems involved extremely bloody, violent wars and revolutions? How are an armed revolution, a civil war, and an invasion of an entire continent not examples of "turning up the heat" on an intransigent opposition who is blocking freedom and positive change? When someone can explain that to me, then maybe I can understand how not turning up the heat on Republicans is not a solution to passing good legislation.

So, let me repeat what I said yesterday:

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that, today, we are at an inflection point that could result in very different outcomes for the progressive movement going forward depending on how we react to the current set of circumstances. If we really want to move towards long-term progressive success, in my view we need leaders who don't try to win elections by repeatedly throwing progressive icons, values, or positions under the bus using the talking points of the Republican Noise Machine and the conservative movement. As I mentioned in a comment yesterday:

I am ... worried about what an Obama presidency would imply. While there is no doubt he would be better to have in office than a Republican, I sense that many Obama supporters who are willing to continuously forgive his repeated throwing of progressives under the bus using GOP talking points, don't understand that the Democratic party has not buil[t] a lasting "brand" in the eyes of Americans and you can't build that "brand" - which requires the creation of broad progressive infrastructure, vision and an aggressive defense of progressive positions - with the help of someone who frequently trashes that very "brand" using the talking points of the opposition.

If Obama wins the nomination - and if he pulls off a general election victory (which is going to be very tough for him compared to Edwards or Clinton) - it would certainly be better than having a Republican in office. However, I think it will likely have significant negative long-term consequences for the Democratic party because his Presidency will likely become a Presidency of one person - and not a Presidency [of the progressive movement] that will facilitate the reconstruction of the Democratic "brand" and progressive infrastructure which is still seriously lacking compared to the massive conservative noise machine. Given that Sen. Obama feels so comfortable trashing progressive views and progressives even before we have begun the primaries, I can only imagine how much more he would be inclined to do so during the GE and after, when he is under constant attack by Republicans.

Anyway, I will be happy if I am proved wrong, but Democrats should be thinking a lot more about about the long-term ramifications of an Obama victory.

Having watched Sen. Obama's campaign closely over the last couple of months - and his relative tone-deafness to progressive criticism and the lack of any real accountability within his campaign - I get the strong impression that Sen. Obama's campaign appears to be firstly about Sen. Obama - and secondly, and often incidentally, about the progressive movement. As much as he may have a more progressive voting record than his mentor Sen. Lieberman, his rhetoric and approach to campaigning bears striking and unmistakable similarities to those of his mentor. This is, in my view, a dangerous dynamic for progressives to endorse, especially during the Democratic primary. Like many others, I've invested vast amounts of my personal time over the years to play a small but meaningful role in helping build the credibility of the progressive blogoshere - with the hope that we will finally elect a progressive to the White House who will not Sister Souljah the progressive movement to get there. So, I'm not going to sit around and continue to pretend that Sen. Obama's approach, beliefs and strategy are acceptable just because of his progressive voting record and because he is a charismatic Democrat who may temporarily attract Republicans and Independents (before getting slaughtered by the GOP in the general election), and thereby not recognize that he is on a path that will significantly compromise the paramount goal of building the progressive movement. If he keeps up his current trajectory, my worry is that even if he manages to win the Presidency, his win might ultimately end up being a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats and the Progressive Movement - in more than one way.

If Sen. Obama's supporters want to argue that he is more progressive than any Republican running for President - I agree wholeheartedly. Will he be a better President than any of the Republicans? Absolutely. What I have a problem with is that he is systematically undermining the foundations and icons of the progressive movement using Republican talking points - just like his mentor Joe Lieberman. There will be a high cost to pay if he continues down this trajectory and it'll be too late to change this trajectory once he is in office.

P.S. If my concerns turn out to be unwarranted and Sen. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, and then actually succeeds in winning much more than 51% of the vote in the general election while supporting and building the progressive movement, I will voluntarily write a prominent post here at TLC admitting I was completely and horrendously wrong. But, until I see evidence of all that, I am going to keep calling out the huge risk that progressives are being asked to take by backing Sen. Obama's candidacy.

eriposte :: 6:39 AM :: Comments (68) :: Digg It!