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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?


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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Deconstructing the Democratic Stump Speech


With his recent victory in North Carolina and draw in Indiana, Barack Obama has all but sewn up the Democratic Presidential nomination, despite the fact that we seem to have agreed, as a country, to ignore that fact for the next couple of months so the mass media news networks can continue to run high-drama 24-hour coverage of the remaining primary elections and, quite possibly, the convention itself.

At any rate, Obama gave a victory speech in North Carolina the other day that many are hailing as his first speech as the presumptive nominee, rather than a Democratic primary candidate.

I found pieces of it fascinating, and wanted to deconstruct them here.
By way of disclaimer: while I'm often branded a "conservative" (sometimes correctly, sometimes not), I have not decided who I'm voting for yet. If I was forced at gunpoint to choose right now, though, I'd probably choose Obama over McCain. But that's purely on the "inspiring leadership" metric, which is all I've really heard so far, and not typically near the top of my list when I actually cast my vote in November. I hope that colors the following as more of an independent analysis than a right-wing slash & burn piece. I suspect that some people will never be convinced, though. Ah well, don't say I didn't warn you.

On to Obama:


This fall, we intend to march forward as one Democratic Party, united by a common vision for this country, because we all agree that at this defining moment in our history, a moment when we are facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril, a dream that feels like it's slipping away for too many Americans, we can't afford to give John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term.

I've heard this theme from many prominent Democrats over the last couple of weeks (most recently, from Howard Dean, Chairman of the DNC, on The Daily Show with John Stewart). John McCain was on The Daily Show the next night, and said very matter-of-factly that there are many issues on which he disagrees with the President (torture, the way in which the Iraqi war was waged, immigration, campaign finance reform) and others on which he agrees with the President. It strikes me as a very simple task for John McCain to define himself as different enough from George W. Bush to negate this line of attack, once we get to the general election campaign this fall. If the Democrats are counting on it, as they seem to be right now, I believe they're in some serious trouble.


Somewhere along the line, between all the bickering and the influence-peddling and the game-playing of the last few decades, Washington and Wall Street have lost touch with these core values, these American values.

And while I honor John McCain's service to his country . . . his plan to win in November appears to come from the very same playbook that his side has used time after time in election after election.

Yes, we know what's coming. I'm not naive. We've already seen it, the same names and labels they always pin on everyone who doesn't agree with all their ideas, the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives, by pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy, in the hopes that the media will play along.

The attempts to play on our fears and exploit our differences, to turn us against each other for political gain, to slice and dice this country into red states and blue states, blue collar and white collar, white, black, brown, young, old, rich, poor...

... this is the race we expect, no matter whether it's myself or Senator Clinton who is the nominee. The question then is not what kind of campaign they will run; it's what kind of campaign we will run.

This is the passage that made me fall off my chair. Just 19 days ago, I, too, complained against this kind of dirty politics. In my complaint, though, I said this:


I document this today, the day of the hard-fought Pennsylvania primary, because I know people have short memories, and once the media changes the national conversation, others will call me crazy for suggesting what is common knowledge right now. And that is this:

On April 22, 2008, Barack Obama has already been called unpatriotic, racist, unqualified, unprepared, inexperienced, beholden to lobbyists, elitist and Muslim. Hillary Clinton has been called a liar, a hypocrite, a war hawk, over-emotional, contrived, out of touch and willing to rig elections with changes to primary rules and reliance on super delegates. His health care plan has been criticized for leaving millions uninsured. Her position on NAFTA has been criticized as being inconsistent with her previous votes on the subject. He's been accused of a willingness to mollycoddle world leaders. She's been accused of fear mongering.

And all of it, every single bit of it, is coming from within the Democratic party. There's no conceivable way to blame any of this on John McCain, Karl Rove, or the RNC. They have wisely stayed on the sidelines and watched the Democrats feast on each other, well on their way to throwing away an easy victory in November for the third time in a row.

I went on to predict that come September/October, the Democrats would be criticizing the Republicans for using these same tactics, despite using them so vociferously themselves in March/April. Apparently, I was wrong. It didn't take until September/October. It's happening right now. Barack Obama seems to believe he can convince me that all of the nasty, bogus, dirty-politics attacks he's endured over the last couple of months have come from the John McCain's "side."

My friends, I'm still not sure how calling people bitter is considered elitist. But talking to me like I can't remember more than a few weeks of history? That suggests a perceived intellectual superiority that, quite frankly, boggles the mind.

More:


The other side can label and name-call all they want, but I trust the American people to recognize that it is not surrender to end the war in Iraq so that we can rebuild our military and go after Al Qaida's leaders.

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

...and Carter did, and Clinton did. Odd how he left out the two most recent Democrats, huh? Particularly when those two engineered perhaps the two most famous handshakes in the history of the White House Lawn? Maybe it's because Carter's award-winning handshake led directly to the assassination of one leader, and did nothing to create peace for Israel in the subsequent 30 years? Or maybe it's because Clinton's ventures in personal diplomacy with hostile leaders also led to an assassination, this time of our ally's leader, not to mention that little deal with the North Koreans, which we recently learned they began violating before the ink was dry? Or, quite possibly, because Carter is back to demonstrate additional "wisdom" by meeting with the leaders of Hamas, despite requests from the State Department to stay the hell out of the way?

Also interesting that he didn't say "like Reagan did," given that his well-documented personal meetings with Gorbachev led directly to the end of the cold war and the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

I sure hope this bit was about political spin because, otherwise, Obama's in serious need of a history lesson.

Allow me to repeat the summary point of my April 22nd post:

In 2000, the Democrats were running a sitting Vice President to an extremely popular President with a few big character flaws. All Al Gore had to do was be "Bill Clinton without the oral sex," and he would have walked into the White House practically uncontested. Instead, it was insanely close, and Gore walked into a series of White Castle's, rather than a single, White House.

In 2004, the Democrats were running a war hero and sitting senator against a highly unpopular president who was strongly advocating for a highly unpopular war. Again, they blew it, and John Kerry took a swift boat back to Boston.

Now, we're in 2008. 70% of Americans think the country's on the wrong track. For the third time in a row, the Democrats are in a position to walk away with this. It'll be interesting to see if they find a way to screw it up again...

posted by Brian at 2:47 AM


2 Comments:

  • Well, knock me over with a feather that you're currently in Obama's camp. I'm willing to lay 2-1 odds that you'll switch by November (which could be the easiest bet you've ever won), but hey, credit where credit is due. I vote Republican and Independent from time to time in local elections, but I haven't yet found a presidential election where I'd consider doing so.

    Okay, I did in 2000, but that was a special case. And I don't talk about it much.

    [T]hat's purely on the "inspiring leadership" metric, which is all I've really heard so far, and not typically near the top of my list when I actually cast my vote in November.

    Hmm. Call me interested in this statement. I'd put this near the top of the list, and I'm curious that you don't. To clarify: I'm in the camp that America has been "winning" in the global arena for the last 90 years or so through the application of soft power; cf. my earlier arguments that Saddam felt the need to call himself "president", which is all you need to know about the victory of democracy.

    Seems to me that there are three components to soft power: 1) a laudable set of ideals and moral codes; 2) a commitment to living by those codes even at considerable cost; and 3) an eloquent standard-bearer who can communicate both the tenets of point one and the sacrifices made for point two. By those standards, inspiring leadership is perhaps more important for national security than anything we can build or buy.

    John McCain was on The Daily Show the next night, and said very matter-of-factly that there are many issues on which he disagrees with the President (torture, the way in which the Iraqi war was waged, immigration, campaign finance reform)

    Well, in two of those four categories, McCain voted with the president, which in the Senate is where you put your money where your mouth is. I'm tempted to say three, as I'm pretty sure that McCain has generally supported Bush's immigration initiatives while also proposing his own measures -- campaign finance is the only arena where he's clearly breakaway. And it's perhaps notable that he got the campaign reform religion after being a member of the Keating Five.

    That said, the crucial aspect of being Bush III is his Iraq policy, so far as most Americans are concerned, so the question is not whether he's different from W. He's clearly different in that he can complete a sentence, and his sentences generally appear to contain what's in his own head rather than someone else's. "War hero" should also help, as he's not running against people likely to try to turn that into a negative. But it sounds to me like Obama et al. will make him look like Bush III on Iraq policy -- and oddly enough, they're not the only ones.

    Apparently, I was wrong. It didn't take until September/October. It's happening right now. Barack Obama seems to believe he can convince me that all of the nasty, bogus, dirty-politics attacks he's endured over the last couple of months have come from the John McCain's "side."

    Talk about short memories. Your attempt to reframe this is admirable, but it falls short -- Obama isn't talking about the attacks of March, 2008, he's talking about October, 2004.

    You seem to be missing a point that is resoundingly clear to the rest of us: when it comes to go-for-the-throat politics, the Republicans are the stepchildren of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, and the Democrats are still largely the party of Kumbayah. There are exceptions, but they're few and far between (and yes, those exceptions have frequently gravitated to the Clinton campaigns). Name the Democratic equivalent of Swift Boat Veterans, or the Fox News echo chamber, or Rush, and we might begin to have a debate here.

    This is not to set up your straw man argument that I'm saying that all Democrats are cuddly and likable. Of course not; Democrats would like to win more elections. They're just not as good at it, and I'd argue that one of the reasons is that the Republicans are more willing to go for the powerful cards of race, fear, and hatred. That doesn't make Democrats better, that makes them losers -- and what I like about Obama is that he seems to twig that cards such as inspiration can be just as powerful in the right hands.

    [Long discourse on the failures of diplomacy]

    Well, Lincoln got himself assassinated, so I guess in retrospect his stewardship of the Civil War, and the remarkable destructive impact of the nondiplomacy of his successors, can all be chalked up as Lincoln's personal failures?

    Look, we can easily debate any particular act of diplomacy until we're blue in the face; such an argument lends itself well to subjective interpretation. But you're buying into the old canard that Reagan ended the Cold War way too strongly; most of what I've read indicated that the Soviet Union was going to fall in the 1980s regardless. I can't say much about what President Mondale would have done in such a case, but if you want to argue that President Carter's second term would have shunned the Soviets and prolonged the Cold War, you're just crazy -- you're providing your own evidence to the contrary in the same post by arguing against his interventions with Hamas.

    What is frequently forgotten about Reagan is how often his bluster nearly got us into a shooting war with the Soviets, which could have led to the end of history, period. For a quick soundbite version, I recommend the Doomsday Clock timeline.

    Now, we're in 2008. 70% of Americans think the country's on the wrong track. For the third time in a row, the Democrats are in a position to walk away with this. It'll be interesting to see if they find a way to screw it up again...

    That's one interpretation. Another is to ask whether the Republicans find a way to steal it again, which is another way of looking at what went down in 2000 and 2004. Personally, one of the things that disillusioned me most about presidential politics and the implementation of computerized voting was the revelation that most Americans don't seem to give a damn about their own elections -- those of us who point to the myriad ways in which the system is broken were immediately relegated to the fringe.

    In any case, one way in which we don't appear to be screwing it up this year is that for the first time in three we don't have a candidate who is being airbrushed and handled to look exactly like Michael Dukakis. That's a start.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:26 PM, May 14, 2008  


  • I haven't yet found a presidential election where I'd consider doing so. Okay, I did in 2000, but that was a special case. And I don't talk about it much.

    Wait, you voted for George W. Bush in 2000? Now that's a story I'd like to hear...

    Seems to me that there are three components to soft power: 1) a laudable set of ideals and moral codes; 2) a commitment to living by those codes even at considerable cost; and 3) an eloquent standard-bearer who can communicate both the tenets of point one and the sacrifices made for point two. By those standards, inspiring leadership is perhaps more important for national security than anything we can build or buy.

    Interesting that you see inspiration as a necessary component of power. I'll grant you that they often come together, but I view inspiration as a knock-on effect, not a substanitive requirement. In other words, I'd prefer a monotone genius to a slick used-car salesman. In (still) other words, who would you vote for: Alan Greenspan or Regis Philbin?

    All of that said, I realize that no one's actually running for President yet. They're running for their parties' nomination, which means appealing to their bases. And so, the winning conversation is about things like hope, change, prosperity, etc.. Details like healthcare, free trade, immigration, foreign policy, etc. are only props that they pull out in particular states to show people how "in touch" they are (cf. the sudden, yet short-lived, interest in NAFTA that coincided with the Ohio primary).

    Obama strikes me as a smart, reasonable guy and an independent thinker. I don't get the sense that he's sitting in a room full of "handlers" who are telling him what to say, when to say it, etc.. I always felt that way about Al Gore and John Kerry, and still feel that way about Hillary Clinton (and, to some extent, John McCain). Case in point: I was very impressed that he continued to not wear the flag lapel pin. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to put one on when the "controversy" first erupted and never take it off again - one difficult news cycle & done. But he wanted to make the point that flag pins do not equal patriotism, and so he endured the carping of the right-wing scandal makers to stand by his point. Then again, I hear he's wearing it now, so maybe I've been let down. We'll see...

    Once the conventions are over, I expect a debate grounded in substance. To borrow from one of the favorite GWB criticisms: it's not enough to have a plan to win the White House, you have to know what you're going to do once you get there. If Obama turns out to be a good speechmaker with the wrong ideas on the major issues, I'll vote McCain. But smart, reasonable people tend to have smart, reasonable approaches to problem solving. Hence, my initial leanings.

    Well, in two of those four categories, McCain voted with the president, which in the Senate is where you put your money where your mouth is.

    Meh. I've been watching that game long enough to know that a vote on a particular bill can be influenced by a hundred other factors: what seemingly irrelevant rider is in the bill, what competing bill is on the table that deserves more support, what weird senate rule comes into play about what happens if the bill wins/loses by too wide a margin, etc. I'd much rather listen to the reasoning behind the policy and make up my mind from there. Of course, I know the guy's about to run for President and could conveniently change positions to suit the public whim, but that's something I'll have to mentally correct for as I watch...

    That said, the crucial aspect of being Bush III is his Iraq policy, so far as most Americans are concerned, so the question is not whether he's different from W.

    Like I said, easily deflected criticism. Even at this early stage in the campaign, my impression of McCain's stance on Iraq is this: "the war was worth fighting, but we bungled it badly." At the 10,000 foot level, I agree with that statement. Obama's equivalent tag line seems to be "a war that never should have been waged in the first place." I don't agree there, but can see how others would. At any rate, it doesn't strike me as particularly helpful, unless he has a time machine.

    Guaranteed that between now and November, McCain will announce a new Iraq policy that is a) different enough from the status quo to satisfy the "Bush III" crowd and b) consistent with his public statements to date about the war.

    Talk about short memories. Your attempt to reframe this is admirable, but it falls short -- Obama isn't talking about the attacks of March, 2008, he's talking about October, 2004.

    Sorry, friend, 'tis you who are reframing. He said, "[McCain's] plan to win in November appears to come fromt he very same playbook that his side has used time after time in election after election." He then goes on to mention "every gaffe and association and fake controversy." He's talking about "bitter = elitist", Jeremiah Wright and lapel pins here. And those things came from Hillary Clinton, not from John McCain or Karl Rove.

    You seem to be missing a point that is resoundingly clear to the rest of us: [tired retread of old reputations/stereotypes ommitted]

    Yeah, I get it: Karl Rove eats puppies for breakfast. The fact that Republicans have done this in the past doesn't change what Hillary has been doing over the last few months. And to be clear: I'm not complaining (much) about what Hillary is doing; I'm just pointing out that Obama is suddenly suggesting that it was McCain's doing, not Hillary's. He's playing right into your Rove/Atwater/Ailes mindset and making you look past what was staring you in the face just a month ago...

    [on diplomacy...]

    You missed my point: It's not about whether Carter or Clinton were successful in their diplomatic efforts. It's about the way Obama left them off the list, and instead chose Roosevelt, Kennedy and Truman - Presidents who are protected by the soft glow of history to an audience of people who were, for the most part, born during Reagan/Bush.

    As for Reagan and the Cold War, there's gotta be a Godwin-like thing for this. The "canard" that you refer to (and accuse me of buying into) is that Reagan ended the Cold War single-handedly. That's not what I said. I said that his personal relationship with Gorbachev put the final nail in the coffin. And that's something that Ron, Nancy, Mikail and Reina have all said publicly. Again, I'm not judging the relative merits of what happened or might have happened, just pointing out that Obama could have criticized McCain for shunning talks with enemy leaders by comparing him to Reagan, not Roosevelt - and probably to greater effect. He chose not to do that...

    That's one interpretation. Another is to ask whether the Republicans find a way to steal it again, which is another way of looking at what went down in 2000 and 2004. Personally, one of the things that disillusioned me most about presidential politics and the implementation of computerized voting was the revelation that most Americans don't seem to give a damn about their own elections -- those of us who point to the myriad ways in which the system is broken were immediately relegated to the fringe.

    Really? We're still on election stealing? Despite the lack of any evidence that doesn't involve tinfoil hats? The arguments aren't even interally consistent anymore: the 2000 election was about hanging chads, not computers. the 2004 election was about Deibold and YouTube videos about how easy it would be to rig a machine (Step 1: get an EPROM chip that's programmed with votes with for your candidate. Step 2: Get a Phillips head screwdriver....), The fact that no such tampering was ever found (or even seriously suspected) is just an incovenience.

    Also conveniently ignored is the fact that the system was just as broken when we were all pulling levers & punching holes. The people who complained then were "fringe" too, but it took 2000 and the Supreme Court to elevate it to disillusionment.

    Bottom line: there are a lot of things that Gore and Kerry did wrong in 2000 and 2004. If someone did somehow steal the elections from them, they certainly made it easier to do. The snarky comment at the end of my post was just to point out that Obama should try to avoid doing the same thing...

    By Blogger Brian, at 11:06 AM, May 16, 2008  


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