Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA THE TRUTHTELLER?....Andrew Sullivan reads Karen Tumulty's piece on Barack Obama in this week's Time magazine and enthuses "We need this guy. We're lucky to have him." Why? Because he says what he thinks is right regardless of the audience he's speaking to.

But has he always done that? Apparently so. Tumulty's piece reminded me yet again of a profile that Benjamin Wallace-Wells did for us three years ago that's stuck with me ever since. Here's his description of a routine meeting Obama held at a forum in downtown Chicago in late 2004:

Before his audience, Obama told a fortyish man worrying about taxes that government will have to do more to help the middle-class, not less, and that limiting taxes shouldn't be his narrow political priority. He told a white-haired woman peace activist who criticizes Israel that the Palestinians are in the wrong, and then when this appears to encourage a pro-Israel man, tells that guy that the Israelis are far from perfect, too. Obama was measured throughout; he tends to come off as an expert and wonk, an earnest, hopeful policy nerd.

A group of older black women asked, humbly, for vague assurances that he would redirect federal housing policy to emphasize low-rise, rather than high-rise, projects — most housing advocates think low-rise buildings would be easier to police and maintain, and encourage more neighborly interactions. The grandmas were throwing him a softball, hoping only for a signal that he was open to their concerns, that he would side with the experts. Obama was having none of it. "Low-rise isn't going to solve all your problems," Obama said sternly. "I've worked in the projects, and, let me tell you, low rise has problems of its own." The particular lady who had asked the question looked rebuked, and there was a surprised wince in the church: Did he really just say that to a bunch of trapped-in-the-projects grandmas?

"Obama tells you the hard truths, and other politicians, particularly from Chicago, they tend to tell you what they think you want to hear," Lowell Jacobs told me. Jacobs is a retired plumber in Rock Falls, Ill., a grimy old steel mill town at the western edge of Dennis Hastert's district; he is also the chair of the Democratic county commission, and was one of only two chairmen outside of the Chicago region to endorse Obama in the Democratic primary this year. "Barack's got something different," Jacobs told me. "He makes you feel like he's not a politician, but a leader."

Yes, he does. Which is why I'm probably more genuinely undecided between the major Democratic candidates this cycle than I have been for a long time. All three of them appeal to me in significant ways but none of them have completely sealed the deal. (In Obama's case, I'd like to see him be a little more willing to make some of the right enemies.) It's a pretty tough choice this year.

The upside of this is that I don't think I'll be disappointed regardless of who wins. They're all good candidates. And there's still plenty of time to make up my mind.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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But then there's David Roberts' take on his stance on coal and climate change:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-roberts/barack-obama-is-not-serio_b_48246.html

Posted by: JJ on June 1, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

"In Obama's case, I'd like to see him be a little more willing to make some of the right enemies."

In other words, take a real political risk on something, anything, and push it hard.

Posted by: bubba on June 1, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

If he is such a straight talker, why couldn't he say whether he was gonna give Commander Guy his blank check? Dodging that question is not showing leadership. Its one thing to tell some granny what she doesn't want to hear, when he goes all Bill Clinton on Chris Wallace, then i'll know something has really changed. Until then, while I'll be impressed, I won't be completely won over.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on June 1, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

*"He makes you feel like he's not a politician...*

So, the ULTIMATE politician, then (?)

This kind of 'tell it like it is' politician wasn't so rare years ago. Carter did it - unsuccessfully. Bush I did it - on occasion. McCain made it his brand in 99/00.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on June 1, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Low rise has problems of its own ?

Like what ?

Posted by: Charles Warren on June 1, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

This is the exact quality I admire in Joe Biden: The willingness to speak one's mind. Although in Joe's case, it's often the stupidest thing you ever heard.

Actually, I like Joe Biden a lot -- just distrust his impulsiveness.

Posted by: absent observer on June 1, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

He's doing a good job not letting his 'brand' get diluted into a vague sea of Democratic correctness. And as Kos says in his recent update on ups-and-downs, he's in 'build' mode right now, building a local campaign structure and working the grassroots. So, pretty smart. If he is smart, he will, some time around the end of the year, make a big push - get some good ads out there (look what they did for Richardson), stir up some controversy, 'make the right enemies'...

He should invite Sully over for a private audience. Ha! You'd need buckets to get all the drool off his blog after that!

Posted by: lampwick on June 1, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

The upside of this is that I don't think I'll be disappointed regardless of who wins.

What kind of attitude is this? As Democrats, we're sworn to argue endlessly with each other in front of the Republican kids, wash our dirty laundry in public and howl that if our candidate doesn't get the nomination we're voting Green.

Check your membership card! It's all there!

Posted by: shortstop on June 1, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

With all the problems facing the U.S., we need a candidate who:

1. Opposed this war in Iraq, but supported the Gulf War.

2. Has spoken out about global warming for decades.

3. Advocates a total overhaul of the healthcare system.

4. Has a proven record of turning record deficits into record surpluses.

5. Has a proven record of reducing poverty.

6. Has a good understanding of science, technology, and government.

7. For good measure, is a Veteran.

Oh, if only there was such a mythical person!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on June 1, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh no. Not another article from the msm about Obama that reads more like some hack writing in "Tiger Beat".

Candor? Truth-telling? Obama? More apt description would be wishy-washy. He won't take a firm position on anything.

Posted by: Chrissy on June 1, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is what attracts me to Obama as well. He's just after the best solution to our problems, regardless of whether it pleases his base. This is in stark contrast to his main competitors, Edwards and Clinton, who seem hell-bent on pandering to the base. It's almost sickening to watch.
Most people on the left can spot the Republican phonies (like McCain and Romney) pretty easily, but for some reason, have a harder time spotting them amongst the Democratic field.

Posted by: Alouette on June 1, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Here, Kev, let me help you. Obama's candidacy could be the shoal on which racism grounds itself and breaks up. I firmly believe his candidacy would compel the bigot caucus of the Republican party to show its face, and then the nation would recoil and independents would flee. Once elected, he'd have an immediate positive effect. I don't think people are appreciating what it would be like to have a black president. The great recruiters to politics in the last 50 years have been Kennedy for us and Reagan for them. I really believe Obama, from his first moment in office, would be the next.

As for whether he'd be a good president? Gore would easily be my choice over Obama simply because there'd be a much smaller learning curve. But of the big three, certainly Obama, bacause I believe Brad DeLong when he says (roughly paraphrasing) that based on his first-hand experience Hillary isn't fit for the office.

Posted by: djangone on June 1, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

G-E 08:
Yeah, but would you want to have a beer with him? What the f*ck do we want smart people for?

Posted by: thersites on June 1, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, It's nice to see a post from someone who appreciates the strengths all three of our top-tier candidates bring and doesn't lionize one while bashing the others.

Posted by: Paula on June 1, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is the smartest politician since Bill Clinton and also the biggest policy wonk since Bill Clinton. He doesn't have Bill's baggage or Hillary's collaterol high negatives. But if he emerges as the frontrunner I imagine the Repubs will do their best to saddle him with them.

He has no problem mixing it up with Republican politicians but he's not going to alienate their voters in the process because he's pretty sure he can get them too. I like that confidence and that ambition.


Posted by: markg8 on June 1, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK
He's just after the best solution to our problems

I don't want a politician that is "just after the best solution to our problems".

I want a politician that actually has some good ideas about how to approach solving the problems.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 1, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

> He's just after the best solution to
> our problems, regardless of whether it
> pleases his base.

So if the Democratic base is going to get beaten up by the Radical Right (of course), the Republican Party, the DLC centrists/Broderists, AND the leading Democratic candidates...

why exactly should it remain the Democratic Party base? A constant dose of "shut up, work the phones, canvass, and smile when the candidate puts a shiv in your back" isn't really guaranteed to raise morale or maintain staff levels over the long term.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 1, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

He's got enough enemies on his hands right now for showing the lese majeste to challenge Ms. Clinton...Why do you think its a good idea to have some more? If I didn't know any better I'd think your attacks on GWB for being a divider and not a uniter were not really sincere.

Posted by: minion on June 1, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Alouette,
Hillary? Pandering to the base? You're kidding me, right? Where did you come up with that? She's done everything but pander to the base. She's hired Mark Penn to help run her campaign for pete's sake. I could go on. You might want to rethink that comment.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on June 1, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

In a way, Obama is, as a political leader, a throwback to a previous era. His grand talk about "bipartisanship" and his "can't we all just get along" rhetoric really makes no sense, and is actually destructive in today's political world.

He seems to believe as a matter of principle that NOT making enemies is a crucial goal for him. Now I can guess that that worked well in environments like Harvard Law School.

But how can one escape the fact that in today's national political scene, it truly is impossible to do good without making powerful enemies?

Many people blame the Republicans for subverting any sense of bipartisanship. While the accusation is fair, there's a sense in which Republicans really only exposed and exploited -- quite viciously -- the underlying conflicts that we as a society do in fact harbor.

Politics today is really a zero sum game. The opposite sides on ideological and value grounds have naturally coalesced into two maximally coherent constituencies. Either the Right wins, or we do. There are very few issues, and probably only minor ones, on which some sort of compromise is possible or productive.

Maybe in the more halcyon days of Eisenhower, somebody like Obama would have been a suitable politician. But his day has passed, probably before he was even born.

Today, a political leader who flinches from a fight is a political leader who has little if anything to contribute. He is, at best, a placeholder, somebody less bad than an alternative.

Posted by: frankly0 on June 1, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently so? Did we just read the same description of an Obama campaign stop? Nothing included the quote seemed to be a stand, firm or otherwise, on anything. As far as I could tell, he committed to no position an any of the issues written about, nor did he even seem to give them any consideration when asked- just dodged every query with a wishy washy answer that left one uncertain of Obama's actual position. Nothing unusual for a politician, of course, but how does any of this make Obama special?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 1, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

In regards to the top tier candidates, if I could get Clinton's political skill, Obama's charisma and communication and Edward's vision I'd have an ideal candidate. Those 3 could all learn from the others, lets hope whomever wins will won't take their primary strategy as one to be successful in the general as Kerry seemed to.

Posted by: Fred on June 1, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

John Edwards is the best choice, and the closest to a real populist we have.

Posted by: jMe on June 1, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

The troubling thing about the Tumulty article is that it seems to be playing into a new msm narrative. While I'm not a fan of Hillary's campaign (I think she's a disaster just like Obama); there does seem to be a narrative being developed of Hillary the old schemer versus Obama the young, straightforward newcomer.

Tumulty uses the words truth and candor to describe what really amount to indecision and playing both sides of the fence. He says he will up the military budget "initially", implying he intends to also reduce after upping it. He says the NCLB is both good and bad. He says the Palestinians suffer but then recants saying its their own fault.

None of the things she cites shows any evidence of "candor" or courage.

Posted by: Chrissy on June 1, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

"He makes you feel like he's not a politician, but a leader."

Not to be overly pedantic, but gawd how I hate views like the one above. Politics is a necessary part of the human condition. When politics break down, humans have a tendency to bring out the clubs and knives.

In our society, our greatest leaders have been our best politicians.

Posted by: Keith G on June 1, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

thersites,

Yeah, but would you want to have a beer with him?

Sure, although a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir would be preferable.

Posted by: Edo on June 1, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

*He says the Palestinians suffer but then recants saying its their own fault.*

A little unfair, Chris. He says the Palestinians suffer, AND that much of it is their own fault. The "but" intended to imply contradiction was your own invention.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on June 1, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

I have to call bullshit on one of Gore/Edwards08's proposed requirements for an "ideal" Democratic candidate. Gulf War I was no more a righteous military adventure than was Junior's more recent invasion. Not only did Bush I's State Department continue to send the message to Hussein that any military action against Kuwait would basically be OK with the U.S., but much of the rationale for our subsequent military response (e.g., the supposed threat to Saudi Arabia posed by a "massive buildup" of Iraqui forces on the Saudi border...a threat which later proved to be hugely overstated) was total crap.

In addition to falisifying the threat to the Saudis, the Bush I folks repeatedly ignored attempts by Hussein to negotiate an end to the conflict, choosing, instead, to resort to force.

The bottom line is that, starting at least with the Reagan administration and continuing up to the very invasion itelf, Saddam Hussein was viewed as a U.S. proxy in the Middle East, taking the place of the old U.S. proxy, the Shah of Iran. We provided him with military and economic aid, supported him in his war against the Iranians, and gave him a virtual green light to invade Kuwait.

The Gulf War was simply a continuation of our neo-colonial attitude toward the Middle East.

Posted by: Ex-Pat on June 1, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Well, here's all that the Obama puff piece really says regarding the exchange on the Palestinians:

He told a white-haired woman peace activist who criticizes Israel that the Palestinians are in the wrong, and then when this appears to encourage a pro-Israel man, tells that guy that the Israelis are far from perfect, too.

Really, that could mean anything. If I'm going to believe some reporter's claim that Obama really was telling some hard truths to people who needed to hear them, I'd like to hear exactly what Obama said, instead of nearly empty paraphrases.

The reporter is a total chump for expecting us to take him at his word that he faithfully captured the essence of the exchange.

Posted by: frankly0 on June 1, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Precisely frankly0.

The author uses innuendo and repetition of the words truth and candor to create some big impression of daring honesty where it doesn't exist - another example being her contention that Obama "castigated" automakers without saying how he did this and what he said. The whole thing is an exercise in fawning. It is not dispassionate or rational.

Posted by: Chrissy on June 1, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0:

Politics today is really a zero sum game. The opposite sides on ideological and value grounds have naturally coalesced into two maximally coherent constituencies. Either the Right wins, or we do.

You don't know what you're talking about. What about the havoc wreaked by third-party candidates? What about the collapse of the Republican coalition as we speak? What about the spectrum of foreign policy positions within the left? The Right has tried to create your maximally coherent constituencies based on social issues, but that is not going to have the same effect in this election.

You (and, e.g., Chrissy), find Obama naive and wishy-washy for staking out positions between the political extremes. The articles on Obama show him holding firm and fair positions in many situations, so it is silly for you to mock him for speaking bluntly to one old lady. That's precisely what Hillary is unable to do anywhere, notably when she is before southern audiences. Hillary is incapable of delivering a consistent platform, and if she did, she would lose, because her pandering ability IS her main asset.

Finally, presidential candidates need to get past the good vs. evil aspect of a host of issues, which means they have to talk details with the people when the occasion arises, not make sweeping generalizations that you might find more "assertive" or "bold". Edwards is the most egregious offender in this regard. He made his fortune wringing good vs. evil metaphors from ambiguous situations, and he still delivers a few permutations of a basic closing argument from the stump. This has won him the adoration of the base, but that's where it will end for him.

What is the going rate on the electoral market for candor? It has not always been so high, but right now I would say it's like an oasis in the desert to a wide swath of the electorate.

Posted by: Anselm on June 1, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

The one thing that really bothers me about Obama is that he keeps PROMISING to remove all combat troops from Iraq by sometime next year. I just find that intellectually dishonest and the opposite of truth telling.

Posted by: Ignatius on June 1, 2007 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Anselm,

Insofar as the Republican coalition is collapsing, it mainly has to do with their extremely poor electoral prospects, not because very distinct large groups have split off from each other on ideological or other grounds. There really are no moderates left in the Republican party; virtually all of them have embraced the same set of goals, from abortion to foreign policy to taxes to Social Security.

And whatever differences there may be among Democrats today on foreign policy, those differences pale by comparison to the clearly defined, hyperaggressive, and punitive foriegn policy on the Right. Even at this late stage, it's almost impossible to find a Republican who will openly criticize Bush's strategy in the Iraq war. Where, for example, is the Republican Presidential candidate who is calling for Bush to consider withdrawal? Where is the Democrat who is calling for anything else?

Now you can choose to pretend that there's no good or evil here, and no stark choices. I think most of us realize that it is not so. The Right has quite deliberately chosen to define itself as a radical departure from what has been. Clearly, we are not them; they are not us. These differences can't be papered over, however eager Obama might be to act as if they might be.

Basing your candidacy on the concept of bipartisanship and compromise in these circumstances is naive or dishonest, however grand it sounds to talk as if you can be above the fray.

Posted by: frankly0 on June 1, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

If you cannot see the fractionalization of the right, you are blind.

There are republicans calling for redeployment, and many more who are a hair's breadth away from it. Moreover and more importantly, the republican electorate is obviously split on the issue of withdrawal. If anything, the war has de-redicalized the electorate from the days when many people voted solely on cultural and religious issues.

Evern if the Republican politicians are being forced into extreme positions, this will ONLY benefit the Dem candidate - if that candidate is not seen as the mirror-image partisan on the left.

Now you can choose to pretend that there's no good or evil here

There is good and evil in the universe. If you think they have any more than a passing influence on politics, once again, you are deluded. Honesty, consistency, sanity, and intelligence will make a good president. "Good" means nothing.

Posted by: Anselm on June 1, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama /Snoop dawg 08 yea hommies got frit and frat in yo dag not on ma pad. Yo

Posted by: john john on June 1, 2007 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Candor? Truth-telling? Obama? More apt description would be wishy-washy. He won't take a firm position on anything.

Read his books, listen to his speeches, look at the organization he's building, and think about politics for a while. Your ideal positions don't matter a damn without winning, and he's setting himself up to win. I sometimes wonder if people who look at Obama and see non-existent negatives are too stupid to understand what he's doing.

Posted by: mike on June 1, 2007 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

"He's setting himself up to win." Is this the Kerry in 2004 argument? That Obama is deliberately demurring from expousing a pinned-down genuinely liberal stance on any issue of contention in hopes of increasing his 'electability'? Frankly, I think the primaries should be about more than posturing for the general election.

Posted by: Tim P. on June 1, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Which is why I'm probably more genuinely undecided between the major Democratic candidates this cycle than I have been for a long time. All three of them appeal to me in significant ways but none of them have completely sealed the deal....
The upside of this is that I don't think I'll be disappointed regardless of who wins. They're all good candidates. And there's still plenty of time to make up my mind."

Put it that way and it's a no-brainer. Just choose the candidate who is most electable.

A good chunk of the country simply doesn't like Hillary and doesn't want to. Significant parts of this group are swing voters. True, their reasons for disliking Clinton are largely superficial, but life isn't fair.

Edwards is a good candidate, but (alas) his wife's medical condition could generate concerns among the electorate. Less noted is the fact that he has 4 children, 2 of school age and 2 that are younger. "What will happen to them?", the public will wonder.

Which leaves Obama, who can even draw support from those who disagree with him.

Too bad Richardson isn't on the short list. I don't know much about him.

Posted by: Measure for Measure on June 1, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Who dropped the brain on Andrew Sullivan?

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on June 1, 2007 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

> There are republicans calling for
> redeployment, and many more who are
> a hair's breadth away from it.

They have been a "hair's breadth away" since 2004, and haven't managed to budge that hair. Now Petraus is calling for 130,000 troops until December 2008 followed by a "drawdown", and has already declared the escalation a "success". No need to wait for September.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 1, 2007 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

> Honesty, consistency, sanity,
> and intelligence will make a
> good president.

Apparently you missed the Clinton impeachment circus followed by 8 years of WBush/Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and Gonzales.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 1, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Dems need a candidate that is comfortable playing both Mother Teresa and Macchiavelli and knows the appropriate time for each. Sometimes you need to figuratively crush the opposition to get the right things done. His advisers should have Obama read a few books on LBJ and FDR.

Posted by: mean streak on June 1, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

A few months ago when Obama emerged from a book tour to become a candidate for the presidency, folks on this blog were in celebration mode (except for the few GOP trolls, of course). Anyone who dared post a caution about Obama was smothered with abuse.

Now? Well, read the posts above for yourself. Lots of hesitation. Lots of worry. Lots of crossed fingers. Lot of shaking of heads.

I said then, and I repeat it now, the more you get to know Obama, the less you're going to like him.

From maximum celebration to worried hesitation in less than six months. There you have it.

If you truly want a Democratic candidate who can (a} win the presidency, and (b) carry the Congress, you'll have to look elsewhere than either Obama or Edwards.

The light dawns?

Posted by: straighttalk on June 1, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

All three of them appeal to me in significant ways

Really? What's the appeal of Hillary exactly? Apart from being the only woman in Washington who didn't blow the President, what's her strength?

Posted by: craigie on June 2, 2007 at 1:19 AM | PERMALINK

Matt Yglesias said something about Shrum's memoir that's applicable to this discussion: "...that elections are primarily decided by low-information voters who tend to vote on character questions and that issues primarily matter because they affect perceptions of character." I'd argue that this is probably true of primaries/caucuses as well. Meaning primary voters won't, for example, care so much about the minutiae of Obama's health care plan as they will about whether they generally trust him to lead us toward some sort of progress on health care. If a CW develops around Obama that he's willing to tell uncomfortable truths, that he's not a panderer - well, then Hillary and Edwards are in deep, deep trouble.

Posted by: El Caballo de Sangre on June 2, 2007 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

I hate to sound cynical but the reason that Edwards is so popular with the kos crowd is that he's basically a panderer who tells them what they want to hear. Back in 2003 he voted for the war because it was politically expedient, now he's tacked to the left on the war to appeal to the angry democrat base, and he'd no doubt tack back right if he were to win the nomination.

Posted by: Renwick on June 2, 2007 at 7:53 AM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with Renwick - as an apolitical campaign junkie, and putting aside my troll persona - I can't believe how gullible the left is about Edwards. Edwards more than any other candidate was up close and personal with Howard Dean and saw the energy Dean harnessed last time out, yet hope springs eternal with the nutroots and they say this time we have a guy who really, really means it. Didn't Edwards try to play Miss Congeniality last time - wasn't he the guy who backpedaled furiously whenever Kerry said something uncomplementary about the war? Yet now he's the left's gunslinger for hire, and won't sell out his clients when the opportunity presents itself.

Posted by: minion on June 2, 2007 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Really? What's the appeal of Hillary exactly? Apart from being the only woman in Washington who didn't blow the President, what's her strength?

I'm no Hillary fan, but I'm temporarily rescinding my craigielove for that remark.

Posted by: shortstop on June 2, 2007 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

When the country finally gets to know Obama, he’ll be president by acclaim. The guy is nearly miraculous in the way he can answer tough questions in ways that sound devoid of pandering, but still have both right and left nodding in agreement.

David Brooks wants Obama, Andrew Sullivan wants Obama. How’s that for crossover appeal?

One of many good things about his election: it would either completely isolate the bigot wing of the Republican party, or better, pull them out of that straight jacket they wear. Hey, more amazing things have happened. I once read about a man who was a Klansman in the 60s, who cries when he hears King’s speeches played today.

I believe Obama is the one man of this century so far who has the potential to be a leader of all the people—a leader of all the world, for that matter—and damn do we need it. God could not have designed a better background and resume for a world leader. When he is elected, the world will jump for joy.

Posted by: Jagadeesan on June 3, 2007 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

What does the writer want us to take from the exchange he recounts about housing policy? "Low rise has problems of its own" is a very general statement, but it is one housing policy specialists would agree with.

In a room full of Democrats, most Democratic politicians would take this question as an opportunity to bash the appalling Bush record on low-income housing. With more moderate voters or independents, a DLC Democrat would take the opportunity to sound as little like Walter Mondale as possible, or he/she would just ooze empathy. John Edwards would answer with his standard two-Americas talk. HRC would probably say, I've been fighting for you against the conservative cabal for years. Both are creditworthy responses. However, Obama's answer worked at a different level.

He went in an unexpected direction. He pushed against the orthodox liberal-conservative responses to social welfare questions, without the DLC-like reliance on symbolism, sympathy, and concession to unfounded conservative perspectives about poverty. Obama is often described as a consensus builder. In social welfare questions in particular, there is very little political middle ground on which to build consensus. The difficulty of this style of leadership is that on contentious questions, the successful consensus builder has to move both sides away from their comfortable, predictable, even hidebound points of view toward a more constructive confrontation with tough collective problems. Obama's willingness to depart from orthodox views of policy, even to the point of offending aged questioners in a town meeting, is significant. The path of least resistance for Democrats in 07 and 08 will remain to bash Bush and stick to vague but popular stances on the issues. But following that path does not move the policy debate, it does not help us solve real problems, and it does not offer a serious alternative to the divisive Bush way of governing. This is the Democrats' best chance in a generation to reframe the old debates, turn over the sacred cows and conservative misapprehensions, and get the party and the country to a new, more progressive place.

So far, Obama is the only candidate who seems to understand that this is a rare opportunity. John Edwards has his moments, but Obama is more consistent. A campaign is a real-time test of a candidate's leadership skill. Can Obama lead? Is he just hype? Time will tell. If Obama can make his answer to questions like this one consistent and make them resonate equally in a union hall, in a suburban high school gym, in a farm town courthouse square, and in an African American church, watch out. He's the real deal.

Posted by: wesfromGA on June 4, 2007 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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