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Tilting at Windmills

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November 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE BOX....So now Barack Obama is parroting the "Social Security crisis" line and pandering to the mining industry in the early primary state of Nevada? Ugh.

In fairness, Obama's problem is that he's put himself in a box. He's campaigning as a straight talker, which means that even small, routine panders open him up to attacks as a hypocrite. He's campaigning as the guy who can bring us together, which means that even a modest bit of trash talking provokes squeals from the press corps. He's campaigning as the candidate of fresh, bold ideas, which means that any time he presents a sensible but routine policy idea he takes a hit for being the same old wine with a new label on the bottle. And he's further hurt by the fact that Hillary Clinton's campaign is brilliantly ruthless at taking advantage of all this.

But politics is what it is, and Obama is in a box whether he likes it or not. When you're selling yourself as the candidate of idealism, small deviations disappoint your followers more than big deviations from more conventional candidates. This is why idealistic candidates virtually never win. So far Obama hasn't figured out a way to escape this box, and he doesn't have much time left.

Kevin Drum 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Why do people love Obama so much? He talk pretty, but Edward's policies are all better. And no homophobe in the campaign, no pandering, etc.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 9, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Slow down, Kevin. Don't be so quick as to repeat & disseminate this Clinton campaign talking point. Study the issue. Obama has not been banging the drum a la Bush that Social Security is in immediate crisis. His point is and has been that there's an issue with long term solvency that needs to be addressed. Which is true.

Posted by: Obama/Webb 08 on November 9, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Too true Gore/Edwards. I think a lot of people support Obama because somehow they think it makes them cool. Not smart enough to see his spoiler candidacy is a disaster for progressives.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 9, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know, when I would bring up Obama's box problem months ago I was called cynical and other names. I wish I could say I was brilliant in being able to pick up on that, but Obama's campaign is very similar to Steve Westly's '06 CA gov. campaign. Once Westly had to start "contrasting" with Angelides, he came off very hypocritical. Incidentally, Westly wanted a "new politics" as well, which meant characituring Angelides as an irresponsible tax-and-spend liberal--a GOP talking point. Obama's trying to massage the Hillary is calculating theme which is also a GOP talking point. These two campaigns are similar in so many ways.

Posted by: gqmartinez on November 9, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Not to mention that on key Senate votes, like the 'Waterboarding may not be torture' AG and 'let us bomb Iran' amendment, Mr. Obama is very conveniently AWOL.

Posted by: gregor on November 9, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

I've seen Edwards campaign before, and while his policies might be better in some sense, he's not a great campaigner. The debates with Cheney were disappointing. He's better than Kerry at campaigning but that's saying very little.

So for me it's largely that Edwards doesn't inspire confidence as a campaigner, so I'd be happy to see him as the Veep candidate again but that's all. And I don't trust Hillary at all. If she learned any lessons from flubbing health care reform, or from supporting Bush's war, it's hard to see it.

So, Obama.

Not smart enough to see his spoiler candidacy is a disaster for progressives.

"Progressives" gave us Nader, which gave us Bush for a president. So "progressives" don't really have room to talk about anyone else not being smart enough.

Posted by: bob on November 9, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Luv the pro-Edwards Obama-basher tagteam above. Devoid of content, per usual.

Not to mention that on key Senate votes, like the 'Waterboarding may not be torture' AG and 'let us bomb Iran' amendment, Mr. Obama is very conveniently AWOL.

Along with HRC, Dodd, and Biden. And of course Reid didn't give them sufficient notice to make the vote. But don't let that stop you Obama-haters from selectively bashing him with it.

Posted by: Disputo on November 9, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Obama would make an excellent Secretary of State.

Posted by: Mina on November 9, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

The "Social Security crisis" line is not just a little tack or trap -- its saying something that is a lie. There is no crisis. The "running out of money" event is 30 or more years off, and even in the pessimistic assumptions being used requires a cut of 25% in benefits to restore budget balance - and of course, additional money would be found at that point to cover at least some of the benefits.

If you use non-pessimistic assumptions, the 'crisis' can be 50 years off, 80 years off or actually never occur.

Obama is behind, his facade is cracking under the pressure and he's starting to pander.

Too bad, I like the guy.

Posted by: JohnN on November 9, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Gore/Edwards - I support Barack Obama. My impression is that the top three Democratic contenders have a narrow range of policy proposals, leaving voters to choose among them based on personal preference (the method most voters use in the end, anyway). And the three present themselves as having different values and core messages, so people base their preference on that as well:

-- Sen. Clinton: "Ms Inevitability", might as well vote for me because I'm going to win anyway, most experienced (??), most practical, best able to restore the glory (??) of the Clinton years. Toughest foreign policy for people who want that. Appeals to females and people who like the Bill Clinton, plus has best name recognition.

-- Mr. Edwards: Most populist, most protectionist and pro-union, most willing to spend government $$$ on programs people want. Most liberal of the three.

-- Sen. Obama: "Mr Idealism", we can restore America's honor and leave behind the disgraceful conduct of the current president and be great again, we don't have tear ourselves apart. Most charismatic, often the most open and realistic. His central message is one that I and many younger people have wanted to hear for years, and someone is finally saying it.

On the subject of this thread: Yes, I'd prefer Mr Obama protect the environment from rapacious mining, but I think the central message is what's capturing people.

Posted by: Rebecca on November 9, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

To whom is he "pandering" when he talks about a "Social Security crisis?" Tim Russert?

Posted by: bob somerby on November 9, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

But don't let that stop you Obama-haters from selectively bashing him with it.

Although this thread is about Obama, well, I hereby bash Hillary too.

That Reid did not give them enough time sounds too much like dog ate my homework.

Better excuses please.

Posted by: gregor on November 9, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

bob, Obama supporters don't realize it but they are the Naderites of '08.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 9, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Along with HRC, Dodd, and Biden. And of course Reid didn't give them sufficient notice to make the vote. But don't let that stop you Obama-haters from selectively bashing him with it.

Well, I bashed all four of them for it in the other thread, only to have you tell us that's unacceptable, too, so apparently you're not having criticism of any Democratic candidate today? Reid may have caught them all short (and we really need to be asking why that is--why did that vote take place last night instead of later in the month as Reid had previously suggested it would?), but the fact is no presidential candidate managed to make it back to cast his or her vote against this asshole because they were all partying hearty in Iowa a year before the election.

Whether or not they would have changed the final outcome is not really the point. This was not some penny-ante bill; this is about where the people asking us to elect them president stand on an issue fundamental to our ideas of justice, the rule of law and our identity as a nation. And what they do or don't do on the Senate floor during their campaigns is as relevant to voters' decisionmaking process as any formal statement they make on their websites or any apple bobbing they attend in Ames.

Posted by: shortstop on November 9, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

So, the answer to the question, "Who do Kevin and his backers actually support?", is clearly:

HILLARY!

No ripping critiques or character assassination directed towards THAT particular contender, that I've noticed. Why, not even a PEEP about her massively "in-bedded" financial relationship with the corporate milirtary-industrial-security complex.

Alas, it seems so clear to me now
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 9, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who disagrees with Disputo gets the treatment. He labels them trolls, concern-trolls, haters and bigots. Bore.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 9, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Slow down, Kevin. Don't be so quick as to repeat & disseminate this Clinton campaign talking point. Study the issue. Obama has not been banging the drum a la Bush that Social Security is in immediate crisis. His point is and has been that there's an issue with long term solvency that needs to be addressed. Which is true.

No, it isn't true. Paul Krugman explains why:

Confusions about Social Security

Posted by: David W. on November 9, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who disagrees with Disputo gets the treatment. He labels them trolls, concern-trolls, haters and bigots. Bore.

No, I don't agree with that assessment. He and I are simply disagreeing now as we have many other times. I'm not going to draw that kind of sweeping characterization from it.

Posted by: shortstop on November 9, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Go meta?

As far as Edwards goes, he has always been a bad campaigner. Couldn't do better than Clark 4 years ago and before Iowa was polling in Sharpton range. The only reason he made any noise at all is Gephardt and Dean took each other out in Iowa and they were looking for basically anyone quasi-reasonable to vote for, media pushes his second place and the coasts on his 15 minutes of fame. He was a disaster as Kerry's running mate.

Posted by: Mark on November 9, 2007 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop, agree or no, that is Disputo's schtick.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 9, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Mark" on the other hand is obviously a troll.

If Edwards had really been such a dud, he wouldn't have given Kerry a scare in Wisconsin's primary weeks after Iowa's caucuses.

Posted by: David W. on November 9, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama had real guts, he'd drop out right now and start campaigning for Edwards to stop the party bosses' Clinton machine.

Posted by: Vincent on November 9, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Vincent, Obama's got plenty of guts. I just wish he'd stop saying Social Security is in crisis, because it isn't and it just hands the GOP a talking point Democrats have absolutely no reason to give them.

Posted by: David W. on November 9, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

The only crisis in Social Security is that people like George Bush want to spend the surplus that we've been overpaying for the last 25 years or so and not pay it back to the workers who put it there.
Removing the payroll-deduction ceiling would be a good idea, but only if the overall rates were lowered to compensate. Since we're already overtaxing the workers (to build up that surplus), simply removing the ceiling would only give the thieves in the White House and Congress more money to pilfer.

Posted by: AJ on November 9, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Obama would make an excellent Secretary of State."

Which is, of course, more than you can say of Hillary or Edwards. Both of them proved to be cynical and/or cowardly in supporting Bush's war resolution. Who the hell would want folks who couldn't - or wouldn't - see this disaster coming for Secretary of State, President or even Senator...

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK
Obama would make an excellent Secretary of State.

For suitably generous values of "excellent"; he'd be better than Dr. "No one could have imagined..." Rice, but wouldn't be my first choice, even among the the 2008 Democratic Presidential field, for Secretary of State.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 9, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK
To whom is he "pandering"...bob somerby at 2:11 PM
The special interests who would profit from a 'privatized' Social Security and their media spokespersons. Posted by: Mike on November 9, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Kevin Drum: "If you can't have perfect, bad is preferable to pretty good."

Posted by: Moonlight on November 9, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

"bob, Obama supporters don't realize it but they are the Naderites of '08"

A fine Edwardian whine...

I guess that makes Hillary the George Bush of '08. Sounds like "Naderism" to me. Unless you believe that Edwards - that great also-ran of '04 deserves the nomination because he...what ? Gave up his Senate seat ? Edwards supporters are really starting to get on my nerves. It's like they love their puppy sooooo much !!!! And the notion that Edwards is the "true" progressive is a crock. "True progressives" didn't support this war. He wasn't even for universal health care until AFTER the '04 election. I'm sure he's also got a bridge to sell to "true progressives".

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Mario Cuomo, another prisoner of the box, liked to contrast, "The poetry of the campaign", with, "The prose of governance."

The New York press corps didn't buy this characterization either.

Posted by: Measure for Measure on November 9, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Yea, that came out kinda trollish, but its still basically true. Wow, "scared" the frontrunner in one state. Awesome. (Awfully hard to avoid sounding trollish when Edwards comes up.)

Posted by: Mark on November 9, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

I think when Obama brings up social security he is doing it primarily to contrast his straight talk with Hillary's evasiveness (recall one of the debates.) Seems like people are put off by the term "crisis." Maybe he should characterize it as the "projected shortfall" if he continues to campaign on this.

Posted by: noexpert on November 9, 2007 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

I see that the word "progressive" is tossed around a lot by people who don't seem to realize that even in the Democratic Party out and out progressives are now, have been in the past, and most likely always be, a minority. Part of this, of course, is simply labeling - many people in the Democratic Party act as progressives and vote as progressives, but would deny vehemently that they "are" progressive. I don't know why, fear of being accused of being a "liberal"(oh, not that!)?
The three major candidates, Clinton, Edwards and Obama, all have excellent potential as progressives, but all on different levels.

I think that Clinton, once convinced of the need for some particular progressive policy, would bring an enormous amount of expertise to bear in bringing that policy to fruition. I don't know how easily convincing her would be.

Edwards has some of the best progressive ideas on how to ensure that more citizens receive a greater portion of the economy's benefits. How able he is in getting them enacted is something else.

Obama seems able to better move people out of themselves than either of the other two candidates, which is a prerequisite to get people active and involved to support any progressive action. Unfortunately, right now he seems to be unable to focus on any particularly progressive theme.

A lot is going to depend simply on the number of Democrats (whether avowed progressives or not) elected to Congress. The more Democrats, the greater chances for increased numbers of "progressive" Democrats.

Posted by: Doug on November 9, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

"I think that Clinton, once convinced of the need for some particular progressive policy, would bring an enormous amount of expertise to bear in bringing that policy to fruition."

The kind of "expertise" she displayed when she didn't even bother to read the NIE reports. I mean Bob Graham - a relatively conservative Democrat - showed better judgement than Our Lady of Experience.

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Did all those college students impressed by Obama's idealism just ignore it when Obama let Donnie McClurkin run an Obama rally and give an anti-gay rant at the end of it?

I thought that would have been the beginning of the end for the Obama candidacy, but apparently not.

If anyone's going to keep Hillary from winning the nomination, it's going to be Edwards, not Obama. The sooner Obama's support collapses, the sooner Edwards can start getting some coverage. He can win if the media don't basically shut him out the way they have.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on November 9, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

David W: Hillary acknowledges there's a long term solvency problem with Social Security. Here's an example from The Fact Hub, her new rapid response site:

"When I am president, we'll have our priorities in order. We will return to fiscal responsibility and fair tax policies first, and then we will address the long-term challenges facing Social Security."

Posted by: Obama/Webb 08 on November 9, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with an idealistic campaign is that you really have to be idealistic. That means taking risks, taking at least some edgy positions, clealry motivated by a grounded set of principles. Obama hasn't really done that; he's taken pretty much the same positions the rest of the Dems have. He's running Hillary's campaign with better rhetoric -- but without Hillary's experience, network, name recognition, and husband. I think the Obama folks bought into Obamamania harder than they should have -- he was an outsider candidate who happened to be raising insider megabucks, and as such, he really needed to run an outsider campaign, something along the lines of McCain's 2000 campaign, or even McCarthy in '68. It would have been a sight to see -- that kind of passion, supported by money. We ain't going to see it now.

Perhaps he and his people felt that a black running a hard-edged campaign wouldn't go over well. Or perhaps, as I think more likely, they bet Hillary's high negatives and the glaringly obvious fact that the press have her would do her in without any help from him, meaning all he had to do was survive the first few months of the campaign with his image intact, and he would then sail to the nomination. I think the first notion is wrong, and the second has been proven false so far, but then, hindsight and all that.

Posted by: Martin Gale on November 9, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

"If anyone's going to keep Hillary from winning the nomination, it's going to be Edwards, not Obama."

Faith-based comment of the year...

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

I have to say that I'm around Obama supporters a lot - working on the campaign - and I never hear the bitter spew coming from them against Edwards that the Edwards' folks routinely dish out against Obama. I've started to hit back in comments threads, because frankly, anybody who supported the war in Iraq doesn't deserve to be President if there's an alternative candidate who didn't have either their head or their balls stuck in the wrong place.

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

"We know that [Saddam] has chemical and biological weapons today, that he's used them in the past, and that he's doing everything he can to build more," presidential aspirant Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 7, 2002. "Every day he gets closer to his long-term goal of nuclear capability. We cannot allow Saddam Hussein to have nuclear weapons." There was an urgency to Edwards' call; on the Senate floor on Sept. 12, Edwards said that Saddam's nuclear capability "could be less than a year away."

A True Progressive...

Posted by: brucds on November 9, 2007 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

What would be nice is if the candidates would take away the wingnuts talking points. Ask all the candidates to commit to:

Do their job by showing up to vote on legislation even while campaigning.

Within the first month of the election (no reason to wait until the inauguration) convene a bipartisan commission to talk about strengthening Social Security.

Craft the legislation and line up sponsors to present a Universal Health Care bill to congress.

Posted by: MickNH on November 9, 2007 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

The debt this country owes to Socialists, as well as "Share the Wealth" populist Huey Long:

75 Years Ago FDR Read the Results Right, and Took a Left Turn
by John Nichols [The Nation]
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 10, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

You all are idiots!!!!! Can we agree to disagree before some stupid Republican sweeps into the damn white house again?!? I mean Obama is what he is and that is a progressive, intelligent person, who thinks before he speaks. Hil and Edwards are intelligent as well. DO YOU REALIZE we have 3 excellent candidates to choose from (and one VP in Richardson). This is historic. No one is mentioning the 7 Dwarfs as in 1988, or any other prior campaigns where there were the "lesser of 2 evils." I think many could live with a president Obama, Clinton or Edwards and we need to stop giving republicans ammunition.

By the way, Obama is NOT IN A BOX!! His box is that he is outside the box. What is wrong with intelligent candidates, like Steve Wesly and Bill Bradley for that matter? Are we really that stupid to choose the village idiot 3 times in a row? Come on people, lets be productive and stop with the stupid name calling and inside the beltway politics. Middle America ain't feeling it.

Posted by: Chitown on November 10, 2007 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

If Obama wants to talk about a crisis, why not the long-term prospects of Medicare?

Posted by: bob h on November 10, 2007 at 6:25 AM | PERMALINK

Amen to brucds. Yes, Clinton and Edwards are both fine progressives but their votes for the war make it impossible to stand the moral high ground with credibility. And yes - the war will still be the defining issue of the election barring some other calamity.

Posted by: Obama/Webb 08 on November 10, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody heard of THIS commendable Democratic candidate? You know, the one who actually had the "gall" to challenge the House "leadership" on the issue of impeachment??:

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Effort to Impeach Vice President Cheney Still Alive
[Democracy Now!]

Despite the best efforts of the Democratic leadership, impeachment was indeed on the table this week in Washington. On Tuesday, Congressmember and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich nearly forced the full House to vote on his measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. House Resolution 333 accuses Cheney of deliberately manipulating intelligence and deceiving the public to build support for the invasion of Iraq and now towards a possible attack on Iran. Twenty-one House Democrats have supported the bill, but it's met fierce opposition from the Democratic leadership. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 10, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

"And of course Reid didn't give them sufficient notice to make the vote. But don't let that stop you Obama-haters from selectively bashing him with it."

This is not true at all--Reid announced it that morning, and all the candidates could and should have been there. It was intended to give them cover, but it's shameful, and all of them should have gone and stopped it.

The horrible Peru "free trade" bill too--which both Obama and Clinton support.

Posted by: amberglow on November 10, 2007 at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK

Martin Gale--perfectly said.

It's very disappointing, and clearly no "new kind of politics". It's simply empty rhetoric--which is then belied by his actual actions like the McClurken debacle, support for religious bigotry, support for "free trade", and pandering.

Posted by: amberglow on November 10, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

>Share the Wealth" populist Huey Long:

Er.. that should read: Unprincipled conman and kleptocrat Huey P. Long whose brazen thievery continues to enrich generations of his decendants.

It might have been, my memory's not the steel trap it once was, T. Harry Williams who commented that sure Huey was responsible for 10,000 miles of improved roads but he made sure the government had paid for 50,000.

That's better.

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted by: MsNThrope on November 11, 2007 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

"Posted by: M[i]sNThrope"

APTLY named! However, I'll choose my own descriptive phrases, if you don't mind (and even if you DO).

If your intention was to "rebutt" those assertions, you picked a damned peculiar way to go about it. Might I suggest? Some remedial study in "reading comprehension" would do you a world of good.
.

Posted by: Poilu on November 11, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK
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