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Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CAJOLERY....Washington Monthly founder Charlie Peters, responding to people (like me) who are afraid that Barack Obama's "let's all work together" MO won't be sufficient to actually bring about the change he so often talks about, says we should look at Obama's record in the Illinois legislature:

Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced — by beating the daylights out of the accused....The bill itself aroused immediate opposition. There were Republicans who were automatically tough on crime and Democrats who feared being thought soft on crime. There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument. Vigorous opposition came from the police, too many of whom had become accustomed to using muscle to "solve" crimes. And the incoming governor, Rod Blagojevich, announced that he was against it.

....He responded with an all-out campaign of cajolery....The police proved to be Obama's toughest opponent, [but] by showing officers that he shared many of their concerns, even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted, he was able to quiet the fears of many.

Obama proved persuasive enough that the bill passed both houses of the legislature, the Senate by an incredible 35 to 0. Then he talked Blagojevich into signing the bill, making Illinois the first state to require such videotaping.

This is a fair point. And yet....can I say that I'm still a little skeptical? First, any bill that eventually passes 35-0 can't possibly have had that much in the way of stone-cold opposition. Obviously Obama did a good job of working with both Republicans and law enforcement interests in Illinois, but at the national level congressional Republicans have shown themselves remarkably immune to Obama-ish cajolery when it comes their key issues. I continue to have my doubts that a charm campaign will get the job done against the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. They know all too well who signs their paychecks.

But lest I protest too much, Charlie does make a good point. Springfield isn't Washington DC, but it's not the Peoria city council either, and although Obama may not have been a game changer in Illinois, he was an effective legislator who got some important things done. Win big in November and maybe he'll be able to cajole half a dozen of those famous moderate Republicans in the Senate to actually do something moderate.

UPDATE: Via email, Archpundit expands on something he said in the comment thread:

It was fought tooth and nail Kevin. The cops and prosecutors were adamantly against it for some time including the Democratic Cook County Prosecutor.

I swore reform was dead after the commutations, Obama pulled it off. It was an incredible sight.

The end result was truly amazing. The police groups hated the idea and they hated racial profiling legislation — he passed both without angering them, but by working with them, listening, and showing good faith. I never thought it would pass with Democratic State's Attorneys opposing it, strongly even — but he pulled everyone along and did it pretty quickly.

I know sometimes the claims sound too good to be true, but he is truly an amazingly talented politician with the right values. I like the other candidates, but every time I've seen him underestimated, he pulls out a victory whether it be electoral or policy.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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Comments

As someone who has actually lobbied on the state level against the death penalty, I find the claim that there were death penalty abolitionists who "worried ... Obama's bill ... would deprive them of their best argument" to be utterly absurd.

Posted by: Joe on January 4, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Win big in November and maybe he'll be able to cajole half a dozen of those famous moderate Republicans in the Senate to actually do something moderate."

All evidence to the contrary. These are people who fillibuster their own bill. And IL is far from the US / DC.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on January 4, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Well, last night as I was reading I, Norman: The Story of a Self-Made Heir in bed, I came across still more references to Mr. Rogers' close friendship with "Mr. Charles Peters," so obviously Obama is enjoying a great deal of sneaky Republican support.

Just teasing, of course. I wonder if Charlie enjoys Norman's constant references to him in the threads? He's gotta be cracking up.

Posted by: shortstop on January 4, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I have never heard this story before, and it highlights something about Senator Obama's background that gets too little illumination-- he really cares about the law as a lawyer ought to care.
Frankly, although not from Illinois myself, my own experience with these sorts of issues leads me to say-- wow, this is a great achievement. 1) It is indubitably a good idea, no ifs, ands or buts. 2) There are always strong constituencies with time tested cliches on their side that oppose any improvements in the treatment of persons under arrest, so I suspect the opposition was strong.
In fact, I would say this story reflects the only actual governmental achievement worthy of the name by any candidate of either party of which I am aware. It seems to me actual positive achievements in legislating are nearly non-existent these days.

Posted by: Jake on January 4, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Drum,

It seems to me that what is escaping you in pushing the "Obama is too nice" meme, is that if Obama is able to continue realigning the traditional democratic coalition, by attracting new participants, he can go to the public when faced with republican opposition.

Posted by: Chris Brown on January 4, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

It was fought tooth and nail Kevin. The cops and prosecutors were adamantly against it for some time including the Democratic Cook County Prosecutor.

I swore reform was dead after the commutations, Obama pulled it off. It was an incredible sight.

Posted by: ArchPundit on January 4, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I guess the real question Kevin, is can Clinton or Edwards point to anything like this? Where are their crowning electoral moments?

Posted by: Keith on January 4, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't Jimmy Carter known for his ability to work with the Georgia leg? And then he found out that Congress is just a little different? And I say that as someone who likes Obama.

Posted by: Speed on January 4, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

To Joe in the first comment: it's more than absurd, it's downright slanderous to claim that death penalty opponents would oppose the bill because "Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument". Unless Mr. Peters has concrete evidence that this is true, he should retract the claim and apologize. Not everyone is as cynical as Mr. Peters evidently is.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 4, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "First, any bill that eventually passes 35-0 can't possibly have had that much in the way of stone-cold opposition."

Actually, Kevin, having worked for many years in a state legislature myself, allow me to enlighten readers about how to properly gauge the measure of opposition to a given piece of legislation.

In any given legislative year, over 90% of most draft legislation in its final form is passed on Final Reading by state legislatures either unanimously or with only token opposition. A state legislature will usually pass on average 300 to 400 bills per session annually.

House or Senate leadership will almost never schedule a vote on a measure if passage was not pretty much assured before hand. And only a relative handful of bills are controversial enough to have close votes; unfortunately, these are the bills the local media will focus upon in its coverage. Most of the public don't pay any attention to 98% of the legislation that actually becomes state law.

If you want an accurate account of the true measure of initial opposition to a given controversial bill or resolution, you need to look at the votes in the House or Senate committees to which said bill or resolution was initially referred, or at the votes on Second or Third Reading in each chamber, prior to a referral to conference committee.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 4, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Can I just say, "What the fuck?"

Senator Clinton. Governor Romney. Mayor Giuliani. Governor Huckabee. Senator Edwards. Senator Biden. Senator McCain. Senator Obama.

Is there a pattern emerging here? None of them has been president before, and none of them is president yet.

So isn't it a little premature to say that Obama's "'let's all work together' MO won't be sufficient"?

You don't have to know much about politics to know that the campaign is to the office as ducks are to foie gras -- a necessary ingredient but not particularly indicative of what the end-result will be.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on January 4, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I live in IL, not that far from Springfield. The IL legislature has a Senate Dem majority, a House Dem majority and a Dem governor. Yet, this year, they went into a record for overtime session. The three Dem groups could not agree. That's all Dem, you might note.

That Obama got these factions to agree on something shows a certain amount of ability.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 4, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Arch Pundit is correct that the bill in question faced tough going initially. It's also worthy of note that the bill addressed a real problem - the fact that the Chicago Police Department has a long and putrid history of torturing confessions out of arrestees, particularly those arrestees who have the poor judgment to be black.

Posted by: Yossarian on January 4, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama were running for national Senator-at-large or some other legislative position, that story would be much more impressive. But last time I looked POTUS was an executive, not a legislative position. There is a difference.

Also, I have to admit a complete ignorance concerning Illinois state politics, but I remind all of 2000, where a governor from a state with a notoriously weak executive and an opposition controled legislature got a nice rep as an effective bi-partisan executive. That guy got elected, but I doubt anyone today would consider him effective or bi-partisan and barely an executive at that.

Posted by: majun on January 4, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Charlie Peters either a bit hypocritical or else ignorant of his own product?

Didn't WM JUST come out with a story titled: "Ask Not!Why Obama is No JFK" by Ted Widmer?

A story which pretty much kicked Obama to the curb on foreign policy?

Just saying, you know?

==

Per Donald from Hawaii, this gets back, in part, to Bush's claims of bipartisanship. (Which had a huge helping of help from Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.) Bipartisanship at the state level is a whole nuther kettle of fish.

That then said, not all state leges are that bipartisan. Since the GOP took over the Texas House, partisanship here has ramped up, with the exception of collaborationist Dems Speaker Craddoc k has pealed off.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 4, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

This is no knock on Obama, but I do not believe in the Great Leader theory of political change. Obama has political talent to spare and I think it is very silly to believe, as some Edwards supporters apparently do, that a man who was the first Af/Am editor of the Harvard Law Review is not a fighter. For a black man in America every day is a fight.

But I question whether any Great Leader can do much to loosen the grip of the corporate ruling class without a very broad base of support. Progressives ought to be more concerned with senate and congressional elections than they appear to be. Just consider how different things would be today with Senator Lamont instead of Holy Joe being the 51st vote in the Democratic majority.

So my question is this: Does Obama have more political talent than Bill Clinton? Because Bill Clinton couldn't get anything progressive done despite his popularity and amazing political talent.

Posted by: James E. Powell on January 4, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Let me just add, there are certainly fair criticisms for the type of experience he has and I respect those points. My point was pretty narrowly tailored to this issue and what I saw as a pretty amazing leadership style. I do favor him, but I respect that he's not perfect or anything.

Posted by: ArchPundit on January 4, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

"any bill that eventually passes 35-0 can't possibly have had that much in the way of stone-cold opposition."

Gotta agree with the poster above. Legislatures are tricky places, and surprisingly the most hard-fought issues can result in bills that pass with these kinds of numbers. That's almost always because someone has done a lot of legwork and has gotten everybody invested enough in a compromise bill that they feel they have no choice but to support it or lose something important.

To give a very silly counter-example to your point, it's worth noting that the Constitution was adopted unanimously by all States. This should not for a moment suggest that this process was the least bit easy or foreordained.

Posted by: anonymous on January 4, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Win big in November and maybe he'll be able to cajole half a dozen of those famous moderate Republicans in the Senate to actually do something moderate."

It's not just the moderate Republicans that we have to worry about. The Democratic Party is not the progressive entity that many believe it to be.
Face it, we're living in a goddam corporatocracy, and the rot has infected both parties. I'm encouraged by the results of the Iowa primaries, but we have a long, long way to go to move this country back to the center, much less push it in a progressive direction.

Posted by: global yokel on January 4, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I sympathize, Kevin.

I want a real paradigm change, I want to believe that such a change is possible, and I certainly appreciate that Obama has the talent and the values to be a prominent agent of one.

My problem is a combination of the historical failures of Stevenson, McCarthy, Anderson, etc. and the intransigence, extremism, and huge financial, lobbying, media, and legal resources of today's Republicans.

IOW, I think the odds are long against paradigm changes anyway, they are particularly long today, and I'm not sure I want to gamble on one.

Maybe it's just my age...

Posted by: bleh on January 4, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

"any bill that eventually passes 35-0 can't possibly have had that much in the way of stone-cold opposition."

Gotta agree with the poster above. Legislatures are tricky places, and surprisingly the most hard-fought issues can result in bills that pass with these kinds of numbers. That's almost always because someone has done a lot of legwork and has gotten everybody invested enough in a compromise bill that they feel they have no choice but to support it or lose something important.

The Illinois State Senate has 59 members. A 35-0 vote tells you there were a number of abstensions, votes of "present", or (most likely in Illinois) senators just not voting. It also tells you that there was a lot of horse-trading behind the scenes, in connection with unrelated bills. Also with funding the project (which, once funding for the video equipment was provided, won the backing of the Cook County State's Attorney).

It took a lot of work, and Obama rightly gets credit for it.

Posted by: DJ on January 4, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

James E. Powell wrote: "But I question whether any Great Leader can do much to loosen the grip of the corporate ruling class without a very broad base of support."

Neither Clinton nor Obama is proposing to loosen the grip of the corporate ruling class. John Edwards is vociferously proposing to do that. That's why on the very evening that Edwards came in ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, the corporate media was already pronouncing his campaign over. That's why Dennis Kucinich is asked questions about UFO sightings in televised debates (when he isn't entirely excluded from the debates).

There is zero chance of anyone, "Great Leader" or otherwise, becoming president who would actually do anything to even slightly "loosen the grip of the corporate ruling class".

The best we can hope for is to get a "compassionate conservative" president, like Bill Clinton, who will to some extent persuade America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class Inc. that it is in their long-term best interest to let a few more crumbs fall from their table, and implement a "kinder and gentler" corporate dictatorship than what we've experienced under the virulent greed, corruption, and naked criminality of Cheney and Bush.

I expect that the corporate ruling class would still prefer to continue the rapacious policies of Cheney/Bush with a new Republican president, eg. Romney or McCain, but they are also comfortable that Obama or Hillary Clinton are people they can work with if it comes to that.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 4, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

So my question is this: Does Obama have more political talent than Bill Clinton?

I think the short answer is yes. I think Bill Clinton was the most talented politician we've had as president in my adult years, but I think he'd have trouble if he were campaigning against Obama. Obama is the kind of figure we may only get to see once every generation or two.

I'm an Edwards supporter and not on the Obama bandwagon. But Obama is on a different level than anyone else right now.

Posted by: JJF on January 4, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Can't we all just get along." -- Barack Obama

[ Note: I admire Rodney King's inspired idea. I just don't think Republicans give a flyin' f*** about playing nice. ]

Posted by: MarkH on January 4, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

So now we will use one example, probably decently exaggerated, to pass a verdict on the unbelievable promises of change, no old politics and befriending the lovely Republican. Are we all on some new drug or something?

Posted by: Koshembos on January 4, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

One slight mitigating caveat -- the bill had pretty strong support from the Tribune (this was shortly after their definitive death penalty investigation showing something like 1/3 of death row inmates ultimately have their convictions overturned). It would have been difficult for politicians to just stick their heads in the sand and pretend that there wasn't a problem when the major newspaper was beating them up on it.

That said, what Archpundit says in generally true. There was widespread opposition, and Barack did an amazing job getting a good law passed. Also keep in mind that he did it at the risk of alienating the city unions who, until 2004, had enormous influence in deciding the Democratic nominee for most public offices.

Posted by: Joe on January 4, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

I heard it before. Ah, yes - Barak Patreaus.

Posted by: Koshembos on January 4, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

After a stinging defeat in 2008 the remaining Republicans in Washington will focus on vengeance, just like they did with Bill Clinton. Obama will try to play nice, will reach across the aisle, and pull back a bloody stump. Siegfried and Roy were good at dealing with tigers but they're still freaking wild animals.

Posted by: Mike M. on January 4, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't we hear the same stories before about W before he became president?

Posted by: exhuminng mccarthy on January 4, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,

I totally agree with you.

The corporate press/media has been ignoring John Edwards all year. I expect they will continue to do so. If by some accident or fortune, Edwards starts to move up, I expect they will attack him with the same force and energy as they used on Howard Dean. I expect them to succeed.

I am not a hopeful person. I do not believe that America can or will change for the better unless and until a crisis of Great Depression proportions shatters the minds of the narcotized and dysfunctional addicts of this consumer capitalist culture.

But in the meantime, I definitely prefer any Democrat and their dirty deals over the brutality of the Republicans.

Posted by: James E. Powell on January 4, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Clinton couldn't get anything progressive done because he didn't want to do anything progressive. He led the DLC, remember. Instead of committing his administration to health care reform, he sent it out to be studied first--by Hillary, who didn't get 'er done. Don't ask, don't tell? Welfare reform? Energy policy? Climate change?

We can be grateful that Clinton was a policy wonk instead of a the self-loving manchild who followed, who makes him look like a giant by comparison. The '90s were full of missed opportunities, enough of them to make you wonder just why Bill Clinton wanted to be President anyway. Because it was cool? I admit I'm surprised to learn just how many Dems probably feel like I do, and see Obama as a chance to go in a different direction.

Posted by: W Action on January 4, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I don't believe that Obama subscribes to the "Great Man" theory either. He told a packed house in Iowa two nights ago that he wanted to go into talks with an army at his back, an army that believed it could overcome insurmountable odds. He knows full well how he'd reach a position of strength, which is why he's out talking to people about hope.

Posted by: James Robinson on January 4, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

>>even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted

Which was? Getting things done is important, but the quid pro quo is too.

What you have to trade in DC to improve health care or not screw with social security is vastly different than what you have to do to help get laws passed at the state level that local law enforcement is seeking.

Posted by: lutton on January 4, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

exhuminng mccarthy: I guess this is good news then. This means that he will do what W did, that is, become a truly partisan progressive.

Obviously this is a ridiculous argument but then again, politics is full of ridiculous shit.

Posted by: GOD on January 4, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

What are the odds for the upcoming elections that Dems will take 60 seats in the Senate? I've heard +5 to +8 seats, leaving us short of 60.

So, how would Obama get things done? I don't see it.

I've heard his book for caucus goers lied about Edwards health care plan to swing voters to his side. Will he make it public, so we can clear up this question?

Does Obama have a plan for taking the Deep South from Virginia to Florida and over to Texas? What is it?

If Obama campaigns, as he has been, as Repub lite, then won't someone like McCain clean his clock in many purple states?

Won't the issue of drug use limit Obama's vote-getting in many places?

I see a lot of questions and not much hope they can be answered well. But, I'm willing to listen if Obama supporters want to make the case -- especially if they can do so without repeating 'change' more than a couple of times.

Posted by: MarkH on January 4, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know why Democrats would want to poop on Obama's accomplishments. He has performed very well. Much of the negativity appears to simply be the result of preference for another candidate.

Same for Hillary. People who know of no accomplishments simply demonstrate ignorance.

The videotaping legislation referred to in this post is an admirable accomplishment by Obama. The pioneering work by Hillary related to child protective services is also admirable. Neither of them did it alone.

There's no need to exaggerate deficiencies and shortcomings. I'm more interested in how they position themselves on current issues. Social Security. Iraq. Health Insurance. Terrorism. Who would be the most effective salesperson?

Posted by: little ole jim on January 4, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

What if Clinton had actually stood up for principle instead of bobbing and weaving from Day 1? Would the 1994 backlash have happened if voters had seen a President push back on something in which he believed? Bill saw the GOP drifting ever rightward and decided to govern as if we elected a triangulating moderate Republican instead of an honest Democrat. Clinton had great campaign skills, but his "political skills" are greatly over-rated, as shown by his trust in rightie apologists David Gergen and Bill Morris. He was consistently wrong about what was possible and way too worried about whether the Village Elders liked him. They didn't. Obama gives the impression that he doesn't care if they like him.

Posted by: Radio Head on January 4, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

LOL!!! I seem to remeber good 'ole boy Bush being touted for his ability to work with the Texas dems in getting things passed. He was going to go to Washinton and do likewise. He did but look at the mess he's got us into. However he got legislation passed that he wanted by having a "lockstep Republican" majority steamroll it's agenda over the Democratic minority.

I wonder just how much Obama's "CAJOLERY" will win over the "lockstep Republican" minority let alone the bluedog democrats who have joined with the republican opposition in the present Congress.

Posted by: wlgriffi on January 4, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Oh great MarkH, please enlighten us how HRC or JE would achieve results in the scenarios you described. Please do tell how these limitations are only unique to Obama.

Posted by: GOD on January 4, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

MarkH: But, I'm willing to listen if Obama supporters want to make the case -- especially if they can do so without repeating 'change' more than a couple of times.

Yeah! The last thing we want around here is repetitious promoters of candidates!

Posted by: shortstop on January 4, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

... the Chicago Police Department has a long and putrid history of torturing confessions out of arrestees, particularly those arrestees who have the poor judgment to be black.

Yossarian's point can't be overemphasized. For decades, the Chicago Police Department went about the business of torture & cover-up like some Operation Condor-era Latin American secret police force -- using cattle prods, suffocation, & hanging in order to coerce confessions from suspects. Innocent men were imprisoned for years, and some even landed on death row. This kind of legislation makes a huge difference.

Posted by: junebug on January 4, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Springfield is Triple-A; DC is the show. The best work Obama's fan base gives in DC is the Transparency in Government Act Obama got passed with Coburn. That was low-hanging fruit in the Gingrich "Thomas" mode. That's no precedent for something like universal health care, where the opposition will be ferocious.

I'm not saying Obama isn't talented. I am saying "Show me." And his tack to the right on Social Security really freaked me out. We were there for that -- What could he have been thinking?

The Social Security mess would be very easy to solve. Two words would do it: "No privatization." That would "show me."

Those should be very easy words to say, and I'm increasingly wondering why I don't hear them, even though I continue to "hope" that I will.

Posted by: lambert strether on January 4, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

There is a precedent for this: FDR. Much of what Roosevelt accomplished in his first term was done under the guise of "cooperation." Most of the new regulations imposed on business in that term were written with business leaders in the room, with the goal of crafting legislation that wouldn't favor one company over another, while still adding protections for labor, consumers, the environment, etc. Then, in 1935, the right opened fire on him through their media properties, and the era of "cooperation" ended. By this point, of course, the American public was thoroughly sold on FDR's abilities as a leader and a force for the common good.

There's a broader view, too, that inclusive, inspirational rhetoric foments a popular mindset favorable to progressives, while divisive, confrontational rhetoric helps conservatives (especially authoritarian ones). Obama isn't my first candidate of choice, but it's not hard for me to see the logic of what he's attempting here.

Posted by: chris on January 4, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

There is one thing about Obama detractors I don't get. No matter who is the president, the math stays the same. Just exactly how is Edwards supposed to "fight" his way through the math? How is Clinton going to "experience" her way through it?

Ultimately, the president needs to lead with the people behind him (or her). Get enough support and the opposition softens or stragglers can be picked off. Who is best to do that?

It is all about getting the hearts and minds of the moderate supporters of the extremists on your side.

Posted by: Mark on January 4, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Since Obama is so talented, why weren't any of these awesome talents on display in the US Senate? I can't seem to find any stirring rhetoric defending habeas corpus or against executive privilege.

Posted by: corinne on January 4, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

MarkH: I'd wager that Obama's strategists are already aware of the campaign that Rove worshippers are planning. Did you know he's a Negro? And his last name has the word "bomb" in it? And he was indoctrinated in a madrassa? So many negatives, so little time.

Posted by: anonymous on January 4, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is an interventionist. Or a neocon. Leiberman was his mentor in the Senate, after all.

Pat Lang, someone most would consider an expert, is definitely a non-interventionst and thinks Obama would have a more interventionist FoPo than Hillary:

Would Obama have an interventionist policy?

Even Robert Kagan saw this:

Obama The Interventionist

Something to consider.

Posted by: LWM on January 4, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

James E Powell: So my question is this: Does Obama have more political talent than Bill Clinton? Because Bill Clinton couldn't get anything progressive done despite his popularity and amazing political talent.

Remember, Bill Clinton won with only 43% of the vote, and there was a lot of talk about whether or not he had a mandate. And then a few days after inauguration, we learned he didn't, or at least he thought he didn't, when he backed down on gays in the military.

Posted by: KathyF on January 4, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

corinne, you must not know how to use Google. Otherwise, you would have typed in "obama habeas speech" and found several stirring speeches defending habeas, one on the Senate floor made prior to voting against the Military Commissions Act (he failed to filibuster, unfortunately, but then, even Dodd didn't filibuster it, to his later regret).

Anyway, at the DNC meeting, Obama speechified, "As President, I will end the war in Iraq. We will have our troops home in sixteen months. I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus. I will finish the fight against Al Qaeda. And I will lead the world to combat the common threats of the 21st century - nuclear weapons and terrorism; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease."

http://www.nhinsider.com/position-papers/2007/12/2/obama-speech-at-fall-dnc-meeting.html


Of course, you just want to bash Obama rather than base your view on fact.

Posted by: Mike H on January 4, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

An entire book has been written on how effective Theodore Roosevelt was as a New York state legislator. Thing is, Roosevelt actually did something after that. Obama hasn't.

Look, if Peters had done the same kind of "let's look at the record" article about Biden, Dodd, or even Richardson, in the same level of detail, it would have taken up a couple of issues of the Washington Monthly. Substantive experience, especially legislative experience, is not what Democratic voters are looking for this year (the experience of having been involved in campaigns for a long time, or of having been a major celebrity for a long time, is a different story, but many Democrats aren't really interested in that either).

Peters has provided a foretaste of what many others in the media will be doing over the next several weeks, which is to lay out a plausible claim that Sen. Obama is not so inexperienced that a vote for him would be dangerous in some way. As others upthread have already noted, something similar was done on George W. Bush's behalf in the 1999-2000 period, highlighting Bush's significant though modest successes in moving legislation through to enactment in Texas while bruising few feelings along the way. Then as now the call was to "take a closer look" at a man who on the surface had few claims to national prominence other than having been George H. W. Bush's son and having gotten more votes than Ann Richards one year. Then as now the assumption we were asked to make was that success on a small scale in state government presaged success on a vastly larger scale in Washington.

It worked for Bush, and may work for Obama, which doesn't mean the two men are the same in any respect except their inexperience in dealing with the kind of issues that successful Presidents have to handle. People aren't voting for Obama because they admire his experience. That is what it is. We just shouldn't kid ourselves that, in addition to whatever else people admire about Obama, he has much experience to prepare him for the Presidency. He doesn't.

Posted by: Zathras on January 4, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

So, in these dramatic IL legislative turn-arounds, whose large income streams were threatened with being cut off?

Posted by: thump on January 4, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican strategy is to refuse to cooperate with Democrats and nothing any Democrat can do will change that, especially if the media continues to play along with them. When Hillary's health care proposal was presented to Congress, Bill Kristol sent out a memo advising Republicans to refuse to cooperate or offer their own counter proposal so that they could deny Clinton a victory. This was purely political because the Republicans, up until then, were interested in working on health care and it had been a big issue in the election. After Kristol's memo, however, Bob Dole (Senate leader) came out and declared that there was no health care crisis and refused to work on any bill. The media did not hammer Republicans for this, only repeated right wing talking points about how terrible Hillary and her plan were. I actually heard some reporters admit that they didn't even know what was in the plan, but they trashed it anyway.
Now Republicans are using the same strategy to deny the Democrats victories on things like children's health care and, once again, our corporate media is giving them a pass while slamming the Democrats for not getting things done.
I want someone to explain to me how reaching out and negotiating is going to overcome what has been a very effective tactic for Republicans? Unless we put pressure on the media, this will never stop.

Posted by: BernieO on January 4, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

"I find the claim that there were death penalty abolitionists who "worried ... Obama's bill ... would deprive them of their best argument" to be utterly absurd."

I agree, that sounds a lot more like a quote from a right wing talk radio show than reality.

Personally I think that all police interrogations should be video taped, and that the defense should be able to insist that the entire interrogation be shown to the jury in the same time sequence as it was performed starting at the same time as the real interrogation. I believe that the most common way police extract bad confessions is not beating, but very long interrogations starting after the suspect has already been awake most of a day with repeated suggestions that if they just confess they can go home and go to sleep. That needs to stop and I think giving the jury a taste of what was done to get the person to confess will make such confessions useless to the state.

Posted by: jefff on January 4, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone here remember that Lincoln, also from Illinois, was a long-time state assemblyman, only served one term in Congress and failed in his attempt to become a senator? What's with all the emphasis on "experience" in Washington or in a governorship?
By your definitions, Lincoln also wouldn't have been qualified.

Posted by: lou on January 4, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

There is one thing about Obama detractors I don't get. No matter who is the president, the math stays the same. Just exactly how is Edwards supposed to "fight" his way through the math? How is Clinton going to "experience" her way through it?

Jesus, how hard is this?

Bush, fresh from electoral victory in 2004 put privatizing SS in his sights -- and he had a Republican dominated Congress to back him up, with all the math you might want.

The venture went down the tubes. Why? Because Democratic politicians and activists and ordinary voters pushed them against the wall with the biggest threat of all: being thrown out of office by voters because they were directly undermining the people's interests.

THAT is how it is done. Not by pre-emptive, idiot compromise of basic Democratic concerns, which is Obama's approach.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 4, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's approach isn't idiotic compromise, it's simple diplomacy, something he's good at and something a President needs more than experience.

Posted by: Fred F. on January 4, 2008 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

The '90s were full of missed opportunities, enough of them to make you wonder just why Bill Clinton wanted to be President anyway.

I don't see it that way. The 1993-94 Congress was, in a big way, the first Congress of our contemporary era, with the GOP determined to obstruct anything that might benefit the Dems. I expect Clinton was just as stunned by it as I remember being. And two years later, Clinton was faced with a radical GOP Congress.

What makes me angry is the current Dem leadership seemingly not expecting the GOP hardball. It was one thing to be surprised in 1993, and a completely different thing in 2007. Fooled once, shame on you; fooled for 14 years, shame on me.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on January 4, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't "charm" that won this fight for Obama. Calling it charm is trivializing the hard work it takes to persuade and horse-trade and deal make to get a tough bill like this passed. And the 35-0 vote has to do with appearances and consensus. That happens a lot more in state legislatures than it does at the federal level, and it's not that hard to buy.

Progressives have become allergic to compromise because of the date-rape republicans, but there is a difference between both the aims and the methods of Harry Reid compromise and Barack Obama compromise.

Posted by: winner on January 4, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

There is one thing about Obama detractors I don't get. No matter who is the president, the math stays the same. Just exactly how is Edwards supposed to "fight" his way through the math? How is Clinton going to "experience" her way through it?

I don't know how one can "experience" one's way through 41 GOP Senators blocking cloture on everything. And I have no idea what Clinton's, Edwards', or Obama's plan would be to deal with that problem.

The way I'd expect a President to 'fight' his way through that math is let his Senate Majority Leader know that he would expect the Majority Leader to force the GOP to filibuster anything remotely popular that they blocked cloture on. Preferably with something popular that they were dead-set against, like 2007's minimum-wage hike, up front, to make an example of them with.

At that point, the obstructionists can either (a) concede, or (b) spend a couple of days and nights showing the nation just how obstructionist they were being. Win-win: either the bill passes, or a few GOP Senators lose their seats in the next election.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on January 4, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Here, again, is an article that makes Obama's ability to compromise with industry players seem well less than wonderful.

In Illinois, Obama dealt with lobbyists
But as candidate, he faults Clinton for ties

If Obama is elected, maybe we should wait until the next Democratic President gets to office before we press for universal health care?

I'd think maybe in the long run we'd be better off with another President's approach to health care instead of an Obama botch job that has no viable growth path to true universal health care.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 4, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Does Obama have more political talent than Bill Clinton? Because Bill Clinton couldn't get anything progressive done despite his popularity and amazing political talent.--James E. Powell

My suspicion is that Bill Clinton didn't want to get anything progressive done after the 1994 elections. He was content to be a popular president by contrasting himself with an unpopular GOP Congress.

Yet another reason not to elect HRC. Her model for a successful presidency is to let the Republicans run Congress and point out they are even worse that the president.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 4, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Seems at best an endorsement for Obama to remain a back bench Senator.

Posted by: AJ on January 4, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Carly Nyberg--That Bill Clinton didn't pass progressive legislation while radical conservatives controlled Congress hardly means he gave up. It means that having big majorities in Congress is essential to passing progressive legislation.

Every reading I've done on the HRC health care legislation that failed in 1993 and 1994 indicates the causes of failure were 1) rigid GOP opposition (as noted above with the Bill Kristol memo) and 2) recalcitrant Dem Senators like Moynihan and Byrd didn't cooperate. Moynihan's gone (he was George F. Will's definition of the "best Senator"--ugh!) and Hillary has cultivated a strong relationship with Byrd. Given the opportunity, she won't lose focus or time.

Posted by: Redbeard on January 4, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone truly think that Barack Hussein Obama will carry a state in the South?

Posted by: Noel on January 4, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK
I don't know how one can "experience" one's way through 41 GOP Senators blocking cloture on everything.

Ok, I understand your point, but there are three simple facts that just insist upon eluding people:

Number of Republican Senators: 49
Number of Democratic Senators: 49
Number of Independent Senators: 2
(who officially caucus with the Democrats, but one of them is Joe Lieberman who votes with Bush and the Republicans on Iraq and matter of national security.

Posted by: little ole jim on January 4, 2008 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2o0Wh8dVZY
Video of sleeping guards shakes nuclear industry

Ah, to sleep with machine guns at nuclear power plants and uranium enrichment facilities.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 4, 2008 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to recall that George W. Bush was renowned for his ability to get both Republican and Democrats in the Texas legislature to work together to get things done.

That worked out really well.

Posted by: commie atheist on January 4, 2008 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Gee I guess Obama wasn't "confrontational" enough to get something done. I am putting all my chips on the Krugman horse instead because we all know how many laws he has been able to pass.

Posted by: Obama/Webb 08 on January 4, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Before touting Obama's record in the IL state senate one should remember he bolted at his first chance to leave that august body.

Posted by: Lincoln was a friend of mine, you Senator, are no Lincoln on January 4, 2008 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

I give you that - Obama has been the primary Senate sponsor of one more bill that became law than Krugman. Krugman on the other hand did better work on fighting the privatization of social security.

Posted by: Obama 1 Krugman 0 on January 4, 2008 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Senator Obama's rhetoric reminds me of an interview I once read about the two men who climbed Mt Everest the first time. When Edmund Hillary was asked about what he was thinking about as he mounted the summit of Everest and looked down upon the rest of the world he described the glory of it all, yet when his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay was asked the same question, he paused and answered briefly, "how to get down."

So for me, while Senator Obama might be the Edmund Hillary of American politics steeped with his grandiose dreams of the glory of change what Americans need is more is the reality based attitude of a Tensing Norgay to tell us truly how it is going to happen.

Posted by: kuvasz on January 4, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Making it harder to get confessions and the death penalty is a good thing?

I mean, I know it may be the right thing, but I dont see how that helps in a general election. I think it plays right into the soft of crime charge. And as a black candidate that would be especially potent. I can imagine the republican nominee using this against him very effectively.

Posted by: Jonesy on January 4, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

what Americans need is more is the reality based attitude of a Tensing Norgay to tell us truly how it is going to happen.

but Tensing would never have been in the position of having to think of how to get down without Edmund...

A nice anecdote. Just not sure if it's an analogy.

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 5, 2008 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

I do so love me a liberal - 7 years spent complaining about our civil liberties, our lack of understanding of the muslim world, and the plight of the poor.

And you have a candidate who lived for years in a muslim nation fresh off a civil war, who went to work for the inner city poor right out of college, who practiced civil rights law, has a track record passing civil rights laws, who actually fought and voted against the bankruptcy bill in the Senate, and who voted against Kyl-Lieberman and all they can do is complain that he doesn't come off as combative enough.

The point isn't to fight just to fight. The point isn't to get revenge on Republicans. The point is to solve problems on a national level.

What in Edward's or Hillary's record suggests that they can have any success accomplishing big things in Washington? What in their decision making as Senators proves that they have sound judgement of how legislation will impact the future?

Posted by: Jorge on January 5, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

"I can imagine the republican nominee using this against him very effectively."

How? What kind of advertisement or sound bite would you use? And how would you counter the obvious pushback that videotaping question sessions doesn't even remotely "mak[e] it harder to get confessions and the death penalty?"

Posted by: PaulB on January 5, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Does anyone truly think that Barack Hussein Obama will carry a state in the South?"

Does it matter? If Obama carries every state that Kerry carried, plus Ohio, he doesn't need a single state in the south. In any case, yes, he can: Florida. And depending on whom he's running against, Missouri, Kentucky, and even Virginia are on the table.

Posted by: PaulB on January 5, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

And then there's the even more obvious pushback that videotaping questioning sessions protects the police and it actually improves the chances of getting a guilty verdict, since it would be far easier to shoot down accusations of coercion and tainted evidence.

Posted by: PaulB on January 5, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why bother looking back to Obama's years in the Illinois legislature, when there's choice items on his Senatorial record. My favorite is his brave vote for the anti-bankruptcy bill just as soon as he got into office. What a bold "fuck you" to all the little people he now courts for votes.

Until I am convinced that there is a bank that Obama wouldn't grovel before, I'm sticking with Edwards.

Posted by: jeffreydj on January 5, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

Obama voted against the bankruptcy bill, jeffreydj. Why not do your homework instead of passing along repeatedly debunked misinformation like that?

Posted by: shortstop on January 5, 2008 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

"There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument."

This is incredible. Do people (on our side, yet) fall so in love with their pet causes that they lose their senses?

Posted by: Nancy Irving on January 6, 2008 at 6:17 AM | PERMALINK

I am a Democrat. I hate Bush’s presidency. I hated the war in Iraq before we were involved and continue to. I think we are in deep sheet politically and economically due to the money wasted on this war. I believe we need a President who can get us out of it. I am not going to vote Democrat if Obama gets the nomination. Depending on the Republican nominee, I might vote Republican - because he could be less evil then Obama.

Change is a beautiful word that sounded very seductive when used by Obama, especially today considering the sheet that we are in. Without change, mankind would stand still. However it is only a seductive word at the moment. What we need right now is somebody who can and knows how to navigate us out of where we are and Obama is not this person. There were political leaders before that wanted change, but what they achieved was destruction - like in Russia &Iraq. Not all changes are good and it is extremely important when, where and how changes are implemented!
What is Obama’s position today in Kenya?

Posted by: an on January 6, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

"I seem to recall that George W. Bush was renowned for his ability to get both Republican and Democrats in the Texas legislature to work together to get things done.

That worked out really well."

Hell, he certainly gets the congressional democrats to do what he wants.

Posted by: Adam on January 6, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Change for the better? Change for the worse?

Actually there may be no answers to the major problems facing the U.S., so in what direction should we go? I suggest we elect a chicken without a head and run around in different directions.

Posted by: Luther on January 7, 2008 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK

"There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument."

What a shameless lie.

Posted by: truth machine on January 7, 2008 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

"There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama's bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument."

This is incredible. Do people (on our side, yet) fall so in love with their pet causes that they lose their senses?

What's incredible is that anyone would believe such a lie.

Posted by: truth machine on January 7, 2008 at 6:40 AM | PERMALINK

Why bother looking back to Obama's years in the Illinois legislature, when there's choice items on his Senatorial record. My favorite is his brave vote for the anti-bankruptcy bill just as soon as he got into office. What a bold "fuck you" to all the little people he now courts for votes.

Indeed, fuck you with this lie.

Posted by: truth machine on January 7, 2008 at 6:43 AM | PERMALINK

being a decent legislator is no qualification to lead the executive branch of government. Maybe if he were a general in an army, or even a business ceo.

Posted by: lenglain on January 12, 2008 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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