Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 21, 2009

THE VILLAGE'S ODD EXPECTATIONS.... During the presidential campaign, John McCain occasionally tried to criticize Barack Obama for failing to stray too far from the Democratic mainstream. It was never altogether clear to me why this was supposed to be persuasive -- the Democratic nominee agrees with the Democratic Party! Eek!

And yet, this continues to be a common strain of thought among high-profile media observers. The Politico's Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris has a new piece this morning listing the various reasons why Americans should be "skeptical of Obama's chances" of success as president. Some of the points are more compelling than others, but this one is just odd:

Obama frequently talks of the need to transcend partisanship. And he invokes his support for charter schools -- a not-terribly-controversial idea -- as evidence that he is willing to challenge Democratic special interest groups.

In fact, there are few examples of him making decisions during the campaign or the transition that offended his own party's constituencies, or using rhetoric that challenged his own supporters to rethink assumptions or yield on a favored cause.

Has Obama ever delivered a "Sister Souljah speech"? Ever stood up to organized labor in the way that Clinton did in passing North American Free Trade Agreement?

This is not a good sign.

I realize this is a common argument, I just don't understand why.

For one thing, Obama has "offended his own party's constituencies" more than a few times, both during and after the campaign. Before the election, Obama was at odds with Democrats over FISA and the financial industry bailout, and after the election, he frustrated party constituencies on everything from cabinet selections to Lieberman to Rick Warren to tax cuts in the stimulus bill.

For another, what difference does it make? Or more to the point, why on earth would Obama's chances of success as president be dependent on his willingness to disagree frequently with his own party?

If VandeHei and Harris were making a specific policy observation -- insisting that Obama should disagree with Democrats on X, because the party's position is incorrect -- the argument would have more merit. But they're arguing that Obama should reject the party's agenda just for the sake of doing so.

That's nonsense.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Comments

More pathetic is the Politico's ignoring the question of whether in retrospect NAFTA was at all a good idea. Generally the evidence is that it was not good for Mexican farmers, and probably a zero for the US - and remember that Mexican financial collapse immediately after?

And for Clinton it was disastrous - the drop in support in his base led directly to the 1994 debacle.

The press loves this garbage - but Democrats should look at what actually works first.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on January 21, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

McCain did the Same Thing

Recall, in one of their debates, McCain touted the many times he had broken with Republican leadership, and challenged Obama to name any times he'd disobeyed his party's leaders.

An obvious answer you'd expect from a Democrat would be that Democratic leaders aren't wrong as often as Republican leaders. To the point and a good laugh line.

Of course, Senator Obama didn't go there, and I don't even recall what his response was. But there it is - Republicans are simply wrong more often than Democrats. There's not as much "virtue" in breaking with Democratic policy.

Of course, "balance" apparently decrees otherwise.

Posted by: Zandru on January 21, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

They are defining Clinton's "Sista Souljah moment" not as the moment he interacted with Sista Souljah, but as something to do with NAFTA.
WTF?

Posted by: bago on January 21, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Note to the foolish children at Poo-litico: Doing stupid stuff for the sake of doing stupid stuff was a benchmark for being a Bush lackey---and is just so-ooo pre-Obama that it's comical, in a morbid kind of way....

Posted by: Steve W. on January 21, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

"that's nonsense"

therein lies the secret to most of the right wing media.

Posted by: palinoscopy on January 21, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

"I realize this is a common argument, I just don't understand why."

Because Drudge says so!

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 21, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, of course it's nonsense. But from a right wing perspective it makes perfect sense. If you don't faill in line with everyone else the whole world will fail! To even think otherwise is traitorous behavior!

Posted by: royalblue_tom on January 21, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Corporate media.

Posted by: Gore/Feingold '16 on January 21, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

This is a strand of the "independence" disease that afflicts some folks in politics. By their way of thinking, political parties are too ideological and they are wrong most of the time. The truely amazing politician will "be his own person" and thus come to the right policies without undue influence from his political party.

It's like someone who refuses to watch Lost because it's too popular.

The independence thing is rampant among Republicans, too. If anyone tells me, "I don't really belong to either party, but I like to think for myself..." I know that if I push them enough, they'll admit to voting for Bush twice. Republican pundits make a big deal of being independent. Rush used to be that way. Bill O'Reilly claims he wasn't registered with either party, etc.

Posted by: inkadu on January 21, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Has Obama ever delivered a "Sister Souljah speech"?

Oddly, one pundit last night suggested that this statement from Obama's inaugural address was a Sister Souljah moment: the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

Take that labor unions!

Posted by: Danp on January 21, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

I find that high-profile media observers are know-nothing hacks that have no business being high profile.

Posted by: ckelly on January 21, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

the point being made is that Obama has said he wants to get beyond the sharp partisan and ideological battles which have constituted government during most of my lifetime. What the right wingers are saying is that if you want to get beyond partisanship and ideology you have to reject everyone who does not agree with us.

Posted by: terry on January 21, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

It does seem like some of the Politico writers are spending too much time watching Faux nuus.

Posted by: bkmn on January 21, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

These guys claim to have no bias: the fact is that they're so biased toward centrism that they can't even see it.

Posted by: scott_m on January 21, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

The Politico.com web site has been nothing other than a front for right wing inside-the-beltway thinking since its inception.

Don't know about Harris, but Jim VandeHei is a worthless hack, so why should what he writes now be any different that what he has written in the past.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on January 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

This criticism was thrown at Obama constantly through the election cycle: "When did he ever reach across the aisle?" McCain's so-called bipartisanship was supposed to prove he would be a better president, but the Republicans never said a word in favor of "bipartisanship" while they were running the show. On the contrary, they made a virtue out of hyperpartisanship and shunned "RINOs" who slipped out of line from time to time.

This is a seriously stupid argument, but they wouldn't be good pundits if they were making any sense.

Posted by: gummitch on January 21, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

this is it. last time i waste my time reading about and then bothering to write about those blockhead political astrologers. gawd, they can be replaced by a magic 8-ball... not exactly policy wonks... political science as people mag plus whine...

Posted by: neill on January 21, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

The independence thing is rampant among Republicans, too. If anyone tells me, "I don't really belong to either party, but I like to think for myself..." I know that if I push them enough, they'll admit to voting for Bush twice. Republican pundits make a big deal of being independent. Rush used to be that way. Bill O'Reilly claims he wasn't registered with either party, etc.

Forgive me if I don't get the italics right, as I am not sure what code is used in the comments section, but you have me there. I came of voting age at the end of Carter's term, and I was less of a wonk then than I am now, but I distinctly remember hating how Carter squandered what he might have done with his post-Watergate administration, so I brought into Reagan-the-liar and my history instructors gave me the grades to get my crippled ass through college. Am I a Republican? No. But I am not a traditional liberal either, and prissy whining on the left drives me crazy, which is, seriously, why I cannot dig Hilzoy even though I grant she gets better access to sources than I can.

I was slow to turn to Obama, and mainly what pushed me to support him was Clinton fatigue, which ultimately disappoints one anyway because Obama apparently needs the Clintons--but I really do consider myself a centrist progressive, for lack of a better term. I am willing to *say* things which aren't necessarily polite, and I am critical of gay and lesbian culture, urban black culture, disability activism, and so on, but also eschew the Gonzo-show of the American Right, which means I am essentially lost in the wilderness, as there is very little rational centrism left in the US.

If Obama turns out to be a true pragmatist without being a wimp, that will make me happy enough, but it won't really fix the punishing nature of the American welfare state. That state destroys people like me, whose disease forces them into it through no fault of their own.

Posted by: Jozanny on January 21, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Obama offends his own party's constituencies every time he tries to make nice with the other side by praising people like McCain and Lieberman, and giving a key role in the inauguration to polarizing figures like Warren. Obama needs to focus on those of us who had hopes that he would represent a fundamental change in direction, and not get distracted by those who want to continue off on the same disastrous course we've been on and don't want to join us.

Posted by: AJB on January 21, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Or more to the point, why on earth would Obama's chances of success as president be dependent on his willingness to disagree frequently with his own party?

Disagreeing with his party - or specifically the leftmost 4/5ths - wouldn't do anything to help his chances of success, but it would do a lot to reinforce the existing media narrative that the dirty hippies are 'teh suck' - despite being correct all of the time.

It's a center-right country, after all.

Posted by: PeakVT on January 21, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing about half the population is asking "Sistah Who?"

The really have to get some hipper pop references going.

Posted by: martin on January 21, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of whether this would be a good thing--um, what world are they living in? The Father's Day Speech? Rick Warren? Obama has certainly not hesitated to upset Democratic constituencies.

Blowing hot air out of their asses...

Posted by: rabbit on January 21, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

why on earth would Obama's chances of success as president be dependent on his willingness to disagree frequently with his own party?

It wouldn't -- indeed, quite the contrary, given the multiple failures of Republican policies, a reasonable person would presume Obama should distance himself from GOP positions.

But the Vilagers aren't reasonable people. So-called liberal or raging conservative alike, they share the mindset of Reagan-era Republican triumphalism, a notion as moldy and discredited as St. Ronnie's rotting corpse. Sadly, Obama's chances of success with them is dependent on his willingness to disagree frequently with the DFHs.

Hopefully, Obama's inaugural address reference to the cynics for whom the ground has shifted under them indicates that he isn't buying.

Posted by: Gregory on January 21, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

This criticism was thrown at Obama constantly through the election cycle: "When did he ever reach across the aisle?"

This also presumes, rather falsely in my opinion, that the other side of the aisle has anything worthwhile to contribute.

Posted by: Stefan on January 21, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

The really have to get some hipper pop references going.

If only they could get someone to throw Lil Wayne under the bus, right? :)

Posted by: Danp on January 21, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

In fact, there are few examples of him making decisions during the campaign or the transition that offended his own party's constituencies, or using rhetoric that challenged his own supporters to rethink assumptions or yield on a favored cause.

First, this is flatly untrue. Just off the top of my head, I can think of him voting for the FISA legislation, universal health care, and the Rick Warren invitation as areas in which I disagree strongly with him.

Has Obama ever delivered a "Sister Souljah speech"? Ever stood up to organized labor in the way that Clinton did in passing North American Free Trade Agreement?

Again, this presumes this would be a good thing to stand up to organized labor -- but why? Why deliberately piss off one of your biggest constituencies? And more to the point, why do so in the absence of any genuine disagreement? Is it to disagree merely for the sake of disagreement?

Politico is once again exhibiting the disease of false equivalency -- just because McCain sometimes broke from his own party (though in reality he made a big Kabuki show of breaking with them on a few high-profile items to garner publicity, while actually supporting them on most issues behind the scenes) it is presumed that Obama should do the same. But this ignores the fact that McCain sometimes had good reason to break from his party because his party is crazy -- why then should Obama break from his party when it's not nearly as unhinged and out of the mainstream as the Republicans are?

Posted by: Stefan on January 21, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Obama has to show he's willing to break with the past by embracing Bush's policies.

Posted by: Brian Williams on January 21, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Often it's useful to try to construct a syllogism to describe an argument, because it helps to identify the unstated assumption.

The stated premise is that Obama does not sufficiently differ from the Democratic Party consensus. The conclusion is that this bodes ill for his success.

The missing middle is a belief that the traditional policy approaches of the Democratic party are wrong and disasterous, but the punditocracy cannot state this openly because their bias would then be exposed to all.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 21, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

These people think we should be a flock of geese when we are actually a school of sparrows. When they don't see a 'V' in the sky they get worried and write stupid things.

Posted by: Badass4Peace on January 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

More to the point is the question of why otherwise-intelligent people like yourself, Steve, continue to give the Politico - which is a right wing disinformation operation funded by Bush supporters - any legitimacy by taking these propagandists seriously.

VandeHei and Harris, or AIPAC mouthpiece Richard Cohen, have a vested interest in trying to derail the progressive agenda, and they do it as "moderate," "reasonable" people, but their ultimate goal is no different from that of Grover Norquist and the rest of the obvious Orcs.

They're the enemy. Stop treating them as being otherwise.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 21, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't his Father's Day speech pretty much the definition of a "sister souljah moment"? (my word how I hate that term)

Posted by: neilt on January 21, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

The tone, temperament, and factual dissonance of Vandehei and Harris's Politico reports have led me to delist that site from my bookmarks menu. Garbage in--garbage out, as the adage goes.

Posted by: christopher French on January 21, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

there are few examples of him making decisions during the campaign ... that challenged his own supporters ...
Has Obama ever ...stood up to organized labor...

You mean...

Other than the UAW appearance where he said Detroit was going under because they made cruddy cars and that protectionism was not going to come from him?

and

Other than his telling the NEA he support merit pay for teachers which they have ALWAYS opposed?

Nope, not a lick.
Total doormat.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 21, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I stopped reading politico a long time ago. Many of them are right wing apologists and relay this kind of conjecture unquestioningly and without concrete examples. They easily could pass as a fox subsidiary

Posted by: CDW on January 21, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

These people think we should be a flock of geese when we are actually a school of sparrows. When they don't see a 'V' in the sky they get worried and write stupid things.

Good analogy. Taking this one step further, right wing commentary has to classify, categorize and frame the opposition in a certain way - stereotypes are the root of their arguement. They come form one school of thought, where they have already pegged liberals for who they are and government can only be run one way. Any deviation from that definition and they admit to being wrong, and it would poke holes in their "solid" arguements. It's much easier to keep using the same framework than to adapt. So we'll keep being a V formation of geese to them until some major intellectual shifts occur in the conservative movement. Major shifts will occur in conservatism when no one is listening anymore.

Posted by: Mick on January 21, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

What amazes me is that Republicans are never called upon to "Sistah Souljah" anyone, even though they are, by any objective measure, far more in thrall to extremists than the Dems are.

Posted by: kth on January 21, 2009 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Um, aren't Dems supposed to do the Sistah Souljah thing before they are elected, supposedly to prove they are mainstream enough to be elected? Just asking.

Really, some of our pundits are no better than superstitious tribes who believe we have to occasionally throw some poor sap into the volcano, nobody knows why anymore, except that it's always been done.

Posted by: ronin on January 21, 2009 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

Saw VandeHei on O'Reilly tonight dissing Obama.
Harris? Isn't he the "journalist" who labelled the Democrats Iraq budget "the slow bleed strategy?"
Just two good ol' boys from the village.

Posted by: mamzic on January 22, 2009 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK


BRIAN WILLIAMS: Obama has to show he's willing to break with the past by embracing Bush's policies.

lol..

that reminds me...

a conservative was on a local right wing radio station on inauguration day...

he said that obama could prove he is bi-partisan by re-submitting bush's proposed nominees for federal judges...

the right have no idea how crazy they sound...

lol...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 22, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

I absolutely detest this not-so-new talking point that in order to be a real leader, a DEMOCRAT must dissent from THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, because by definition the Democratic Party position is always wrong, right? You know? Wink? Wink?

Posted by: El Cid on January 22, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone noticed that this call for the idiotic "sister Souljah" moment is always directed at democratic politicians. I do not remember reading from anyone at the Politico in the previous 8 years about how Bush should sister souljahing certain group of his base. what is this all about, and why do they employ this lazy intellectual shorthand with dem pols.

Posted by: newdome on January 22, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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