13 February 2008

More Obama

I wish I had time to write more, but I don't. So, telegraphically, I think that people who dismiss Senator Obama as an empty suit without message, who can be easily beaten by an opponent willing to define him, are missing two things:

1. It appears that he's beaten the Clinton machine, or at least come closer than the Republicans ever managed.

2. "There ought to be a black president" is a perfectly valid campaign platform. It's even, in contradistinction to many good platforms, true. There ought to be a black president. Lots of good things could come of that, including things that conservatives would recognized as unalloyed good. It might, for example, be a little harder to argue that ours is an inherently racist society. I'm not willing to give up other policy preferences that Obama would trash (strong defense, a rational economic policy, lower taxes, etc.) to get a black president, but other people have different policy preferences and weight them differently. That is, after all, why we have to have elections in the first place. To deny that this is a real policy position on which Senator Obama can't be beaten is to close our eyes to reality.


Harry Eagar said...

Policy schmolicy.

Here's a candidate for freakin' POTUS who has to put, at the top of his webpage, a statement about 'Barack Obama's patriotism.'

First time in history, or at least since 1860, that a serious candidate had to cover himself for that!

Then, along comes the incident of the Cuban flags in his Houston office and instead of being outraged, the most he can say is that it was 'inappropriate.'

I think we an anticipate a steady stream of similar incidents.

He can get the nomination but any Republican candidate will flay him alive.

It's over. That Rove is a crafty fellow.

Anyhow, I think voting for anybody because of the color of his skin (or kind of reproductive apparatus) is a bad idea.

joe shropshire said...

Well, then there's money just lying on the table for you, Harry. John McCain is trading between .33 and .37 on inTrade right now, so every dollar you spend today turns into something like $2.70 come November. For a sure thing that pays out like that you should take out a second mortgage.

David said...

Harry: I'm not going to insist on this distinction, because I recognize that it's very tenuous, but I think that there's a distinction between what I'm saying and identity politics.

Voting for someone you would not otherwise vote for because they share your skin color, or religion, or sex, etc., is destructive of our nation and bad.

What I'm trying to say is that, in distinction to identify politics, that it would be affirmatively good for the nation if, as a nation, we elected a black president. In part, this would be because electing a member of a 13% minority to our only (meaningful) national office would be a rejection of identify politics, an affirmation of our national identity and a signal to those who believe that only blacks can represent blacks and that only whites can represent whites that they are wrong.

Harry Eagar said...

i think I understood that, and it makes sense in the abstract.

But in real elections we don't get to choose from an array of tasty candidaes, like going to Luby's. We have to pick between two or, at best, among three.

Only if the two were exactly evenly attractive in every way would be get to the point where invoking your anti-identity politics scheme would make sense.

Also, while you and I may be clever enough to tease out the intricacies of identity politics, do you think the average person is? Read any political pundits or national political news reporters lately? Do you think their notion of identity politics is as, ahem, nuanced as yours?

David said...

No, no one's view is as, ahem, nuanced as mine. But I do think that many people, for a number of reasons, think that it would be a good thing if Americans elected a black president. Therefore, people who say that Obama stands for nothing, has no key policy with which he is identified, and can be painted by the opposition, are wrong. He has a key public policy stand that appeals to a large number of Americans, that only he can fulfill -- and which, if elected, he would definitely fulfill. What other candidate can say as much?

Anonymous said...

There's an awful lot of blue-state voters who are yellow-dog FDR Democrats who will never vote for Obama under any circumstances. Far, far more than there are who want to vote for "Any Black Man" just to make themselves feel good despite his particular political views.

Hey Skipper said...

In part, this would be because electing a member of a 13% minority to our only (meaningful) national office would be a rejection of identify politics, an affirmation of our national identity and a signal to those who believe that only blacks can represent blacks and that only whites can represent whites that they are wrong.

Ceteris paribus, I agree completely.

Unfortunately, all those other ceteris are far from paribus.

Senator Obama is nearly a complete cipher; even his position on the war in Iraq is essentially a null. He has no record to defend, and has said absolutely nothing about what should have happened instead.

I think Anonymous is right, and far more broadly than just blue dog Democrats.

There are a great many people who will provide the approved answer to pollsters, than do entirely the opposite when it comes time to vote.

Senator Obama needs something more than verbal Ovaltine; race alone will not do the job.

Anonymous said...

I don't actually think that Obama will lose the election because of racism. I think he'll lose because he just isn't as compelling a candidate for more people than John McCain is. The more conservative candidate always wins, and people are already comfortable with Sen. McCain but don't know a thing about Obama. The media is fascinated with him and his campaign but the 2008 media is shockingly ignorant about America.

As a sort of corollary to David's point, it is exceedingly unfortunate that if Obama loses (actually, I'm still not certain he'll beat Hillary) it will become conventional wisdom on the left and especially the black community that racism was the reason. This will lead to nothing good.

Anonymous said...

One more point: Speaking of "the Clinton machine" I fully expect that the Clintons will use their influence to sabotage Obama's campaign should he actually win the nomination, as that would then enable Hillary to get the nomination next time with a "See, you should have nominated me!" message. I don't understand why people are saying that a loss to Obama will end the Clinton influence. That's nonsense. A loss to a President Obama would because it would then be his party, but a loss to a loser Obama would absolutely not.

Hey Skipper said...

Best of the Web Today leads with Obama.

Whatever else one can say about him, women are indeed far more prone to the vapours.

Anon -- good comments.

jim hamlen said...

The "Clinton Machine" received 42.9% of the vote in 1992, with Perot taking almost 19%. In 1996, against tired old Bob Dole, Clinton eked out 49% and change.

The Machine kept him from being removed from office, but if the economy had been even half as bad as the summer of 1974, Clinton would have been forced to resign, just like Nixon.

The Machine worked because Bill was an emotional barker, a performer who was always on stage, drawing sympathy and eliciting sly laughter and shakes of the head from his audience. His shameless gall actually helped him, like a semi-bad boy in high school. And if things got a bit rough, the Machine did its work (down in the dirt), but it was able to do so successfully because of a largely compliant press and an unchallenging time to be President.

Hillary has none of Bill's art, and his recent dives into the mud show that he has lost his touch, almost completely. The 40 and 50 and 60 year-old Dems may love him, but get below about 35 and he's old news. The Machine can't do diddly about that. But it can get the 40 and 50 and 60 (and up) year-olds in OH, TX, and PA to vote. Obama probably won't win any of these states - a 45% showing would be a victory, in giving him more delegates than expected.

The biggest danger to the Machine is if the unpledged delegates decide to say 'up yours' to Bill Clinton between April and August. Carville and Begala can't help overcome Clinton fatigue (especially among Democrats), and Bruce Lindsay can't litigate it away.

Harry Eagar said...

'it would be a good thing if Americans elected a black president'

I'd edit that slightly to: 'it would be a thing if Americans elected a good black president.'

Is Obama the emptiest suit on the rack or not?

Who would have predicted that when America got around to electing a black -- or, more properly speaking, cafe au lait -- president he would be the reincarnation of Bathhouse John Coughlin?

Harry Eagar said...

joe, thanks for the tip.

My uncertainty is not whether McCain can beat Obama but whether Obama can beat Clinton.

I'm not a betting man, but I have set aside a C note to lay on McCain if Obama gets the nomination.

jim hamlen said...

Electing a black President would be a statement, to be sure. I do not think Obama can win (given his positions and his ideology), but electing a conservative black would probably give many parts of the world just as much trauma as it would the Democratic party.

If the hard Left was willing to insult Condoleezza Rice the way it did in 2005, what would happen to a black Republican nominee running for the Presidency? The assault would be Bork and Thomas rolled into one. The Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons and the CBC crowd don't like Obama because he isn't one of 'them' - imagine how they would react if Michael Steele or JC Watts or Hermain Cain were on the national stage. Overcoming that mess would be a statement all its own.

But, there would be one huge difference if a conservative black were the nominee: there would not be a huge reservoir of liberal squishy guilt driving the elites to vote pigment. Indeed, we would see the Upper West Side act like Birmingham, circa 1962.

Harry Eagar said...

Bork deserved everything he got.

Which does not mean that the people who borked him were nobly motivated, but . . .

joe shropshire said...

They'll be chiseling that same sentiment on Bill Clinton's headstone one day. And I am not sure there really are such intricacies to tease out here. Hillary Clinton is a nasty enough piece of work personally that it tends to obscure how dry and dusty her Illinois Methodism is, as a political religion. Barack Obama's surfing the wave of something much more revival-tenty, and though he did not engineer that wave, he's shown some skill in riding it, more than your average coat hanger has got. It is interesting, in the same way that the decline of the main line churches and the rise of the snake-eating tongue-speaking megachurches is interesting; but it does not seem any more complicated than, say, Al Gore's new career.

Harry Eagar said...

Me, 8 days ago: 'I think we an anticipate a steady stream of similar incidents.'

Obama camp, day before yesterday: Michelle O. says she is now proud of the U.S. for the first time in her adult life.

Who wouldn't want to run against nitwits like that? Is there a party smart enough to nominate a man who was so proud of his country that he endured torture for it?

Why, yes, I believe there is.

David said...

The motto of the Republican Party: We'd rather be lucky than smart.

Duck said...

What Harry said about electing a good black president. Electing a bad president, because he is black, will actually set back the cause of racial equality. He'll be seen by history as the "affirmative action" president, and will just make the job of following black candidates for the office harder. Their qualifications will have to be even greater than those of a white candidate to prove that he (or she) isn't getting a free ride on the affirmative action train.

joe shropshire said...

What exactly is a good president? I am asking the question because, pretty clearly, there are plenty of Americans out there who are prepared to vote for an answer something like this: a good president is inspirational. Period, end of sentence. If it turns out that we elect our next president on this basis, then in no sense will Senator Obama be an affirmative-action hire. He'll be the model for the next generation of politicians in the same way that JFK is the model for this generation, on the Democratic side at least.

Duck said...

The test will come if the people are still inspired after four years. If he turns out to be an empty suit after all, then he'll be judged an affirmative action president.

Jimmy Carter inspired people, once.

Harry Eagar said...

I think most Americans vote on character.

It could hardly be otherwise. Unless you're a diehard Kucinich or Paul partisan, it's gonna be hard to find a candidate who advocates policies you can follow down the line.

There are a lot of things I find distasteful about McCain, from willingly flying random bombing missions to his disdain for the Bill of Rights. But he is both a character and seems widely to be thought to have character.

Obama is pretty much a cipher in that department. I see today (via Volokh) that he supposedly disowned Farrakhan to Ohio Jewish leaders -- but behind closed doors. That is not the approach of a man of charactr. That little episode with the house does not speak well of character.

But I leave these open until I see more intense reporting of facts.

The slogan 'Yes we can' was used by my bank a few years ago. I didn't have any idea what the bank was getting at, nor do I with Obama.

I spent the last couple days trying to come up with an emptier US presidential political slogan, and I have to go back to 'log cabin president' to come close.