Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Just Don't Think He's Up To The Job

I wasn't exactly surprised when the junior Senator from my current state of residence decided to toss his hat in to the Presidential ring. After giving the keynote address at the '04 Democratic convention while still only a candidate, and then just a sitting member of the Illinois State legislature, I do believe the press coverage went to his head. There is no denying that Obama is an electrifying figure. Several folks round about here, life-long Republicans, voted for him in '04, and said they would have done so even if a serious candidate had opposed him (Alan Keyes was the fly-in Republican candidate that year in what was one of the strangest and silliest campaigns in recent memory). Some of them are considering voting for him if he wins the nomination.

Me, I just don't think he's ready.

I think his campaign has not been run well. I think that his health care proposal simply doesn't cut it (more on this below). Too much of his rhetoric is long on feel-good, post-politics claptrap that ignores the reality that it isn't politics Americans hate, but the way some politicians in Washington think politics should be done. Indeed, like Al Gore's dismissal of politics surrounding global warming ("It's a moral issue, dammit!"), it is not only naive, but disingenuous to think that invoking some kind of politics-transcending position gives one some kind of moral authority. In fact, it makes you look, well, naive and disingenuous. Politics isn't bad in and of itself. It is a necessary part of human social life. Whining about "politics as usual" is usually a substitute for admitting one is really bad at politics.

Two recent commentaries on Obama have really highlighted his weaknesses for me. Taking them in reverse chronological order, today, Obama's campaign claimed that he is the most scrutinized and investigated candidate in the (presumably Democratic) field. As Josh Marshall writes, "I really hope the Obama camp is kidding . . .". Apparently, the eight years of uberinvestigations of every aspect of the lives of both Bill and Hillary Clinton are so 1990's that we don't need to think about them anymore.

C'mon, man, please?

Sunday's New York Times column by Paul Krugman is an examination of the political approach to health care reform of the leading Democratic contenders.
Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

To some, perhaps to many, independent-minded voters, the call to a post-partisan politics might seem attractive. Yet, after first basking in the glow of the words and giving it careful consideration, it has to be asked - how, exactly, does one cut through the web of interests (both political and financial) that attach themselves to every major piece of legislation? What kind of politics can deal with serious, substantive, and clashing interests without conflict? This is a question that Obama can't answer because the only answer is simple - there isn't one. In regards to the specifics of health care policy, Krugman writes:
Mr. Obama [is] being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? “I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying,” he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.


Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.


[N]othing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.(emphases added)

Krugman is correct. A major policy overhaul of such an entrenched interest, with so many billions of dollars at stake, will not be carried out in some Platonic world where only Ideas clash. Appealing to the better nature of the American people to overcome the bitterness of those opposed to serious health care reform might sound all Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, but whether Obama likes it or not (and I think he does, because he knows that it is true no matter what he says on the stump) money still talks, and bullshit, even high-minded bullshit like this, walks.

I understand the appeal of Obama. I even understand, politically, what he is up to here - appealing to all those alleged, non-partisan voters out there who are supposed to be turned off by all that nasty politics and just want stuff done. Except, of course, if that is what they believe, Obama is not being up-front with these folks because he isn't telling them that, in order to get anything done, he and his supposed Administration will have to engage in dirty, nasty politics. Showing your cards during a primary campaign and saying that of course the health care and pharmaceutical industry will have a seat at the table as legislation is hammered out tells people all they need to know - because of the aforementioned difference between money and nonsense, Obama is telling people who will actually be writing this legislation, whether he knows it or not.

I really like Obama. His is hardly a stellar record in the Senate, but I want him to finish out his first term, run and perhaps win a second, and then, maybe, try for another go at the Big Chair. He isn't quite up to snuff. Yet.

Virtual Tin Cup

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