|There's a bit of understandable confusion about why I was so effusive towards Obama's policy on telecom, since I've been critical in the past of him as a candidate. I actually called his campaign "a narcissistic festival of self-love" in a Max Blumenthal video, which might lend the praise, as well as the statement I'm leaning his way, an air of confusion.
I'm specifically responding to DLC progressive Ed Kilgore, who Josh Marshall has appointed to interpret The Left (update: This is unfair, Josh linked to Ed and did not endorse Ed's views), and who has taken what Chris and I have written recently as a sign of some sort of existential crisis among liberal bloggers, as well as an illustration of our essential vapidity. Kilgore quotes Jonathan Singer's objection to Obama's use of the word 'crisis' to describe the financial condition of Social Security, and concludes:
There, in a nutshell, is the lingering concern a lot of folks on the Left have with Barack Obama: his policies are suitably progressive, but his framing of those policies, from his constant invocation of bipartisanship to his occasional violation of progressive taboos (e.g., lecturing teachers about their opposition to merit pay, and bloggers about their "incivility", and consorting with anti-gay gospel singers), makes them suspect he's really talking past them in order to appeal to the David Broders of the political world.
Perhaps Singer just thinks it's a framing problem, or perhaps he doesn't. As the founder of the site ThereIsNoCrisis.com (whose domain I stupidly allowed to expire), I'll note that my problem, though perhaps not Singer's, has nothing to do with framing. There just is no crisis. Obama actually acknowledged this when he transitioned somewhat disjointedly under Singer's questioning to modify his statement about a crisis to instead say that Social Security has a 'long-term financing problem' instead of a crisis. Kilgore may or may not understand the financing model of Social Security, and he may confuse my arguments with those of Jonathan Singer's, but it's pretty clear that Obama's implicit desire for a 1983 style bipartisan commission is simply a regressive move to raise payroll taxes and cut benefits. That commission simply allowed a tax hike on the working class to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy, all in the name of dealing with the phony Social Security crisis.
The problem, of course, is that Clinton also believes that Social Security needs to be made more solvent, so there's not really a great contrast here. The DC Villagers want to just do bad things to Social Security, and they gin up crisis and solvency lingo to justify it. It's actually what they are very good at in general, ginning up crisis rhetoric to justify things they want to do anyway.
On the second point, Kilgore uses our changes of opinion to illustrate some sort of overall crisis within the Left in general.
As we get closer to actual voting, the Left's "Obama Problem" is becoming acute. At one site alone, OpenLeft, and on one day, you have Matt Stoller citing the candidate's new package of technology proposals as the reason he's now leaning towards support for Obama, and Chris Bowers hoping against hope that Obama, despite himself, could marshal the creative class/minority working class coalition that Chris considers the future of progressive politics. Both these gents have strongly criticized and (in Chris' case) written off Obama in the very recent past, mainly for the heresies cited above.
I'm discussing this phenomenon mainly to crystallize the subtext of much of the netroots debate on Obama, Edwards, and the entire Democratic nominating contest. Does it really matter in terms of actual voters? You'd have to guess John Edwards thinks so, given his ever-more-faithful channeling of netroots-approved rhetoric these days. And to the extent that everyone agrees media coverage of the campaign does move votes, it's not so strange that New Media coverage would have an impact as well.
But votes will move media, too. If Edwards wins in Iowa, it will inevitably be viewed as an ideological as well as organizational triumph, and even if Obama survives to fight again, his support on the Left will rapidly dissipate. If Obama wins Iowa, and gets the desired one-on-one with HRC, the Left's Obama Problem may be resolved in the opposite direction, though the agony inflicted by Obama's "centrist" rhetorical tendencies could grow with the realization that the Left has nowhere else to go.
The weird thing about Kilgore's arguments, aside from his capitalization of the Left, are that they are so devoid of substance. I wrote several posts on why the FCC is a really significant administrative body for the next President, and how Obama's proposals could be a transformative tools for movement organizing. I have a fairly long record discussing net neutrality and telecom policy issues, as well as the entangled politics therein. But this doesn't enter Kilgore's framework. He can't understand how anyone could support, or more accurately lean, towards a candidate based on policy ideas alone. In Kilgore's world, it has to be some sort of calculated strategic response to Obama's rise in the polls, just as we are susceptible to Edwards' populist pandering because we are the Left. It can't be a pure response to ideas. It just can't be.
The reality is that my opinion of Obama hasn't changed that much, except that I believe he has some great ideas about how to transform government and media. My experience and knowledge base, as well as my sources in the telecom policy arena tell me that Obama's stuff is for real, and that Clinton's priorities are extremely problematic. That's not small beer, and I wish Kilgore would actually address the substance of the differences between Clinton and Obama on these policy ideas. Obama hasn't proved that he's going to do anything but put out a nice white paper with these; he certainly didn't talk about them tonight at the debate. And his arguments about Social Security aren't wrong because they are framed incorrectly, they are simply wrong.
Kilgore poses interesting questions about whether the new systems of power and discourse on the internet impact votes. I'm sure they do, though no one really knows how. It's worth noting the impact of television or even labor endorsements is often impossible to measure, that politics is a lot of guesswork. I think it is fairly clear though that Democratic Presidential candidates have kept their distance from these new internet-centered groups. Just consider that the top three contenders condemned Moveon, including Edwards, who Kilgore seems to think consistently panders to the netroots or the Left or whatever group he makes it clear that he is certainly not a member of.
With all major Presidential nominees refusing to ally or associate themselves with internet-based liberal politics, there's no way to know if any of us can have an impact on voters in the Presidential primary process. I strongly doubt it, so my choice about who to vote for, and yes, that's all it really is, is based on substance. His arguments about Social Security are stupid and wrongheaded, but I think those can be beaten back. His arguments about an open internet are great, and my guess is that he'll move them forward and Clinton will do the opposite.
Anyway, please, Ed, next time, consider some substance when interpreting discussions on the 'Left'.