Obama and Liberalsim: What's In A Label?

by: Chris Bowers

Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 16:30

Over at First Read, my interest was raised when I saw the following headline and story lead-in:

Obama Defends "Liberal" Label

n the shadow of the state capitol that provided the United States with one of the most conservative presidents in recent history, Obama last night railed against the charge that being "liberal" was a bad thing.

OK--that is kind of interesting. I was expecting some sort of Kennedy-esque defense of the term liberal after reading that. However, what followed seemed quite different from what the headline and story lead-in promised:

"Oh, he's liberal," he said. "He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home."

Continuing on his riff: "There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should so something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"

How, exactly, is this considered defending the liberal label? I looked around for a transcript to see if there were other parts of the speech that I missed, but I was unable to find one. So, looking just at what NBC reporter Aswini Anburajan transcribed, I fail to see how this is in any way defending the "liberal" label. In fact, the transcription indicates that Obama is actually taking some of the more popular positions often associated with being "liberal" in America, and defining those positions as "common sense" instead of as "liberal." Further, in so doing, he appears to be defining himself as something other than a liberal. Overall, not only is that not defending the liberal label, but it seems to be draining the common American usage of the word liberal of many of its most positive aspects, and then distancing himself from being labeled a liberal. So, he distances himself from the term, and then makes the term seem even less appealing. How Aswini Anburajan interprets this as defending "liberal label" is beyond me.

More in the extended entry.  

Chris Bowers :: Obama and Liberalsim: What's In A Label?
From this point, a discussion about liberalism and Obama can take many turns. First, it could be argued, as I am sure many Obama supporters will argue, that Obama is taking "liberalism" or "progressivism" and making a some sort of move where the ideas behind those labels are redefined as moderate. Thus, liberalism and progressivism become mainstream. My counter to that is that no, that does not make liberalism and progressivism mainstream, it just makes being "moderate" more like being a liberal or progressive. When the good ideas behind liberalism, like universal health care, are denied from liberalism, what it really seems to do it make liberalism or progressivism some sort of fringe extreme where even universal health care isn't good enough health care. Rather than making liberalism mainstream, is denies liberals any credit for having good ideas, and pushes them further to the fringe.

Second, it could be argued that Obama actually isn't a liberal on health care, so what he is saying is technically accurate. Many pundits, most prominently Paul Krugman, have argued that Obama's plan does not cover everyone. Also, Mike Lux has pointed out that Obama is using Bush Dog Jim Cooper as a spokesperson on health care. Cooper, a conservative Democrat who took point in sinking 1994 health care proposals under Clinton, is further proof that Obama is not particularly left, liberal or progressive on health care. I am actually willing to accept this point.

Third, it could be pointed out that on matters such as health care, liberalism actually is a moderate position in this country. After all, the country is way to the left of both Obama and Clinton on health care, to the point where the nation is actually fine with "socialized medicine." If Americans have gone socialist on health care, then liberals would be to the nation's right, or at least its center, on the issue.

Fourth, some might ask if these ideological labels mean anything at all. The way terms like "liberal," "moderate," "conservative," "progressive," or "libertarian" are used in common parlance are vague and contradictory to the point of being meaningless. I am actually willing to accept that argument, to a point. I agree that when most Americans self-identify with these terms, they tend not to use them in any coherent way. However, I still think the labels are meaningful as a sign of power in American political discourse. If Americans are more willing to self describe as "conservative" instead of as "liberal" or "progressive," that is a sign that the right is still holds sway over our national political discourse. When more people become willing to self-identify with generally "left" terms like "liberal" and "progressive," it will be a sign that the left has seized the upper hand American political discourse.

Fifth, still others may argue that we should just chuck the term liberal altogether in favor of progressive, considering the great strides we have made with the latter term. I am extremely sympathetic to this position, as I have written in the past. Further, I actually never really liked the term "liberal" anyway, and started calling myself a progressive about ten years ago when I first heard other lefties starting to use the term en masse. I thought of liberals as free traders, and in the 1990's I wanted nothing to do with the term as a result.

So, there are a number of different ways to look at this speech from Obama, and his relationship to the ideological term "liberal." Overall, it is debateable as to how left-wing Obama's policies are, and I don't actually care if Obama defines himself as a liberal or not. I do wish he would defend the term "progressive" in the same manner that Hillary Clinton has often done. It is an admittedly vague term, but I also think it meshes well with Obama's message of "change" and looking to the future. Further, I do think Democrats self-identifying with lefty terms like liberal or progressive actually matter, because we need more people nationwide to do the same thing. Finally, even if you don't want to self-identify as a liberal, you should at least giving liberals credit for having good ideas like universal health care if you are using those ideas in your stump speeches. Co-opting someone else's ideas, while simultaneously distancing yourself from that person, is not very cool and demonstrates weakness of character. Sure, I will take your ideas, but I will also distance myself from you and I won't give you any credit for those ideas, either. Frankly, feels like throwing your allies under the bus, or even straight-up theft.

There is no burning need for Democrats to specifically self-identity as liberals, since progressive is a perfectly fine term and since some Democrats truly are moderates or conservatives. There is, however, a need to not distance yourself from left-wing Democrats, especially when your campaign uses them as an ATM and GOTV machine. How long do we left-wing Democrats have to be punching bags or part of a crude triangulation formula before we are at least not shunned by the very campaigns we work our asses off to support? Obama talks a good game about "unity," and so demonstration of this sort of respect should be easy for him. Perhaps he did so at some point in the speech, but I'll need a transcript in order to find out.  

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Par for the course (4.00 / 1)
My read on Obama's campaign is they've essentially accepted the rules of the game as-is -- "liberal" is a derogatory term -- and are trying to push forward their policies accordingly. This explains the absence of any kind of ideological branding other than the broad themes of "hope" and "change." It also makes me feel pretty cynical about their campaign.

That said, and while it's unsatisfying and sometimes upsetting (esp. when it's done in a more triangulating sense ala "'70s anti-war love-ins") it also seems to be working, which is ultimately the most important and meaningful thing.

This certainly represents a different strategy for building popular support for better policies. It's working out so far in the primary campaign. If it continues to work and succeeds in implementing meaningful programs that serve the Public interest, it won't matter what labels are used.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

that depends (4.00 / 6)
on whether you think it is in the long-term public interest for left-wing policies to hold sway over American discourse. I do, because it will make passing progressive legislation way, way easier.

And sure, it is working so far, but that is in the context of a campaign, not in governing. If you want to pass progressive legislation, you need legislators who believe they have progressive constituents. And even within the context of the campaign, if Obama was winning liberals by greater margins than he was winning other ideological groups in the party, the campaign would already be over. There once was an ideological gap in candidate support, but their isn't anymore.  

[ Parent ]
shoe in the nuts (0.00 / 0)
Strategery aside, as someone who both supports Obama and proudly self-identifies as liberal, that speech is like a big shoe in the nuts.


[ Parent ]
It's "working" for Obama (0.00 / 0)
It certainly seems to be helping him win people over. But will it actually "work" to get us any closer to universal health care?

I have serious doubts that a President Obama will achieve universal health care. But, I also think Clinton won't achieve it.

Frankly, I'm rather cynical about the whole exercise. As long as Democrats are unwilling to argue seriously about what universal health care really means than I just don't see it happening any time soon.

[ Parent ]
Chris pointed out in passing what needs ... (4.00 / 1)
...to happen in this arena: on universal health care, the people are way ahead (and to the left) of their leaders and will, therefore, have to lead them. That is going to be true on a number of issues where President Obama is concerned.

[ Parent ]
You are confusing Obama the personality (0.00 / 0)
with whether people are actually listening to and understanding what he is saying. This is a little like saying that because people voted for bush in 2004 that means they endorsed  his views on Social Security. He basically made the point of what he thought of social security, but people were so impassioned they didn't listen.  

[ Parent ]
I saw it (0.00 / 0)
and thought the same thing as you.  I wished he had used different language, he may have defended liberal ideas as common sense but certainly not liberalism.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

and then I thought (0.00 / 0)
this is the exact same running from "liberal" that the left wing has done since it adopted "progressive" before 2004. no difference to me.  

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
Should've read (0.00 / 0)
"Obama RUNS from liberal label".

Why can't Obama say something more like, "If that's liberal,..." list out the same framing for the issues he mentioned, "then I guess you can call me a liberal."?

Why not own the word? By taking this stand toward centrism, Obama's just pushing away contrasts between himself and McCain and I think hurting himself more and more.

[ Parent ]
He had the blogosphere at "Hello" (4.00 / 3)
He made one speech six years ago opposing the invasion of Iraq and hasn't lifted a finger to stop the war since.  Yet he's the peace candidate.  Why shouldn't he court Republicans and Bush dogs?  He can do no wrong with the true believers.

Choice (0.00 / 0)
It's now a choice between Obama, who opposed the war, and Clinton, who voted for it and has refused to apologize for the vote. Then there's McCain, of course.

Obama wins because he can draw a clear distinction between him and McCain.

[ Parent ]
Sixth.... (4.00 / 3)
......since, as it becomes more apparent every day, Obama is actively building a cult of personality focused on him personally for use to advance whatever agenda he, and only he, puts forward it's necessary to destroy competing 'brands'.

There is only....

There can only be.....

The One!

If you know your history this sort of behavior ceases to be mysterious at some point and becomes....


Further, this is why 'progressive' is the term of  art we must own and defend.

Is McCain looking any better to ya Chris?

At least the progressive roots would recognize him as an enemy.

Not ready to say Obama is the enemy...yet....but he's making it harder and harder to support him. And has been doing so for quite some time.

As that Arabian curse goes, 'May you live in interesting times....'

And I thought the 70s and 80s were weird.

Note I: If yer a rabid Oborg who has taken offense at my comment...too bad.

Note II: I get around quite a bit on the 'sphere and OpenLeft seems to be one of the very few blogs who report on Obama's hi-jinks re: progressives and framing of the 'left'....I find that...interesting.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

Amen to your last point (0.00 / 0)
At least here you can have a rational discussion. Even TPM
has been assimilated by the Obama Borg. Of course, Daily Kos is the belly of the beast--very sad.

[ Parent ]
Markos has a lot to answer for.... (4.00 / 2)
.....but I can tell you one thing.

I will never be assimilated. I will deal with him as A. Lincoln once asserted:

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.

Anybody has a problem with that will have a problem with me.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
LOL (0.00 / 0)
That comment made my day, seriously.

[ Parent ]
Markos sold out liberalism... (0.00 / 0)
and universal healthcare....it's totally sad. DailyKos is an Obama bullyfest, with out and out abuse of anyone who supports Clinton - the comments there are filled with rank sexism.

[ Parent ]
Obama is making a great point (4.00 / 2)
The right is trying to say what we want to do is being 'liberal'.  What Obama is saying is that what we liberals want to do is common sense.

Obama isn't defending being liberal as reframing what we stand for as someone all Americans should be supportive of.  At its core, this line of rhetoric is expanding the liberal base.

Obama doesn't think there is any thing wrong with people being liberal, so he doesn't defend as we have become accustomed to, i.e. attacking from a defensive position.  The right bets that the country is right of center.  Obama is betting that the country is left of center, and all he has to do is reframe the liberal argument in their language to woo voters to our side.  It is extremely smart and good for the movement.

Obama's ability to recast the debate on his terms is the reason he has won so many states, raised so much money, and why he will most likely be our nominee.  The job of a leader of a movement is to recruit more people to the movement, not spend his time defending the movement.  For 20 years, the right has had our side back on its heels, and people get that.  Who wants to join a team on the defensive constantly?  Now Obama comes along and completely changes how the debate goes.  Every time he speaks, he is stealing independents and even some republicans who would normally come out in droves to vote against the democrat.

Strategically, Obama is the greatest thing to happen to this movement in a long time. He redraws the map, expands our base, and makes the other side look like the out of touch jokes that they are.  Why?  Because he speaks to swing voters in their language, disarming their suspicions that have built up over 2 decades, and showing them that the democratic party is their natural home.


Obama believes he's above liberalism (4.00 / 1)
He's flying to the center, even center-right on certain issues. We all knew this was coming. You can pretend it's a "great move" but it's just triangulation 101.

[ Parent ]
Mistake: Agreed (0.00 / 0)
Obama needs to find a new way to do that. Liberal is a great term and he can use it, and even reclaim it. In fact I think he should do that as the theme of a speech soon.

"Of course America's progress is the result of struggles by liberals. Progress couldn't have happened without liberals fighting for womens votes, labor unions, civil rights .... I am a progressive. America is progressive."

He can do it, he should do it and I think he will. ( Writer uncovers crystal ball) "Look for an Ohio rally."

Way to call it Chris. Send Obama a note, but someone check the actual transcript too. I'm not saying he didn't do this, its disappointing if the report matches the speech, but it's  a mistake he shouldn't make again.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

really? (0.00 / 0)
when did 'liberal' become a term of self-identification for the left.  i thought it was later than women's suffrage.  

[ Parent ]
well - yr probably right. (0.00 / 0)
Although I probably was conflating several articles on "progressive" and "liberal" as identifying terminology for those of us left of centre, and feel you are prolly right, I was merely sketching very roughly a theme for a speech.

I hope Obama uses someone better at writing and fact checking than I.



The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
I agree with a lot of what you said; (4.00 / 1)
another possibility is that 'liberal' is a VERY bad word in Texas, even amongst people who are sympathetic to what could be called progressive or liberal politics.  To me, it seems like his decision here has more to do with the fact that he is trying to 'convert' former Republicans than anything else.  I find it vaguely troubling, but he's definitely identified as a 'progressive democrat' on a number of occasions (that I have witnessed), so I'm not totally freaked about this or anything...

also, incidentally, my personal relationship with the term 'liberal' is very similar to yours.  i particularly dislike the fact that in polls i find myself having to identify as 'very liberal.'  

Lakoff and Luntz: frames (4.00 / 1)
There was a panel on C-SPAN a few months ago, talking about words and the feelings they evoke for people. Our side has done a terrible job in the PR war of vocabulary. We have lost the battle over terms like liberal and while we could fight back and try to make the term positive again, it is disputable whether it's worth the effort.

I suggest we move on, conceded on the word and talk about the topics. This has consistently been Obama's strategy in dealing with "accusations" of liberalism. To an extent, I believe Obama has challenged the notion that the general public cannot understand any argument longer than 5 words. In reaction to being ranked the most liberal member of Senate, he pointed out his efforts of ethics oversight (used in the ranking) and claimed amusement that it was considered a liberal value. He defended his choice of not wearing a flag pin and derided shallow and meaningless patriotism.

I think the American public is given too little credit. Politicians have gone too far in trying to "shield" people from the nuances of issues and presenting them with single words that they either like or don't like. Obama, albeit in simplified language, has been doing a good job of explaining why his position is the right one while steering away from frames (as per Lakoff and Luntz) that blind people to reason and push them to preconceived notions.

That is arguably a good position (0.00 / 0)
But the article suggested that Obama's comments were a defense of liberalism. But they were, at best, neutral on the whole value of liberalism.

Hint: when someone says "A is not B" where B is considered something good (universal health care) then a reverse transitive principle takes hold (emotional, not logical) that says, "if A is not something good than A is something bad".

[ Parent ]
I agree, absolutely (0.00 / 0)
I was not arguing that he was in fact defending the liberal label. The article's point, or at least its title, was dead wrong.

[ Parent ]
Thorough analysis (4.00 / 4)
of the possible interpreations.  I do think that, whether he is succeeding or not, Obama is using the "Overton Window" method of shifting the center (e.g., "of course we all agree that all Americans have the right to affordable health care"); but I also do think that the labels are too binding.  Self-identifying as a progressive makes me feel good; but I am now at the point where I don't give a damn about whether the candidate identifies himself via that label, or takes any steps to defend the label, provided that he works to advance what I have identified as progressive policies.

I think that there is merit to the strategy of using a "judo"-like technique to deflect or redirect criticism that uses the "L-word."

Agreed! (4.00 / 3)
The key thing being:

...provided that he works to advance what I have identified as progressive policies.

And time will give us the answer to that question. It's will make of break Obama depending on what it is.

The progressive movement will continue no matter what he does but the way in which it will do will be very different if he does not implement clear, progressive solutions to our problems.

Put up or shut up time is coming.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
Agree! (4.00 / 1)
I don't often agree with you, so I'd thought I'd point out when I do.  We differ on our beliefs of whether or not Obama will govern from the left as a true progressive, of course.  But we won't know the final answer until he wins and we see him in office for a while.

[ Parent ]
Sheesh! (0.00 / 0)
We are agreeing more and more! Because I definitely agree with this:

But we won't know the final answer until he wins and we see him in office for a while.

If he gets there that is.....

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
I had much the same reaction (0.00 / 0)
When I read that article I was truly stumped how its author thought Obama's comments were a defense of Liberalism.

It's unfair to condemn Obama on this because we don't have the full transcript of his comments. But just the quotes given are an effective argument AGAINST Liberalism. They are essentially saying, "Nothing really good comes from Liberalism so why bother being Liberal"?

I just read (0.00 / 0)
on another blog that Obama is being supported and is approved of by the DLC as the nominee for the Democratic party.  This was a centrist speech; one of conciliation, of bipartisanship, of compromise. It is about time that the DLC gets its reward after being demonised.

Within the last 8 years as many policies and bills that were labeled liberal were killed and helped to be killed by Blue Dog Democrats, it is time to take a look at how we can come together and finally accomplish something. Liberals may not lose all but they will certainly not get the policies they want.  There will be lobbyists and they will continue to be influential.   There will be corporate dictates.  There will be continue to be war if only selectively. WE will all agree that it is necessary because there will be few who can stop us.

The liberal label is dying. It will soon be just what Republicans have used it for....government seduction.
No one in their right mind, after this election, will use that word and expect respect.

Thanks to Obama and his foresight to see that America needed change.

But Hillary is DLC .. (0.00 / 0)
through and through ...  it makes me wonder when the DLC jumped on the bus

[ Parent ]
Obama is the DLC now... (0.00 / 0)
Hillary's more liberal, but it's too late.

Universal healthcare - RIP.

[ Parent ]
Because he's the presumptive nominee (0.00 / 0)
and will now be the head of the DLC - a Demcoratic organization aimed at electing centrist Dems, which he is...

[ Parent ]
No he won't be ... (0.00 / 0)
He's publicly distanced himself from the group in the past .. and Harold Ford is now the head of the DLC ..  I don't see it .. whether he agress with many of their views or not .. he's not going to now embrace a group he has distanced himself from

[ Parent ]
It's about power, not style (0.00 / 0)
he's already moving right for November - he knows he's got us liberals locked up. Where are we gonna go?

[ Parent ]
A progressive with a theory of change (4.00 / 3)
This reminds of a 2004 column by Jeff Fleischer: Believe the Hype:
Make no mistake, an Obama victory in his Senate race would be a major victory for progressives (and with the Republicans still unable to find a challenger, that outcome is all but assured). He opposed the Iraq war from the start, supports universal health care, wants to renegotiate tariff-free trade deals to include environmental and labor standards, supports affirmative action, supports importing prescription drugs from Canada, supports civil unions, and opposes George Bush's tax policy. In the Illinois state Senate, he supported tax credits for low-income families and has called for business tax incentives to reward only companies that create jobs in the U.S. - Link

One gets a very good idea of where Obama's is coming from in this essay:

What I find most interesting about Obama's approach to bipartisanship is how seriously he takes conservatism. As Michael Tomasky describes it in his review of The Audacity of Hope, "The chapters boil down to a pattern: here's what the right believes about subject X, and here's what the left believes; and while I basically side with the left, I think the right has a point or two that we should consider, and the left can sometimes get a little carried away." What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism -- people who don't agree with him. [...]

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put 'em on a committee. Then define the committee's mission your way. - Link

Many on the left who didn't want to be called... (4.00 / 3)
...radicals adopted the term "progressive" in the 1960s as a way to distinguish themselves from Cold War liberals.

Personally, I'd like to start with a fresh set of labels all around, since most - "leftist," "radical," "liberal" - have been demonized, and "progressive" is just too mushy and broad to have much real meaning.

We can take (4.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
How about (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Two Points (0.00 / 0)
1.  I think that Paul's discussion of Gramsci is applicable here.  Reclaiming the term liberal is part of a war of position and thus the job of liberal institutions.  A presidential campaign is a war of maneuver and thus waged from the position that we've achieved at this point in time.  I think that it's a perfectly legitimate tactic in a campaign to define liberal ideas as common sense.  I'm not disappointed in Obama, I'm disappointed that we liberals haven't moved the ball further since 1988 when Dukasis distanced himself from the word.  That's on us.  Reclaiming 'liberal' is Air America's and the Nation and Center for American Progress's job. Obama's job is to win the presidency. And at the end of the day achieving healthcare reform, an end to the occupation of Iraq, treating veterans well and meaningful political reform are more important to me than how low information voters feel about the word liberal.

2.  I don't think that universality is the necessarily the linchpin to liberal or progressive healthcare reform.

What Dean was proposing in 2004:


a) Universal coverage of everyone under 25 through Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

   b) Adults earning up to 185% of the poverty level -- $16,613 -- will be eligible for coverage through the already existing Children Health Insurance Program.

   c) Opening the federal employee health system to small employers and individuals and COBRA relief.

to my mind was more liberal and desirable than grasping at universality through shoring up the foolish employer based system and garnishing peoples wages forcing them to buy insurance that they can't afford.  Though Dean's plan was not universal it moved us farther along towards single payer and I think that's more important and more liberal.

Obama's plan is criticized for not being universal because it doesn't include punitive mandates for adult individuals.   I don't see how that makes it less liberal or progressive  than a universal plan that gets there using punitive mandates.

Define Liberal (4.00 / 1)
If traditionally "liberal" positions have now become mainstream, or accepted by the majority of the population, then you have to define what you mean by "liberal." If we use the term "progressive" instead, with the idea of progress and moving forward, then the whole spirit of that ideology is to constantly be pushing society in a forward (or "left") direction. That means if the mainstream or "center" of society embraces your positions, you must keep pressing for more progress, meaning that you then take up a position to the left of that.

So, in that sense, I think Obama is right on to say that some of these issues that the VAST majority of Americans agree with are no longer "liberal" but in fact centrist views.

I would argue that this is a GREAT way to frame these issues. Why? Because it puts the lie to the right-wing frame that only some kind of radical fringe minority support them. They've constructed this completely spurious model of our society in which their minority, extreme-right views are actually mainstream.

Obama's message is good for the left because it reminds people, or should, that the right wing is reactionary and the left wing is visionary. The benefits of our society and the quality of our lives are a result of liberal vision, not conservative reaction. Instead of endlessly trying in vain to argue against our "loony left" image, liberals should turn it into an aggressive positive. We need to communicate to people, that our ideas, which seem "loony" or scary today, are the ideas that they will eventually embrace.

We will never get the majority of people to stop being afraid of new ideas, but we might be able to get them to stop being afraid of us.

Clinton: Shame on You Obama (0.00 / 0)
Clinton to Obama, Shame on You.

She's nailing him for these mailers that are plain lies on her policy positions.  Good.  Ya know I'm not a cheerleader in either camp but Obama hitting up Clinton trade, health care when he doesn't have any policy to really do anything on trade plus someone last night discovered his health care plan isn't going to kick in until 2012, well, I have trouble with someone name calling the other on policy positions when they don't have solutions to back up the criticism.  I don't think he's playing fair.


The Economic Populist

well (0.00 / 0)
I'm pretty sure I heard Edwards and Clinton promise universal health care by the end of their 1st term, which is 2012.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but that attack seems kind of silly.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
Obama's Speech (4.00 / 3)
Good analysis of the various interpretations.

I heard the entire speech and in my opinion there was no context which makes the headline accurate. It was not a defense of the "liberal label" or even liberals.

I'll admit I cringed slightly but I also know what he is doing.

He is looking ahead to November where voters in Red States (read Texas) use the term "liberal" to discount candidates and policies. He was saying that these positions are just good common sense and you can't discount them or someone who proposes them by calling them "liberal."

He is trying to get some Texas voters who agree with his policies and vision but would never identify themselves as liberals.

He is trying to cast liberal policies as mainstream policies. That's smart. Which would be impossible if one tried to do this:

Finally, even if you don't want to self-identify as a liberal, you should at least giving liberals credit for having good ideas like universal health care if you are using those ideas in your stump speeches.

And, this sounds like someone who was just dumped by their boy friend or girl friend:

Co-opting someone else's ideas, while simultaneously distancing yourself from that person, is not very cool and demonstrates weakness of character. Sure, I will take your ideas, but I will also distance myself from you and I won't give you any credit for those ideas, either. Frankly, feels like throwing your allies under the bus, or even straight-up theft.

He's not dumping us. We are our ideas. He is not running as an independent, then I would see your point. He is running as a Democrat. But in Texas "liberals" don't win Statewide office.

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.

As usual a tremendous willingness to.... (0.00 / 0)

......accept right wing frames about who Americans are. Read my post and clik thru and read all 132 pages of the report linked there:

Why I am an Idiot!

then come back here and tell me how 'afraid people are of new ideas...' or how 'people are center or center right in their politics....'

Then read this post:

The American people know something is rotten....and they have for fifteen years.

And tell me all about how Senator 'Hope' is gonna fix things. He doesn't even know what the frikin' problem is. He's probably had gold-plated healthcare for him and his family for over a decade.

Then read this link:


And then ask yourself.....

How much does Obama care about me as opposed to me voting for him.

As he himself says in the Harper's article, 'Then you've got a classical political dilemma.....'

In that he and I are in agreement.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

And yet (0.00 / 0)
You yourself acknowledge that we don't know the answer yet, as to whether Obama will push for progressive policies:

The key thing being:

   ...provided that he works to advance what I have identified as progressive policies.

And time will give us the answer to that question. It's will make of break Obama depending on what it is.

[ Parent ]
Okay (0.00 / 0)
I never got why people continually try to cite that Harpers article as some sort of damning piece. On the contrary, it strikes me as a balanced and even encouraging portrait of Obama: sort of the classic reformer dilemma between being pure but powerless and trying to accumulate power to effect change.

If the idea is that people who take money from big donors are going to be people who will never do anything to oppose those big donors, then we might as well give up on the whole political system now and start a revolution. But of course that's not true. There's clearly a big difference between, say, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in terms of their record of pushing ethics and public finance reform.

So yes, I think everyone should read that Harpers piece. What's so bad about it?

[ Parent ]
Nothing, really.... (0.00 / 0)
But the idea that there is a big difference between Obama and Clinton or Obama and anybody in the Senate is undercut, I think it's total bullshit but what do I know, heavily by the article.

Obama is, as we used to say, just another bozo on the bus. Nothing really wrong with that unless he starts thinking like those of his followers, the Oborg, who truly do think he is 'The One'.

That would be dangerous.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
typo in title -- "liberalsim" (0.00 / 0)
Just thought I'd point that out... I looked at this post three times before I noticed.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.  Great blog.

Nothing liberal (0.00 / 0)
So he's saying there's nothing about me (a liberal) that has anything to do with those things?


No! No! (4.00 / 1)
That is NOT what he's saying.  He is saying that these positions are now part of the mainstream.  Whether that is true or not, when someone who has not been branded as a liberal says these ideas are mainstream, the idea gets traction.  People start to see ideas formerly branded as "liberal" to actually be "mainstream" and "common sense."

Imagine the power of having 75% of the electorate ready to support "progressive" ideas, in part because the ideas are no longer branded as "progressive!"

[ Parent ]
Sorry, Dude! (0.00 / 0)
Inkblots don't say anything.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
? (0.00 / 0)
I guess I'm a little too obtuse to get that one.

What I was talking about is a strategy from political science known as the "Overton window," which has been used successfully by the right wing to "move the center" to the right.  The classic example is in the arena of public education vs. school vouchers.  PART of the theory involves redefining formerly polar positions as "centrist," common-sense positions.

[ Parent ]
There's Nothing Liberal About Lying Your Ass Off (4.00 / 1)
That much, at least, is true.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

high schoolification (4.00 / 1)
(warning: speculative and somewhat silly personal opinion to follow)

Obama's appeal beyond the wonkosphere is predicated on him being so cool that he makes people feel cool by associating themselves with him. And rather than bestow his patina of cool on liberalism, or the Democratic party, he chooses to hoard it, and act above it all, which, of course, is the main component of seeming cool in the first place. He doesn't want to be associated with those lame liberals, because he knows how the other cool kids feel about them, and he doesn't want to risk their mockery. Plus, he knows that the liberals are so desperate to be cool that they'll just latch onto him anyway, so he doesn't need to do anything to appeal to them besides just be his awesome self.

This is the difference that I see between Obama and figures like JFK or Reagan, who used their personal appeal to strengthen the brand of their respective parties and ideologies. "Post-partisan," indeed. Any short-term Democratic gains from Obama coattails will be undermined in the long-term if he chooses to speak and act as a Party of One. I guess the consensus seems to be that this is a general election strategy, but it's hard to see him tacking left rhetorically once he's made his home in the center. The jury is out on this guy in the biggest way.

People who call themselves "conservative" outnumber "liberals" two-to-one! (0.00 / 0)
Obama or Clinton should create a new political brand for the 21st century. Defending old brands such as Liberal, or even Progressive, is a distraction and a waste of rhetorical resources in the 2008 Presidential campaign.

Most recent self-identifications to pollsters show that 44% of the public describe themselves as Conservative, while only 22% of the public describe themselves as Liberal.

For the most part, "progressive" policies are both (a) common sense and (b) popular with substantial majorities of voters - most of whom have a lot of common sense.

For current purposes I'll define "progressive" as applying to (1) policies that protect those families who are being beaten down by the operation of the corporation-friendly market economy; (2) policies that require corporations to include in the prices of the goods and services they provide all the real-world costs of providing those goods and services;  (3) policies that promote income equality, particularly through tax policies; and/or (4) policies in foreign affairs that use and strengthen consensual multi-lateral regimes to govern peace and security policy.

In all four of the classes of policies just set out, Democratic and Independent voters overwhelmingly support policies that are "progressive" by these definitions. And many wage-earner Republicans support these progressive policies, too.

However, if a proponent labels a policy "liberal," many of the 44% who call themselves Conservative and many of the 22% who think of themselves as Moderate have trouble getting past their distaste for being associated with the unpopular Liberal brand to see that they agree with the substance of the policy.

Frankly, "liberal" is not a great brand to revive. "Liberal" economics is historically connected with radical free-market economics. Historically, many of the policies needed today were primarily associated with Populism, secondarily with the Progressive movement:  to protect the environment from degradation, to protect the public fisc from theft by oil, gas, and other megacorporations, to provide guarantees of access to adequate income for all families and universal health care, and to provide family-friendly policies (e.g., quality day care, early intervention in child health and educational enrichment). These goals primarily require that government use its muscle to regulate industrial and economic competition and also to assure that the national income and resources are distributed fairly.  Classical liberals, such as Thomas Jefferson, would be appalled.  Jefferson wrote that "the government that governs best is the one that governs least."

In addition to the historical limitations of liberalism, today the Gingrich-Rove-Delay wing of the Republican Party has succeeded so thoroughly in soiling the brand appeal of Liberal that a political campaign will only be distracted  and impoverished by trying to rehabilitate the Liberal Brand.

Obama exhorts us all to look to the future, to turn the page and close the book on the hyper-partisanship of the last fifteen years.

If we have a Democratic President in 2009, s/he will have a bully pulpit from which to create a new political brand. If it is President Obama, he would do best to discard the Liberal brand and probably the Populist brand. Obama could popularize the Progressive brand from the President's bully pulpit. However, I suspect that a new label would better serve both Obama and the progressive community.

Rather than rehabilitating an old brand that has been unfairly besmirched, Obama's energies would be better applied to developing a new brand for the 21st century. Chris refers to Obama's defense of liberal policies as "common sense," rather than liberal or progressive.  Perhaps "Common Sense for the Common Good" would be an effective slogan for the 21st century.  What might be more compelling than "A Politics of Common Sense" as the 21st century label for a political movement committed to progress.    

Really , really like to see a link to.... (0.00 / 0)
this bullshit:

Most recent self-identifications to pollsters show that 44% of the public describe themselves as Conservative, while only 22% of the public describe themselves as Liberal

While we're waiting you can visit my post:

Why I am an Idiot!

Clik thru to the PEW report and you get....

Well, you get a slightly different picture of where the American people are really at on the political spectrum. Self-identification is a tricky thing. I await your definitive linky with some anticipation.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
Too bad Obama fooled you Chris... (0.00 / 0)
This is just sad - now that it's pretty much too late, prominent voices like Bowers are juuuuuuuuuust starting to realize what it is they've pushed for.

And it's aint liberalism - and the dream for universal health care is dead.

Nice work.

Actually Chris is an Edwards supporter.... (0.00 / 0)
....you got him mixed up with The Great Orange Satan. The guy who now presides over CheetoLand
and it's teeming hordes of feces-flinging monkeys.

I do agree not-for-profit-single-payer-healthcare is dead until we take Congress or....

Edwards comes back against McCain in 2012...heh...

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

[ Parent ]
You think Obama loses? (0.00 / 0)
Why may I ask?

[ Parent ]
Forget it (0.00 / 0)
I have an idea what you'll say already.

[ Parent ]
It's amazing... (0.00 / 0)
to me to see so many people saying let's elect this guy and then we'll find out what he wants to do. Or, "trust me, he'll be a progressive when he's in office" even though right now we're playing this guessing game about what he really means when he says something. This is insane.  

To me (0.00 / 0)
That's what electing ANY president is like, however. I mean, I thought I knew Hillary Clinton as a DLC, Third Way, pro-war Democrat, but apparently if you read progressive blogs, she's now more progressive than Obama is. It's really all a big guessing game.

[ Parent ]
I have to ask this question (0.00 / 0)
According to those who measure ' liberalism'...where does Obama fall?

And, why, if he falls where I believe he falls, does he get such crap from folks doubting his Progressive credentials.

Is someone going to actually tell me that Hillary Clinton scores better than him?

Liberalism and its values (0.00 / 0)
The perception of liberalism cannot be changed without winning the hearts and minds.  If McCain keeps charging him with being liberal, and he keeps effectively making the debate about health care and human rights, the thrust of McCain's attacks will be severely blunted.  The people that hate Liberals will always hate them.  Let's first come to terms with that. Maybe then we can realize the hard fighting has already been done.  That's what Obama has recognized.  The constituency of Hillary Clinton has not switched gears.

All that being said, I can't blame people for feeling bitter about the new kid in town coming in and getting all the spoils.  Unfortunately, I don't believe that's ever what it was supposed to be about.


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