Taking Obama At His Word

by: Chris Bowers

Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 21:39

In October of 2002, 29 Democratic Senators voted in favor of authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. Two years later, activists who worked for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign were asked why those 29 Democratic Senators voted the way they did:

The activists remain committed to the Democratic Party, even if some are reluctant supporters. They are clearly dissatisfied with party leaders: 80% of the activists say Democratic leaders supported the war in Iraq because they were afraid to stand up to the president.

According to Democratic activists, the Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force were actually opposed to the war, but voted for it anyway because they were too afraid not to do so. Only a small minority of Dean activists, 19%, thought that Democrats in Congress voted for the war "because they thought it was the right thing to do." (source, p. 14).  Democrats in Congress actually agree with us, they are just too afraid to admit it.

To this day, that form of denial remains a prevalent, and seductive, attitude in the progressive blogosphere. The people we support all agree with us, but they are too afraid to say so in public. Surely, this is far more attractive than simply believing that the people you are working to elect actually disagree with you on vital topics. A lack of backbone is much better than a lack of agreement, because those without backbone can be pushed into self-actualizing redemption by progressive activists. By contrast, those who disagree with you might not actually be worthy of your support, and may even deserve a primary challenge down the road. Even though it is an exercise in denial, belief in a lack of backbone is a much more attractive for a grassroots activists than a belief in actual disagreement.

Now, even though I have repeated termed the belief in a lack of backbone "denial," it is also an understandable view, given the way that many Democratic leaders have talked for the past two decades. In particular, it is the epitome of DLC language in public is to attach every single policy proposal they make with how that policy proposal will help Democrats get elected. If Democrats are constantly saying that they are only voting or proposing right-wing policies in order to be elected, then the progressive activists who believe that Democrats are only voting certain ways in order to be elected are actually taking those Democrats at their word. Consider, for example, Steny Hoyer's triumphal claim after the FISA bill passed the House (emphasis mine):

Chris Bowers :: Taking Obama At His Word
In an interview with Politico on Monday, Hoyer called the FISA legislation a "significant victory" for the Democratic Party - one that neutralized an issue Republicans might have been able to use against Democrats in November while still, in his view, protecting the civil liberties of American citizens.

Progressive activists should think that the Democratic capitulation was all about getting elected, since the Democratic House majority leader said that it was all about getting elected. It also doesn't help that, back in November, Obama brashly declared his opposition to FISA without even reading a script to tell him to do so (emphasis mine):

One of his most passionate passages was not in the prepared text. He promised to close down Guantanamo "because we're not a nation that locks people up without charging them. We will restore habeas corpus. We are not a nation that undermines our civil liberties. We are not a nation that wiretaps without warrants."

Given that Obama seems to have changed his mind, and that we should be a nation to wiretap without warrants, it isn't much of a stretch to conclude that he did so for political reasons.

Now that Obama has publicly stated his opposition to FISA, and then reversed it for seeming political reasons, a new brand of denial has cropped up among progressive activists: a belief that Obama, and other Democrats, have a secret plan to stop FISA at some later date. Sure, he capitulated because of political reasons now, but really he will work behind the scenes in order to set things right. Glenn Greenwald discusses this new form of denial:

Notably, even beyond Olbermann's excuse, there have been all sorts of other theories about how Obama is harboring other Secret Plans that justify his support for this FISA bill. One widely cited Kos diary yesterday claimed that since the real danger to the Fourth Amendment is the Patriot Act's elimination of "the wall" between foreign intelligence and law enforcement, rather than FISA, Obama has decided to allow the FISA bill to pass so that he can gain power in order to implement a different Secret Plan to abolish the oppressive parts of the Patriot Act (however bad the Patriot Act is, allowing warrantless spying under FISA makes it worse). Another top Kos diary -- entitled "Obama's Outsmarted Us Again" -- echoed Jonathan Alter's rationalizations by claiming that Obama's support for this bill was part of a brilliant plan he has to impose Constitutional limits on Bush in his last six months in office. Apparently, Obama's unfailing Goodness is so absolute that even when it appears he's doing something wrong, that's just a failure on our part to discern his secret plan to protect us all.

The belief in the secret plan is one case where progressive activists are not taking Obama at his word. Let's look at what Obama actually said when he supported the new FISA bill (emphasis mine):

"The bill has changed. So I don't think the security threats have changed, I think the security threats are similar. My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people."

If you want to take Obama at his word, and thus avoid engaging in denial, there is only one way to read this statement. Yes, Obama might agree with us, and probably capitulated for political reasons. However, as he said himself, he never really cared about telecom immunity all that much. As such, it is extremely unlikely that he will bother to do anything behind the scenes to fix this. There is no "secret plan." He just doesn't care all that much.

It is understandable to think that Democrats often capitulate to Republicans out of fear of political ramifications. This is because Democrats are constantly saying that they capitulate to Republicans out of fear of political ramifications. However, belief in a secret plan to solve FISA behind the scenes doesn't make any sense. This is because fighting for something behind the scenes, without any public glory to be had, requires strong conviction on the issue that is being fought. In this case, Obama just said, in public, that he doesn't really care all that much about telecom immunity for warrant-less wiretaps. Not only is this probably why he capitulated, it also guarantees that he won't do anything behind the scenes to fix the situation. The truth is, as he said in public, he disagrees with warrant-less wiretaps, but he will capitulate and not do anything about it because he just doesn't really care all that much.

Back in December, Mark Schmidt argued that Obama's talk of bi-partisanship was really a sneaky way of Obama taking Republicans at their word in public so that, when Republicans negotiated in bad faith, that bad faith would be put on public display and Republicans would be crushed as a result. While I think that is an extreme stretch and a case of wishful thinking while reading into Obama's actions, I also think that it is a pretty good way to adopt a "theory of change" on Obama himself. If we take Obama at his word, then we will be in a much better position to know what to expect from him, and thus in a better position to react to what he does as President. Pretending that he will do something other than what he says he will do won't work, and will inevitably lead to either disappointment or to deluded, cult of personality politics. In this case, Obama has flatly said that he doesn't really care about the fourth amendment all that much. That is good to know, because now we will know that we can't count on him to defend it during his presidency. As such, our fight to restore it will have to look elsewhere for its starting point.

Tags: , , , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

60 Percent I believe are against this bill when it was polled (4.00 / 3)
The question I would ask the apologists is this: With 60 percent of the public (if the polls are right) are behind you, what will change when Obama becomes President that will mean he won't act in exactly the fashion he's acting now? What magical event will make any of them act differently? I guess this has been a less in a piece of advice I once got-- "When people show you who they are, believe it."

Makes one think (4.00 / 3)
he might actually be more of a centrist than a progressive huh? Who would have thunk that in 2007, what with all his proposals for a not-universal health care bill, his praising of Reagan and the GOP as the 'party of ideas' in the 1990s, and his non-support of Ned Lamont in 2006! Oh well. We're stuck with him now. His FISA press conference was incredibly short-sighted and stupid though in terms of his phraseology. He boxed himself into a corner where now if public pressure builds and people realize that all this bill is is a sop to the telecoms, then he can't even end up voting against it now because it will look like a double flip-flop. Even Harry Reid's voting against the bill. Who'd thunk Obama would be to the right of Harry frickin' Reid? Well....I would, but oh well. Once again, we're stuck with him, for better or worse.

[ Parent ]
Well I already thought he was a centrist during the primary (4.00 / 4)
and that but-for the identity politics regularly supported by folks like Chris on this blog, that should have been obvious. There wasn't any difference that I could see between him and Clinton , and Edwards was marginally better, except for who could play the identity politics that was played. Well, that and a bunch of white kids running around saying contradictory things- ie, one guy telling me that Obama's policies were the best on the environment although he couldn't tell me the policies.

Obama is quantums better than McCain. I just donated money this week. But, I really have to be honest- I find all of this complaining after the fact amazing. When peope were getting on Chris and the other netroots case to support progressives when it mattered- they didn't. Now comes all this whining about Obama isn't a real progressive- well that was obvious to anyone who actually went through this the first time with Bill Clinton. Those of us for whom that was the first election had to deal with similar feelings over reality then too. Everyone saw him as the man from hope who would bring change.

When you grow up you stop believing in anything that's not clearly defined in life. Obama was doing some excellent 'self help' book marketing that made people feel good, but ultimately in real life it takes more than that. Now, his apologizes are saying 'but this is what he said all along." no it isn't. He was selling generalities that they can now of  course fill in with whatever they want. Theyaren't technically lying,b ut they sure as hell aren't telling the truth either.

[ Parent ]
yes, yes, yes, no, yes, no, no (0.00 / 0)
yes he was rather centrist
yes he identity politics seemed to blind people to it
yes not much difference between him, hillary and edwards
no, Obama actually does have a policy slate of specifics - and he engendered a lot of respect with both his perspectives on race relations, his refusal to give into fear mongering, and his refusal to give into the gas tax pandering.
yes he's better than McCain
no its not whining about Obama being a centrist - its whining about him specifically contradicting his position on immunity and pledges about restoring civil rights and not giving into fear mongering - and i think is the reason people who have been Obama advocates are pretty surprised and angry - that he seems to be facing no political pressure to follow the course he has chosen, and so for no good reason he's acting in contradiction to some of his biggest selling points.
no he was not selling self help - see the first no above.  

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
I've been following this since Jan 2007 (4.00 / 1)
That is to say I know when things happened and where. So when you mention race relationships- I am a bit confused since that didn't happen until the Wright situation. Pretty much before then he didn't discuss race. Unless your point is that he's black, in which case that;'s not what he says on race. That's what you like Chris add.

And no, he didn't have specifics until he like Clinton w as forced by Edwards to talk policy. I remembered in vain trying to discuss policy with CLinton and Obama supporters in the fall of 2007 and asking for a vision of leadership.

I remember well the SC debate in which he and Clinton were attacking each other, and Edwards had to scold them for getting away from the issues and policies.

He was actually pretty clear about from where he would derive his political advice by his choice of advisors- a center right economist, just to name one. The many other signs mentioend by others here.

And yeah, many people on here are whining- many of whom could not handle as you say that he wasn't subsantively different than Clinton. Indeed many argued at the time that he was the true progressive and that she was the centrist.  Or as Chris did that somehow Obama was some new kind of progressive without much to say  as to what that meant other than he's black.

As for the self help - come man, who are you kidding? One of his first major endorsement this year was by Oprah Winfrey.  I am not talking about what may or may not have motivated Will. I am discussing a broader sense of the public at large.

[ Parent ]
its silly to say obama didn't have any platform positions (0.00 / 0)
he has a website full of them, and whether some of his brighter moments came as a result of pressure (wright etc) or not is not that significant in terms of just evaluating if there is substance behind his "hope" message. his words are his whether he wanted to say them or was forced to, and many of them are quite impressive. this is why i disagree with you and Paul R and Bowers that this is what we expected all along. He's conducted himself and the campaign in noticeably different ways from most candidates in recent history.

I dont think people are whining here (for the most part) because he's not substantially different from Hillary. I think people are upset because he's not living up to some of the messages that are part of his core rhetoric.

Re: Oprah - LOL! Ok, good one. Glory I don't really want to think about how deep the Americans are into the cult of personality.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
I said he didn't run on it (0.00 / 0)
Versus again someone like Edwards who was running on a platform or even Richardson or Kuccinich.  I am not going to go back and forth wth you on this. If you need to believe what you are writing, then do so, but don't expect others who paid attention to always buy the "Obama was everything" postings.  

[ Parent ]
I said he didn't run on it (0.00 / 0)
Versus again someone like Edwards who was running on a platform or even Richardson or Kuccinich.  I am not going to go back and forth wth you on this. If you need to believe what you are writing, then do so, but don't expect others who paid attention to always buy the "Obama was everything" postings.  

[ Parent ]
completely agree (4.00 / 2)
I know you knew he was a centrist. It's just me commenting for about the 1000th time that people that supported him in the primary because they thought he was super-progressive (or at least that's what they told themselves) are getting exactly what they asked for.

And I also agree that he's infinitely better than McCain. I also gave to Obama for the first time a week or two ago. Heck I'm doing that frickin' swing state newspaper project everyday to try to knock down McCain and promote Obama. But things like this FISA bill are really irritating. I expect Obama to throw progressives under the bus because he's not all that progressive. But at least if you're going to do it, don't do it in such a ham-handed way that hurts you and therefore us politically (i.e. by saying he doesn't care about Telecom immunity...how many people in this country does he think actually want big corporations to get away with breaking the law by spying on people? And in the process he just looks like he's trying to have it both ways, just like with gun control). There's too much at stake in this election and he needs to shape up so we can win this thing and try to get some things passed in the next 2 years.

[ Parent ]
Excellent Question (0.00 / 0)
given Obama's statements on this FISA bill, is it possible he can change course without doing more damage to his image? would flipping on this bill actually be more damaging with swing voters than ignoring the activist base?

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
Definately (0.00 / 0)
No one cares if you change your mind. No one.  They care if you sound indecisive, if you change your mind and sound like you're not sure you mean it. If you have a real reason for doing what you do, and don't sound like your not convinced.  Consistency alone is not valued in politics.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
I've been reading that so-called "Obamacons" (4.00 / 4)
(i.e. Republicans for Obama) who liked and even supported him a while back, not because they agreed with his policies, as because they felt that he had something special and liked his talk of post-partisan bipartisanship, are starting to sour on him, because of his flip-flopping, which betrays to them the sort of lack of conviction and strength that they tend to revere. Ironically, they're seeing this as he moves TOWARDS their preferred beliefs and policies, but in a way that turns them off. I can't recall specific names, but I've read some things here and there that indicate this. How ironic--and unsurprising--it would be if, in an effort to secure the center and some of the right, he ends up losing both, by moving towards their preferred positions, but in ways that betray his lack of conviction and spine. If I were McCain's people, I'd build his entire campaign around this quality of Obama's--see, he doesn't even stand by the liberal ideology and policies that he's claimed to believe in!

Forget Nixon and Reagan--he's starting to emulate Mitt Romney! I'm for whatever position that the people that I want to like and vote for me need to believe that I'm for!

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
This is where he backed himself into a corner (0.00 / 0)
Once he gave "security" as his reason for supporting the bill his voting against it means "Democrats cannot be trusted with national security". But if we put our effort into stripping immunity from the bill, which amendment needs only 51 votes, Obama will vote for stripping immunity and for the bill without a single flip-flop.

Obama can get himself out of the corner by referring to good arguments by Dodd and Feingold on the Senate floor.  

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  

[ Parent ]
Obamas advisers (4.00 / 5)
Obama's advisers support telecom immunity. I have long thought not enough attention is paid to advisers.

Incidentally, some very fine posting on Open Left today, some of your best.

its a secret secret secret plan (4.00 / 4)
its so secret we shouldn't even be discussing it, because just discussing it could mean it would be impossible for Obama to realize it.

Man did you nail it on this one! The number of people pushing this "secret plan" business, usually coupled by a "I trust him that he has a plan" is disturbing. this is in the heart of the so called "reality" community. there was a top recd post at dkos (not that I read it) making the case that Obama has a secret plan. very disappointing.  

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

Yeah, Forget Reagan. This Is Pure NIXON We're Talking Here (0.00 / 0)
Can Joe McCarthy be far behind?

"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 ]
Smile and grin at the change all around me (4.00 / 1)

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

[ Parent ]
Mr. Rosenberg, have you no shame? (0.00 / 0)

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
not only that (4.00 / 2)
but he's smarter than all of us, too.  Oh, and don't forget that by criticizing him in public (as opposed to in secret, I guess) we're throwing the election to McCain.

I think people are desperate and looking for a savior.  Which itself is way problematic.

[ Parent ]
Its shades of Bush about it (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
An Important Caveat, I Think (4.00 / 9)
I think it's actually quite possible that some Democrats did vote for the war merely out of fear, or even the mistaken belief that Bush wouldn't actually use that power without consulting, getting UN approval, etc.

But you know what?  It just doesn't matter.  What matters is what they do, not what they say about what they do.  Maybe we will judge a handful of them unfairly vis-a-vis their motives.  But we can see what they do, and we can see the consequences of cutting them slack--which is thousands and thousands of more people dead.

The fact is, back in the 1960s, a lot of Democrats did support the Vietnam War out of fear.  It now seems quite clear, in fact, that LBJ dramatically escalated our involvement for that very reason--he thought that if he failed to fight it, he would be impeached.  So there is some backstory for this--and the Democrats then were different: they actually did change.  They were the direct inheritors of the New Deal mantle of responsibility, and they were far more moral and exceptional than people my age realized.  Of course, the intensity of the anti-war organizing was exceptional as well.  But I realize now that for all their tardiness, they were still a much better group of lawmakers than those we have today.

So we have a great deal of work ahead of us, and really, I have no clear idea of how to accomplish it.  I have glimmers, but I know that the unknowns are bigger than the knowns.  And I am very clear that Barack Obama is one of them not one of us, and that he knew exactly what he was doing when, for example, he praised Ronald Reagan.

He is a very clever man.  But he is, ultimately, a fool.  Because he talks about momentous change and has no intention whatsoever of bringing it about, at a time when all the world demands it.  The frikken ice caps are melting, what more do you need to tell you it's no time for pussyfooting?

FDR knew that his world was falling apart, and that drastic steps were necessary to save it.  He didn't give a fig if the people he was saving hated him for it.  Comparing Obama to FDR is possibly the stupidest thing we can do right now. Because I see zero evidence that Obama grasps the dire situation that we're in.

"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

Totally agree (0.00 / 0)

And a question. Can you explain about the Johnson fear of impeachment? I hadn't heard that before.

[ Parent ]
It's In The White House Tapes (4.00 / 2)
That were released a few years ago.  He says as much to Senator Richard Russell. You can find transcripts--and even sound files--online.  There's an article from the NYT here. But the conversations themselves don't really explain why he thought that way.

The best explanation comes from Robert Mann in A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into Vietnam.  It's the only Vietnam history to focus on the role of the Senate, and it goes all the way back to Korea in order to understand both the insitutional dynamics and the personal motivations.  Korea cost the Democrats control of the Senate, briefly, and brought Johnson to power as Minority Leader, which he worked very hard to turn into Majority Leader, and then rebuild the Democrat's majority to where it could get things done.  He was determined to never go through that again.  So, of course, he gave us something even worse.

"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 ]
One of the ongoing senses that I've had about him (4.00 / 3)
was that he's in love with being in love with himself. There's a flip conceit about him where he comes across as being convinced at all times that he's the smartest guy in the room, if not building, block and city, and that therefore no one can tell him anything that he doesn't already know, that he needs to know. I'm not saying that he doesn't listen and isn't open-minded and willing to change his mind. But you're going to have to not only be as or nearly as smart as him (and clearly he's very smart) to succeed at this, but talk to him in a way that flatters his ego and makes you feel that you're his intellectual equal (or nearly so).

The problem though, as experience has taught me, is that people who think this way tend to be, as you say, fools, but only in certain ways. They can be immensely successful in whatever pursuit that they choose to pursue, in business, politics, sports, the arts, etc. But they also tend to make many really stupid and basic mistakes that cost them dearly, especially in personal relationships, that less brilliant people might not necessarily commit. They have so convinced themselves of their superiority and infallibility that they literally believe that they can never fail at anything that they set themselves to, and cannot be self-critical enough to realize that they, like everyone, are fallible, and prone to errors.

I saw this same quality in, ironically, two very different men and presidents, Carter and Clinton, in very different ways. Carter was a true believer in doing right, which was to his credit. But he was blinded by his self-righteousness and sense of duty to certain political and public relations realities that prevented him from achieving his goals. Clinton, on the other hand, was a true believer in Bill Clinton, and felt that he could do no wrong, which allowed him to commit one mistake after another, until he realized that he had to change course (and we all know which way he did that). Even Bush, and I suppose Cheney, are men so convinced of their own rightness (Bush) or shrewdness (Cheney), that they refused to listen to anyone's counsel but their own. And, of course, we all know how THAT turned out.

I see, in a general sense, the same quality in Obama. I can only hope that he's learned from these mens' mistakes, and that he's more open-minded and flexible (in a good, not weak way) than they were. And he's politically smarter than even Clinton, I believe. So perhaps he won't be as awful as they were, in their own ways. But I expect him to come crashing down at some point when he realizes that Barack Obama isn't the golden boy that he appears to imagine himself to be. What he learns and makes of that, I have no idea. But it'll happen--he doesn't have as many friends as he imagines that he does, and it'll become apparent once he stumbles and falls. He does not have the character and wisdom of a Lincoln or FDR. Whether he acquires it or not, is entirely up to him.

I have no idea how this turns out, if he wins. But I do know that if McCain wins, we're screwed.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
He already crashed (0.00 / 0)
He has talked about his big failure with the one election where he lost and became depressed convinced that he couldn't win anymore.  (Thus the yes we can message is appropriate as he eventually moved on)

Notice also that he seems to have the best relationship with his spouse that I've seen at least.

They have so convinced themselves of their superiority and infallibility that they literally believe that they can never fail at anything that they set themselves to, and cannot be self-critical enough to realize that they, like everyone, are fallible, and prone to errors.

Also I think this is pretty much necessary for large risk taking.  After you have completed your goal then you can come down from the clouds, but if you can't utterly focus on a goal you will never get there.

I would disagree on the way to get him to change his opinion though.  The best way to do it is to do basic research and build a factual basis for your opinion using polling, scenarios, and other stuff.  

Then you present the facts and let the other person come to a conclusion.  The "convincing" method of arguing should never work no matter how smart or flattering you are.  And in smart people who aren't too pressured it doesn't.

The opinions of the lawyers over at http://tpmelectioncentral.talk... probably give you a pretty good idea of what his thoughts are on FISA.

The liberal wiki
Send an email to terra@liberalwiki.com

[ Parent ]
Do They Really Believe Anything? (4.00 / 4)
What does "believe" mean anyway? They mostly change their "beliefs" whenever it's convenient. Many don't even HAVE really fixed views on many issues. But, on the main issues of peace and war they are all of them quite consistent.

It's obvious that the political class is in favor of war and war-profiteering generally. Their instincts are to support any call for war by the "serious people" i.e. D.C. insiders including both party's political leaders, leading conservative lobbying groups like APIC, etc.

Some are shameless enemies who can't even understand the views of those opposed to war and plunder on moral grounds. Such people can't be taken seriously in their views.

Then there are those who are persuadable if the cost of supporting war and atrocity is made high enough. This is what eventually ended the Vietnam war, the cost --- to us -- became so high that Congress finally moved to end it. But, only after the business class and other political opinion (remember Walter Cronkite?) came out against the war. Before that, it was just the "dirty hippies" and we can ignore them.

As far as our political class is concerned we can exterminate entire races as long as the cost to us isn't excessive. You didn't hear any politicians in the 70's calling for an end to the Vietnam war because 2,000,000 Asians had been killed, nor do you see anyone stand up in the Senate or House today and demand an end to the war because over 1,000,000 Iraqis have died since it began and hundreds of thousands more made homeless and an entire society destroyed. That would make US the bad-guys and that's "anti-American."

So, we can't say it without being accused of "supporting the terrorists."

In fact the right-wing political culture has so skewed the debate that ANY attempt even to rationally discuss the costs of war to US; trillions of dollars wasted, our influence in the world shattered, probably forever, the death, dismemberment and suffering of nearly 50,000 of our troops (no-one even mentions the wounded and no statistics are kept on them), the empowering of the terrorists and creating more of them, is simply impossible. Every attempt even to say "enough!" is met with derision, lies and propaganda, as well as attacks on our patriotism.

Nothing has changed since 1945 when Goering famously said:

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars." [Remember how that used to be true?]

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Goering of course has been proven right many times over the last 60 years. If we want to change anything, we have no choice but to continually fight.

It will be difficult enough to stop the war when it's ruinous to us. To introduce real morality into U.S. foreign policy so that we aren't a bully nation that starts wars of aggression and threatens and attacks other countries all around the world -- i.e. a rogue state in the view of the rest of humanity, is an almost impossible task in today's climate.

But, this is necessary to prevent the next war. It's not enough to stop this one, we have to beat down the war-mongers and substitute a policy of actually getting along with other countries instead of relying on the use of force.  

Question: Are you arguing that Obama sacrificed the (0.00 / 0)
Fourth Amendment to his presidential ambitions, or that he really "doesn't care that much" about it?

What do you believe would be the effect of giving the Republicans a vote that they will characterize as "Obama voted to allow terrorists to use email and phone calls to cook up schemes to endanger Americans," when he is down 19 points (at least) against John McCain on the question of leadership on terrorism?

Or do you believe that this vote would NOT be used against him in any significant way, and that therefore he sacrificed the Fourth Amendment for nothing?

You answer your own question by your choice of phrasing (4.00 / 2)
that actually doesn't by the way, at least according to the polling, reflect reality. It just reflect the CW you and others are trying to convince yourself is true. For the record, he can't innoculate himself with such tactics. It makes him, as it did with kerry, seem weak.

[ Parent ]
If I felt that my questions contained the (0.00 / 0)
answers I'm seeking, I wouldn't ask them.  An issue you raise that is relevant is whether a  politican can "innoculate" him or herself.  I'm not sure I believe it is possible to do either, but that simply leaves me back where I started:  what were his motivations, what should his strategy have been, and what would it have gotten him?

[ Parent ]
you didn't ask an open ended question (4.00 / 2)
but rather you asked one with a set of assumptions which first gave the answer and which is actually again wrong according to the polling data on the subject. As for motivation- I don't know. My guess is his advisors who said something similar about the public or money interests or relationships in DC or any mix of the above. It kind of doesn't matter to me.  Whatever it was- It was poor judgment both substantively and how the public feels about the subject.

[ Parent ]
Since I don't believe in data-free analysis, and I'll assume you don't (0.00 / 0)
either, I'll put the polling data forward that were embedded in my question. Due to my faulty memory, Obama's deficit on terrorism leadership in recent polls is actually worse than I thought:  according to TIME Magazine's June 26 poll's internals, he trails McCain by 22 points, not 19, as I stated above.  Moreover, 81% of the country rates this as "extremely" or "very important" to their vote.

The famous Newsweek poll that everyone thought was an outlier didn't include a question on terrorism.  In the LA Times/Bloomberg poll, Obama trails McCain on terrorism by 17 points--32 to 49 percent.  They specifically identify this issue as a danger to Obama's overall lead:

Protecting country from terrorism: McCain wins by a 17 point lead on the issue of who would be best at protecting the country from terrorism. Independents give him a whopping 39 point advantage. Except for the usual Democratic/liberal subgroups, McCain beats Obama in this category in almost all demographic groups.

So you are right that I assumed that folks were aware of the polling on this issue, but I was obviously wrong. Now:  what polls are you referring to?

[ Parent ]
There are two things wrong with your position: (4.00 / 2)
1) Warrantless wiretapping and get-out-of-jail-free cards for corporate lawbreakers are not, in fact, popular positions. Voting for them does not help Obama win votes.

2) The game is rigged. When Democrats vote against Republicans, they are called "weak," as in "weak on terror/crime/welfare/immigration." And when Democrats vote with Republicans they are called "weak," as in "when we dare them to eat a bug, they say 'how many?'" We are seeing this already now, as Obama is being called a flip-flopper for his vote.

Obama's vote was wrong on principle, and it's also wrong on the politics.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
60 percent of teh American people when asked are against this bill (4.00 / 3)
if you don't think the GOP can pivot to use that fact against Obama, then that maybe is the problem here. They will attack no matter what and they will simply use it the reinforce a different frame. For example- here the frame is that he's an eastern  elite who is a flip flopper. The reasoning hardly matters.

[ Parent ]
Constitutional Law Prof Obama (4.00 / 1)
Remember?  That would have been a good place to start.  A patented tingly speech in defense of the Constitution is one I actually would have sat through.  Oh yeah, didn't he get this far on his promises of a new transformative politics?  None of that here, just the same old craven opportunism that infects the entire DC class.   As for strategy and motives? Nothing too hard to understand, really.  Money, DC conventional wisdom, top advisors that really don't know much else anymore but the mores of Versailles.   Cowardly, dangerous and I think actually quite foolish given the mood out there and the troubles ahead.  

[ Parent ]
Well fortunately or unfortunately, all politics are about "craven opportunism." (0.00 / 0)
It's the nature of our "winner take all" political system.  Oddly enough, the one source of "craven opportunism" that I am most anxious to neutralize is that of corporatist interests which buy politicians, elections, policies, and government.  On this, Obama (so far) enjoys a substantial lead in the most recent polls.

What disturbs me, frankly, about his FISA position is that the independence he purchased with $25 and $100 contributions doesn't seem to have made him more likely to take and hold stands like his PREVIOUS FISA position.  And I'd like to know why.

[ Parent ]
Frankly, he got this far on the strength of base he's assembled to support him. (0.00 / 0)
That base is African-Americans, younger voters, college-educated voters, and progressives.  If any of these groups turns against him, he'll crash and burn just like Howard Dean.

I would make the case that his "transformational politics" really has to do with campaign financing.  He has made it possible for the influence of money to be diminished,  e.g. the small number of rich and powerful Americans have always been swamped by the rest of us, so until the Obama campaign they've used money to amplify their voice.

Now that we know that millions of people can and will support a campaign, the possibility of real populism exists.  This technology, just like any other, is available to anyone who wants to use it, so the momentary advantage it offers to Obama will not last very long.

So what does this mean for progressives and the left?  How can it help push progressives from the margins to the center?  Certainly ActBlue and similar efforts are part of the answer, but what is the overall strategy?  Hopefully it isn't to achieve a progressive majority in 50 years, which is about how long it would take to primary all the Bush democrats and defeat them in elections (not to mention the money required).  What is a more strategic aim?

I take the position that at the presidential level we are unlikely to get any better cover for progressive organizing than Obama.  So what should we be aiming for in addition to Obama?

These are the questions I'm interested in.

[ Parent ]
No special strategy: be a citizen (0.00 / 0)
Certainly the number of small donors is impressive indeed, but he has raised huge--unprecedented--amounts from rich bundlers and corps (I don't know the latest figures but I read something in the Spring that it represents at least 60 percent of his total take).   I don't want to diminish the importance of the small donors (and we all should remember the Dean campaign's success here in leading the way), but the big dogs are still getting enormous access and special time with the one.  His campaign finance methods have done nothing to change the this.  And Matt's stellar piece from yesterday on the DC insiders (and their corporate clientele) advising him (and likely to play key roles in his adm)  raises even more questions about whether the small donors will do anything to transform the disappointing and I would say cowardly business-as-usual approach his campaign has adopted.    

Finally, as others have written similarly, taking these kind of feckless positions is a losing strategy for Dems and certainly a loser for a guy who insists that he's different...you're right: if he loses any piece of his base, he will crash and burn.  

So my answer to what progressives can do is simple: act like good involved citizens rather than campaign operatives.  

Elect a Congress of folks who are less craven than the alternative and stop excusing this presidential candidate because he might represent some better progressive organizing opportunity (I'm still not sure what that means).  If he lies, call him on it.  He screws up, let him know. If you send him money, insist that he do the right thing. Stand up to the idea of an imperial president, even if this time the imperial president turns out to be the guy we help put on the throne (there is nothing progressive about an executive branch conducting warrantless wiretapping, even if Congress decides it should be legal) .  Hold his feet to the fire.  Period.

[ Parent ]
So there's your answer (4.00 / 1)
He did it for nothing.

And by the way, are you really suggesting with your question that sacrificing the Fourth Amendment to shore up his polling on the question of "leadership on terrorism" is somehow excusable? Good lord.

[ Parent ]
For nothing, indeed (4.00 / 4)

 Barack Obama threw the Fourth Amendment under a steamroller because he "needs to get elected".

 Did he even notice that the Democrats employed the exact same logic in 2002, in their rush to give Bush his blank check on Iraq?

 How'd that work out?

 I thought Obama's nomination would usher in a new post-DLC era in Democratic politics, where the self-immolating "centrist" (actually far-right) posturing would be a thing of the past, and Democrats wouldn't be ashamed of being Democrats anymore.

 Yes, I actually thought that. How wrong I was.


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
I agree with you. (4.00 / 1)
Just commenting on Bruh's observation (and yours) that this crass political calculation is actually a loser.  It will get him (and us) nothing.

[ Parent ]
Well, I Didn't Really Think THAT (0.00 / 0)
Too cosy with the insiders from the getgo, really.

But I did think he wouldn't be so plain old dumb.

I mean, he was far enough away to see the way the Dems self-destructed in 2002.  Why he wants to do that again is utterly beyond me.

So, why doesn't he just hire Bob Shrum, already, and get it over with?

"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 ]
It's not even a good political move (3.33 / 6)

 You might remember that in 2002, the Democrats fell all over themselves rubber-stamping Bush's march to Iraq in order to "take that issue off the table".

 You might recall how THAT election turned out.

 Same story in 2004, essentially. The Democrats kneecapped the anti-war candidate (Howard Dean) and installed a safe pro-war (well, he did vote for it) standard-bearer in John Kerry. He talked tough about terrorists. His criticism of the war was limited to its conduct, not its propriety.

 And he lost.

 So why, with the war (and Republicans) less popular than ever, does Obama think that lurching to the right is going to HELP him get elected?

 I am seriously questioning not just his commitment to the Constitution, but his political instincts.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
I've thought about that a lot myself (4.00 / 4)
It just shows, to me, how fear-based so many Democrats are.  Or they actually believe this stuff and just can't convince people that they believe it as much as Republicans.  Or that they don't believe in anything other than having some power and will do anything to get it, even if they don't do it very well.  They're all depressing possibilities.

[ Parent ]
What bothers me the most (4.00 / 2)

 People like Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, and all the Democrats  who love the war and hate the Constitution, and voted for the war and continue to support it because they really like the idea of pre-emptive war and really hate the quaint concept of civil liberties--  WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE DEMOCRATS????

 I mean, the assumption is that for one to identify as a Democrat, one would subscribe to a certain set of values and ideals. But Chris is arguing that these "Democrats" don't care about such values and ideals -- their core beliefs (pro-war, anti-Constitution, pro-corporate) are strictly within the Republican value system. And that they're probably sincere about these beliefs.

 So the question then becomes, why does Steny Hoyer have to lie to us by claiming to be a Democrat?  Why don't these people just run as Republicans, where they don't have to hide what they really believe in? Why go through all the trouble of pretending to be a progressive when they could just run for their offices as Republicans and not have to deal with all that doubletalk and deception? Steny Hoyer's life would be A LOT easier as a Republican -- he wouldn't have to give the occasional lip service to the progressive ideals he clearly loathes.

 I don't get it. What drives these assholes to identify as Democrats to begin with?  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

I always ask that .. (4.00 / 1)
I don't get it. What drives these assholes to identify as Democrats to begin with?

And never get an answer.  I wish someone had asked that during the primaries.  The Bush Dogs should get asked that constantly.  I think a lot of Reps and Senators are scared of "The Village" .. meaning of the likes of Russert and Tweety

[ Parent ]
One more thing (4.00 / 4)

 When the sweeping assualt on the Fourth Amendment known as the FISA bill finally gets ramrodded through the Senate, with Obama's vocal support, I expect Obama's poll numbers to go through the roof, as he will, of course, simply be displaying his Toughness On Terrorism by this action, and remove all remaining doubts about his "weakness" on the issue.

 So when his poll numbers DON'T go up, what will the excuse be?

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Now that will be interesting. I kinda hope it (0.00 / 0)
does, because we then could make a data-based self-interest argument about the Constitution.  I'm always more comfortable when doing the right thing coincides with doing what's best for the politician.

[ Parent ]
I wonder about the qualifier "per se" (4.00 / 4)
No, I don't harbor any illusions that he has some sort of (undeclared) Nixon-like "secret plan" to end the warrantless wiretaps of Americans. But I wonder if by tacking on the words "per se", he was indicating that he didn't care so much about what wrongs the telcoms did in these wiretaps, at least compared to national security interests, as opposed to what wrongs those who ordered these wiretaps committed.

Which, if this is what he meant, I would agree with. The telcoms clearly broke the law, and only a fool would apply the "color of law" defense, as one of the diariest that Greenwald linked to called it, to corporate behemoths with vast legal resources, some of which were surely expert in national security law, since they have been helping the government do LAWFUL wiretapping for decades. But just as clearly it was the administration that was by far the more egregious and culpable lawbreaker here, and should be the real target of any civil and/or criminal cases that might be brought up. The telcoms drove the getaway car, but it was the administration that held up the bank and shot the guard.

So far so good. Just one problem. First, he hasn't at all indicated whether, as president, he'd criminally go after former administration officials who approved, ordered or legally justified these illegal wiretaps. And not having done so, I don't see why we should assume that he will, let alone that he's deliberately not telling us that he will for fear of giving the GOP ammo against him or something to rile them up. And from a civil case point of view, the path to filing civil charges against these same officials is directly through these telcoms, and which this law would make forever impossible (unless there's some loophole that would allow a higher court to strike it down that I'm not aware of). And by supporting it, Obama is helping to permanently cut off that path.

So we're back where we started, and left to the hope, belief, assumption, guess, whatever, that he has some secret plan to persue this as president, that he will not even allude to as a candidate. Which, to me, is not only an awfully thin reed to hang one's defense of his support of FISA on, but for which there is absolutely no reason believe is true, given his past actions and words. We could all be wrong, and he really does have a secret plan. Or he doesn't, but might end up persuing this as president anyway. But we don't know that, and since we don't, all we have is civil cases, and defeating this FISA bill. And Obama's for it now. That tells me everything I need to know.

Sorry, I don't do ponies. Maybe I, like many, saw tiny little ponies here and there during the campaign. But no more. Obama's a centrist, both politically and ideologically. And centrists don't really have any ideology, just leanings, that if it doesn't cost them, they might persue, but if it does, they likely won't. But not deep convictions that they'd be willing to go out on a limb for. And right now, I see no reason to believe that Obama is anything but an ideological and political centrist with some leanings, but few if any strong convictions.

That's not necessarily the end of the world. He is smart and competent and nobody's fool, and not a right-wing ideologue like Bush and Cheney or a corrupt authoritarian like McCain. He will be a better president that any of these were or would have been, and may well do much good along progressive lines. But he's not a progressive, and whatever progressive good he does do, it will be because he believed that it was politically doable and smart, and because he was pressured to do it, but not because of any deep convictions. That's where the progressive movement comes in, to bring on that pressure. And ideas. And perhaps some political help, in situations where it can be brought.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

Perhaps not so much a "secret plan" (0.00 / 0)
But remember that Leahy said in his statement that he looked forward to working with the next president on fixing the bill. Perhaps Obama thinks, "I am going to punt. To have some bill and some legal framework is better than no bill and certainly better than the abomination known as the PAA. But when I am President, we will have a better bill and I will be able to understand the technical issues of data mining which are being grappled with better." This is a fairly dangerous way of thinking because if he sacrifices the enthusiasm of too many liberals who believed in him he won't be President and there won't be any better bill. But it is consistent with all of his remarks.  

Darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.  

Feingold on "Why?" (4.00 / 2)
Interesting quote I saw after reading this post. I don't think this necessarily applies to Obama, and I tend to agree that no matter why whatever, it's what they DO that counts.

Cenk Uygur: It is incredible. So, I mean, it leads to the question that everybody's been asking. You know, whether it's our viewers, the readers of the blogs, etc. the actual bloggers, everybody that's paying attention is asking: Why are the Democrats doing it? You know, I got three possibilities. One is caving. They think, "Hey if we give into Bush, we're going to win more elections, and we don't really care about the policy, and the fourth amendment in the constitution are an interesting side note, but I want to win more elections." Number two is, they're scared of their own shadow and they didn't get the memo that the Republicans are grossly unpopular throughout the country, and that President Bush is the most unpopular President in the history of the United States. But if they didn't get that memo, you got to question a couple of different things about their judgment. The third theory out there is that they're complacent that people like Rockefeller signed off on some of these abuses and they get money from the lobbyists. So they don't really want to rock the boat.

Senator Russ Feingold: Well my honest belief is that it's the first two. I don't really see it as having to do with political contributions. I don't see it that they really want to cooperate with this stuff. I see it more as the first two things you said. Having to do with political fear, and, you know, calculations about elections to be honest with you. There are many areas that I think are grossly effected by money. I think it is less true of this, and it has more to do with political fear.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

I've lately been reading redstate (0.00 / 0)
One difference I noticed is that redstaters quickly acknowledged that they disagreed with McCain on almost everything and then got on board.

This is a much healthier attitude rather than trying to make Obama into something he is not.  It also explains why republicans often tend to win the close elections.  

They spend their time thinking about how to get McCain elected rather than other stuff.  

The larger the margin of victory for obama the better for progressives.  Whether obama agrees with you on every issue is irrelevant.  

When he gets into office he will have millions of different pressures on him.  The pressure of a committed netroots who help him win is far more effective than the pressure of a group who cut against his message and inaccurately attacked his character.

Obama stated his goals at http://www.dailykos.com/storyo... .

If you feel those are worthy goals you should focus on supporting him on those goals.  And you shouldn't expect much more than those because people are not efficient multitaskers.

If you want something else you are going to have to make it easy for him to do that thing and hard to do the opposite.

The liberal wiki
Send an email to terra@liberalwiki.com

I disagree. (0.00 / 0)
Obama may not be a progressive but I'm by God going to do my best to make him act like one for the next  4-8 years.

The conservatives accept unprincipled politicians as a matter of course. It's part of who they are. It's not part of who we are.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
The point is (0.00 / 0)
Do that in a way that helps him rather than hurting him.

The liberal wiki
Send an email to terra@liberalwiki.com

[ Parent ]

Open Left Campaigns



Advanced Search

Powered by: SoapBlox