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January 12, 2008


They aren’t about schools and bridges, because we don’t lack those – we’ve been lucky on that front. Instead, Obama is offering something we often don’t have, but that we similarly crave and need – a higher purpose, a sense of connectedness and community. In short, Obama is providing a secular religion. More cynically, it’s wine-track demagoguery.

Cynicism does no justice to this impulse, because it's a NECESSARY impulse for collective action in many ways. To inspire many humans to do things together is hard thing; we're a cantankerous ornery lot as it is. There are emotional, logical and spiritual impulses to action, and it is the strongest movements that can incorporate all three.

(Conversely, it's the most dangerous movements that allow one or another [usually emotional or the spiritual] to dominate. Moderation in all things)

Homework assignment, Publius.

Read the first 3 chapters of Thurman Arnold's The Folklore of Capitalism. Then meditate and relax.

Finally someone (Obama) is PLAYING THE GAME NECESSARY TO MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN. Granted, often change is for the worse. But right now things aren't exactly great, and I'm not afraid of the changes that Obama seems to want.

As Arnold realizes, politics IS the performance of style over substance. As Schumpeter noted (and Arnold clearly agrees), the democratic effect is not constructive, but simply an illusion designed to accomplish political peace. Obama's got plenty of illusion, but its not a bad thing, no more than it is a good thing. It's simply an effective thing.

Uhh, what? Obama's a great candidate - great wonkishness, great background, great intelligence, great personal qualities, great rhetorical skills. Why shouldn't you feel strongly drawn to him (as long as that doesn't cloud your judgement about the other great candidates)? If it wasn't for Obama starting his campaign with an over-the-top religious statement and the hatred of Edwards and Clinton expressed by a lot of his supporters on DailyKos, neither good reasons, I'd probably feel the same way (ok, there is the Krugman and kumbaya stuff).

I was pulling for Edwards.

Isn't he only doing the matching funds thing.

What a fascinating, thought-provoking post. I love your title. I am very impressed by your ability to rethink your original positions. This week has been a long strange political trip for me. When Obama made his victory speech in Iowa a week ago, I was utterly seduced. Jack and Bob Kennedy had risen from the dead, reviving my political idealism that died 40 year ago. Obama's appeal seened messianic and the enthusiasm of his supporters seemed a return to 60s activism. That night I was more hopeful than I have been in 20 years that the country could halt its death spiral and become the good society with a constitutional government once again.

I was only mesmerized for a day, and then I started dwelling on past disillusionments. JFK swept me away when I was 11 years old, but he was a mediocre president; I have never believed he would have kept us out of Vietnam. Bobby might seem the forever young idealist only because he is dead. Clinton's debate performance seemed superior. As in every debate I am impressed by her intelligence and knowledge.

The volcano of vicious sexist attacks on Clinton galvanized me, resurrecting my youthful radical feminism. Finally after months of struggle, I acknowledged that feminist issues are dealbreakers for me. All week I have been furious, appalled, sickened, particularly by women pundits who keep attacking the intelligence, seriousness, and sophistication of the women who voted for Clinton. Women can be their own worst enemies, particularly women who have made it and seem to need to consider themselves creatures apart from the average women they so need to feel superior to.

I was appalled by Jackson's attack on Hillary's so-called tears and Obama's refusal to disown his remarks. Given how badly Edwards was hurt by a far more innocuous criticism of Hillary, I question Obama's political intelligence as well.I have not seen any evidence he really gets it about feminist issues. This week I do not intend to flip flop with every news report and blog read.

"I was appalled by Jackson's attack on Hillary's so-called tears and Obama's refusal to disown his remarks."

Has Obama refused to do so? Has he been asked about the matter at all?

In this one post, you have distilled and put on display how elitist liberals see themselves and their contempt for those considered beneath them.


The bit about the void gives me the jibblies. I can just see the folks at RedState taking a peek over here and saying, "See? I was right! I *knew* those atheists were dying inside". (BTW, I'm not making that up about dying inside. I was actually told that on RedState).

So I just want to say, for all of you RedState readers -- THERE IS NO VOID!

Okay, I feel a little better.

You mention two aspects of the (completely non-existent) void: a sense of community, and a higher purpose. There is no need to resort to religion, religion-like activities , or religionesque emotions to fulfill these human desires. Religion is just one manifestation of what evolution has shouldered us with.

One of the prevalent principles of thoughful atheists (people like Dennett) is that we have the freedom and the responsibility to determine our own higher purpose, rather than having one handed to us by an institution. It's not a solipsistic endeavor. We hash out common philosophies so that we can participate in a communal higher purpose.

When Obama talks about hope, I think he means more than the people who make fun of him for it think he means. To me, he's saying, "You and I share a higher purpose, and many others do too. The political atmosphere in America makes you tired and jaded and fatalistic. But that can be changed -- and I'm the vessel for the vision that we share". Specifics are lethal to this way of campaigning, but it's emotionally exciting.

So what are you disturbed by? The prospect of allowing yourself to be excited by ideas that over time seemed more and more futile? The possibility that people will go on being tired and jaded unless there's someone strong and charismatic enough to make people think they can realize what's in their heads?

Maybe Obama has people snared because they can't totally dismiss him without quietly and privately thinking of themselves as defeatists.

dkilmer - i see your point about the void, and perhaps could have been clearer. i suppose a better way of saying is that yuppies generally are the most de-rooted. they work hard, often don't do community events, and don't get time with their friends, etc. i think that politics provides a sort of structure and order for these people. i think these same desires for community were a big part of the dean campaign too.

but the larger point -- i.e., what i'm afraid of -- is that i'm afraid i'm basing an excessive amount of political support on a sort of intellectual/emotional infatuation. it's to his credit though that he can trigger these feelings among hardened cynics.

Something that might be worth pondering, Publius, is the difference between the excitement of Obama supporters and the fervor of Ron Paul supporters.

I'd hold that one is much more religionesque than the other.

Whoops, missed your reply while I was pondering the whole thing myself. I see where you're coming from. After a year at RedState, I'm a little jumpy about atheism, so I hope you'll excuse the overreaction.

I guess what I'm questioning is whether Obama himself is really the object of infatuation. For me, he just lays a torch to something in myself that I'd be really glad to hope for. Could he pull it off? Who knows. But he seems to be the only candidate who's serious about trying.

I have no idea why I'm defending him. I'm not even an Obama supporter. Maybe I'm just proving your point ;).

I'm a little doubtful about Martin's take on bipartisanship. If you can get everyone in a group looking in the same direction, then they can have the satisfaction of getting something accomplished without it becoming gridlock, or an endless series of compromises.

I'm also doubtful about Martin's view of Clinton and Obama's senate records. The sorts of things you do as a president are completely different than the things you do as a Senator. We probably elect so few Senators to the office because we misunderstand the difference and get sidetracked by voting records.


I understand the justification for some hesitation about Obama, but here's the problem: If not him, then who? Edwards would seem to me to be the next logical choice (and, in fact, if we were judging these things on policy alone, he'd likely be the first choice), but his campaign doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Barring something dramatic, this looks to be a two horse race between Obama and Clinton. For all his warts, Obama wins that contest, for all the reasons you pointed out a couple of days ago.

I think you also underestimate the extent to which perception is reality in the public mind. Obama could get things done in a way Clinton could not, for the simple reason that people tend to like him, a lot more than they like her. I'm not defending his despicable "you're likable enough" moment, of course, but there is a certain kernel of truth to it. If Obama continues to be perceived as a fresh face, a game changer, and the media continues to cover him that way, then that becomes reality for a large portion of the populace.

So on the one hand, let's be realistic, and understand that Obama is far from a perfect candidate. But at the same time, let's realize that he's probably the best viable candidate we have, and he's certainly worlds better than anything the GOP has to offer right now. (Which, for that matter, Clinton is, too.)

Sorry - I'll stop hogging the thread after this. One other thought.

IMHO, it's Krugman who has the most convincing argument against Obama. He says that now is not the time for bipartisanship. Now is the time for whooping conservative butt. New Deal them into submission, basically. Once they've accepted some measure of defeat, liberals can ease up a bit and have a period of bipartisanship.

If he's right, Clinton might be the better choice.

OK so Obama isn't a miracle worker. So some of the enthusiam people ahve for him is naive. So what? Why are we looking the gift horse in the mouth? Why aren't we celebrating the fact that the charismatic candidate is on our team?

We are picking candidate for President, someone who has to get elected in order to be any good at all. That candidate must be able to get thhe votes of people who are not detail annd issue obsessives like Demcratic bloggers tend to be. We are not picking the best canddate for us. We are picking the best candidate to win. Or we should be.

None of the top three are unexceptable choices. None of thhem are bad. In fact, all three are good. This sort of scrutiny to see who is thhe best IN OUR TERMS is unproductive, even counterproductive.

It's not a matter of Obama lacking substance--the substannce is there for annyone who wants to see it. The problem for some Democrats is that Obama has a style which, while appealing to many new voters and to voters outside the Dem base, doesn't satisfy the nneed that well-inofrmed obsessives (like me, for example ) have for thhe details and documentation. But so what? Just because I prefer pistachio doesnn't mean that rocky road isn't the best choice for this election.

Think of it this way: which is better--to have an election with a candidate that the press hates, that unites the righhtwingers, and that mighht hurt lower ticket candidates, or have a candidate thhat the press likes, the thhe rightwing base can't attack without looking racist, that pulls in enthusiastic new voters, and might help the down ticket races?

I really thinnk that it is time to stop worrying about which one is thhe closest to our ideal. It's time to discuss electablility.

That's all that matters at this point.

IMHO, it's Krugman who has the most convincing argument against Obama. He says that now is not the time for bipartisanship. Now is the time for whooping conservative butt.

Except that I don't think Obama disagrees - he just disagrees on tactics. The Krugman/Edwards argument is "let's beat the shit out of them," whereas the Obama argument is "let's pull a Reagan, reframe their more moderate views into progressive ones through cunning use of language, and dominate politics for the next generation."

It's smarter politics.

And as an aside, Obama has released more than enough policy this campaign for me to consider arguments re: his lack of substance utterly frivolous. It's not the Obama campaign tossing out thinly veiled racist insults, after all.

Most disturbingly, it illustrates that secular progressives – you know, cynical rational substantive geniuses that we are – are little different from the crowds cheering on Huey Long. Like them, we are responding to emotional populist appeals – just different types of appeals.

I'm glad you acknowledge this. I tend to agree with secular progressives that emotions/spiritual yearnings can be dangerous (though so can an excess of rationalism - read Jonathan Swift sometime). However, I disagree that they are inherently bad things. Many progressives from my view seem to get so taken with their own educated rationality that they let it bleed into A.)an unrealistic notion that they are above irrationality, and B.)a foolish contempt for those embrace the irrational. Everyone is human. The irrational, like the rational, must be accepted, even embraced (if channeled healthily) - the truth is, human life wouldn't be bearable without it (think of getting married with the thought that there's a 50% chance you'll be getting divorced in your head). It has a role in politics. A lot of the decisions a President makes have nothing whatsoever to do with his/her policy prescriptions, and everything to do with quick decisions made on the fly in response to unforeseen circumstances (think 9/11). A candidate's judgment, character, and ability to martial support are thus absolutely important considerations, no matter how difficult to quantify they may be.

All that aside, I think the charge that because Obama's campaign speeches are full of inspiring but airy generalities, he therefore lacks substance, is a canard. Hillary and her surrogates have repeated it ad infinitum because it's to their advantage to establish this impression, and it's gotten picked up and mindlessly repeated further by the media. Go to Obama's website, though, read his policy positions, and you'll see that he has detailed proposals on pretty much every conceivable issue. He has an instinctual awareness the fact that effective politicking requires pathos and ethos as well as logos, that there is much more to speechmaking and political persuasion than reciting boring laundry lists. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have boring laundry lists as well. I don't deny that Hillary is smart and has a good command of the issues - but I think Obama is just as good on both counts. He's the total package.

I'm in agreement with Andrew Sullivan - Obama could be the progressive Reagan, a politician capable of shifting the midpoint of the bell curve of American politics fundamentally to the left. His inclusive message will not only make him more appealing to a general electorate, but also enable him to define public discourse in a way no President since Reagan has. He's the solution to the Democratic dilemma of being unable to convince voters to vote for you despite the fact that your policies are more popular in polls.

As a limited government/fiscal conservative type, I have mixed feelings about all this. I greatly admire Obama and find his refusal to stoop to petty gutter-sniping or demonize people who disagree with him on policy inspiring and refreshing. He doesn't condescend or look down his nose at any part of the electorate. He offers an inspiring image of American identity. And yet, he could be death to my preferred ideology.

I can't, for the life of me, see why so many progressives are unwilling see the fact that he's a liberal politician with tremendous appeal to moderates as a good thing. I read quite a few progressive blogs and have lots of progressive friends, and it seems like the parlor game du jour to try and talk one's self out of supporting the best political talent the Democratic side has had since Kennedy (yes, he's better than Bill was - people forget that Clinton only won in '92 with the aid of Ross Perot), and into supporting a female Kerry/Dukakis/Mondale. I respect Hillary's accomplishments and grasp of the issues, but purely from a tactical standpoint I think that a.)she's much less likely to win the general election, especially if she's up against someone like McCain, and b.)even if she is elected, she can't achieve the same sweeping progressive mandate that Obama can. She'd start off with close to 50% of the electorate disliking her already and would provoke intense (and, more important, politically safe) obstructionism from Republicans in Congress, so no matter how substantive her agenda, she'd be unlikely to accomplish much of it. She's not going to get us out of Iraq, so in four years that will become a Democratic albatross, and once the distaste for the Bush era fades, she'd be very beatable by a good Republican opponent in 2012. Progressives are right that the Republicans will try to slime Obama. Where they're wrong, in my opinion, is in thinking that they will succeed in making him just as widely disliked as Hillary. He's got way too much personal charm for that.

I'm only one person, so take this for what it's worth, but I am a swing state independent - exactly the kind of voter you need to win a mandate, in other words - and I would vote for Obama over any of the Republicans, including McCain. I can't see myself voting for Hillary, yes, on issues, but even moreso on temperament, character, and judgment. I would vote for McCain (enthusiastically) or Romney (holding my nose) over her, and would abstain or vote third party if she's up against Huckabee or Giuliani.

It is also time to get past the notion that partisanship has to be done with rancor. It doesn't. We do need the equivalent of a New Deal. We do need someone who will stick up firmly for our values. However that doesn't have to be done by someone who is out to get even on our behalf, or to get revenge the abuses of the Republicanns, or otherwise satisfy the need that some, including me, feel to blast rage at conservatives. It is more likely to be accomplished by someone who is post partisan--able to express our values, and promote our values without indulging in anger.

BTW I don't think that Hillary herself is a polarizing figure. I think the the righht polarized the discourse and blamed her for it and continues to hate her rather than face up to there own hyperparisanship. But somehow the assumption has become widespread amongst liberals that, if the candidate does have a subtext rancor, then that candidate will be a collaborator and compromiser. I think that the candidate that is most likely to be a collaborator and compromiser is the one who already behaved that way. I do not thinnk that Obama's willingness to treat everyone with respect means thhat he will be a whimp once elected. Rather I thinnk it means he will be more effective at fighting for our values.

I meant "does NOT have a subtext of rancor".

BTW when Obama won in Iowas I emailed to all my friends new lyrics to "Hosana" from Jesus Christ, Superstar: "Oh Bama, Oh Bama, Bama Bama, Oh, Bama Oh,Bama, Oh Bama!"

It is more likely to be accomplished by someone who is post partisan--able to express our values, and promote our values without indulging in anger.

I agree with you there. For most people I know who are tired of the rancorous right-wing partisanship of Bush, rancorous left-wing partisanship is not what they're shopping for as a replacement.

BTW I don't think that Hillary herself is a polarizing figure. I think the the righht polarized the discourse and blamed her for it and continues to hate her rather than face up to there own hyperparisanship.

However, I completely disagree with this. The Clintons, and Hillary in particular, were in my opinion just as much to blame for the hyperpartisanship of the 90's. You may agree with her that there was a "vast right wing conspiracy" after Bill, but most moderates, and certainly most conservatives, would characterize that as a bit over-the-top, to say the least.

In any case, the fact that a lot of conservatives are saying that a Hillary nomination is the magic tonic that could motivate donors, galvanize voters, and heal the rifts in the GOP coalition seems to me pretty strong evidence that she really is polarizing. Personally speaking, while I think a lot of the hatred for her from the right is absurd, Hillary (and, for that matter, Edwards) rub me the wrong way in a way Obama emphatically does not.

Apologies if this is seen as advertising, but I wanted to point you (and anyone else interested in an interesting RFK anecdote) to this post at TiO. The RFK anecdote is buried in the middle, but I think it is striking because it certainly seems that candidates and potential candidates had much much more space back then to develop their positions. I don't want to turn this into holding up one candidate over another, just to observe that we may be holding them all to demands that not only hurt them, but hurt us in the end.

"and to All The King’s Men more generally (the book, not the wretched movie)"

You don't like Broderick Crawford?

"Having heard President Lincoln's second Inaugural address yesterday, I confess a swelling of my heart and indeed even my soul upon witnessing such eloquence. Yet upon waking this morning, I found myself unsettled with concern that perhaps our President's stirring rhetoric is but beauty without substance, a precious vase with wilting flowers. I mean really, he could have used a bit more policy, right?"

-- Yankee Doodle Danny, America's first blogger

Sheesh, relax! Sometimes the ability to communicate powerfully actually is related to the ability to lead. Remember that you've heard plenty of powerful speakers in the past, but somehow this one is gaining your trust. Why is that?

I can't answer for you, but I can say that for me he's actually going beyond mere empty rhetoric (and frankly going beyond policy as well) into something we haven't had in the Democratic party: an actual political philosophy. His 2004 Democratic Convention keynote had what is to me the cornerstone of this party's purpose:

"Now, don't get me wrong, the people I meet in small towns and big cities and diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solves all of their problems. They know they have to work hard to get a head. And they want to.

...people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice."

When conservatives insist that small government works better and that large government creates a dependence upon the state that limits people's potential, it resonates with the American ideals of independence and ambition. Obama's speech was the first time I had ever heard what I consider to be distilled and persuasive argument in favor of Democratic Party principles.

Frankly, the mere fact that he understands this deeply enough to communicate it with such clarity to a national audience is as much evidence as any policy wonkery that he'll actually be able to put this philosophy into practice. And judging by the results of his time in Chicago, there's plenty of evidence that he actually can guide disagreeing parties into the sort of temporary alliances that allow things to actually get done in our political system.

Pubby, darling, when I read this post, I can't help but think you're not just now getting around to questioning Obama objectively for the first time in four years of watching him, you're way too smart and far too level headed for that. No, it's not a sudden burst of perspective but rather the first stages of separation anxiety. You're prepping yourself psychologically for Obama's defeat. Don't worry buddy, I'm right there with you. I freaked the hell out the other night until I reminded myself that Hillary Clinton is a fine candidate, one that I have no problem supporting wholeheartedly should she get the nomination. But that's still a long way off and until then I'm still going to support the candidate whose vision for this party and this country I most agree with.

yeah, vote for hillary because matthews is a fuckstain. that'll show him!

publius, this seems unlike you. Are you really saying that when a candidate provides you with "a higher purpose, a sense of connectedness and community," that counts against them? The terms of your argument dictate that, given two candidates with identical policies, you would prefer to vote for the one whom you found less inspiring.

What you're really expressing, I think, is a -- dare I say? -- almost religious faith in your own ability as a rational, secular progressive to divine the true policies of a candidate. And there's the rub: do you really think that you -- and the electorate -- can really find the "truth" of any candidate's policies based on their speeches, or even their policy proposals?

But bracketing the question of how to assess the substantiveness of Obama and Clinton's policies, you're also glossing at least two other important things:

(1) Even if you can divine the truth of Obama and Clinton's policies, is that the proper barometer for selecting a candidate? You've made some eloquent arguments in the past about the importance of the median voter, yet here you're arguing exclusively from the perspective of an astute liberal blogger. Unless every member of the electorate can and does make this decision with the same proficiency as you (again, assuming that you can), this doesn't translate into a political maxim.

(2) Why isn't a candidate's ability to inspire an explicit part of your calculus? There's clearly political currency there, but somehow you're casting it as a negative. To the extent you are a rational, secular, issues-based voter, why isn't a candidate's ability to mesmerize even you actually a point in their favor?

I can think of a number of traits -- many of which, again, you've emphasized in the past -- that might be weighed along with assessments of policy, e.g.: potential advisors, cabinet, appointments; accessibility by lobbyists; political background; the degree to which the candidate will even see themselves as bound by their policy statements.

Isn't your argument tantamount to rejecting a candidate based on your own fallibility? That seems a bit short-sighted. I'm afraid I agree with Mark: this rationale seems like insurance against disappointment -- it's a political calculus that's based solely on personal risk-aversion.

Worse: not only are you rejecting a candidate based on their potential downside (in which case there's a good argument against Hillary, too), but in fact because of a bigger upside. You're reducing the spread rather than maximizing your gains.

That might make sense for you personally, but how is it a strategic choice?

When I compare my life with that of my parents, they were far more rooted in the communiity. Raising six kids and sending them to Catholic schools on one middle-class income, they had to make their own entertainment.We didn't get a TV until I was 14; we got a decent turntable about the same
time. The radio was our main entertainment source. I recall the thrill of my own radio as a birthday present; I could listen to Dodger games whenever I wanted. Movies were a luxury; we ate out about three times year. We entertained ourselves by visiting family and friends. All of my 45 first cousins were an easy drive away. There were gangs of kids in the neighborhood to play with.

Card playing was the way adults socialized. Almost every adult was competent at cards, and many were excellent bridge players. My parents played bridge with people in the neighborhood at least once a week. Every home had a card table.People almost always had a deck in their bag or their pocket if you had to wile away time. Periodically my family discovers there is no cheaper or more varied form of almost free entertainment.

My mom and dad were tremendously involvedly in the social action outreach with the local Catholic Church. My dad was head of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which ministered to poor struggling families in the parish. He visited the local nursing home every Sunday without fail. They visited parish families in need once a week. Some evenings he was called out to visit a family experiencing a sudden emergency. When they moved to Long Island in 1947, our town lacked a church. They and their friends raised the money to build a church, a convent for the nuns, a rectory for the priest, a grade school for 800 kids. That represented tremendous dedication to fundraising for a working class community.

The local library was in a former mission church run by volunteers for the first ten years.I had been infected by my parents' community spirit. When the library was vandalized when I was 9, my best friend and I volunteered two times a week to sort it out. I remember the chief volunteer struggling to explain to us the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

I can think of a number of traits -- many of which, again, you've emphasized in the past -- that might be weighed along with assessments of policy, e.g.: potential advisors, cabinet, appointments; accessibility by lobbyists; political background; the degree to which the candidate will even see themselves as bound by their policy statements.

Out of curiosity, are any of these things, from a progressive perspective, points in Hillary's favor vis-a-vis Obama? I mean, Hillary's foreign policy team consists of a who's who of liberal cheerleaders for the Iraq War, Obama's on record as saying he would appoint talented people from the Clinton administration (i.e., the same people Hillary would appoint), and Hillary as the establishment candidate with the long list of corporate connections seems far more wired to what liberals would consider odious lobbyists.

The problem with all three leading Democratic candidates is that they are all "centrists" (i.e. secular conservatives). None of them supports single-payer healthcare. None supports immediate withdrawal from Iraq. All continue to support bloated military budgets. On the issues they are very similar to one another, which is one of the reasons that the debate among their supporters tends to be about things other than their stance on issues.

As for the substance of publius's post: I think there's nothing at all wrong with charismatic candidates and rhetoric that moves voters. The problem with Huey Long wasn't his rhetorical skill, but what he actually did and stood for (though to be fair to Huey Long, he did some good things amid the corruption). For me the problem with Obama is that I'd want to see his rhetoric and charisma put in the service of a much more progressive set of policies than we're getting from him (or Clinton or Edwards). Unfortunately the leading progressive Democratic candidate, Dennis Kucinich, has the charisma of a wet sock. And that "unfortunately" is meant in all seriousness.

On a side note: if you liked the film of The Last King of Scotland read the novel, which is even better (the film substantially changes the book so as to make the protagonist an entirely sympathetic figure by the end of the story).

Obama's ability to fire up young people, involving them in politics and policy, is the most attractive and important quality about him. I hope the first woman president will have the same effect on young women, but I am less sure. My passionate devotion to John F. Kennedy from age 11 set into motion education, thinking, convictions and activism that still reverberate today. I decided to major in political science although I had always conceived of myself as an English major. Three of my daughters graduated with degrees in political science; all 3 are involved in politics and international relations professionally.

Bear in mind the available alternatives play a role in that. I like Edwards, but the minute he declared he's only doing public financing, he basically dropped out of the race. Then we have Hillary, the candidate who seems to feel most entitled, and most represent the establishment in Washington. I simply refuse to vote for a dynastic candidate-- the twenty-second amendment exists to protect against the dominance that can be created by a presidential electoral machine, and Clinton's candidacy is an end-run around it. So who am I left with?

Yeah, might as well get excited about it.

Policy doesn't fit into 24-7 sound-bite driven news coverage. Onama has a LOT of policy -- what he's proposed, and what he's worked for, and what he's obtained.

I'd never view Obama in a religious light because he's made some pretty silly blunders (the Black Gay Tour was a major debacle). But he's got a lot going for him besides surface, and it seems not that hard to find it.

While Obama's rhetoric soars over and above his particular policies, many of which I would alter, Obama's rhetorical style is itself a policy, not a form of religious experience.

Obama speaks Republicanesque -- in the best sense of Dirksen, Baker, and Reagan -- by using universal quantification, abstractions of liberal principles, and with aspirations of a unified journey to resolve the national impasse, inertia, and special-interests. After sixteen years of extremely divisive and diversionary government, Obama's rhetoric taps into the "yes, we can" go over, around, and beyond the roadblocks of pettiness, silliness, warmongering, fearmongering, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.

Democratic orators have a penchant for speaking to "constituencies," which is Double-Demo Talk for a patchwork federation of disenfranchised minorities seeking clout by coalitions with few common interests, in addition to the entrenched special-interests, yearning to hear they'll be retaining their part of the Dole.

Obama soars above, over, and beyond the old oratory -- a.k.a., "pandering," -- and every listener hears him/herself as integral of the whole, not the piecemeal of constituent to assume power over the "other" hegemons.

Thus, Obama's rhetoric is inspirational, not religious. It is invigorating, not proselytizing, it is unifying, not dividing, it speaks to a PEOPLE, the people who still believe in "we the people," despite numerous reasons to distrust it.

Clinton's contrast is that "it's all about Hiliary," "her voice," "her experience," "her deservedness, if not entitlement," of her "sex," while Obama is silent about his sex or his race or his religious dogmas.

The old "constituency" federation, on which Clinton preys, the me-too, the shared-power, the coalition that cannot govern, because Clinton cannot unite, may prevail in this race, she may even be elected, but we all KNOW she will not, indeed cannot, lead, govern, or succeed. She has played the Victim of her own creation (aided by a less than honest, philanderer).

Hilary is the exemplar of entitlement by means other than merit. She appeals to the Victimhood and to all victims, real or imagined. Victims want revenge, settlement of accounts, power to show who is the boss. But just as she was first of the Democrats to embark blindly on Bush's Invasion and Occupation and the last Democrat to reverse course, her credentials of "experience" became a liability -- as have OUR experience with self-ambitious, self-serving Clintons from Arkansas. We recall Hilary as the Catalyst for Republican Control of Congress, as the slighted martyr who stood by her philandering husband, to prove she lacks judgment -- again, again, and again.

Hilary's mantra of "experience" illustrates the visceral distaste for her as a person, because experience has not taught her to rise above her self-interested ambitions. Granted, many of us thrill that women, blacks, and perhaps even gays and lesbians can aspire to leadership, and see in Hilary an aspiration to personal fulfillment at others' expense.

The contrast between Hilary and Obama, her safe and secure script in controlled environments, his zestful and bold "can do together," and we recall the character and inspiration of one Abraham Lincoln in Obama, and Clinton, II: The Saga of Ambition in the other.

They aren’t about schools and bridges, because we don’t lack those – we’ve been lucky on that front.


Seriously – I applaud you for this. Not many people would pause and look a little deeper like this.

He is kind of growing on me. Katherine and Hilzoy keep telling me to give him a closer look. But every time I try to find the meat, it’s “Where’s the beef?” There doesn’t seem to be much there there.

John Cole expressed similar thoughts and has been getting raked over the coals for it.

If we look at all the candidates, on either side, and ask "where's the beef?" we would have difficulty finding things. Specially if we define beef as being something we specifically want to see in exactly the way we want to see it.

I favor Obama. I will campaign hard for whomever is nominated on the Democratic side. I think that with either Clinton or Edwards, there is a feeling on my part that they would be an improvement over the current administration or anything the republicans have to offer and may even do some good. With Obama, I see, based upon his record, the opportunity for a lot of good to be done.

Policy wise, there is not a lot of difference between Obama and the other two, but where there is, particularly foreign policy, which is the main role of the Presidency, I definitely fall into Obama's camp. And yes, all of them have been pretty clear about there policies.

But having a policy, without having the ability to attract and influence people to work to put policy into action is pretty much meaningless. I think Obama has that ability.


I am dismayed and almost offended by your post. You manage to hype the "there's no 'substance' there" meme about Obama and insult the intelligence of his supporters at the same time all while claiming to be a supporter. A more interesting post would have explored the question of substance. Is it the failure to understand policy? Is it the failure to discuss policy positions in detail? Neither is true about Obama. As noted by Krugman's criticism, Obama has substantial policy positions that differ from those of Clinton and Edwards in small ways but not in level of detail.

I will confess that my preferred candidate (Gore) is not in the race. I have donated to several Dem candidates (and to Ron Paul) but not to the Clinton campaign. I have no doubt that Clinton is bright and that the Restoration Team has a plan for Day One. Maybe that is the "substance" you're looking for. I fear, however, that, as Clinton has demonstrated in her role as Senator, she will not use any of her "substance" to challenge the status quo. She has strength but no courage. From the Iraq War Resolution to the Patriot Act to Bankruptcy Reform to Kyl-Lieberman to SCOTUS appointments to Telecom Amnesty, she has disappointed me (and I voted for her twice). Maybe that's smart politics, but I've had enough.

I've donated to the Obama campaign because he hasn't disappointed me (yet!). I've donated because he presents an opportunity to significantly increase the majority in the House and strengthen the Senate Majority by making the 2008 election an election about change and presenting a stark message about the types of politics we want as a nation. Whether she wants it to or not, Clinton's candidacy will be about whether you love Bill enough or hate Hillary enough. The rest of the progressive agenda gets abandoned.

Finally, don't underestimate the value of image. As better commentators have noted, this Democracy thing is a lot about how people "feel." IMHO, GWB is going to finish eight years of a largely successful Presidency (and I use the term cynically, not sarcastically -- he's gotten just about everything he and his sponsors wanted with the major exception of dismantling Social Security)and all he EVER did was project an image. I agree with the notion that the country would be better off with an electorate that debated policy but that's not where we live (Hell, that ain't even Manhattan). So image matters. The fact that Obama projects an image that crosses party lines, energizes younger voters and, at the same time, puts forth progressive policy proposals and seems (to me) to understand them makes him as substantive in my eyes as any of the other Dem candidates in this race (and certainly places him in favorable comparison to several prior candidates in years past).

Forgive me, I have a slight allergic reaction here...
As a European I have a perception of American presidents as being very much creatures of image and much less so vehicles of substance. Not that it is any of my business but it seems as if your country could do with someone who is less concerned with launching grand enterprises and proving things to his father and more someone who tidies up the messes already created.

John Cole expressed similar thoughts and has been getting raked over the coals for it.

more accurately, John Cole approvingly quoted Karl Rove making those points. they are, in fact, GOP talking points. and i'm sure RedState is utterly thrilled to see them here.

Obama has plenty of wonky proposals - go look at his web site. yet, if he was enumerating his positions iterating through his 10-point plans, people would deride him for being a boring technocrat like Gore or Kerry.

Sorry, I’m not seeing it and I’ve looked. I have read his website. There is a lot of feel good stuff there – but little beef.

Read through all his issue statements. Obama will … do something this special interest group will really like … with little or no mention about how he is going to pay for it.

Tally up all the Obama will… statements there. I mean tally the dollars. Billions and billions per year? Then look for how he will pay for it all. There are some hints. Employers who don’t offer health insurance will have to pay into a federal plan. Etc. But a lot of it is: You want a pony? Well I’ll just legislate that you get one! What color do you want?

His “Fiscal” issues page has some beef – but it’s the shortest page on his website. Every other page is full of ponies. The page on how he pays for it all sounds good, I agree with every single bullet point. But even if he manages to do every thing he says it won’t add up to 10% of what he promises to spend on the other pages.

Now I’m not trying to single him out on this – they’re all the same. I’m just disagreeing that he is any different.

FWIW – there is a pretty fair chance I’ll vote for him if he is the candidate. If it’s HRC I’ll sit this one out.

Now I’m not trying to single him out on this – they’re all the same. I’m just disagreeing that he is any different.

if he's no worse, then why on earth is he the one getting attacked for not having substance?

could it be because his eloquence is his biggest asset, and therefore, Rovishly, it needs to be attacked ? sure, from the GOP. but why would Dems play that way ?

FWIW – there is a pretty fair chance I’ll vote for him if he is the candidate. If it’s HRC I’ll sit this one out.

you and all the other people needed to ensure we don't have a president McCain in 2009, i'm sure. i just can't believe people are choosing the divisive HRC over the inspiring OHB. policy-wise they are so close, but in terms of being able to attract non-hard-core Dems, they are polar opposites.

Eric Martin is just flat wrong about the lack of substance. I'm not going to lay out all the substance for him--he's a grown up and can do it for himself if he ever gets over his issues with Obama's style.

The most important point I thinnk is this: are we picking a candidate that Eric Martin will vote for, or are we picking a candidate that a majority of Americans will vote for?

Given that all of thhe candidates are at least in the same catagory as pretty good, what possible values does it have for us to quibble over their differences?

I sometime think that Democrats have a death wish. Given a charismatic, highly electable candidate who is good enough on the issues, instaed of being glad we get all this carping.

Every time young people get excited about a candidate they pull this crap: "look, look, it's a cult!" Every time. Every time, we fall for it.

Realize one thing: a lot of the opposition to Obama is motivated AT LEAST AS MUCH by a hostile emotional reaction to his rhetoric, as support is by a positive reaction.

I'm going to rant a bit about fiscal conservatism. First of all those words from the mouth of a Republican politician are a lie. The Congressional Repulicans spent years at Monday morning meetinngs with Norquist listeninng to hhis ideas about how to undo the New Deal by throwing limitless amounts of money at special innterests while cutting taxes in order to deliberately bankrupt the nation. A party that tolerates,no, more than tolerates--actively listenns to that sort of thinng--is not fiscally conservative, merely dishonest.

AS Steve says all of them plan to spend lots of money. The diifferece is that the Republicans plann to cut taxes too. All it takes is third grade arthimatic to figure out which party is the least fiscally conservative. At least the Democratic message is predicated on the assumption that we can get something for nothing.

ISN'T ISN'T predicated! Shheesh. NNeed more coffe.

As far as "where's the beef":

a lot of it is just unfair. His policy speeches are out there & comparable to Clinton's. His website describes policy at a similar level. They are both raising hopes about getting things accomplished--it may not be possible to do it. The difference seems to me that: (1) his strategy for doing this *could* work & hers definitely definitely won't. (2) I trust him more than I trust her--he has frequently disappointed me, but she has, as far as I'm concerned, betrayed me. (3) his Senate record & State Senate record & history as a community organizer suggest more commitment to me to the issues I prioritize than her record in the Senate & as first lady.

But some of it is his own doing. The stump speeches are often too gauzy & often too full of process talk. He should know full well that Democrats heearing a lot of vague paeans to bipartisanship & reach for their wallet. He has to take a page from Edwards and talk about the things he wants to change *today* in specfic, compelling language--turn all that rhetorical power to showing us, not telling us, about his commitment to those issues.

if he was enumerating his positions iterating through his 10-point plans, people would deride him for being a boring technocrat like Gore or Kerry.

There is that.

Also, has anyone tried volunteering for his campaign to, e.g., phone bank? It's an impressive operation. Maybe all the campaigns are this much better organized than I'm used to from 2004, what with the internet & the better fundraising & all, but damn, they really seem to know what they're doing. It also involves almost no inspirational speeches & many many lectures about the correct pronunciation of "Nev-add-a"

Here's a question: what has Hillary Clinton specifically, done in the Senate in the last 6 years or in the White House, that should motivate me to vote for her?

Katherine is right about the "showing,not telling."

Part of the beef against Obama seems to be that he attracts people who some Deomcrats don't think are as smart or well informed or rational as they ought to be. Of course Obama, when he makes his gauzy speeches is assuming, incorrectly it seems, that Democratic activist listeners are smart enough and well informed enough annd rational enough to find his substance without being shown. So it is ironic that he is being critisized for lack of substance when he is in fact treating the base like smart people who are capable of educating themselves about him.

But yeah, apparently he has to spell it out.

"if he was enumerating his positions iterating through his 10-point plans, people would deride him for being a boring technocrat like Gore or Kerry."

Yes, and people flatly ignore his policy speeches, but he should weave more policy into his big speeches. You know what though? He is.

hi. i'm something of an obama enthusiast. i'll vote for him in the primary, and i will vote for him if he gets the nomination. maybe what seems religious *isn't* really. sometimes a publicly-made statement or assertion is a metaphor built to give a 'warm, fuzzy' to people who don't *understand* metaphor. i once had a prof who said of intellectuals, "they know things, have sensitivity (i.e. *awareness*, not dewy-eyed touchy-feeliness), and understand how things work." clearly that's an oversimplification. I would change "understand how things work" to "have the synapses, and flexibility of mind, necessary to *figure out* 'how things work' (which may vary); and the very best intellectuals have a huge capacity to learn quickly. that's the kind of person we need in the white house, and obama is that kind of person. have you read his first book? that thingie he wrote when he hadn't even been elected to the senate yet? sometimes the most substantial people have the hardest time conveying their substance in tiny sound bites.

*whatever* happens in the end, we need to avoid at all cost electing the kind of despotic two-year-old we have in the white house now.

Inspiration won't be accomplished with wonkish speeches. Isn't that what his position papers are for?

Perception is everything, and the more a specific perception is pushed, the more it is believed.

The rhetoric only aspect of Obama is a perception that is increasing, even if it is not based in fact. He does need to realize this and make a bigger push on his policies. He knows his ability to move people and he may be relying too much on that.

The bipartisanship issue is somewhat misleading. First of all, there are a lot of Democrats who want somebody to squash the Republicans and Hillary appeals to those voters. Obama, I think, wants to neutralize those republicans who are currently in major positions, and go to those Republicans, and former republicans, like OCSteve, and engage them in the process.

People who support Hillary sometimes forget how bipartisan and reaching across the aisle Bill was. I really don't expect her to be much different. She would try to work with the current republican establishment. Obama wants to work with the Republicans who aren't necessarily part of the current establishment.

other things I dislike:
1) the argument that Obama's supporters are in some way "inauthentic"--wine track. Too young, too educated, too liberal, too many independents. Bunch of crap, that is. That's one part of his coalition; he has others; I think you'll see some of it as we head to other states. An authentic voter is a U.S. citizen over the age of 18. After that, a vote is a vote is a vote.
2) the implication that only Obama's supporters are motivated by emotional reactions. Oh no, this cuts both ways. It annoys me but it's part of politics.

"She would try to work with the current republican establishment. Obama wants to work with the Republicans who aren't necessarily part of the current establishment."


all of them plan to spend lots of money. The diifferece is that the Republicans plann to cut taxes too. All it takes is third grade arthimatic to figure out which party is the least fiscally conservative

Not only that, but our party did the hard work, and took the political hits, to fix this problem once. You see the result.

For the good of the country the Republicans ought to agree that taxes should be set at a responsible level--but of course, they won't.

This election is not the time to fight this battle--maybe a second-term president can fix the governemnt's fiscal state again.

First of all, there are a lot of Democrats who want somebody to squash the Republicans and Hillary appeals to those voters.

i've been asking for days for somebody to show me what about Hillary makes them think she is that kind of politician. no takers so far.

are there any examples of her going after Republicans for their misdeeds? when has she done anything, besides vote with her party on those rare occasions when they feel like sending a sternly-worded letter, to bring accountability for any of the sins of BushCo? what makes people think she's the kind of person who's going to a partisan punisher?

"what makes people think she's the kind of person who's going to a partisan punisher?"

because they figure after all the crap Republicans threw at her husband, she must really hate them. & because Obama sounds too nice.

It sure as f*** isn't based on her husband's record in office or her Senate record.

Remember, though, only Obama supporters vote based on emotion!

Words, of course, are the most powerful drugs known to mankind. (Rudyard Kipling)

I admit to having a little Obama buzz on. I very much like your self-examination, and have wondered in much the same way as you why my allegiance to Obama is growing. As for the void, I believe neither religion, politics or art can fill it--more drugs. That's got to come from inside.

My attraction to Obama is almost entirely superficial. I would love to see a person with his name and face leading our country. I also like his style of rhetoric and debate. His sense of humor is ironic, without crossing over into derision. He can defend himself without alienating everyone (Yes, I understand he has surrogates who may do that). When his campaign looked troubled and he was urged to attack, he really did not fundamentally change. He seems willing to use opposition to gain perspective rather than as an opportunity to conquer.
Now I certainly haven't read all the columns, progressive or conservative, and don't have the wonkish pedigree of any of you admirably engaged folks, but I'm old enough not to expect perfection, and I'm sure Obama will not be all he's projecting, but the story his chosen and the words he has used to tell it so far are appealing to me. No one else has gotten close to that.

the implication that only Obama's supporters are motivated by emotional reactions.

Well that is a big part of it. HRC and Obama can say the exact same things. I outright don’t believe her because of my visceral dislike of the woman. Obama is a great speaker. I enjoy hearing him talk. Even I can feel hope. I know he’ll never be able to do even half of what he claims, but I get the feeling he will honestly try.

I’ll never be on board with all of his policies, but I feel like I can live with most of them. That’s about as good as it gets this time around.

While a Illinois state senator, Obama had spoke against the war in 2002 at small gatherings, Obama moderated his anti-war stance during his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.

Bill Clinton complained that journalists beguiled by Obama's charisma had failed to question his claim to have been the only Democratic presidential candidate consistently opposed to the war.

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war," Clinton said during the rally.
"There's no difference in your voting record, and Hillary's, ever since," Clinton said. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

Somebody not bowing before Obama? Call the "Spanish Inquisition"...or better yet, let's get the wine cheese set to do some jaw jacking.

Bill Clinton is basically, lying. Or at least, using a partial out of context quote from Obama to actively mislead voters.

More Kool-Aid Katherine...

You could easily dispute Bill by calling up the two senators voting records...

But why should you? Sipping the new brand of Jim "Obama" Jones Kool-aid is so much easier isn't it?

Why do I find Obama supporters remind me so much of the lazy intellectuals of the late sixties and early seventies?

Cleek, I didn't say Hillary would squash those Republicans. In fact, I said she would work with them. I am saying she appeals to those voters who, from an emotional base, think she would because, as Katherine said, she has been on the hit list, as has Bill, and therefore, in their minds, would want to get even.

And also because of the "unity" talk Obama puts out there. They don't realize who he wants to work with.

Edwards would seem to me to be the next logical choice (and, in fact, if we were judging these things on policy alone, he'd likely be the first choice), but his campaign doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

It's not going anywhere and was, apparently, never going anywhere because people like you (and you and you and you) didn't support him. Why? Too 'cheesy'. Not cool enough. Not ironic enough. Not vague enough...

In politics, detachment and spiritual uplift (like Obama is offering) tend to go together, unfortunately. It's kind of like the relationship of extremely romantic love and selfishness to each other - they must be two sides of the same coin. Give me Edwardsian specificity and rightous anger and lack of irony. That said, I like Obama and have no problem supporting him. I'm not drinking anybody's koolaid, though.

This is the key insight, AFAIC: Politics does not give meaning to life. The idea that it does is a very right-wing one (see Schmidt, Strauss, et. al.). Politics is a means to an end, it facillitates living one's life, but it isn't life itself. If we want to *really* transform our politics, this HAS to be borne in mind.

(sorry i screwed up my html tag. The first paragraph is a quote, the rest is my comment).

trying to fix html.

Here is the most salient difference between Clinton & Obama's records. Clinton voted for the war. She voted against the Levin amendment that was the best chance to prevent the war. Obama, while not in the Senate at the time, was publicly opposed to the war. I

Hillary is seen as the "crush Republicans" candidate, because they hate her so much. Just her election would be a poke in the eye to the Republican Media Machine and the Republicans in power now.

That's still not reason enough for me to vote for her. Especially since she's shown no signs of being interested in fighting things, since she went along to get along with Bush, and still seems to think the Iraq war vote was the right decision. But she talks as the "establishment" candidate, best situated and experienced to deal with The Way Things Are, which means dealing with a corrupt Republican establishment that has proven itself year after pitiful year, to negotiate only in bad faith. Edwards wants to fight them, and Obama wants to marginalize them and reach out to Republicans who aren't insane and corrupt.

I don't have much faith in the any sort of "Moderate Republican" getting into the Republican power structure, so I lean more Edwards' way, but either of those strategies is better than trying to work and compromise with people who've been proven routinely to deal in bad faith.

From Ezra:

To: Obama's Wine & Cheese Set

"California Nurses Association...just released a new radio ad that plays an extended clip of Barack Obama arguing against mandates. Juggles the names around a bit, make the opening line say "this ad paid for by the Republican National Committee," and I think you have a pretty good idea of what one of the ads will look like during the next major health reform fight...This is why so many of us raged against Obama's...decision to launch an assault on the very idea of the individual mandate was a major problem. It's overwhelmingly likely that the next incarnation of universal health care will be based around an individual mandate. And when that happens, it's overwhelmingly likely that the airwaves will be blanketed with Barack Obama's arguments against it...

...Obama did what he felt he needed to do to...in doing, he assured that it will be his clips that opponents of reform replay as they try and kill universal health care next time."

Go Read!

Trying to raise feminist issues in the comments of OW is terribly frustrating and makes it impossible to have an intelligible thread. You need to invite a feminist to be a regular contributor, at least for the primary campaign. The always excellent Echidne of the Snakes raises questions OW should be wrestling with. I haven't yet mastered links, but the rest of this comment is Echidne's, who should be required daily reading for all of you.

"Even I assumed that most opposition to Hillary Clinton was personal, not sexist, until the way the so-called "tears" incident was treated in the media and on the Internet. Hillary-the-automatic-robot turned in one minute into Hillary-the-too-emotional-woman, and there was much jubilation over this in the media. Now we can get rid of that woman. She is scheming and manipulating and no male politician has ever schemed and manipulated.

It's not clear to me what percentage of Hillary-hatred is based on her personal history or on political manipulation by those who prefer another candidate (yes, manipulation is quite common in politics) and what percentage is based on a general fear and loathing of women in power. But the latter percentage looks to me to be much higher than I anticipated.

And that is why it is important to dig deeper into this whole sordid spectacle. The problem is not just that Hillary is bombed with sexist insults and that some of those bombs end up exploding in the living-rooms of American women. The problem is the reason for these sexist insults, and the reason is not just to have some fun teasing women, but to keep women out of certain parts of the power structure.

Why the wish to keep women out? There are both psychological reasons, starting from that Biblical verse of man being the head of woman, continuing into that whole murky psychology of masculinity and what it means for a man to take orders from a woman (emasculation! eek!) and into a similarly murky psychology of femininity and the needs (inculcated?) to have a man take care of the important business, and cultural/historical reasons, from the fear of the unknown (we have never had a woman president) to the acknowledgment that this is the planet of the guys and as long as other guys won't respect a woman, electing one isn't going to help in running the business of politics, either domestically or internationally."

I think Bill can make a fair case, assuming "fairy tale" means the claim that Obama has straightforwardly opposed the war.

I'm pretty unhappy about the attendant claims that the Clintons are using racist attacks.


You've brought up a great point...we don't need to look at policy anymore!

Anybody that does not vote for Hillary is a Misogynist and anybody that doesn't vote Obama is Racist.

Which means Democrats are all:

1] Racist [vote for Hillary]

2] Misogynist [vote for Obama]

3] All of the above [vote for edwards]

Yep, that's how we wound up with Clarence Thomas on the court.

The ability to inspire is directly connected to the ability to get things done. You either use that or you use fear.

When people express this pundit-driven reservation about Obama, I wonder what the alternative is. Do you really think that in reality, playing uber-wonk is the way to get healthcare reform passed? If you want details, take a look at Hillary's last healthcare proposal. Are we, by implication, supposed to believe that Hillary's mastery of policy details is going to make the difference this time?

Of course not. Organizing and building coalitions are the skills you need here, and Obama has those in his bones. The reason you respond to him is he "gets" what it takes to make collective action happen. You might be getting that at a subconscious level.

And if the parts of your brain devoted to religious feeling are getting stimulated in the process, well I'd leave it at that. You can't do much about hard-wired biology, and the reason-based argument for Obama is perfectly solid.

rf: It is not a fair case & it's not racist; it's plain old dirty campaigning. Fairly run-of-the-mill dirty campaigning mind, the exact same crap Kerry pulled on Dean in 2004. Have you looked up the quotes?

I always think, when I distrust a particular impulse, that I need to think hard about how much of it is spin from others, and how much the person him-or herself is responsible for it. When I do this with Obama, I find a couple of things. One is that the idea that he has no substance is just flatly wrong, for reasons I outlined a while back. (I mean, having originally been attracted to Obama for utterly wonky reasons, I find myself immune to the idea that he has no substance.)

What might be true is that he has not put policy front and center in his speeches. On this, I honestly don't know. On the one hand, I have read a bunch of his major policy speeches, and found them quite substantive, so it can't be that he just doesn't talk policy, period. But I have not listened to a lot of his stump speeches recently, so for all I know he might be less substantive there.

That said, I find I honestly don't care. I think that the content of one's stump speeches has to be a matter of strategy. If his stump speeches work, fine; if not, not. But what matters to me is: is there actual policy meat here? For my part, I think there is.

It also matters to me what uplifting and idealistic vision a candidate is proposing. Here I find that Obama's is actually quite good. For one thing, my sense of the speeches is that they have very little to do with him. My take is that he wants to find a way to regain the kind of sense people had in, say, the early 60s, that of course we should believe that we ought to work together for the good of the country, and of course we should try to tackle serious problems in a serious way. I don't think he thinks he can do this through uplifting speeches alone (see earlier comments.) But inspiration has to be a part of it.

I also suspects that he thinks, not particularly originally: if only we could get people -- not Dem. and GOP operatives, but ordinary citizens -- to look past partisan identification, suspicion of one another, etc., we might find that there was a lot more consensus on policy than we might think. A whole lot of people, for instance, think we should be doing more to make health insurance more affordable, or to fight global warming. Some of them, however, will oppose solutions to these problems from one or another party because they completely distrust people from that party. (E.g., people who can easily be persuaded that even though they want something to be done about health insurance, any proposal advanced by actual Democrats is of necessity an attempt to impose nanny-state-like, budget-busting, anti-freedom statism on everyone.)

If, in fact, there's a decent amount of consensus among ordinary people on what needs to happen, but this fact is being obscured by partisan distrust, then it makes total sense to try to defuse that distrust, in order to get to the solutions most people actually support. My sense is that that's part of what Obama is doing.

That said, there are things about him I wish were different. I wish he had done a lot more on civil liberties, for instance. But, again, having been led to him by my wonky nature, I am not particularly inclined to suspect that I have just been seduced by lofty rhetoric. And personally, I rather like lofty rhetoric, when someone has earned the right to use it, and when it's backed up by substance.

First, publius, I applaud you for writing this post. The only quality a great thinker must have: the ability to turn around that accusing finger that for all of us is so easy to point at others, and direct it at ourselves.

I agree with many others above: I think saying Obama has no substance is a flawed argument. All of his policies are very clear, and generally very well thought out (as I think I remember Hilzoy pointing out, he has people like Samantha Power advising him).

But being charismatic, so long as there is substance as well, it certainly a good thing.
I do understand the worry about the potential of Obama worshipers. I don't think this will happen. As far as you yourself are concerned, the mere fact that you have written this post should ease your mind somewhat. I think the time to get worried is if people stop looking critically at Obama just because he is so inspirational. That would be a sad day, but I don't think it will happen.

Isn't it great that the media likes Obama? If only they felt the same way about Edwards we could be having conversations that really could make changes in our lives.

s brennan: while I'm sure Redstocking can speak for herself, I didn't at all see what you saw in her comment. For starters, the passage from Echidne that R. cites is not about anyone who votes against Hillary; it's about people who hate Hillary. There's a difference.

Redstocking: quick and dirty way to master links:

(a) copy this and keep it in a scratch pad, or some other convenient place:


(b) When needed, paste it in, and then replace "link" with the link, and "text" with the text you want to appear.

I think that should work.

Steve C, Hizroy, DL

It's not he "audacity to hope" BS that bugs me as much as Obama's use of RNC talking points [see post above].

If you're that right wing in the primary, how much farther to the right do plan to move?

Any further to the right and Obama won't be "working with Republicans" he'll be one of them.

Heck, Obama is the number 2 man for Healthcare Corp contributions [both parties] and number 1 for Finaincial Corp contributions [both parties].

OK, I was afraid of that. Redstocking: instead of step (a), do this:

Go to this page. Copy into scratch pad the thingo in the first section, "Creating A Hypertext Link", that begins:

Then, when needed, replace the text between the quotes with the url of the web page you want to link to, and the phrase "Click Here For HTML Goodies" with whatever text you want to be displayed.

Or, to save time later: copy the thingo to a scratch pad, replace the part between quotes with "link" ur "url" or something; replace "Click Here For HTML Goodies" with "text", and save for future use.

S. Brennan wrote:

You've brought up a great point...we don't need to look at policy anymore!
Anybody that does not vote for Hillary is a Misogynist and anybody that doesn't vote Obama is Racist.

I hope you are baiting me and realize I wasn't saying that at all. (Someone please please email me directions for linking. I know basic html.) Many feminists support Obama.

But all progressives need to wrestle with the questions posed by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville: "Fighting Sexism Is Meant to Be a Progressive value." (Add Shakesville to your Google Reader as well as Echidne of the Snakes.) )I having great difficulty convincing Obama and Edward supporters why their candidates need to make McEwan's point. I am baffled how people think a stirring Obama speech on sexist bigotry would be interpreted as support of Hillary. Instead his advisor Jackson seems to be competing with Chris Matthews for woman-hater of the zeitgeist.

People don't seem open to trying to understand the feminist point of view. The left has dropped the ball on this.

"You need to invite a feminist to be a regular contributor, at least for the primary campaign."

Hilzoy and Katherine are what, exactly?

On the substance, this discussion boils down largely to opinion versus opinion, and most of my opinions have already been voiced. I'm entirely on the side of favoring inspirational politicians as vitally necessary, and can't think of a politician who has had a more substantive set of policies in the past.

Which former candidates of the past thirty-two years are people holding up as the exemplars of "more policy pronouncements ten months before the elections," can someone answer for me? Who can name, say, six?



Not that this will be apt to persuade anybody. But I'm curious who all these vastly more substantive candidates, who set the average bar, have been. I assume that to criticize Obama in this regard, you have to have in mind some of the candidates you feel he looks bad in comparison to, so naming them should be no problem.

Anyway, the first order of business is to find two or three folks on the right/conservative/libertarian side for the site, since right now there are none left, which completely destroys the entire raison d'etre of ObWi.

Absent that, there's no reason not to just have a Hilzoy blog and a publius blog.

Which, with all due respect, isn't why we came here. At least, those of us who were here when the blog had a point and a purpose and a mission.

(I'd follow any Hilzoy blog avidly, but I'd hate to see ObWi not become ObWi again.)

Cleek, I didn't say Hillary would squash those Republicans.

oh, i know. didn't mean to imply you did. was just riffing off what you said.

s brennan, not so. Feminism is anyway not a unity (any more than any other 'ism' is), but I will speak for 'it' anyway: a feminist can say precisely what redstocking did yet not vote for Clinton.

FYI you got Clarence Thomas because Bush said if he wasn't confirmed, he would not nominate another black justice. And the NAACP and the Urban League opposed Thomas's nomination.

Echoing hilzoy: campaigns are all about rhetoric, & the knocks against Obama are at least as much about rhetoric as about substance.

If you compare their records in elected office (& throw in Clintons' years of first lady-ing), who's the most reliably progressive candidate? Seems to me the answer is Obama. Clinton second. Edwards third.

You might argue: easy to be liberal as an Illinois state senator, harder to be liberal as a North Carolina senator. True enough. And being Senator from New York is somewhere in the middle.

But I'll tell you, I'm not sure there's a one thing in Clinton's or Edwards' legislative record that inclines me to trust them as much as Obama's death penalty taped confessions bill in Illinois. And I would not assume that it's easy to get legislation that can be painted as "soft on crime" passed at the state level. It is certainly not easy to get it passed unanimously & signed into law.

The reason that Edwards is seen as the most progressive candidate isn't his time in the U.S. Senate. It's:
(1) his work on poverty issues for his foundation--I can again point to Obama's civil rights law & community organizing etc. but Edwards' anti-poverty work is more recent.
(2) they all have pretty bold progressive policy proposals but in general, it's usually been Edwards to come out with one first; Obama second; Clinton third. His are, in general, a little bolder, but most of all he deserves credit for leading the way.
(3) above all: he is more willing to talk about poverty & economic justice in concrete terms than any national candidate I remember.

Likewise, my problem with Obama in the last couple years--he hasn't led any bold filibusters in the Senate but God knows Clinton hasn't either. It has to do with things he has or hasn't SAID, not things he has or hasn't DONE. See the concern re the "RNC talking points" thing (though I don't know about mandates, & Clinton has used RNC talking points about national security often enough. Edwards has run the purest progressive campaign.)

I will note one major exception though, & it's on a fairly radioactive issue: Obama's the best on immigration. He's the one promising to introduce a good reform bill his first year in office. & he's not afraid to lead rallies in "si, se puede" chants.

Redstocking: "You need to invite a feminist to be a regular contributor"

Are you under the impression that none of the regular contributors *are* feminists? If so, I think this is an inaccurate reading of the situation.

if anyone's tallying votes: i'm fine with the current ObWi makeup.

and IIRC, Charles still posts here from time to time, as well.

I guess Gary types faster than I...

Gary, if you're remotely interested, my comments on viewing the first episodes of B5 season 2 are on the More Appropriate Thread thread.


You say this is implicit argument:

"It's not clear to me...what percentage is based on a general fear and loathing of women in power."

I say that's pretty explicit.

If Hillary was Barbra Jordan I'd vote for her, but not because she was a woman or that she was black, but because I believed in her and her policies.

Unfortunately, her clear voice is no longer with us...the media has decided we must pick between Hillary & Obama, the two biggest recipients of Corporate donations. Republicans in all, but name.

Of course Katherine and Hilzoy are feminists. My generation of feminists won some battles, and brilliant younger women need not make feminism their absolute priority. I was 18 when the Feminine Mystique was published, 23 when the second feminist movement began. Belatedly, I have realized this week that feminism is my make or break issue. Katherine and Hilzoy rightly have different ones. Please struggle to understand this. Men and women can be feminists. My feminism does not make me an inevitable supporter of Hillary, who has not committed herself to a feminist platform. If Obama campaigned as a feminist, spoke out against the sexists attacks against Clinton, and made family issues an essential part of his platform, I would work for him in a heartbeat. I am sure Michelle Obama could write eloquent speeches for him. That he doesn't seem to be considering a potentially winning strategy indicates how thoroughly feminist and family issues have fallen beneath the political radar. I can't figure out why.

If, in fact, there's a decent amount of consensus among ordinary people on what needs to happen, but this fact is being obscured by partisan distrust, then it makes total sense to try to defuse that distrust, in order to get to the solutions most people actually support.

This, to me, is a small but vital misreading of the political situation we actually have. That formulation makes sense if the 2008 election were really a 50/50 one, an even split. But it's clearly not. Ordinary people seem to already have a rough consensus about what needs to happen, and show an strong inclination to vote for whatever Democrat gets nominated (especially if were to be Edwards). That is what bothers me about the whole 'hope' message. Hope is for supplicants. A political transformation worth having is one in which people decide that the government is supposed to work for them, that they *own* the government. We shouldn't be supplicants, but citizens, taking back what's ours. This is not only true, but also very good politics (remember 'Wrong and strong beats right and weak'?). That is Edwards' rhetoric, and he has consistently done better against every Republican than every other Democrat in poll after poll of 'ordinary people'. Since it looks like we aren't going to nominate him (for frivolous reasons, IMO), I hope the other two will continue to appropriate his rhetoric, as they have been doing for a year.

The wind is at our backs, politically. To be timid and conciliatory when there is a rhetorical vacuum on the other side is just...well, weird. The Rebublicans have needed a spanking so long, and have never gotten one, that they are now busy spanking *themselves*. And our message is 'hope'? Wha?

This has been an amazing and invaluable thread. I've been going back and forth over who to support in the primary (should Washington's support still be relevant when our caucuses meet). publius' post, and the comments to it, have helped to crystallize my more inchoate internal conversations.

I had political heroes when I was young(er). They were either already dead when I learned about them, or failed to win the elections that would have put them in a position to act on their words (Dean, f'r instance). Some of my resistance to Obama is due to that kind of scar tissue: a reluctance to hope again, because it hurt pretty badly the first few times. Some of it, as publius notes, is an automatic self-check for irrational exhuberance (*G*).

To take the Lincoln parallels a little further, the angels of my better nature support Obama.

Maybe it's time I listened to them.

If Obama was campaigning as a feminist, I would be much happier to vote for him than I am to support Clinton. People would find it much more possible to understand feminist issues if a younger candidate was explicating them. Even as I type, I am struggling whether I should add "a younger male" candidate.

1) Of course Obama has policy positions, fairly in line with other Democrats
2) Republicans have policy positions of their own, many of which are close to opposite of Democratic positions (Iraq, taxes)
3) Obama says he is committed to working with and forming coalitions with Republicans
4) If Obama was working only with Democrats, I could take his platform positions as the policy he would likely promote as President

5) But considering 2) and 3) I have no clue as to what sort of policy positions Obama will actually promote and enact as President. I can only guess as to where and how far he will compromise.

Senator McCain = 100 years in Iraq
Obama = 2 years in Iraq
Compromise = 25 years in Iraq??

If comity is so much below principle on some/all issues that Obama would never compromise principle, I can imagine Republicans feeling betrayed and resisting further cooperation. Looking at the current Republican Senate with all the closure problems (the differences are immense on almost every issue) and knowing the membership won't be that different, I don't see how Obama can maintain comity without compromising on at least what I consider core principles.

Going to the people will not frighten Mitch McConnell.

How To Embed A Link.

Here is a handy guide to HTML tags.

You can use "find" to go to "link something."

Here's how you link (you can copy this and paste it as necessary, if you can't remember):

Put words as necessary between > <

Put the actual URL to link to where it says "URL."

You're done. It doesn't matter if you capitalize or not.

If the above appear properly, see here.

This is what passes political dialogue in the US?

"...the angels of my better nature support Obama...it's time I listened to them."

Here's another view from another continent...


By the way, I am considered a prime time baby boomer and Obama and I were two years apart in high school, now he and his supporters say he is post babyboom

...what utter nonsense.

So now we pass the Kool-Aid from Bush's babyboom to Obama babyboom.

I have a little bit of an odd point of view about this. I heard that Hillary's last week of ads focused on Obama's health-care coverage not being universal. To me, this kind of quibble between them is utterly besides the point. And here's why: all that really matters is that each one of them signals an intention to commit themselves to broadening health care. Beyond that, the President is not some kind of dictator who can impose his or her policy by fiat. So the small details of the plan are really irrelevant at this point. It is simply never the case that law becomes enacted exactly as it is proposed in these campaign policy papers.

There is something else too I have never understood. Why exactly is it that we can't have candidate A with candidate Bs plan? Why must devote for candidate be a vote for their plans? I really wish there were some way for voters to clearly signal this intent. It just seems unfortunate to me that there is something that prevents me from having the best of both worlds. I suppose what I really could do is vote for candidate A and then start lobbying on behalf of plan B when that candidate is in office. Take a deep breath and realizing that we can all do this, that this is among our options, relaxes some of the imperative on

A President is one person with a responsibility to manage 300 million people. That one person brings in a tidal wave of people to Washington to help with the cause. I tend to think examining just what kinds of people a President is likely to bring into the administration is a lot more important in assessing whether that person would be a good President than any small details of policy. For example, President Bush ran in '00 and '04 on Social Security reform. It turns out now that if you had made a decision between the various Republican candidates based on this issue, you would not have gained any executive action for your vote -- little bang for your buck. But, if you thought to yourself, a candidate catering to the Christian right who has limited foreign-policy experience might be likely to bring in Liberty University-types into important positions in the government, you would have hit upon something that really did define the last eight years at the White House.

So I really tend to think about what people a President will bring it and what their managerial style would be. We can glean something about HRCs managerial style. We can glean something about Obama's managerial style. We certainly could have gleaned something about Bush IIs managerial style. All these things tend to influence the course of an administration much more than these usually half-baked policy proposals, I think, and yet we let candidates kick up dirt by focusing on these small details that are unlikely to ever come to pass, either way.

So that is what I want: less talk of policy, less of what most people consider substantive politics.

"I don't see how Obama can maintain comity without compromising on at least what I consider core principles."

Bob, my suggestion -- and this goes for anyone interested, of course -- is that Obama has an eight-year record in the Illinois State Senate: examine it, and see if overall you feel he compromised too far, within the art of the possible, too many times for your taste, or not.

It's true that there are issues you won't be able to get a sense of that way -- Illinois doesn't have a lot of votes on the military, for instance -- but it's still a long record.

And let me be clear that I'm not defending Obama as a Perfect anything. But that he far passes my own minimum -- and far more -- standards for being enthusiastic about a candidate, I have no doubt -- not that other folks' different standards aren't entirely valid, he said in liberal fashion.

And I also don't want to see John Edwards counted out, yet. And, of course, I'll support and work to elect Senator Clinton if she gets the nomination, as well. She's my third choice, but in a field of candidates that I find 10,000 times better than all the best qualities of all the Republican candidates combined (which chimera I'd still find pretty horrifying, frankly).

So let me guess?

"...So that is what I want: less talk of policy, less of what most people consider substantive politics."

You're voting for Obama?

Or are you undecided, Obama leaning.

This is what passes political dialogue in the US?

Perfect, just perfect

Anyway, the first order of business is to find two or three folks on the right/conservative/libertarian side for the site, since right now there are none left, which completely destroys the entire raison d'etre of ObWi.


The standards are tough; I stand in awe. I could spend a week trying to craft a posting of the quality that hilzoy seems to casually toss off, and fail.

During the first half of my adult life, I tended to think of myself as right-of-center. The things that mattered to me seemed to make me more of a conservative than a liberal: simpler government, balancing the budget, a foreign policy that didn't mess in other countries' affairs so much or so violently. In hindsight, I suspect that those attitides were a by-product of my training and career in math/science/engineering: I certainly feel like the large majority of the technologists I've known like simple solutions, equations that balance, and not worrying about factors that don't touch their problems directly.

Here in the second half of my adult life, trying to build a new career in public policy, I feel like the same things still matter to me. But when I look at the political spectrum today, I seem to now be somewhat left-of-center. What it means to be conservative appears to have changed -- a lot. You may find "conservative" writers that could fit in at ObWi, but the headline conservatives may not exactly endorse their positions.

Thanks for all the help about links. I promise my comments will get shorter, because I will write the long-winded rant on my own blog and just link to it here.

Here's some discussion of Obama's Illinois state senate record:


Obama holds the record for "present votes"...not exactly a profile in courage, but on par with the Hill & Bill years.

Obama's US Senate record is easy to find and as Bill pointed out, it mirrors Hill's.

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