January 16, 2008

Obama: Another Liberdem?

"... I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. ..." - Barack Obama, 1-16-08

Ronald Reagan. Oh yeah, that guy.

Reagan turned thousands of mentally ill institutional patients out into the street, among his other crimes against humanity. How is a future president who's hailed Reagan's tradition of laying waste to useful government services that had "grown and grown", while demonizing both those services and those who partook of them, supposed to fix health care? How is this quote going to sound on Press the Meat when Tim Russert trots it out on the hypothetical eve of the rollout of Obama's health care legislation?

And it's damn rich to complain about racism but then praise the policies of a man who created the myth of the Welfare Queen and started his campaign for president in a place of infamy. Or to complain about people mentioning one's youthful drug use and then embrace someone who gave us a war on drugs that's been a full on witch hunt against minorities and the poor, ever since.

A statement like this would have finished either Clinton or Edwards as candidates because of what Reagan's legacy did to the lower income and minority voters that are the base of the party. It would have finished either of them with the creative class voters flocking to Obama now, the final 'proof' that they were phonies and establishment sock puppets, everyone's worst suspicions confirmed at last.

But that's the way of it. These sorts of telling moments never hurt the party's many Lieberdems.

Posted by natasha at January 16, 2008 10:01 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |

He does have a point, in that Reagan rewrote the rules of what was considered acceptable in politics. For that matter, so has George W. Bush -- who in 2000 would have thought we'd be debating torture in 2007? For all that Clinton was a competent president, he didn't change the game.

The charitable reading of that quote would be "they *felt* that... (all these wrong things)," it being implicit that feeling something doesn't make it true. Obama's centrist rhetoric is bothering me, but I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: sean at January 16, 2008 10:16 PM

Uh, read that quote again. I think you will find exactly zero praise for policy in that quote.

Admitting that, yes, Reagan did have an impact in changing how the American people approached government- in a sense, closing down the 1930-1970's heyday of liberalism- is not the same as saying "Gosh, I'm sure glad Reagan made it so you could say said ketchup is a vegetable!" As was pointed out in that comment thread, Obama's on record as being very critical of Reagan's policies in his autobiography.

Look, the fact of the matter is that self-described liberals/moderates/conservatives are in a ratio of 2/5/3 in the US. In other words, the Democratic Party, now that it's traded off Southern conservative racists^H^H^H^H^H^H^HRepublicans for Northern liberal Republicans, starts 10 points down to Republicans. There are an awful lot of voters we need who voted for Reagan. I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge the guy's rhetorical impact and soft-sell the fact that he was pretty awful, if the alternative is feeling very virtuous and losing elections. America's not Berkeley or Seattle.

Posted by: rob at January 16, 2008 10:34 PM

What kind of a mindlessly ignorant hit piece is this?

Obama is absolutly right. We need a liberal, progressive president who can do for our side what Reagan did for the conservatives - to be a transformational president that resets the politcal landscape for the next generation.

Reagan did that by motivating people, by giving them a sense that by following his lead, things would get better. Dont ask me how, but you cannot argue with his massive reelection number.

To claim that his comments are an endorsement of Reagan's policies is an infuriating lie. How stupid do you think your readers are?

Obama's positions and record are, if anything, more liberal than Hillary's and equal to Edwards.

Damn, this is just so dishonest.

Posted by: Joe Citizen at January 17, 2008 02:18 AM

Damn, we liberals are touchy, aren't we?

Obama didn't praise Reagan's policies. He merely pointed out that Reagan changed the whole ball game, and he did. You are just going to have to deal with that. However much we may disagree with Reagan, the man won 49 states in 1984, an unprecedented landslide.

Republicans now praise John F. Kennedy regularly and their partisans don't seem to flip out about it.

Bill Clinton also changed the whole ball game. Under Clinton, the Democrats lost control of Congress for the first time in five decades. You might want to deal with that also.

Posted by: Pug at January 17, 2008 06:27 AM

hi Natasha,
I readily understand your objection to the above quote. While one of the above commenters says to read it again, that he doesn't actually praise Reagan, I think he misses the point, that it is part of Obama's calculatedly inoffensively rhetorical style, that he says things that can be parsed favorably by the left or the right, so long as you're listening at a fairly superficial level, a sort of gestalt politicking that allows people to hear what they want to hear.

Ultimately I don't think he's a Liebermann styled dem(I think that's what you're suggesting-- yes?) so much as he's just a little too comfortable trafficking in platitudes, and is unconcerned about ideology, as if it's secondary. Maybe he just thinks it would be really cool to be president, and sees specific policies as secondary. (which begs the question of why people would want to vote for someone like that...)

For my part I'm more troubled by his past reference to invading Pakistan, wanting to increase the size of the military, and his unwillingness to committing to getting all the troops out of Iraq by 2012(an unwillingness which he admittedly shares with HRC and Edwards).

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at January 17, 2008 09:12 AM

I have to admit, N, that I do not see what you are seeing in Obama's words. I don't think Obama is saying he agreed with Reagan, but that Reagan reacted to the 60's and 70's, where government did expand and our nation's self-image was lacking, and brought about a culture of government down-sizing and "let the eagle soar" rhetoric. While Reagan in no way shrunk government (quite the opposite), he did change the direction of the country. Perhaps Obama's flaw here is in not presenting the dark side of Reaganism. That said, I do not see anything Lieberman-like in Obama. He appears to be talking about Reagan as a change agent, which it can be argued he was.

For what it is worth, I am supporting Clinton at this point, but am not ruling out Obama. I vote on February 5th.

Posted by: Scott at January 17, 2008 09:18 AM

I think he misses the point, that it is part of Obama's calculatedly inoffensively rhetorical style, that he says things that can be parsed favorably by the left or the right, so long as you're listening at a fairly superficial level, a sort of gestalt politicking that allows people to hear what they want to hear


In other news, water's wet.

Seriously, good politicians DO this sort of stuff all the time, and the other dirty little secret is that 99% of the American populace (in other words, people who DON'T obsessively parse what politicians say and read campaign white papers), prefers rhetoricians to technocrats when it comes to who they vote for (see: Reagan, Ronald).

I've seen many politicians who treat their speeches like party platforms, complete with bullet points, otherwise known as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. They were all bright, well-meaning men, and they couldn't win against guys who did better jobs appealing to emotion and so on (yes, I know, Gore won... but seriously, he should have won by a LOT more than he did, similar to Bush's margins in 2004). You'd think that now that the DEMOCRATS have finally come up with a guy who can do that, he'd actually get some props, but no, apparently people want Obama to make his speeches into ten-point plans or something.

I can understand preferring Clinton or Edwards (or hell, Kucinich, I guess), but really, there's no reason why any of the top 3 aren't capable of being fine presidents... and I'd argue that Obama, while having the biggest risk in terms of least experience, probably offers the biggest reward in convincing a generation of people that the Republicans are totally bankrupt- by validating some of the EMOTIONAL messages they hear from the Republicans while implementing the policies of the Democrats that tend to be more popular among moderates.

The problem that the Democrats have had for 30 years is while many of their policies are relatively popular, they've been tone-deaf in talking to the American people, whereas the Republicans have been much more Madison Avenue-like in selling crappy Presidents and packing it in shiny advertising. Having people who can frame things so Republicans actually perk up their ears is a GOOD thing, unless you believe you can govern America with a tiny clique of ultra-liberals.

Posted by: Rob at January 17, 2008 10:29 AM

Three politicians doing what politicians do. Three platforms that, while they fall short of what the world or the country needs if my daughter's going to have as many opportunities as I had, are among the best platforms from major candidates I've seen in my life. Am I going to decide based on some stupid pandering quote? Hell no. Could we find some content-free quote not to like from the others? Hell yes.

There's two differences that are real. First, only one of them opposed the war when it counted. And second, a president with Hussein in his name is going to send a message to the rest of the world that (sad to say) actual policy reform can't. We're not the only shallow ones. (I say this as an expat).

Posted by: homunq at January 17, 2008 12:19 PM

come on guys. either what he says matters or it doesn't. your shouting "where's your party discipline soldier!" doesn't change that.

so there are a bunch of people out there who voted for reagan "we need", eh? i'm tending to think if we don't already have them at this point, we never will. the ones we REALLY need are the ones who are voting for the first time ever this year, and they couldn't give a rat's ass who reagan was, and everything they've been told about him is a lie anyway.

For my part I'm more troubled by his past reference to invading Pakistan

double freakin' dittos on that one.

and i'm still kind of depressed by that other post below, so you can kick me around if you want, but i don't feel like arguing.

Posted by: r@d@r at January 17, 2008 02:13 PM

What Digby said. Come to it, what Lambert said.

I'm reminded of a quote I heard in a Tony Blair speech but haven't been able to track down, where he tells a story from right after Labour's first victory against the Tories that made him PM. He said that he was talking to one of his compatriots who said something like, 'Now we've won, we can ditch all the Third Way/New Labour talk and do what we really believe in.' And Blair responded, 'But I really do believe it,' by which he meant the triangulating, third way rhetoric he'd used during the campaign.

Everyone who defends Obama to me tells me some version of how he won't really be like the words that come out of his mouth. The words that praise Republicans in their own terms and bash progressives in conservative terms. The words that implicitly say that postpartisanship means the Republicans were right all along. Or in other words, trust him, he's a liar.

No sale.

You think it's dishonest of me to be troubled by an ongoing pattern of what Paul Krugman has pointed out are more conservative policies than either Clinton or Edwards, matched up with rhetoric and dog whistle signals that put conservatives at ease that he's their buddy? Now? In a time when Republicans and the Republican president are so screamingly unpopular it isn't even funny anymore? Whatever.

He may well get elected. If he governs to the right of Bill Clinton, I won't be surprised. If it shocks and infuriates all the people who are raising him on their shoulders as the Democratic saviour, don't worry about me, I don't know if I'll have it in me to even muster an I-told-you-so.

Though I'm probably kidding about that last. I have unholy large reserves of ornery.

Posted by: natasha at January 18, 2008 09:28 AM

Oo. Well said and well defended, natasha! Brava!

Oh, and Joe Citizen? "To claim that his comments are an endorsement of Reagan's policies is an infuriating lie. How stupid do you think your readers are?"

When perpetuating the Saint Ronnie myth ("excesses?" What excesses? The civil rights movement?) it's not enough to then add in a throwaway line about not "agreeing" with "policies." Obama has to be well aware of Reagan's Southern Strategy and the meaning of his kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi where the KKK killed the civil rights workers. The only explanation, besides pandering to rightwingers, is Obama has a cynical strategy of his own...let's call it the Dumbed-down Youth strategy. So, yeah, someone thinks his listeners are stupid...natasha's talking to the rest of us.

"Lieberdem" is PERFECT. Nailed. After Lamont won the Dem primary in CT, Obama told the voters he hoped they'd have the "sense" to send his "good friend" Lieberman back to D.C. Google the link yourself, it was in the Boston Globe.
And my prediction is that this Lieberdem Obama, after Hillary mops up the nomination, will run as an "independent" --- with or without Bloomberg. And like natasha, I won't be above rubbing every last misguided hoodwinked Obamacultist nose in it.

Posted by: Zee at January 20, 2008 10:22 AM

Zee, do consider that Obama's supporters are in his camp in good faith and I think a line of even heated disagreement is crossed over to fruitless disrespect when you call them cultists. Also, that Obama has never suggested that he would run as an independent at all. That's over the top as an allegation.

I don't hate Obama, I don't hate his supporters, I just disagree with them. I don't think Clinton is perfect, I just think she's a known quantity and a good fighter that I could live with as president.

I hope that whichever of them wins the nomination, they prevail in the general election and govern more progressively than they've campaigned.

Posted by: natasha at January 20, 2008 10:33 PM