Dear Senator Obama: You are NOT just an observer
by Matt Stoller, Sun Apr 01, 2007 at 11:02:20 AM EDT
Kos attacks Obama.
I wish this was an April Fools Day joke:If President Bush vetoes an Iraq war spending bill as promised, Congress quickly will provide the money without the withdrawal timeline the White House objects to because no lawmaker "wants to play chicken with our troops," Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday.
What a ridiculous thing to say. Not only is it bad policy, not only is it bad politics, it's also a terrible negotiating approach.
Instead of threatening Bush with even more restrictions and daring him to veto funding for the troops out of pique, Barack just surrendered to him.
I agree with Kos. I want to believe that Obama prizes civility, and that he has in his heart progressive instincts. I want to believe he's a movement guy, that his early organizing experience is the key to understanding his career, and that his critique of the political system suggests a willingness to change politics as we know it in fundamentally good ways.
But I can't. It's not just that he has not distinguished himself on the war from Senator Clinton and her plan for perpetual occupation (which isn't to say that he won't do that eventually). It's that he seems not to have any sense of how leaders must act in the modern political environment. Here's more of the piece.
"My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course," the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage."...
"I think that nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground," said Obama. "I do think a majority of the Senate has now expressed the belief that we need to change course in Iraq.
"Obviously we're constrained by the fact that a commander in chief who also has veto power has the option of ignoring that position," Obama said....
"If the president vetoes this, the American people have to continue to put pressure on their representatives so that at some point we may be able to get a veto-proof majority for moving this war in a different direction," the senator said.
Maybe the article is written badly, and someone from the Obama campaign can help clarify. But I don't think so. He is saying on the one hand that the bill will pass, thereby undercutting leverage that progressives won, and on the other hand discussing what the movement should do as if he's not part of it.
This is a consistent and consistently disappointing trait in Obama's rhetorical style, and why the energy around him still has not coalesced into a movement. He refuses to engage in the political environment as an actor, seeing himself as an observer. It's like he doesn't think his words and prognostications particularly matter, like he's a law professor musing on legalistic probabilities.
Real political leaders don't ask the people they lead to do what they won't do themselves. And so when Obama asks the American people to put pressure on their representatives to stop the war, but acts as a dispassionate observer on the question, he is just dithering. And it shows.