The Libby commutation gave Obama a perfect opportunity to do something that his critics have been complaining about for some time: distinquish between Republican voters and the shared values he wants to tap into, and the GOP political leadership with their "situational ethics."
With the Libby commutation, he could continue to sound the themes he's been sounding, but could add the element that national GOP leaders have not been living up to principles that their own voters want them to uphold. This could allow him to maintain the main thrust of his campaign so far, and at the same time open up a basis for taking a harder line where appropriate.
Obama likes to say that he's tough. But so far, he seems to be toughest when it comes to lecturing progressives. This was a missed opportunity, but more than that, it seemed indicative of a deep reluctance to attack the GOP leadership. There's just no way he can win the presidency with that sort of attitude. John Kerry proved that decisively in 2004. And if Obama can't win the presidency, then he shouldn't be the nominee.
In short, Obama's attitude needs to change at some point. It doesn't have to be a repudiation of his position. It's fine for it to be a refinement. But he just missed a golden opportunity to make that refinement with a full wind at his back.
This post makes a very good point, which I hope Obama supporters will take in the spirit of constructive criticism.
What Obama said about the Libby pardon was true, but he missed an opportunity to add a new dimension for his campaign at the start of a new quarter. It was a perfect, high-profile opportunity to sound old themes, and connect them to some new ones.
The one thing that stands out like a sore thumb in this post is the repetition of this canard:
She's in the unenviable position of being the front-runner; Democrats never nominate the front-runner.
Excuse me, but in 1984 Mondale was the frontrunner and nominee. In 1988 after Hart self-destructed there was no true frontrunner in the polls but Dukakas--thanks to fundraising through Greek-American social networks --had an edge he never lost. In 1992, Clinton was the fronrunner--Tsongas was his only rival for this claim--and nominee. In 2000, Gore was the frontrunner and nominee. 2004 was an aberration, since a long-short, Dean, came from being a virtual unknown to being the frontrunner, and then collapsed. But, FWIW, Kerry was pretty much the Beltway frontrunner from beginning to end.
In short, from 1984 on, when the Dems have had a broad and consistent front-runner--in polls, fundraising and party support, that frontrunner invariably wins the nomination. This is a formidible challenge that Obama and Edwards both face, and it doesn't serve them to disguise it. (Again, for the record, I am undecided, but definitely prefer not to have Clinton be the nominee.)
The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 46 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.
This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment though a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
The logic is simple. In order to change (1) and (2) above, we need to change (3) and (4). A single-payer system--Medicare for all--is the most simple and straight-forward way of doing this. The only reason not to do it is the power of entrenched special interests. PERIOD.
In addition to the biggie--that everyone will be covered--there are also four points of consequence to keep in mind:
(1) This does not mean a government-run health care system.
(2) It does mean a government-financed health care system.
(3) It means enormous savings in administrative efficiency.
(4) It means vastly more individual choice and control, since there need be no restrictions to stay within insurance company or HMO-defined plans. This directly contradicts the conservative meme that big government inherently squashes individual freedom.
The point is that a winning presidential candidate is necessary, but not sufficient.
The Democratic brand needs reinforcing on the front of fighting for the little guy/gal. If we do that, we have the potential to rebuild the level of Democratic identification (not just leaners) into the mid- or high-40s. We do that, and we're the dominant congressional party--election after election after election--for at least a generation. And we don't just win the elections. We set the agenda.
Of course health care alone cannot be equated with the abolition of slavery. But it can be compared. The US is the only advanced industrial nation that fails to provide health care for its people. This is a big deal. It is one of the deeply defining characteristics of our political system and our economy. It is an enormous waste of resources, and it is an issue that the entire political system both trivializes and distorts. Fixing health care is the key to the long-term survival of the American welfare state, and that in turn is the key to the survival of American liberalism.
Movement conservatives recognized this quite clearly in late 1993, when they decided that they didn't need to accept any health care plan as an alternative to the Clinton plan, because any plan at all would essentially validate the Democrats worldview that government can do good. This decision on the part of movement conservatives is what laid the groundwork for their Congressional takeover the next year, and the shape of American politics the next 13 years.
But yes. It's not the same as abolishing slavery.
Saving the planet and avoiding a century or two of world-wide religious war just might qualify, however. And those are both on the table as well. We are very much at a watershed moment in which the political system has been failing for the better part of a decade--just as America's political system failed in the 1850s. And the necessary changes will not be made by the political system absent a good deal of outside grassroots pressure.
These are three epochal decisions all coming down at once. There are huge entrenched interests in all three areas that are absolutely committed to making things worse.
Being reality-based means recognizing both the gravity of the dire situation we're in and the reality of entrenched interests who benefit from opposing the common good.
I wouldn't advocate factoring this into anyone's decision, because its very transitory and almost certain to change one way or another.
Framing it in terms making decisions is artificially raising the bar, in order to not think about the polls at all.
Of course Obama and Clinton partisans will want to do this. But the polls aren't totally meaningless, just because they will surely change over time, or because they don't favor your candidate. Yes, they will change, and our evaluations of them will change as well. But right now they do say something that is remarkably consistent across a fair number of different states. And that bears paying some attention to.
So let me try to sort out points of agreement and disagreement.
I agree that "Democrats and progressives do not typically campaign or govern on the meta frames of American identity." And I agree that it is important for Democrats to do so.
But I disagree that only Obama gets this, and is addressing this failing.
I think that both Obama and Edwards are both addressing meta frames of American identity, but in different ways.
Edwards's "Two America" theme is that this is not what America is supposed to be. It's supposed to be One America. And while some will fight against this vision, we are not fighting against them, so much as we are fighting for that One America, which has a place for everyone--even those who fight against it.
Implicit in how I've just described Edwards and his vision is a response to another point you raise:
Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that your formulation...
Struggle => Accomplishment => Consensus
...is predicated on the dualistic, war-like assumption of a "right side" that wins out by force over a "wrong side."
It doesn't have to be war-like. But it does have to be a struggle. Every major advance in American history has required tremendous struggle. And what has stood in the way of progress, more often than not, has been consensus.
Before the Abolitionists arose, there was a consensus in American society on race. It was called "African Colonization." North and South, politicians agreed that the solution to America's race problem was to send black back to Africa. Of course, this was a purely theoretical agreement. It was never a serious proposal. The slave population was regularly increasing much faster than anyone could conceive of sending slaves back to Africa. And besides, why would slaveowners give them up? But it served as a unifying "consensus" ideology. And the Abolitionsts had to first destroy that consensus before they could make substantial headway in attacking slavery itself.
As long as the consensus on colonization stayed in place, slavery stayed in place without needing any defense. Everyone could say, "Well, of course, we're not in favor of slavery, but we're stuck with it until we can figure this colonization thing out." What the Abolitionists did is they listened to the free blacks who rejected colonization, and said, "These are people, too. We can't just send them back to a continent that almost none of them have ever even seen." And once they began breaking down the consensus, then things began a slow, but inevitable process that ended in the Civil War--not because the Abolitionists wanted it, but because the slaveholders insisted on it.
The situation was roughly similar with women's suffrage. There was an overwhelming consensus against it at first, which women and their male allies had to fihgt against tooth and nail.
Again, after the Civil War, there was a period of struggle to try to maintain and protect black rights in the South. This effort was defeated by the 1890s, and as a result, black rights were rolled back in the North and West as well. A new racist consensus arose, with different forms of racism in different sections of the country. And once again, it took decades of struggle to break that consensus down again.
Now, there is a philosophy that says change can and/or should only come when there is a broad consensus for it. That philosophy is called "conservatism." This is the philosophy of gradual, "orgnic" change. It is a philosophy with a perfect track record in America: it has never lead to a single major social-political advance in our history.
It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of "old politics" that Obama is running against, precisely because it is
more likely to exacerbate partisan bickering.
Given the history of how change actually happens in this country, it seems to me that Obama is as deluded as Joe Lieberman if he actually believes that.
This is such an historically ignorant position that I find it very difficult to believe Obama really thinks this is so. He may wish it were so. And he may want to make it so. But to completely ignore the vast sweep of American history--that is something that no genuine progressive can do. Conservatives can ignore. The Versailles media can ignore it. But progressives--the ones primarily responsible for bringing about historical change--simply cannot ignore the most basic lesson of American history: "Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never has, and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass.
Now, in the very same breath, let me ask: Why must you assume that consensus necessarily means unacceptable
I don't think that it necesarily means unacceptable compromise. But consensus-seeking in a context of unequal power will. If you want consensus-seeking to work, you must first redress imbalances of power.
William Ury, of the Harvard Negotiation Project, describes this as part of his comprehensive description of peacemaking processes in his book, Getting to Peace
All the major accomplishments of American political history are the result of political
struggle. Consensus-building in the polity at large comes after the struggle.
It appears that you attaching some sort of moral value to "struggle" -- as if, because consensus has been predicated on struggle in the the past, not only must it always be this way, it should always be this way.
Only as long as inequitable power relations make it necessary.
But what if it has been this way only because we have not had a consensus-building leader with the skills to make it otherwise? Isn't the essence of a great leader the ability to make people do things they never thought they would do --
and to make them believe it was their idea? What if Barack Obama is that leader?
Short answer: Hope is not a plan.
Long answer: Such boundless hero-worship is naturally at home on the right. But it has no place in the reality-based community.
Consensus-building leadership can play a very crucial role. But it cannot compensate for other sorts of factors. In addition to equitable power relationsips, the right sorts of incentive structures and social norms must be in place for consensus-building processes to even have a chance. If those are not in place, then consensus can do nothing more than reproduce a relatively modest variation on what already exists.
This is precisely the core of the matter: What sort of consensus, with who, about what and for what purpose?
A consensus with power players who've created the problem in the first place is not going to get the job done, and will only leave people even more disillusioned than before, since Obama will have raised people's hopes, and then not met their expectations.
If Obama could address these concerns, I think he could gain a considerable amount of additional support from people who are still undecided, and a lot more respect from those who support other candidates.
Such respect is very important, BTW, since it's still the case that Clinton gets a lot of people's second place support. If Obama can take that away from her, it could be the key to him winning.