The allure of Obama is that he's got enough leeway in the media to espouse these ideas and not get shouted down. Now, granted, he went out and hired a bunch of jackass consultants who have him speaking like another scared, timid Dem right now. But the themes that he set out for his public persona and fundamental message are still an excellent articulation of core progressive principles. So the hope is that he has a chance to really recalibrate the country's understanding of the progressive agenda, and in that sense, I would argue that you have it exactly backwards.
This is a good argument, even though I'm not sure it's true. The media is undoubtedly the worst obstacle we face, and the question is, what strategy, if any can be effective in dealing with it.
I understand the appeal of Obama, because he seems to have been given a pass unlike any other Dem on the scene. But I'm wondering, for example, if the "jackass consultants" are part of the deal. He hires the "right" people, and that's part of what makes him continue to be acceptable.
And then, I wonder, what happens when the press turns on him?
I see a lot of room for Obama to shift gears and recalibrate his approach--some will certainly attack him for it, but if he can do it right, those attacks will be a small minority.
The question is, will there come a time where the media simply stops treating him any differently than they do every other Dem? And if so, what does he do then?
OTOH, my feeling is that Edwards plans on pushing a class message hard, so that when the media attacks him, this will be read as a class attack, and shrugged off by the core swing constituency he's trying to reach. He is also trying to establish a fighting persona, to force the press to back off a bit.
While he's at it, I think Obama's given us every reason to believe he would enact a set of reforms that would further this vision with an eye towards growing and broadening the progressive coalition behind him into a "consensus" level, which in US politics translates to roughly 60%+. Judging from polling on virtually every major issue on the progressive agenda--the war, energy, health care, education, minimum wage--I think it's possible. If he can do it, he will be an absolutely essential figure in this nascent progressive era.
There has long been a progressive majority across a wide range of issues. It's gotten significantly broader and deeper over the last few years, but even when the GOP took over Congress in 1994, there was still a solid majority of people in favor of sustaining or expanding the welfare state--which is pretty much the core of what Gingrich & Co claimed a mandate to fight against. So the question has never been the existence of that majority. The question is, what can be done to legislate what they want?
I would like to see a focusing of the debate about what needs to be done and how. Right now, I only get a vague sense from folks like you of how this might happen. And that's part of the problem for me. Quite frankly, any candidate is likely to have their own ideas about how it should be done, and the question will be, how much do grassroots activists and others defer to the order and agenda of the President?
Whoever is elected, I can understand the argument for deferring a whole lot better than I can understand the argument for disarming. A muscular progressive movement can be invaluable in helping to pass a progressive agenda, whoever is elected. And part of bulding a muscular movement is having healthy, productive debates that avoid--as much as possible--going around in circles over the same territory.
Which leads me to this: Do you have anything more specific in the way of ideas about how such a progessive agenda would unfold under Obama? I would be very interested in hearing this laid out. In fact, while I welcome a response in a comment, I think it would be a very worthwhile topic for a diary, or two, for that matter.
And to that extent, I think you're giving JFK the short shrift here, Paul. The put a man on the moon version of the progressive vision and the great society version are indeed interrelated, then and today. Most of what LBJ accomplished would have been impossible without an America that had been primed for change by a candidate, then President who embodied that desire. So I don't think us Obama supporters do or should necessarily take offense to your JFK comparison. That's a good thing, in my book.
Basically, I'm in agreement, with a few nuances.
JFK changing the tone from stodginess of the Eisenhower era was definitely an important factor. There's no doubt that Kennedy helped change the tone and raise expectations. But there's also no doubt that Kennedy had very little taste to a robust domestic agenda. And, of course, the assasination made Kennedy into a martyr, which amped up the power of his charisma into a whole 'nother level. And LBJ knew it.
Finally, I think you're right, that the comparison is not an insult. Charisma is a powerful force in politics, especially if people give thought to how to channel it productively. JFK did this when he pledged to put a man on the Moon, when he establsihed the Peace Corps, and when he challenged ordinary Americans to engage in 50-mile walks (something that history seems to have largely forgotten, but it had a real impact in helping to set a favorable political tone, as well as planting the seeds of the modern fitness movement.)
Just because JFK was not a movement candidate did not mean he failed to reach people in novel and direct ways. And I'm not trying to poo-poo Obama, either, when I say he's not a movement candidate. This is not a moral judgement or condemnation on my part. It's simply a matter of drawing distinctions. The better one understands the distinction, the better one can make the most of the situation at hand, properly understood. And that's what I see you starting to do, by raising the points you make here.
being low-information. But the question tehn is: so what? It's hard to know from these sorts of polls if they've already got enough information for their purposes, which is what I was trying to get at.
The sorts of polling that could tell you that would have to include a batter of at least 2-3 positive and negative pieces of information, to see how much this swayed people. And that would just begin to answer such questions.
Absent that, the general consistency of Edwards doing better across a broad number of states despite being neglected in the press does have to mean something.
What does seem to be good about these numbers is that Edwards' popularity with these voters hasn't taken a hit because of the haircut/hedge fund/mansion string of headlines.
Yes, precisely. This is the sort of thing we need to look at. It's not the answer, but it's the kind of thing that helps us put together a composite picture.
The fact is, there's a whole lot of data to show that the Dems suffer from not enough identification with standing up for the little guy. It's why the Dems haven't gained in party identification, even when the GOP has faded.
He's using the ethics reform issue as a way to key into his "new politics" theme with a popular proposal and at the same time distinguish himself and his message from Clinton's and Edwards'
And how is this different from the "new politics" of Bill Clinton 16 years ago?
Bottom Line: What would be so wrong with fusing these two messages together?
(Actually, Clinton did a better job of this--rhetorically, at least--back in 1992 than Obama is doing today.)
I think you're missing my point. You are reiterating the same old standard Obama defense that we've all heard a zillion times before. By in large, Obama supporters find it convincing. Others do not. I was hoping to get beyond this sort of shouting match approach to break things down a little more into component parts, and see if they couldn't be put together in different ways.
Specifically, on your two points:
(1) Of course people are sick of partisan bickering. But they also want things to get done. And the things they want done are violently opposed by the GOP power structure. Just look at what's happened in the Senate since January, for example. The notion that Democrats and Republicans are equally responsible for this state of affairs is simply a lie. And your argument above--intentionally or not--implicitly reinforces that lie.
This hardly means that I think progressives are blameless. I have plenty of criticisms of how progressives have organized over the past several decades. But creating polarization is not among their sins. This doesn't mean they have always handled polarization well. But it does mean that a more subtle, more nuanced, more sophisticated form of criticism is necessary than that offered by Obama--and especially by his supporters like you, as you express yourself above.
If you're all for reaching out and creatring consensus, then start doing so right here and right now. Make some real effort to understand a less cartoonish view of the issues involved.
(2) 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. The consensus-building that matters is that within the movements for change, and the coalition of forces that is willing to support them. Consensus-building across the aisle is generally a formula for incrementalism--which is fine, provided that the foundations are sound. But the foundations are laid by struggle.
That's why I tend to think that Obama would be a better President after Edwards. Because Edwards is more of a fighter, and that's what's needed to lay down a new foundation.
JFK and LBJ were generically similar to Obama and Edwards. JFK would have never established the range of Great Society programs that Johnson did. Medicare? Not a chance. The landmark Civil Rights legislation? Highly doubtful, at best. Of course Vietnam is a cloud over everything Johnson accomplished. But he dramatically changed our domestic policy landscape for the better. No President since FDR comes close to what LBJ accomplished. Consesnsus feels good. But the challenge of leadership is to do good.
When the people on the bridge in Selma got hosed and attacked, they didn't go home and walk around wearing their bloody shirt and say you see I'm right and they're wrong. They got back up and walked back onto the bridge and the country saw that and more came down and they kept doing that again, and again, and again until there was a consensus. It is never enough to just struggle.
With all due respect, you have a very garbled understanding of the voting rights struggle, and the Selma-Montgomery March. It was not about consensus-building, except in a very minor, tertiary way. It was about forcing an issue onto the national agenda, and doing it at a time when the Democrats had an historic legislative majority, and a pro-Civil Rights White Southerner in the White House.
Johnson pushed through as much legislation as fast as he could in 1965-66, because he knew that the large majorities he had wouldn't last, and the opportunities for GOP support where needed--on Civil Rights, especially--would soon slip away. He had already gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, before the 1964 election. Another major Civil Rights bill the next year was too much, too soon according to the conventional wisdom, according to the DC consensus. But once the grassroots activists put voting rights on the agenda, LBJ was fiercely behind it, and the law that was passed was not the result of consensus. It became the foundation of a new consensus, over a period of years and protracted struggle.
Struggle => Accomplishment => Consensus
That's the way it works when it comes to the really big issues.
At the time, I would have agreed with you. I distrusted RFK because of his visible record, his reluctance to come forward on the war, the charisma factor, etc.
However, I've changed my mind over the years. Three factors were key: (1) McCarthy defnitely responded to the Anti-War Movement first. But he really didn't have a clue about how to help build the movement. (2) RFK not only responded to the Anti-War Movement--albeit belatedly--but to by-then-radically-diverse Civil Rights Movement, including Black Power and Chicano elements. (He was tremendously close to Cesear Chavez, for example.) (3) The sheer number of people I've met in my life who credit RFK with getting them involved in politics who remain active to this day, and who have brought others into polticial activism as well.
As the above indicates, although I remain quite skeptical of claims that Obama represents a movement candidate, that judgement could change over time.
This is a perfect example of the sort of integrated argument I was hoping to elicit. Not the only sort of response I might wish for, I hasten to add. But an exemplary one.
Let me ask just one thing, reagrding your discussion of health care:
The fact of the matter is that whatever a candidate says in the primaries about his health care proposal means close to nothing once it comes time to actually pass legislation. What's possible is a function of the hypothetical Dem President's ability to lead and the realities in Congress. So right now the most important work is on a much higher plane, where Obama usually likes to play.
As I see it, the most important factor will be citizen organizing from outside the Beltway. The forces inside DC are adamantly opposed to single payer, opposed to reducing the role of insurers, and thus, opposed to anything that will actually be effective.
For all his good intentions, Obama seems much more firmly aligned with this mindset than opposed to it. Edwards--though not perfect--is more the reverse. I think that an enormous knock-down, drag-out battle may be inevitable to get what's needed, and if so, we should welcome it. It could define our politics for the next 30-40 years. But this goes directly against Obama's deepest inclinations.
between Edwards standing third primary polls, but doing better in head-to-heads against Republicans.
In part because he's a Southerner, and because of his economic populism, he has a chance to win outer South states and run up a very solid majority, which should also help us increase our Congressional majorities.
But he can't do that if he's not the candidate now can he?
About Edwards supporters "gushing" around here, and you have a point.
But if you look at diaries more than comments, then I think my general distinction stands. While the diaries certainly hype Edwards, a greater percentage of those that draw attention have a substantive focus, compared to the Obama diaries that focus on Obama himself, or the buzz around him.
Of course, there are a fair number on each side that focus on other things, such as horserace stuff. I am keenly aware that I'm generalizing here, but almost all groups have far more overlap than people realize when you break things down. Even on hot-button social issues, for exmple, more liberals and conservatives agree than disagree. We just tend to notice the disagreements more.
The trick, then, is to be able to discuss the disagreements and differences, while drawing on the background strength of the agreements.
The sooner that differences I pointed to disappear entirely, the happier I will be.
I wonder if we could even contemplate the structural reforms you remind us are missing without some more significant, positive mandate from the electorate. Creating that mandate, somehow, seems to be where Obama is headed but I admit we are in uncharted waters.
This is where Edwards shows his strength by focusing on poverty and getting the kinds of head-to-head results that ArkDem14 presented. It's where Obama falls short by being too process-focused to claim a substantive mandate for structural reforms.
This could change with time, of course. But that's where I see things standing now.
If I had to commit right now, I'd say that I favored an Edwards/Obama ticket, because Edwards would mobilize a mandate for significant change, and Obama, as VP, would be an excellent facilitator, getting substantial changes passed with broader support by virtue of his attention to process and consensus-building. Then, by the time it was his turn to be President, he there would be less of a need for structural change, and more of a need for what he does best.
But this is still a long way out from the election, and I personally find it still to premature to choose sides. I share that thought simply to illustrate the kind of interactive thinking of possibilities into the future that I'd like to see us all engage in.
Whatever possible such scenarios we envision, however, they will not happen without us staying involved. Although they can play a crucial role, neither Edwards nor Obama is going to save us. As Eugene Debs said, "I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out."
You don't understand that Imus getting canned was an exceptional event, and that exceptional events really are exceptional for good reasons.
The saying "the exception proves the rule" depends the use of the word "proves" to mean "shows" or "demonstrats." ("He proved himself equal to the task.") It means, quite simply, that exceptions show the limits of the normal state of things.
Imus was just one such figure out of many, and most have not even come close to paying any price for what they do. It took a "perfect storm" situation to get him fired, and of course, it required having just one boss to do so--a corporate boss who could be pressured in the midst of a changing cultural climate.
Coulter, OTOH, has no such dependency, and is completely different sort of creature. She's even been voluntarily fired by folks, with no appreciable impact. She is a creature of movement conservatism, and taking on her is taking on movement conservatism. Rather than repudiate her, they cling to her all the more tightly.
Thus, this was not about Edwards taking on a single deranged individual. It was about him standing up to the rabid attack-dog right--the very same folks who topedoed John Kerry's campaign because he was unwilling to confront them.
And you? Although I'm sure you don't intend it, you're acting like a concern troll, playing the part of Bob ("0-8") Shrum.