Saturday, January 5, 2008

What's wrong with Obama?

He sounds like a politician, and not in a good way.

A more detailed way to describe the discomfort that this progressive feels with the guy is, He knows all the words to Kumbaya.

His calls for unity reach into the middle, and that's good. But his rhetoric about what he's going to unify, by getting past the extremism in our politics, implies something that is wrong and dangerous. By pulling toward the middle from 'partisan extremism', he's encouraging Americans to continue using the frame, Both parties are the problem. That's bad politics.

To the point, 'Is he a secret DLC plant, a centrist in activist clothing?' the answer is obviously no. It's not a DLC conspiracy, because it's happening in the open and because it's as much a slam against the DLC as against the Republicans. So the concern is not that he's a DLC plant, it's that he cannot build a platform for progressive outcomes from the ladder he's constructed to get above partisanship.

The policies that progressives want (universal health care, for example) are favored by all the Dem candidates as well as a vast majority of Americans. Health care for all is opposed only by extremists. Those extremists have been running this country form nearly seven years and the outcomes are staggeringly lousy. Our economy is foundering from the costs of our failed health care system, and kids die because for-profit health care doesn't want to treat them. That's uncivilized and most Americans know it.

So running on the promise, 'I'll bring the extremists on both sides to the table and create solutions that everyone can live with', he's suggesting a couple of things that are either rudely self-regarding (I'm going to do this right, and you'll see that if the right person does it the right way, reaching out to Republicans will work) or dangerously naive (I think that the conservative no-government movement. which is entrenched throughout the executive branch as well as in Congress, will be as easy to manipulate as a Republican minority in the IL statehouse).

I genuinely hope that he's simply so bright and so skilled that he's willing to appear brash and self-promoting in this context, because the alternative is too unsettling for words.

Further, his rhetoric builds a mandate for compromise--when the one thing we know is that the extremists see no reason to compromise. It's not that they don't think they have to for political reasons, it's that they think drowning a great American city in a bathtub is a victory, not a crisis. They think a collapsing retail-based economy, in which there are no bankruptcy protections for the volunteers in the war on household assets, is a victory.

So what's a policy solution that is halfway between 'Run government competently, on a budget' and 'Government is the problem'?

There isn't one. The people President Obama will have to fight have been quite successful since 1994, and they think everything is going as planned. A mandate to find common ground with them is a mandate for continued failure of all public systems.

I don't think we can afford any more failure around here. That's why Obama doesn't appeal to me. I don't know whether John Edwards can be elected, but I know that if he is, I'm getting someone who understands the nature of the problem we're facing. And by 'we', I mean 'Americans who want our kids to have decent lives'.