Monday, March 3, 2008

Twas the night before the primary...

The Texas and Ohio primaries... the day when Obama wraps up the nomination and this long ordeal will finally be over! Hey wait a minute... what's he doing?

Good God! We were up by 10 with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter! Did Eddie Jordan take over the Obama campaign? What the fuck just happened?

So the first story led to a response from the always knowledgeable Chris Bowers, who puts it in the context of other Obama policy moves:

Hagel and Lugar are both rank conservatives. Despite Hagel's support for partial withdrawal from Iraq, there is simply no way to describe either of them as centrist, much less progressive. Hagel's lifetime score on progressive punch is 9.27 out of 100, while Lugar's is 12.46 out of 100. Both of them are only very slightly to the left of the craziest wingers out there.

Obama sends out regular signals that he will govern in a very centrist fashion. Running Harry and Louise ads and appointing Bush Dog Jim Cooper as a spokesperson on health care make that obvious enough. His praise of Reagan and bragging that he is more bipartisan than the DLC also make that clear. He has no problem letting you know that he's "not one of those people who cynically believes Bush went in only for the oil," that he isn't a "anti-military, 70s love-in." He scolds unknown progressives for thinking that "every mention of God is automatically threatening a theocracy," and reminded everyone that Social Security faces a crisis. Now, he is sending out signals that will be appoint Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar to incredibly powerful posts such as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

Here is the thing: what counter-indications had Obama given that he will govern as a progressive? I honestly can't think of any. He clearly must be blowing some sort of progressive activist dog whistle, given the caucus and support he has received, but I haven't heard the call. I get the "yes, we can," bit about how large numbers of grassroots and redstate Democrats are rebelling against a Clintonista Democratic Party that takes them for granted. Further, the identity politics in play are somewhat obvious. I also think I get that, in addition to the activists and identity groups he has attracted, the third major component of Obama's coalition are anti-establishment, but not necessary leftist, Democratic voters who also when for Bradley and Dean. Finally, in the contemporary political environment, looking like the outside is certainly an advantage. However, what I don't get are ideological progressives who think that Obama is one, too. Outside of telecom policy, his policy platforms are pretty much center-left wonkish boilerplate, and his rhetoric is straight down the middle. In short, I just don't see Obama as a transformative progressive at all.

If I am missing something, I don't know where to look for it. Chuck Hagel as Sec Def is just the latest indication that Obama is more about placating High Broderism, Tim Russert and the Washington Post editorial board than he is about transformative progressive change. I'll work hard to help elect him, but I also don't intend to delude myself about what to expect when he becomes President.

Now I'm as down on him as Bowers is, but I do think the article raises a few good points. I've always thought our best chances at progressive policy under Obama would be the war, foreign policy in general, communications policy, and climate change policy. Obviously the most important of those are the war and foreign policy, so talk of Lugar and Hagel for secretary of Defense or State makes me a bit sick to my stomach. That remark surprised me quite a bit, and angered me for several reasons... the most important of those being I really don't think stuff like this is going to help him win the DEMOCRATIC nomination.

Now as for the NAFTA story, that didn't surprise me in the slightest. Obama may be many things, but he seems to have adopted the democratic dance over free trade with this one. You make vague and non-committal critiques of "Free Trade" in an election year, then when in office you vote to expand it with deals like the Peru FTA. On this issue I got to say I don't understand where the shock is coming from. He has a mixed and fairly pro-free trade record in congress, he has surrounded himself with staunch free traders who run his economic policy team (One of whom, Goolsbee, is the "senior adviser" mentioned in the Canada article), and he himself wrote his thesis on free trade. Like many other issues, in order to reform trade policy, it's going to take a pretty big fight, and a willingness to stand strong against by bipartisan opposition. I think Obama is capable of doing this on other issues, but to think that he would use political capital to reform a trade policy that he doesn't really disagree with is nonsensical.

And before you think I've jumped off the deep end let me make this clear. I don't like talking about Lugar or Hagel in the cabinet, but Hillary's judgment on foreign policy and hawkish advisers genuinely scare the crap out of me. Obama won't reform trade policy, but there's even less of a chance of Hillary Clinton doing so. As you know from reading this site, I think Obama is clearly the superior candidate, and has a better chance of pushing progressive policy.

But that isn't the problem.

The problem is he hasn't won yet. And these last two moves were absolutely moronic two days before possibly your closeout primary. I hope I'm wrong. I really, really, really do. I hope tomorrow night leaves us with an Obama victory speech and Hillary Clinton getting the hell out of my daily life. But as a DC sports fan I know that no lead is safe and that anything can happen, especially if you let Eddie Jordan coach your team.

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