Saturday, April 19, 2008

Are the Democrats doing everything they can to blow this presidential election?

I disagree strongly with the central thesis of the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Bob Herbert entitled "Road Map to Defeat." He leads off by insisting that:

The Democrats are doing everything they can to blow this presidential election.

He offers examples from the Clinton years of the Democrats telling us that "they" (the Democrats/Clintons) "tried hard to lose" and "tried to throw the presidency away" and that "have become so psychologically battered."

Mostly he blames the Clintons, letting Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry totally off the hook. In his version of history:

That's been it for the party for the past 40 years. The Democrats have become so psychologically battered by these many decades in the leadership wilderness that they consider the Clinton years, during which the president was impeached and they lost control of both houses of Congress, to have been a period of triumph.

Frankly, every presidency has its ups and downs. That he thinks it appropriate to focus only on two negatives and ignore the fact that Clinton was able to get reelected and is still quite popular is a measure of Bob's strained view of the political landscape.

His lead line seems to be a facade for his real message: The Clintons are doing everything they can to win the nomination and prevent Barack from being the Democratic nominee.

He "informs" us that:

The Clintons are running around with flamethrowers, gleefully trying to incinerate the prospects of the party's leading candidate, Barack Obama.

The basic problem here is that Bob has done what a lot of people have done and put his favored candidate high up on a pedestal and reacted violently to any and all criticism of their idolized candidate. Flamethrowers? Gleefully? Come on, Bob. Get real. Like, try to admit that the party has two leading candidates. There is less than a 10% gap between them. In truth, it is The Progressives who are "gleefully trying to incinerate" their enemy.

I disagree with more of what Bob says about the Democrats in general and the Clinton's in particular, but I actually do agree with some of his points.

I agree with him that:

The way for a candidate to eventually change the subject is to offer policy prescriptions so creative and compelling that they generate excitement among the electorate and can't be ignored by the press.

Barack has failed to do so.

I agree with Bob that:

Voters want more from Senator Obama. He's given a series of wonderful speeches, but he has to add more meat to those rhetorical bones. He needs to be clear about where he wants to lead this country and how he plans to do it. That's how a candidate defines himself or herself.

Barack has failed to move substantially beyond the rhetoric and has essentially built his entire campaign around the rhetoric of "hope", "change", and "Yes we can!" Yes, his rhetoric works, and it may be enough to carry him to the nomination and maybe even to the Oval Office, but rhetoric alone will not solve any real world problems at the global scale faced by this country.

I half agree but half disagree with Bob when he says:

Instead, Mr. Obama is allowing the Clintons and the news media to craft a damaging persona of him as some kind of weak-kneed brother from another planet, out of touch with mainstream America, and perhaps a loser.

I agree that Barack is allowing if not outright facilitating the crafting of such a "damaging persona", but I lay 100% of the blame on Barack's own doorstep. By failing to move beyond his trademark rhetoric, Barack only helps to fuel his own "damaging persona."

I half agree when Bob says:

Wednesday night's debate in Philadelphia may have been a sorry exercise in journalism, but even many of Senator Obama's own supporters were disappointed with his lackluster performance.

Yes, it was a lackluster performance, but I do not think the journalism was to blame. Even in the second half when policy was the focus, Barack's performance was decidedly lackluster. Face it, when it comes to policy, Clinton shines. I also disagree with the implied contention that discussion and questioning of values, associations, and character are somehow supposed to be off limits, especially for opponents of Barack due somehow to his special-ness. Besides, I think it was actually a good idea to get all of that "stuff" out of the way early so that the second half of the debate could in fact focus on and close out with a hard-core discussion and debate on policy. If he whole debate had been focused purely on policy, Barack would have looked even more lackluster.

I half agree with Bob that:

The big issues of our time are being left behind as pettiness and mean-spirited partisanship carry the day.

I do agree that the "big issues of our time are being left behind", but I think that started when Barack chose to focus on the rhetoric of "hope", "change", and "Yes we Can!" rather than focus on policy and "big issues." The net result has certainly been a spiral down into "pettiness and mean-spirited partisanship" on both sides. Hillary loves to discuss and debate policy. She would love to engage Barack in vigorous and high-minded discussion and debate on all manner of policy, but it is virtually impossible to do so when Barack refuses and walls himself off from policy discussion and debate by trying to enclose himself in an impermeable bubble of "hope", "change", and "Yes we Can!" rhetoric. If Bob can convince Barack to break out of his bubble on unreality, then we can get back to "big issues of our time."

I do not agree with Bob's thesis that:

... much of the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding Mr. Obama's candidacy has cooled.

The overall level of enthusiasm persists, but maybe it is simply that some of Barack's elitist supporters are now realizing that their guy is a lot more mortal than they imagined. Sure, you can blame The Clintons for showing people that real side of Barack, but that would be blaming the messenger for the unwelcome message.

I half agree with Bob that:

The issues still favor the Democrats. More and more Americans are losing their jobs, and many of those still employed are working fewer hours and cashing smaller paychecks. Vacation plans are being curtailed because of declining family income and sky-high gasoline prices. The value of the family home is eroding.

Instead of capitalizing on the political advantages presented by these issues, the Democrats, with their increasingly small-minded approach to this election, are squandering them.

Yes, the issues favor the Democrats (and Clinton more than Barack), but I disapprove of his labeling criticism of his candidate as being a  "small-minded approach." That is simply a cheap shot by Bob, not unlike his flag jab when he says:

While some of those predicaments raise legitimate concerns (his former pastor, his comments in San Francisco) and some do not (stupid questions about wearing a flag pin), he has allowed them to fester unnecessarily.

I agree that Barack "allowed them to fester unnecessarily", but I disagree with the characterization that questions about "a flag pin" are somehow "stupid." Some people do not consider the flag so important as a symbol while others do. That is the political landscape that we are faced with. Barack has to cope with that reality. Considering the issue of "a flag pin" somehow "stupid" and a "distraction" needlessly belittle a large segment of the U.S. population, not to mention a large segment of the political landscape in Washington, D.C. that Barack keeps claiming that he will be able to work with. And, it makes quite clear that he is an elitist and very out of touch. I think that people could tolerate his refusal to wear a flag pin, if only he gave a full and honest explanation for his choice, but at the debate he evaded the issue:

OBAMA: Well, look, I revere the American flag. And I would not be running for president if I did not revere this country.

This is -- I would not be standing here if it wasn't for this country. And I've said this -- again, there's no other country in which my story is even possible. Somebody who was born to a teenage mom, raised by a single mother and grandparents from small towns in Kansas, you know, who was able to get an education and rise to the point where I can run for the highest office in the land, I could not help but love this country for all that it's given me.

And so, what I've tried to do is to show my patriotism by how I treat veterans when I'm working in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; by making sure that I'm speaking forcefully about how we need to bring this war in Iraq to a close, because I think it is not serving our national security well and it's not serving our military families and our troops well; talking about how we need to restore a sense of economic fairness to this country, because that's what this country has always been about, is providing upward mobility and ladders to opportunity for all Americans.

That's what I love about this country. And so I will continue to fight for those issues.

And I am absolutely confident that during the general election, that when I'm in a debate with John McCain, people are not going to be questioning my patriotism; they are going to be questioning, how can you make people's lives a little bit better?

And let me just make one last point on this issue of the flag pin. As you've noted, I wore one yesterday when a veteran handed it to me, who himself was disabled and works on behalf of disabled veterans.

I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I'm commander-in-chief, which is going to be figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people.

The question was not about the country, it was about the symbol. I thought it was quite bizarre to hear him saying:

I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us...

When neither the question nor the issue was whether he "said" he didn't or won't where a flag pin, but why he doesn't. He refers to this as a "kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us", once again proving that he is an out-of-touch elitist who thinks it is perfectly A-OK to belittle the values of others. He had a clear opportunity to settle the issue, but instead chose to evade and obfuscate.

I once again only half agree with Bob that:

There was always going to be resistance in the U.S. to putting a black person or a woman of any color in the White House. To overcome that built-in resistance, three things are crucially important: new voters have to be brought into the process; the nominee must have an exciting and compelling message; and the party has to be extraordinarily unified behind its standard-bearer.

First, I have to vehemently disagree that there is somehow a priority to "putting a black person or a woman of any color in the White House." The priority should simply be putting the most qualified candidate in the White House, and to ensure that there are no artificial barriers based on race or gender. I do agree that new voters need to be brought into the process, but I disagree that this is somehow only or specially relevant for black or female candidates. I agree that the nominee needs to have a compelling message, but I strongly disagree with any notion of appealing to passion or making a message "exciting." I do agree that the party needs to be unified to some degree, but I think that argues that Barack needs to come out of his bubble and show the kind of leadership that even centrists such as Hillary and myself can find compelling.

I agree with Bob that "It's not too late for the Democrats to pull this off", but I disagree with his presumption that somehow the only way that it can be pulled off is if all Democrats blindly support his preferred candidate.

In short, I think that The Progressives are in fact managing to do everything they can do to blow this election (by focusing too much on the primary and their own narrow, left-wing agenda), but I think that mainstream Democrats are deeply and compassionately committed to prevailing in the general election even if that means leaving a fairly big chunk of the Progressive agenda behind.

-- Jack Krupansky


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