As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Support Obama Because I Choose Not To Be Afraid

I've witnessed this latest effort at molehill politics with a fair amount of anger. It's infuriating to see John McCain, who owns eight houses, try to characterize anyone as an elitist. And really everyone who's had a voice in this controversy is an elitist by definition, either a media star or a rich politician, and frankly what's most condescending is these elites presuming to know what those "rubes" they clearly think less of will find offensive. Not that anyone's asked those with an annual pay grade below seven figures, but they would surely tell you that they could give a crap about these manufactured controversies. They're far more concerned about the decades of neglect in their own communities, and phony politicians coming to them and pretending to hear their concerns and leaving without any meaningful action put in place. They're concerned about a broken system in Washington that shuts them out and offers no accountability. They're upset over a country that no longer works.

The idea that Republicans use wedge issues to distract from them failing rural and small-town communities economically is fairly straightforward; it takes an army of spinmeisters and consultants to twist that into a demeaning commentary on those same small-town folk. But the best commentary I've heard on this issue, bar none, is from publius at Obsidian Wings. This is an issue about how so many Democrats, as typified in this case by Hillary Clinton, are afraid of their own beliefs.

More specifically, I think far too many liberals — particularly those in positions with political or journalistic influence — have deeply internalized conservative criticisms. I suppose these criticisms go back a long way (e.g., Adlai Stevenson), but they seem to have gained greater resonance in the past twenty-five years or so with the rise of Reagan and the 1994 election.

As a result, far too many liberals — particularly circa 2002-03 — had internalized the view that they were snobby, that they were elitist, that they were too anti-religion, or that they were insufficiently patriotic in the eyes of the American public. It’s not so much that they actually were any of these things (at least in any great number). It’s that they feared (deeply feared) being perceived in this way by the American public. To borrow from Dylan, a lot of issues came and went, but the Great Dirty Hippie never escaped their mind [...]

Turning back to Obama, this same dynamic explains the intense reaction to his words. Among liberals, there’s this ever-present fear that Obama — record-setting, charismatic Obama — is always teetering on the edge of collapse. To you, I say “chill out.” He’s a tough, resilient candidate as he’s shown again and again. But among always-nervous guilty liberals, Obama’s inartful wording portends not merely a bad press cycle or two, but electoral collapse because it fulfills the elitist stereotypes they live in mortal terror of.

Clinton Democrats think, in short, that conservatives are right. They think that they actually are snobbish and elitist and they're desperate not to have anyone find out. They think that conservatives can simply snap their fingers and create some kind of magic piece of advertising to convince the public that the narratives they've used for the past 30 years on Democrats are substantially correct. The GOP would have painted Obama as an effete intellectual egghead - and Clinton too - no matter what he says or does.

This critique operates in a complete vacuum and is wedded to the politics of the past. They fail to take into account the fact that 81% of Americans feel that the country is on the wrong track, that 4 in 5 think the health care system is broken, that 65-70% think the Iraq war is a mistake and want our troops to come home. They think that none of that matters, that Republican wedge-issue politics are always successful, that we have to cloak our true beliefs and act like Republican-lites in order to win. Hillary Clinton has as much as said this. She thinks Obama can't win because of perception and not reality.

I choose not to be afraid. First of all, it's the constant fear, the defensive crouch, that invites all of these political attacks to begin with. As publius notes:

And the reason that weapon often works is because it’s abundantly clear that liberals are affected by it. In short, conservatives can smell the fear. And so when liberal candidates (or anyone) obsequiously beg for forgiveness for, say, enjoying steamed milk and espresso, it simply reinforces the efficacy of this line of attack. For this reason, the more one tries to avoid looking too liberal, the more one will -- ironically enough -- be subject to the attacks. The fear invites future attacks.

The historical moment simply doesn't match the need for this constant fear. Democrats have been playing everywhere and winning for the past three years, actually, winning in so-called Red America and so-called Blue America. People are pretty much dying for a President who doesn't authorize torture out of the White House, doesn't start unnecessary pre-emptive wars, doesn't leave the whole country in an economic ditch. People all over the country are smart enough to get this, and Republican fearmongering and character attacks will fall on deaf ears. The reason there's such an uproar right now is that nexus between Clinton and McCain making the same arguments, loud enough for nobody to ignore.

But it's all based on fear. Clinton Democrats think that this is a conservative country and we have to patronizingly cowtow to conservative interests and issues in order to win. Obama Democrats know that this is a progressive country and have faith in all Americans that they are ready for change. I'm proud to be a Democrat and I'm not going to act afraid or deceive anyone about it. Unconventional times do not call for conventional thinking.

This is about the past versus the future in the Democratic Party. The spinners and media elites who want to intentionally miss the point are welcome to think otherwise. But this is about whether we can hold our head up high and trust the public or hold our heads low and try to deceive them. The progressive movement in recent years has always been about breaking these narratives to which skittish Democrats thoughtlessly cling. The Obama campaign is poised to do the same.

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