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

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Obama Moment

This is a pretty hopeful time in American politics. Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic nomination for President is a stunning turn of events, something that would have been unthinkable if you said it out loud a year or even 6 months ago. It just didn't look to be possible to defeat the Clinton machine (I say that in a good way - she had locked up all the important early support), and he did it through cultivating activist support, using technology like no other candidate in history, and flat-out running the best campaign given the rules of the Democratic Party.

Obama's opposition to the Iraq War was clearly the entire reason he had any chance to begin with. But that only got him a foot in the door - he had to pry it open, and even when the subject turned away from Iraq he managed to be successful with his message of changing Washington from the outside. It's not that Clinton ran a bad campaign - she did early on but more than made up for it in the end - it's that Obama ran a superlative one. And he did it with a new coalition of black voters, young people, and white liberals unique to the party in the primary era.

Now, while I like our chances in November this isn't over. Though the delivery was horrible, the content of John McCain's speech was actualy pretty good, and reminiscent of the 2006 gubernatorial election in California. Phil Angelides and the CDP tried for months to tag Arnold Schwarzenegger with the "George W. Bush" label. He laughed it off. And the media gave him a pass even though he did share some traits with Bush. McCain is trying the same gambit:

You will hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I'm running for President Bush's third term. You will hear every policy of the President described as the Bush-McCain policy. Why does Senator Obama believe it's so important to repeat that idea over and over again? Because he knows it's very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false. So he tries to drum it into your minds by constantly repeating it rather than debate honestly the very different directions he and I would take the country. But the American people didn't get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama. They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem solving. They've seen me put our country before any President -- before any party -- before any special interest -- before my own interest. They might think me an imperfect servant of our country, which I surely am. But I am her servant first, last and always.

McCain is, of course, running on virtually the same platform as Bush, while Schwarzenegger had legislative accomplishments on global warming and the minimum wage to point to. But this can be effective if the media makes the decision that their buddy the Maverick simply is not Bush and they won't hear another word about it. Obama needs to tie McCain not just to Bush but the failed Republican policies of the past. And in his speech last night (which was excellent), that's just what he did.

So I'll say this -- there are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.

Change is a foreign policy that doesn't begin and end with a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged. I won't stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq, but what's not an option is leaving our troops in that country for the next hundred years -- especially at a time when our military is overstretched, our nation is isolated, and nearly every other threat to America is being ignored.

We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in - but start leaving we must. It's time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future. It's time to rebuild our military and give our veterans the care they need and the benefits they deserve when they come home. It's time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda's leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century -- terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That's what change is.

Change is realizing that meeting today's threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy -- tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn't afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That's what the American people want. That's what change is.

Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it. It's understanding that the struggles facing working families can't be solved by spending billions of dollars on more tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs, but by giving a the middle-class a tax break, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure, and transforming how we use energy, and improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation. It's understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was President.

John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy -- cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota -- he'd understand the kind of change that people are looking for.

The "he should take trips to places in America and not Baghdad" part is particularly brilliant.

The best thing about Obama is that he won this race without sitting in a defensive crouch, without pooh-poohing the idea of what is and isn't possible, without a point of view that this is a center-right country and we have to sneak our way into the White House. Obama isn't a fire-breathing progressive but he's a good vessel for progressive policy, and he has a knack for making mainstream Democratic ideas sound like common sense. As Matt Yglesias says:

Relative to McCain, Obama thinks it's possible to accomplish things in the world. He thinks the United States faces a lot of serious international challenges, but doesn't see them as primarily driven by menacing and implacable foes. Obama thinks that a combination of visionary leadership and shrewd bargaining can greatly improve our ability to tackle key priorities without any great expenditure of our resources.

All in all, the pessimist in me sees it as an approach to politics designed to set us up for a hard fall when it fails. But in a deeper sense I find it incredibly appealing. To me, it's incredibly frustrating to hear that ideas "can't be done" not because they won't work, but because people know -- just know -- that they're not politically possible, even though they're things that have never been tried. I think almost every worthwhile accomplishment of progressive governance -- from the UN and NATO and the NPT to Medicare and Medicaid and Title I school aid to the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to the ongoing feminist revolution that's completely transformed American society in a generation and a half with no sign of slowing down -- is the kind of thing that before it happened, a lot of people would have said that it couldn't happen. And of course sometimes the pessimists are right, but unless you sometimes assume they're wrong then nothing's ever going to happen.

I'm going to dare to hope that Obama can make a difference in this country. I'm on board from now until November. Let's mobilize!

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