Mike the Mad Biologist

Matt Stoller makes a very interesting observation about Senator Obama, although I think it could apply to most of the presidential candidates in both parties. Stoller writes:

But I think a lot of this kind of nonsense has to do with a basic lack of responsibility among citizens. Last week, I spoke to a friend who graduated from Harvard Law and just got done clerking for a high level judge. He’s smart and highly credentialled, and he supports Obama because he thinks Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism and will decolonize our foreign policy. I walked him through the rhetoric which showed him that this was just not true, and he acknowledged that Obama’s rhetoric was at odds with what he believed about Obama. And yet, he just didn’t care. He just offered that Obama was saying this because he had to say it to get elected.

I follow the Democratic blogs pretty closely (this shouldn’t come as a surprise), and what I’m seeing is that many who identify strongly with a candidate hold opinions that are very different from the candidates. Now, there’s wrong with that per se: if your guiding star is to beat the Republicans, because you think any Democrat would be preferable to a Republican, then so be it. It’s not how I would play it, but at least you’re aware of what you’re doing.

But what’s odd is that there is a lot of self-projection: supporters will often assume that their candidate would echo their own positions (which are usually to the left of the candidate’s positions), except that the candidate has to move rightward to win elections. Wny on earth would you think that? Liberals and progressives need to realize that if they help elect conservative and moderate Democrats, when elected, they’ll act like… conservative and moderate Democrats. Take for example, Senator Clinton, who is essentially a conservative-to-moderate Southern Democrat without the regional accent once you examine her voting record. Yet, somehow, many liberals think that once she is elected president she will magically transform herself into Ted Kennedy. Or as Stoller put it:

It’s like Hillary Clinton hiring a union-buster as her chief strategist, and the AFL-CIO and Change to Win being… silent.

Or consider ‘Fightin’ Dem’ Joe Sestak who crumpled on the Iraq spending bill. Just how progressive did you think a former military commander would be? Sure, it could happen, but the number of progressive liberals in the U.S. army that reach the upper echelons of the officer corps is pretty slim.

My point is not to dig at particular candidates since good politicians strive to be the perfect foil–that’s the job. President Clinton was a master at this, and Bush didn’t do so poorly with all of that ‘compassionate conservative’ hooey. Even though anyone who closely followed the Republican base and the Southern Republicans (and, in particular, the Texan GOP) knew exactly what was coming. (Molly Ivins, Intelligent Designer bless her, certainly tried).

It’s one thing to make a rational and reasoned calculation, but enough with the self-projection. They’re just politicians.

Comments

  1. #1 gwangung
    May 31, 2007

    Um, didn’t this happen with Bill Clinton? I think it was clear that he was a moderate to conservative Democrat, yet he was roasted by the progressive wing of the Democratic party for not being what he never claimed to be.

    Seems to me that some Democrats are making the same mistakes all over again…

  2. #2 Coin
    May 31, 2007

    I think this is just a universal constant in politics… not only is it not peculiar to Obama supporters, it’s not even peculiar to Democrats. Witness social conservatives who see themselves in Mitt Romney, or libertarians who see themselves in George W. Bush (…there were more of these four years ago than there are now).

    Still, it is definitely a dangerous tendency, and it is one that Obama seems to disproportionately inspire– I think Obama’s actually commented on this himself, there was this quote in his book, let’s see:

    “I am new enough on the political scene that I serve as a black screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

    I’m hoping that this Obama-as-imaginary-friend tendency that shows up occasionally will start to get better when, if ever, the media starts actually reporting on the substance of Obama’s message rather than just the touchy-feely cotton-candy “hope” stuff.

    In the meantime, though, although I agree with Matt Stoller’s point in general in the quote you give, I do tend to usually disagree with Matt’s evaluations of Obama as being hawkish on foreign policy or “centrist” in general– I think Obama is more of a foreign policy hawk than I personally would like but I think Matt tends to massively exaggerate the situation. And I tend to take this view because, although I’ve seen the sound bites that Matt & co use to try to prove Obama’s a colonialist or whatever, I’ve also read Obama’s book and his big foreign policy speech or whatever. These betray a very well thought out understanding on Obama’s part of America’s place in the world and the consequences of our actions, and I tend to take these more seriously as indicators of Obama’s thinking than decontextualized campaign sound bites.

    (I also have some thoughts on the liquid oil thing Matt’s post you link is all about, but this comment is probably too long and offtopic already.)

    Anyway.

  3. #3 Mike the Mad Biologist
    June 1, 2007

    gwangung,

    Yup.

  4. #4 Edward
    June 1, 2007

    I tend to look more at what politicians do than what they say. Obama has a fairly liberal voting record in the Senate, yet at the same time he’s got a reputaion for being able to work with conservatives. He sounds to me like the kind of persion who rationally listens to others, is capable or reaching out to those with different views, and tries to find the best course of action. If the primary were tomorrow, I’d vote for him based on what I’ve read about the man. I know I won’t agree with him 100% on everything.

    I am also not going to trash the other democratic front-runners. After having taken a look at the republicans, I would be happy to vote for Obama, Edwards, or Clinton over any of the republicans.

  5. #5 seks shop
    May 20, 2009

    I’m hoping that this Obama-as-imaginary-friend tendency that shows up occasionally will start to get better when, if ever, the media starts actually reporting on the substance of Obama’s message rather than just the touchy-feely cotton-candy “hope” stuff.

  6. #6 şişme bebek
    June 8, 2009

    I tend to look more at what politicians do than what they say. Obama has a fairly liberal voting record in the Senate, yet at the same time he’s got a reputaion for being able to work with conservatives. He sounds to me like the kind of persion who rationally listens to others, is capable or reaching out to those with different views, and tries to find the best course of action

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