Monday, November 24, 2008

presidential mythopoiesis

I'm seeing a number of myths about Barack Obama now starting to take shape due particularly to liberal reaction to his new administrative team, even among otherwise sane voices like Glenn Greenwald. Mostly they're of the strain that Obama is not, nor has ever been, liberal, and didn't vote like a liberal in the Senate.

This is simply not accurate. Barack Obama was one of the more consistently liberal voices in the Senate, voting with the Democrats some 96% of the time. He has a big fat 0% rating from the NRLC, an anti-Roe organization, and 100% from NARAL (higher than Russ Feingold). Despite the flak he's taken for not supporting gay marriage, he is a strong supporter of civil unions, supports ditching Don't Ask Don't Tell, and has an 89% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He has a 100% rating from the NAACP. He voted against restricting bankruptcy protection and for repealing the tax subsidy for companies shipping jobs overseas. He voted for expanding the Pell Grant, for closing corporate tax loopholes and moving that money to education spending, and for increasing the amount of money sent to local education agencies. He voted to remove oil and gas exploration subsidies, to factor greenhouse gas emissions into federal project planning, to cancel oil contracts in ANWR, to raise CAFE standards 4%/year until 2018, and to allow states to set stricter environmental guidelines than the federal government, sporting a 96% rating from the League of Conservation Voters (the same rating as Ted Kennedy). He voted against CAFTA, and voted to add labor standards to NAFTA. He voted to establish a Senate Office of Public Integrity and sponsored a bill to disclose federal earmarks on the internet. He voted against extending the Patriot Act's wiretapping provision (though he did ultimately vote to reauthorize the Act itself), voted to preserve habeas corpus for enemy combatants, and to continue to require FISA warrants for overseas wiretapping. He voted against both Justices Roberts and Alito. He has voted consistently against cutting the capital gains tax and the estate tax, supports the Alternative Minimum Tax, and voted to increase taxes for people making more than $1 million.

This senator is not liberal?

I also find it funny that some of the same people now saying that Obama has "no one" in his administration advising him from the left criticized him in the primary for being less liberal than Hillary Clinton. After all, Clinton's superior progressive bona fides were repeatedly touted by no less than Paul Krugman, and she called herself a "progressive" at one of the early primary debates. Clinton voted with Democrats 96% of the time (same as Obama), and is labeled a "hard core liberal" by Now Clinton is a centrist, too? Admittedly, his administration is not, say, as liberal as Bush's was conservative, but if you were expecting cabinet positions for Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, and Russ Feingold, you were bound to be disappointed. Most of the members of his administration are decidedly to the right of Obama the senator, and that is something we liberal Obama supporters have to deal with, but Obama's voting record was most certainly liberal. Perhaps the man has changed or somehow pretended to be liberal while a senator, but the far more likely explanation is exactly what he said it was: he wants a broad spectrum of opinions around him so as to keep his feet as firmly planted in reality as possible. There was a lesson in George W. Bush's appointments about filling the president's office with ideological fellow travelers, and it looks like Obama has taken that lesson seriously.

The appointments are also evidence of Obama-ism at its core, which is not so much a political ideology (though Obama is personally quite liberal) as a sociological or psychological one, one characterized by respect and optimism. The core tenet of Obamaism, as far as I can see, is the belief that all the different sides in a given political debate operate primarily from divergent worldviews that are legitimately held and intelligently deduced, rather than motivated by mere greed/stupidity/laziness/evil/cowardice. The primary ramification of this belief is that you cannot rely on your superior ideology to provide you all the answers; there may well be places where liberalism is wrong and conservatism right, and the only way to know is to have conservatives, centrists, and old hands on board to try to prove you wrong before you enact a bad policy. Another ramification is that experience and success generally trump ideological bona fides, something you can afford when you're only 8 years removed from a moderately success administration of your own party.

This diversity in the war room also provides three major boons to the president: 1. bipartisan cred and a reputation for giving the opposition their say, 2. a deeper well from which to draw out solutions, and 3. stances and opinions that are well-tested and evidence-based.


Rene said...


Obama is not an idealogue. He's a pragmatist and a fierce politician. As president GWB was remarkably effective in getting his agenda enacted. I think we're seeing evidence that Obama will be even more so.

Big D said...

So, let me get this straight...Obama is further left than his cabinet peeps. This means he puts out an agenda to the people that have to bridge the gap to the crazies on the right. So, the people closer to the right have the chance to spin the words and make the agenda sound better are the ones that will be presenting it on a day to day basis.

And this is bad to some of the leftist folk?

Come on, people! That's call using the tools you were born with and sounds like a great plan to me.