The title of this post is one of my favorite political quotes. It was supposedly uttered by the losing candidate in a California state senate primary. It's probably the most honestly-felt post-election speech ever spoken.
It amazes me how, right after your candidate loses, your opinion of the winning candidate goes down a little. I dislike Obama a lot more right now than I did on caucus night. I think at that point I still hoped Edwards would win it. I'm not sure why - maybe I thought there would be some state-wide mass epiphanic moment where tens of thousands of caucus-goers suddenly slapped their foreheads with their palms and said "I can't believe I'm buying this crap!" Needless to say, that didn't happen.
As I said in my pre-caucus post, the older I get, the more I self-identify as a progressive. Edwards remains the only major candidate in the race pushing a progressive agenda. But I also self-identify as someone who is pretty sophisticated politically. I've worked for campaigns, I've been a member of the county central Democratic committee, I've been a precinct chair (in which capacity I ran several caucuses), and I've been a county and state convention delegate. This isn't my first time at the rodeo.
As a result, words like "hope" and "change" are meaningless to me unless there is something underneath them that demonstrates that what the candidate is offering is truly "change", truly a cause for "hope". And as much as Obama slings around the words "change" and "hope", what's underneath his words is nothing but failed retread positions, luke-warm half-measures, and Republican talking points.
Obama speaks of change, but he doesn't really offer change on a substantive level. His language and his delivery are designed to make hearts flutter, but all he offers is the same failed crap centrist Democrats have been offering for the past decade. To the extent that anything he says and proposes is actually progressive, it's because Edwards has forced Obama (as he forced Clinton) to say and propose things that are progressive.
Let's get specific. Look at health care. Obama's plan doesn't go as far towards ensuring universal coverage as the Edwards plan or even the Clinton plan. Yes, Edwards and Clinton mandate universal coverage, but they also include subsidies to help low-income families purchase insurance (as does Obama), and the level of subsidies proposed by Edwards and Clinton are significantly higher than the level of subsidies proposed by Obama. (For more, see Krugman here.) I'm going to pull over Krugman's conclusion because, well, he's Krugman, and a far better writer and a far better economic thinker than I'm ever going to be.
Mr. Obama’s health plan is weaker than those of his Democratic rivals, but it’s infinitely superior to, say, what Rudy Giuliani has been proposing. My main concern right now is with Mr. Obama’s rhetoric: by echoing the talking points of those who oppose any form of universal health care, he’s making the task of any future president who tries to deliver universal care considerably more difficult.
That, to me, is the biggest problem. Not that the Obama healthcare plan isn't as good as the Edwards plan or the Clinton plan, but that rather than debate the substance of the approaches, Obama chose to attack Edwards and Clinton with Republican anti-universal health care talking points.
But wait! There's more!
I’d add, however, a further concern: the debate over mandates has reinforced the uncomfortable sense among some health reformers that Mr. Obama just isn’t that serious about achieving universal care — that he introduced a plan because he had to, but that every time there’s a hard choice to be made he comes down on the side of doing less.
I'd say the right-wing pandering is a result of that "every time there's a hard choice to be made he comes down on the side of doing less" thing. Because it isn't just a smattering of right-wing pandering - it's a whole host of right-wing pandering. There's the "Social Security is in crisis and needs fixing" statements (it isn't and it doesn't), the diss of trial lawyers, the diss of Gore and Kerry, and perhaps most telling, the Donnie McClurkin incident, something he has never adequately explained. (Probably because the explanation would have to be "I was falling way behind in South Carolina, and the only way I could stop the bleeding was to quietly play the gay-bashing card.")
I understand why Obama is running to the right of Clinton and Edwards. He has to - he has no chance of winning if he comes across as the most radical of the candidates. Sadly, the state of the racial dialogue in this country still hasn't advanced far enough to allow Obama to come across as an angry candidate. A sense of anger would sway me most to his side, but I know it would drive a lot more people away. So I get that. I do.
But I cannot support a candidate based on the candidate's personality alone. I keep coming back to an Atrios post from early December. It's brief - I'll use it in it's entirety:
Obama: The system sucks, but I'm so awesome that it'll melt away before me.
Edwards: The system sucks, and we're gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.
Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.
That, to me, captures the three perfectly. The Obama argument seems to be that the force of his personality alone will be enough to bring about change. And I'm not discounting the value that force of personality can have. But there are limits to what force of personality can accomplish.
JFK was as powerful a personality as any U.S. President. But was JFK actually an effective President? Most of the major pieces of social legislation that were passed in the 60s passed under LBJ, not JFK. Yes, many of them were proposed by JFK. But they stalled in Congress, and didn't get passed until LBJ, an experienced Senate trader, took office.
Gridlock is a big buzzword for a lot of people. Obama is supposedly going to break gridlock by using the force of his personality to reach out to Republicans. But the problem isn't that Democrats haven't tried reaching out to Republicans - hell, the current Senate and House majority leaders have bent over backwards to Republicans.
Harry Reid has gone so far as to agree not to bring any legislation to the Senate floor unless there are 60 votes in favor of the legislation. Think about that. The constitution requires a simple majority for passage of most legislation, but Reid has agreed not to bring something to the floor unless it already has a filibuster proof majority. The Republicans in the Senate not only haven't had to filibuster to block legislation - they haven't even had to threaten to filibuster. That's not reaching out to Republicans, that's dropping your pants and bending over for Republicans.
We have gridlock because one party, the Republicans, wants gridlock. We have gridlock because one party, the Republicans, agree with Bush advisor Grover Norquist that bipartisanship is another name for date rape. We have gridlock becasue the Republicans know they are out of ideas of their own, and just want to prevent the Democrats from enacting any of their ideas. Obama's personality will not change any of that. The only way to break the current gridlock is to elect more Democrats, especially a Democratic President who knows we have to fight to make things happen.
We don't need another centrist Democrat. We don't need another middle-of-the-road Democrat. We need to recognize the truth of what Jim Hightower once said in another of my favorite political quotes - "The only thing in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos."
Because we are going to have to fight. This coming election is going to be the ugliest Presidential election in my lifetime. This is the last gasp of the current Republican party, and they are going to do whatever they can, to whomever they have to, to hold onto the Presidency. The Republicans know they can't win on the merits, so they are going to attempt to absolutely destroy as a person whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be.
(Brief digression. You hate to give any credence to the lunatic fringers who think Bush/Cheney will stage a coup to remain President, but is it really so hard to think a coup is something the current administration would reject out of hand? Indeed, the main reason I think a coup unlikely is not that the administration wouldn't attempt it, it's that the U.S. military establishment is going to be as happy to see the Bush presidency end as the majority of the country will be. You can't pull off a coup, at least not one that lasts more than a day, if the military doesn't support it.)
You know, it would be nice if we could all sit around the campfire, hold hands, sing Kum-ba-yah, and bring about change. It would also be nice if the lottery ticket I purchased this afternoon wins tonight. But the odds of either of those things happening are pretty much the same: slim and none, and slim just left town. We are going to have a bloody, vicious fight on our hands, and I don't know that Obama is up for it.
Like I said previously, if Obama is the nominee, he has my vote and not in some "I guess I can hold my nose and vote for him" kind of way. He'll have my enthusiastic support. But I'm not ready to make nice right now, and I wish like hell he felt the same way.
And with that, let's close with the Dixie Chicks.