Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Yes We Can"

In the summer of 1980 I, along with my very Democratic mother watched the Republican National Convention which was being held nearby Detroit. I remember hearing the nomination speech given by Ronald Reagan. His words were stirring-stirring enough to have my mother reacting positively. She never voted for Reagan, but I can say that on that summer evening nearly 30 years ago, my mother was moved by this Republican's words.

I am wondering if we are seeing this again. I will admit, I have knocked Barak Obama. And I've been called on it. I do wonder if he is too green for the job. After dealing with a President with little experience, I am a bit hesitant to give another person with a thin resume a shot at the job.

However, there is something different about Obama. He has a charisma that is infectious and can move this moderate Republican in a way no Democrat has. I just listened to the Senator's speech in New Hampshire tonight and he made me feel like my Mom did all those years ago.

Some have said that Obama doesn't simply want to win: he wants to change the nation if not the world. I'm beginning to believe them. I also think he wants people to come along regardless of who they are. Andrew Sullivan is also noticing the Reagan-Obama connection:

Reagan was the cutting edge of the last realignment in American politics. With a good-natured, civil appeal to Democrats who felt abandoned by their own party under Jimmy Carter, Reagan revolutionised the reach of his own party.

He didn’t aim for a mere plurality, as Bill Clinton did. Nor did he try for a polarising 51% strategy, as George W Bush has done. He ran as a national candidate, in search of a national mandate, a proud Republican who nonetheless wanted Democrats to vote for him.

He came out of a period in which Americans had become sickened by the incompetence of their own government. Reagan shocked America’s elites by pivoting that discontent into a victory in 1980. And by his second term, he won 49 out of 50 states.

You can see the same potential in Obama. What has long been remarkable to me is how this liberal politician fails to alienate conservatives. In fact, many like him a great deal. His calm and reasoned demeanour, his crisp style, his refusal to engage in racial identity politics: these appeal to disaffected Republicans.

He is particularly attractive to those on the American right who feel betrayed by the Bush administration’s version of conservatism, just as many Democrats felt betrayed by Jimmy Carter’s liberalism.

I don't know if Obama has that reach; but it's looking damn close.

I think what sets this guy apart from Clinton's caution, or Edward's anger is that he is, like Reagan very optimistic about America. Like it or not, we Americans are an incredibly hopeful people, and when someone taps into our hopes, you can expect that person will win handily.

Another rap against Obama, one that I have used myself is that his record isn't that "independent." I think Alan Stewart Carl sums it up best:

A trip to the Obama website is the kind of in-depth-to-the-point-of-tedium experience you expect from any wonky Democratic website. There are plans upon plans upon plans. The Democrats, even with all their sub-species, are essentially the party that believes in the efficacy of national government. There isn’t a problem in the world that can’t be solved through federal power, and Obama’s policies do not deviate from that predilection.

Of course, a tendency towards statism does not mean Obama isn’t an independent at heart. After all, without evidence that he is deceiving us, we must assume the senator is sincere in his desire to bridge the political divides. Still, the vast majority of his policies are tried-and-true Democratic initiatives...

All the candidates talk about reforming government, but Obama’s website is the most passionate and most specific about changing the way government works. He has numerous governmental transparency initiatives which would illuminate the flow of money through our system. He wants political contributions documented and shared. He wants citizens to be able to see where federal dollars end up and who directed them there. Simply put, he wants accountability through transparency and he would use Internet technology to ensure anyone and everyone can see the money flow.

If you can categorize “independents” at all (a tricky task to be sure), you’d probably give them two qualifications. 1) a preference for new ideas that come from outside the usual party politics; and 2) a desire to reform politics and government as usual. Obama really doesn’t appeal to the first but he’s right in line on the second. Add to that his stated commitment to reinstating PAYGO, and I can see why independents are responding to his message.

It’s not that Obama is overflowing with new ideas, it’s that he’s promising responsibility at a level not offered or at least not accentuated by any other Democrat. In effect, he's saying: we’re going to do this the right way rather than continuing the closed-doors, backroom handshake system. After eight years of Bush’s hyper-secrecy and the previous eight years of Clinton’s equivocations, the promise of a new era of government disclosure and responsibility is truly alluring.

Obama is a liberal Democrat, there is no question. But what is interesting is that he doesn't use his ideology to exclude or belittle people. It is who is, and he will no doubt enact liberal policies. However, he also seems interested in getting all Americans on board, regardless of who they are. Reagan was a conservative Republican, but his rhetoric made people feel that they were included in his vision for America.

Maybe as centrists we need to stop expecting some "Centrist Messiah" who will split the difference, but instead look for someone who has a vision. Reagan had this and it seems like Obama does as well.

I'm a McCain man, but I do have respect for the Senator from Illinois.


Alan Stewart Carl said...

You're right. There is no point in hoping for a Centrist Messiah who has just the right balance of policies. I'd prefer someone whose ideas are bolder than those Obama has pushed forward. BUT, there is something to be said for someone who, while not "centrist" is also not partisan.

Even though he lost to Hillary tonight, I think I'd prefer Obama in the end. A McCain vs. Obama election would make my decision very hard.

musemonk said...

i'm of identical political persuasion to yourself. I too am supporting mccain. the concern about obama is valid, and i would like to strengthen that concern in the light of the recent discover of their being strong islamofascists in the Pakistan military and intelligence service. we could be on the brink - that's why mccain is a far safer choice i believe. in longer terms, there are also legitimate concerns that many of obama's connections and advisors too often express a bias towards the palestinian side. that should give us pause as well, imho.