Campaigns/Elections

Obama vs. the Anger Mongers

Why aren't Democrats interested in a president who goes beyond partisanship?

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Tipton, IOWA—Barack Obama has been campaigning since early this morning, and as he addresses his last audience of the day, he professes some strong emotions about the distance many Americans feel from their government. "It makes me angry when folks feel they have no one working for them," he declares to some 250 people who have gathered on a Tuesday evening at the Cedar County Fairgrounds.

As he invariably does when outlining his discontent with the status quo, the Illinois senator sounds firm. He sounds sincere. What he doesn't sound is angry.

That is either the great strength or the great weakness of his campaign. American politics is chronically awash in free-floating bile, some of it genuine and some of it manufactured. So voters may prefer a candidate who can summon up visible outrage at the slightest provocation, of which this race offers many alternatives.

If the venting of spleen is what Iowans want, an Obama event is not the place to find it. His gift—one of them, anyway is to be able to disparage his foes in unequivocal terms without sounding strident or hostile.

Asked earlier in the day about the performance of the federal government after Hurricane Katrina, he noted that the hapless Michael Brown had been an official of the International Arabian Horse Association. "I know this is novel," he said in a droll tone, "but my thinking is that you oughta be an expert in emergency management to be head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

He's equally deft at reminding voters of his differences with Clinton. Obama never mentions the Iraq war without saying not only that it "should never have been waged," but also that it "should never have been authorized"—something Hillary Clinton and John Edwards supported. He invokes Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in saying "longevity is no guarantee of good judgment," but the line applies equally well to the former first lady.

Asked by a woman in Tipton why she should vote for him over Clinton, he begins by saying, "She's a capable person, she's tough, she's smart," but ends by saying, more in sorrow than in anger, "There is a known commodity, been around a long time, Bill's there, we kind of know what we're going to get. But that's exactly the problem: we know what we're going to get. We're not going to get significant change."

His critics say that the campaign trail is no place for subtlety, and that he often comes across as overly cool and cerebral. Given that he trails Clinton by 25 points in a recent national poll, they may be right. But he is betting that in time, his aura of imperturbable calm and relaxed command will appeal to voters weary of the nonstop furies that raged under President Clinton as well as President Bush.

On actual issues, the differences among the main Democratic candidates are modest. They all want to leave Iraq expeditiously but carefully, they all have programs to expand health insurance coverage, they all promise to end Bush's abuse of civil liberties, and they all denounce tax cuts for the rich. Many of their speech lines are interchangeable.

Where they differ most is in temperament. Clinton has a well-earned reputation as arrogant, inflexible and opportunistic, and she brags about her zest for combat: "When you're attacked, you have to deck your opponents." Edwards, meanwhile, presents himself as a fierce populist crusading against powerful interests. "I've been fighting these people all my entire life," he tells audiences. "I fought them in the courtroom, and I've beat them and beat them."

Obama, by contrast, suggests that the last thing Washington needs is an infusion of pugnacity. He would rather talk about his ability to bridge partisan divides to find practical solutions. He can point to a major bill he sponsored, grudgingly signed last summer by the president, which banned gifts to members of Congress from lobbyists and mandated full reporting of campaign contributions by lobbyists who raise "bundles" of checks from many people.

For those who see politics and government as an endless barroom brawl, bipartisan efforts to solve real problems may sound like naive folly. But when Obama concludes on an upbeat note, saying that America has been "a bright and shining light, and we can be that again," the crowd gives him a standing ovation. Apparently, some people are warming to the idea of lowering our political thermostat.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. From a British perspective, Obama’s more thoughtful, measured and reasoned approach is a breath of fresh air in US politics. One that’s very different to the Bush years – characterised by knee jerk responses (emphasis on jerk) driven by cronyism.

  2. “He can point to a major bill he sponsored, grudgingly signed last summer by the president, which banned gifts to members of Congress from lobbyists and mandated full reporting of campaign contributions by lobbyists who raise “bundles” of checks from many people.”

    While I am sure this legislation was worthy, it is the sort of inside baseball type issue that’s easy to find some sort of bipartisan help on. Most people outside of Washington don’t care very much as it does not directly effect them. The opposition is likely to be the old guard pols and lobbyists. Take an issue that really touches on important things in people’s lives, where there is genuine, heartfelt disagreement on, that approach is not verueffective.

  3. Obama as president and figure-head, Al Gore as vice-president.

  4. Seeing as Hillary has a pretty significant image as an abrasive, harsh bitch, Obama is taking the non-abrasive tack as a way of differentiating himself. I don’t think it will bring him victory over her but it makes sense.

    Primary voters, generally being partisans, want to hear us-vs-them.

  5. A new Zogby poll out this month with a 1% margin of error shows 50% of likely voters will not vote for Hillary under any conditions. Obama is one of the least disliked candidates with 37% who said they would not vote for him under any conditions. It’s interesting with all the talk about women liking Hillary, the poll showed 17% of Democratic women would not vote for her under any circumstances. The percentage of Democratic women that would not vote for Obama is 11%, likewise for Edwards. The Hillary campaign is talking about attracting Republican women. They have a lot of work to do when the Zogby poll shows that 83% of Republican women will not vote for Hillary under any circumstances. What’s more, with all these new scandals coming out on Hillary, I suspect that her negative figures will continue to grow. I think Democrats need to dump her and switch to Obama if they want any chance of defeating the Republican in 2008. Republicans will turn out in droves to keep the cackling witch from returning to the White House.

  6. Republicans will turn out in droves to keep the cackling witch from returning to the White House.

    Maybe, maybe not. I’ll be honest here. If it’s Hillary vs Mitt or Rudy, I’ll vote Hillary. Does anyone really expect republicans to “turn out in droves” for either of those two?

  7. Political campaigns ceased a while ago being about who you’re voting for. Particularly in Presidential elections, far more people turn out because they’re voting against the other guy than turn out because they really like and support their own candidate.

  8. “If it’s Hillary vs Mitt or Rudy, I’ll vote Hillary. Does anyone really expect republicans to “turn out in droves” for either of those two?”

    Yes, just to vote against Hillary. I’ll vote Libertarian as I always do, but if the race is close in Texas, I’ll have to vote for any Republican who runs against her.

  9. Jake,

    Got a link to that Zogby poll?

    Bill Walsh

  10. None of the Republican candidates with the exception of Paul have any grounds on which to assert that they are preferable to Hillary. By any reasonable libertarian measure, the first Clinton Presidency was an idyllic utopia compared to Bush’s Presidency. Which President would Hillary be more like? Which President would any of the Republican candidates be more like?

    Sorry, but the fact that Bill Clinton wanted the top marginal tax rate to be a couple of percentage points higher than W does not trump 7 years of shitting on the Constitution.

    More to the point of this article: fuck bipartisanship. Obama’s gentle approach is where we eventually want to be, but FIRST there must be a reckoning. What is needed out of a candidate – in either major party, and any of the minor ones – is someone who will snarl like a rabid Wolverine and go after every remnant of the Bush administration and its mercenary allies and not let up for a single moment until every last one of them has been destroyed. Willie Stark has to walk up and scream “Gimme that MEAT AXE!” and attack, attack, attack – first rhetorically during the campaign, then with every resource available to the law once in office. We need a jeremiad followed by a war of vengeance.

  11. “Got a link to that Zogby poll?”

    It’s at newsmax.com. Unfortunately, Ron Paul has the highest negative ratings of Republicans at 47%.

  12. Obama is too thoughtful-seeming to appeal to a wider audience. Politics-as-theatre is a lot like professional wrestling. There are so many “decisive” battles that none of them are particularly decisive or memorable. But the next one might be. Obama’s subtlety and semblance of perspective cue the viewer: “I’m an undercard. Nothing memorable will happen while I’m in the ring. Go stand in the nacho line and wait for the heroes and heels (as your partisanship dictates) that will be here later.”

  13. “It makes me angry when folks feel they have no one working for them.”

    He would get angry if my fondest dreams of government came true? Oh, wait, he’s not talking about the lack of politicians — he’s talking about the lack of Teh Right Kine TM politicians.

  14. Fluffy — coffee kicking in? You seem a little — you know — TENSE.

  15. By any reasonable libertarian measure, the first Clinton Presidency was an idyllic utopia compared to Bush’s Presidency.

    Yeah, its a shame Bill can’t run again.

  16. I’ve always liked Obama. Really, part of it is probably just me identifying with him as a black guy. But although Hillary would be better than the status quo, I don’t really find her that appealing a candidate. I like Ron Paul a lot better.

    BTW, if Joe Klein’s depiction of John Edwards in “Politics Lost” is accurate, Edwards should never be elected.

  17. Obama’s gentle approach is where we eventually want to be, but FIRST there must be a reckoning. What is needed out of a candidate – in either major party, and any of the minor ones – is someone who will snarl like a rabid Wolverine and go after every remnant of the Bush administration and its mercenary allies and not let up for a single moment until every last one of them has been destroyed.

    Unfortunately the alternative to Obama is Clinton. If I thought she might go after Bush’s policies, and therefore be too busy to cause further harm, well then… But I think she’ll incorporate everything Bush has done and turn it to her ends. In four years she’ll make Bush look like an amateur.

  18. Yes, I get a little too worked up.

    But it’s cathartic.

    We can do it cold and clinical-like if you want, and I promise not to yell about a meat axe any more.

    Just bring back the special prosecutor law and put one special prosecutor each on the following cases:

    1. Renditions.

    2. Iraq war contracting fraud and abuse.

    3. False statements to Congress by Justice Department personnel [including former personnel].

    4. Torture.

    5. Wiretapping.

    6. Abu Ghraib, and any attempt to limit previous investigations of Abu Ghraib.

    7. Deliberately false testimony to Congress about the anticipated costs of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit.

    8. Preferential treatment shown to Blackwater by the State Department.

    9. Disappearing small arms in the procurement system for Iraqi security forces.

    I think 9 special prosecutors would be a good start. We’ll probably need more as we go along, but we have to start somewhere.

    And promise to follow the letter of the law and not some Cheneyite reinterpretation of how the power of the executive trumps the written law. And promise to not stop these investigations or limit prosecutions due to the fact that a change of administration makes it “water under the bridge”.

    Do these things, and I promise to switch to a decaffeinated brand. If Obama will promise to do these things, I promise to not give him a hard time if his rhetorical style is all Rainbow Brite.

  19. “Yes, just to vote against Hillary. I’ll vote Libertarian as I always do, but if the race is close in Texas, I’ll have to vote for any Republican who runs against her”

    Why? I don’t like her but I don’t see as being any different than the republican front runners.

  20. I don’t see as being any different than the republican front runners.

    So who would I rather my politicians pretend to be?

    Not socialists.

    We can work on the rest later. Let’s take care of the dangerous shit first, okay?

  21. Fluffy — FWIW, I actually enjoyed your very tense comment. But, then I felt bad about what seems close to schadenfrade (sp?) — but, hey, if you want to risk busting an artery with apoplexy over the Bush Excesses TM coupled with large doses of caffeine, it’s your life. No nanny-statism here — you want to risk your life raging against the 12th worst president, give or take a few, it’s your call, and we’ll just kick back and soak up the cathartic anger.

  22. “Why aren’t Democrats interested in a president who goes beyond partisanship?”

    Stupidest thing ever written on this website. Obama beyond partisanship? Yeah, ok, whatever.

  23. Just ridiculous…The media in this country as well as this article are completely absurd. I would love to live in a land of rational discorse where we rationally discuss ideas but the last 7 years of Bush have been completely insane…it is sickening the way the media treats people who get angry about the abuses of the Bush Administration…like they are crazy or on the lunatic fringe. IF YOU ARE NOT ANGRY ABOUT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION YOU CANNOT GET ANGRY ABOUT ANYTHING! Obama has been a tremendous disappointment because if the past 7 years aren’t enough to get you passionate in response than screw you…

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