Updated, mid-morning, Saturday. Corrected Saturday night, thanks to Savage Tan
Over the last few weeks a lot of folks on the left side of the bandwidth have developed various forms of an Obama Problem. I'm one of them. My Obama problem is this: I'm suspicious of Barack Obama's strategy of talking and charming his way to the Presidency.
Susie Madrak has posted a long excerpt from a post by Lambert at Corrente, who has a serious Obama Problem of his own. In his post Lambert finds signs in a post by Barack Obama himself----yes, this is a post about a post about a post about a post, which is ludicrously meta of me. I'm sorry. It gets worse, though, because Obama's post itself was cross-posted at Kos.---that Obama is "delusional" about who and what the Republicans are and how to deal with them.
One of Susie's commenters, memyself, argues that Lambert seriously misread Obama's post and, while I generally agree with Lambert and obviously share some of his suspicions about the politics that lie behind Obama's rhetoric, I think the commenter's right in this case.
I left my own comment, which I will now quote here, making this a post about comment on a comment on a post about a post about a post. My head's beginning to ache. Here's me:
I’m as suspicious of Obama’s strategy of talking his way to the Presidency as Lambert is, partly because I don’t believe you can talk your way into the job. Reagan, the Great Communicator, appeared to, but he had a ferocious Republican party machine working to back up his talk. But I do think that Obama is trying to do the same thing Reagan did, make his partisan agenda sound like its opposite. Reagan could sound like the FDR Democrat he once was even as he spoke about dismantling the New Deal. Obama’s trying to sound, not like a Reagan Republican, but at least not hostile to Reagan Republicans, even as he plans to undo some of Reagan’s legacy. I’m not comfortable with his rhetoric because there isn’t a solid, longstanding record of anti-Reaganism behind it. No one who’d watched Reagan govern California could doubt he was a conservative Republican.
But part of Obama’s strategy is to talk to Republicans, and by Republicans he doesn’t mean the ones in Washington. He means voters who are unhappy with where their party’s taken the country. He’s offering rank and file Republicans somewhere to go…the Democratic Party.
Clearly I like Obama's rhetorical strategy as a rhetorical strategy. I'm not as convinced as Ezra Klein that it could work as governing strategy. And Ezra isn't all that convinced, mostly he's just impressed. And as I said I'm suspicious of the politics that the rhetoric is running interference for.
But as a campaign strategy is is both smart and necessary.
I liked John Kerry. I think he'd have made a fine President. I don't think he was as weak a candidate as a lot of people do. He made some obvious mistakes. He should never have appeared in public dressed in anything but a Presidential-looking blue suit, but the goose hunting, the sailboarding, these were minor flubs compared to his slow response to the Swift Boaters. His real mistake, though, was running a partisan campaign.
By that I mean that his strategy for winning was to get more Democrats to the polls than Bush could get Republicans there. Then he took it for granted that he would carry all the Blue states from 2000 and focused most of his energy on Ohio and Florida. It almost worked. Maybe it did work. We might never know just how many votes the Bush Leaguers stole in Ohio and Florida.
The trouble is that while national voter registration is trending Democratic (especially among younger voters, and it was the younger voters who gave Obama Iowa, I think), there still are not that many more Democrats than Republicans. And while Independents are also leaning more towards the Democrats these days, there aren't enough Independents whose votes aren't fickle---among Independents are people who make up their minds from election to election based on the candidates and their policies and there are people who never make up their minds, they just vote however their gut or heart or neighbor or Oprah is telling them to vote when they wake up on Election Day.
To win, really win---Kerry would have squeaked into office---to gain a decisive victory the Democratic candidate has to get Republican votes.
To govern, the next Democratic President needs a substantial Democratic majority in Congress. To achieve that, Democratic candidates will have to win in what have been Red and Purple districts, and to win there they will need to get Republican votes.
This may sound like what the Democratic Leadership Council has been up to for the last couple of decades. But it ain't necessarily so.
The DLC's strategy has been to go after Republican votes as if they're all the votes that matter, as if the Progressive vote can be safely done without and as if the Democratic vote can be taken for granted and even, fractionally, done without as long as enough conservative Independents and moderate Republicans can be won over.
This, by the way, is not what Hillary Clinton has been doing. She's been running a fairly partisan campaign.
Obama has been the one who has been sounding like an old DLC type lately, putting Social Security back on the chopping block and offering the least progressive health care plan.
But suppose his rhetorical strategy is not an admission that he's not as liberal as all that but is what it's appeared to be from the beginning, a strategy---a way to talk to Republican voters.
Here in Western Blogtopia (TM Skippy) we're in the habit of using the word Republican to mean the Right Wing governing elite in DC and their minions in the state party organizations exclusively. When we expand it to be more inclusive we usually mean the radical Right Wing extremists of various types and the corporate movers and shakers who make up the base of the national Republican party. We rarely use it to mean all the people who are registered Republican or who traditionally vote Republican.
And some of those people are embarrassed and appalled by what has happened to their Party and would love to have somewhere else to take their votes. So far Ron Paul is making them the best offer.
On top of this, it must be remembered that the evangelical vote is not naturally Republican. The Progressive movement of the early 20th Century had a large Christian constituency. William Jennings Bryan wasn't at the Scopes Monkey Trial because he was a corporate elitist. In voting their "values" they've been voting against their interests for a long enough time that the effect of that mistake has begun to tell and it's appearing that they've begun to notice how they've been hurting themselves.
And there's even this. The Southern White Male vote is not naturally Republican either. The South wasn't solidly Democratic for two-thirds of the 20th Century because it hated big government. Southern White Males have been voting their prejudices over their interests for a long time too.
The trick to winning over these Republicans isn't adopting their values or prejudices; it's talking them around their values and prejudices in order to get them to a point where they can see where their real interests lie.
The trick then is getting them to listen.
And maybe Obama has hit upon the trick.
My Obama problem then is that I'm still not sure which he's up to. If he's trying to make himself over into a Reagan-lite, forget him.
But what if what he's doing is a kind of reverse Reaganism...
Reagan talked people around their interests to vote their prejudices and "values" and created a lot of Reagan Democrats.
Perhaps what we're seeing from the junior Senator from Illinois is the beginning of the creation of a whole lot of Obama Republicans.
A post about a post about a post about post becomes a post about a post about post about a post about a post about a post update: At Corrente, Lambert clarifies a point I muddled and offers a solution for his Obama problem---Two Simple Litmus Tests for Obama.