Monday, November 12, 2007

Barry Obama's Bad Judgement

Two quotes on two recent screw-ups. First, Paul Krugman:

The great Social Security debate of 2005 was a seminal moment for American progressives. Conventional fiscal wisdom in the Beltway was that the aging population is THE big problem — when the truth is that grim long-run fiscal projections mainly reflect projected health care costs. And conventional political wisdom was that the Bush administration’s fear-mongering on the issue would work.

But a determined defense by progressives in the media, on the blogs, and in Congress beat back one spurious argument after another, while the American people made it clear that they really want a program that guarantees a basic retirement income that doesn’t depend on the Dow. And Social Security survived.

All of which makes it just incredible that Barack Obama would make obeisance to fashionable but misguided Social Security crisis-mongering a centerpiece of his campaign. It’s a bad omen; it suggests that he is still, despite all that has happened, desperately seeking approval from Beltway insiders.

Substantively, this is wrong — and the tone-deafness is hard to understand. Tim Russert doesn’t vote in Iowa.

Why, Barack, Why? - Paul Krugman

Long before Social Security's problems become problems, the country needs to deal with health insurance, domestic security against disasters (natural and man-made), environment change, regressive tax burdens, gay rights, the imploding financial markets, bankruptcy reform, and deteriorating foreign affairs. I'm sure I've left out a few dozen issues far more pressing than "solving" a problem that has a better than 50% chance of never materializing.

Krugman has it right, though I think it's a bigger problem than wanting to please inside the beltway people. It is a sign of inexperience and bad judgement as such. There are topics you don't bring up because of the damage they will do to you and to your constituents. There are things that you should not use to distinguish yourself from your competitotrs, and this is one of them. In the current political environment, you have to be a party wo/man first and foremost, or you will both weaken your party as a whole and you will get picked off. You're not in Chicago anymore, Barry. Which leads to the second quote:

Last week I noticed locals inviting people to sign up for a November 10th bus trip to Iowa. It was a puzzling idea, since the University of Illinois football team wasn't playing in Iowa yesterday (they actually played at number one ranked Ohio State, a game in which they somehow won). Someone told me it was "some kind of a political trip," so I called around to a couple of Democratic offices and found out it was a Barack Obama supporter trip to the Jefferson Jackson fundraiser in Des Moines. The busses were coming from Chicago, and I live on I-80, so they were hoping to fill up seats on the way. I probably should have jumped on board, but the price was a little steep, and truthfully I'd rather hang with my kids than a bunch of Chicago political insiders.

So when the esteemed David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register declared Obama the winner in part for a speech that "inspired the crowd like no other," it was no suprise, really. Joe Biden called it what it was when he hit the stage, saying "Hello, Iowa" and then waving at the section of Veterans Memorial Auditorium packed with the Obama supporters and shouting, "Hello, Chicago!"

Iowa Candidates Dinner - Jeff Dinelli

Now, let's compare this to the news earlier this week that Clinton's campaign staff planted two people (I'm still not clear if it was two people at one event or different people at different events) in the audience to ask a question. Actually, it doesn't compare. Putting in a person who may or may not get asked a single question that anyone else in the audience can follow-up on or ignore as desired is an ordinary way to get a specific talking point out there. The person asking is not one of the crowd, which taints the question, but the question itself needs to be pretty good, or it will sink. Obvious softballs stand out. To forestall complaints, I intensely dislike that HRC allowed this to happen (no, I don't buy that "staffers" did this without her knowledge), mostly because she doesn't need it. She is skilled enough as a speaker and legislator to get these topics into the conversation without relying on a plant.

The true comparison is with the entire fake FEMA press conference, where everyone in the room is in on the scam and the intent is to draw attention away from the elephant - in this case, Obama's inability to get Iowans to support him in the same numbers as HRC can do. It says that Obama does not trust the support he has drummed up in Iowa, so puts together some visual fakery to make it look to the cameras that Iowans have flocked to the hall to scream their love and support. Joe Biden's cheery, sarcastic shout-out exposed the scam for what it was. The people in the hall knew the fix was on, just like the FEMA staffers knew they were presenting fake news.

This also has to be placed in the context of the persistent rumors that Obama's campaign is the source of the worst smear attacks against other candidates, and his calculation to use an anti-gay gospel singer to open his appearances. In short, what is beginning to appear, despite the mountains of positive press (Click here for Kevin Drum's chart on the disproportionate positive news write ups Obama receives vs. all competitors) , is a campaign that is running out of steam and is enganged in pretty crude dirty campaigning.

Barack Obama is running to win the Democratic primaries. He is not running to be President. He is incoherent on policy, has only one vote of any significance where he varies from HRC (and even that is an assertion, not a vote), and is putting more energy into stage management than into demonstrating why he should be entrusted with the presidency. Most of all, he is basing his campaign on running against his own party. That may endear him to netroots bloviators like Markos, but it leaves long-time liberals like me cold.


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