Why am I picking on Obama? Because We Need Him.
by Matt Stoller, Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 03:54:00 PM EST
Let me say this - I don't think that George Bush is a bad man. I think he loves his country. I don't think this administration is full of stupid people - I think there are a lot of smart folks in there. The problem isn't that their philosophy isn't working the way it's supposed to - it's that it is. It's that it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do. - Senator Obama's stump speech
I got a bunch of flack for writing negatively about Barack Obama. One of his staffers, a very nice guy, called me to let me know that he vehemently disagreed with my post, and pointed out an error that I have subsequently corrected. Scott Shields thinks I was wrong, too. So let me explain myself.
Peter Dauo wrote an awesomely insightful piece called THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power. In it, he analyzed the power structure of the top-down media, the netroots, and the political establishment. At the time he wrote the essay, there seemed to be an opportunity to showcase Bush as a failed President in the wake of Katrina. When you think about it, the fact that Bush hasn't been sunk for allowing a major American port city to be destroyed on his watch, is remarkable. In going back over Peter's essay, what struck me is how it seemed at the time inevitable that Bush would be known for Katrina. Today, that idea seems musty, and kind of quaint.
But it shouldn't be a surprise to us that this President keeps bouncing back. What Dauo shows is that the conventional wisdom machine is structurally weighted against us, and while the netroots are hardy, we aren't nearly powerful enough to affect the David Gergen's or the Broder's of the world all by ourselves. Changing the conventional wisdom requires the cooperation and unity of the Democratic Party leadership, combined with an aggressive and much more intelligent and effective netroots to target media figures who are adament right-wingers (such as Brian Williams, who I've been told is a freeper and Rush Limbaugh-fan). It requires Nancy Pelosi pushing back at reporters, which she does, Harry Reid's pugnacity, and Jay Rockefeller's stolid resistance to being rolled. It requires calls for impeachment from members who are in blue districts. We are starting to see a different Democratic Party, but the Clintonian 'let's compromise with the other side' attitude is still a powerful undertow. Witness Ed Kilgore, who I like very much, suggest that Americans will elect candidates who espouse competence on policy issues rather than partisanship (was he not watching 2000, 2002, or 2004?)
Josh Marshall and Mark Schmitt each predicted that the Social Security failure would haunt Bush, and crack Republican power. That didn't happen. I heard that the filibuster failure would cripple Frist. Nope. Delay's scandal would cause the House to descend into a 'Lord of Flies' style chamber. No. Lying to bring us to war, that would surely crumble his support. Not really. No weapons of mass destruction, come on, that's nuts, the American people wouldn't shrug that off. They did. Bribery in the prescription drug benefit. Eh, boring. The list is practically endless. In fact, at various points, liberal netroots-savvy experienced pundits have predicted that Bush and the right-wing's power was at a critical turning point, and would crack any second now. Reporters are really mad, they'd say, and will go after the President. But it just hasn't happened.
Why not? Many reasons. Go back to Peter's report, and read it. Powerful actors, like the top-down media, will not attack the President unless they think he's weak. But to make the case that he is weak, he must be treated with contempt, and that cannot happen when party leaders like Barack Obama simply refuse to act creatively and risk driving up their disapproval ratings. I ask, for instance, why in speeches is Obama saying that Bush is not a bad man? Why is he saying that Bush loves his country? How does that help us make the case that Bush is a liar and a fraud? It doesn't. It in fact undercuts our case, and the fact is, we are right and he is wrong, and it is important that our case base be made. I know I'm going to get pushback in the comments, but let me ask you this. What in the world is the difference between Tweety saying that "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs" and Senator Obama saying that Bush isn't a bad man and loves his country? They are both echoes of the same conventional wisdom line that those who dislike the President are bitter angry vicious crazy partisans consumed by hatred, instead of Nobel prize winning scientists and professionals fed up with the systematic looting of the country by a gang of right-wing white collar criminals. Politics is about character, and George W. Bush and the right-wingers who support him simply don't have much. It's that, and not policy differences, that separates the two parties.
Senator Obama and I agree on something very important. The American people deserve good government. The problem is, there will not be good government, government by principle and character, until we look George W. Bush and the extreme right in the eye and say 'we cannot and will not do business with you'. This is not a partisan issue. You can do business with some Republicans, like John Sununu and Lincoln Chafee, and yes, John McCain. Even Tom Coburn will vote against pork, though he's crazy. To take an issue close to Obama's heart, consider genocide in Darfur, which a collection of right-wing Senators and progressives sought to stop by pushing through the Darfur Accountability Act. Bush simply undercut it. So it's not that he is a good man or a bad man, but that you cannot get anything done with him or his people in charge. You cannot do business with George W. Bush and his ilk, and talking him up undercuts the goal that all of us, including Senator Obama, seek. He is a figure to be demonized, because while it is not Bush alone it is Bush's fraud-riddled politics that are at the core of what is ruining what Senator Obama and all progressives want.