A weekly candidate supporter diary for MyDD
It is clear that the Democratic party membership is just about evenly divided, at this time, on their choice for a nominee for the 2008 presidential campaign. And it is not necessarily a division over policy, with the notable exception of the war in Iraq and US foreign policy in general, which has been discussed elsewhere. The domestic policy distinctions between the two remaining candidates continue to be parsed and analysed ad infinitum, which is fair enough, but the essence of the differences between the two emerging constituencies do not hinge on 'mandated' vs 'unmandated' health care or Social Security donut holes. There is a much more fundamental difference in their beliefs and aspirations and it forms the basis for the division which has emerged in this primary election and is reflected in the appeal, and values, of the respective candidacies.
Politics is the art of the possible.
Otto Von Bismarck, remark, Aug. 11, 1867
Otto von Bismark was a consummate politician, whatever one's views on the collateral benefits or damage of a united and nationalistic Germany, his life's work, on the 20th Century. The quotation cited is the political equivalent of Woody Allen's 'Ninety percent of life is just showing up', hard to argue with and betraying subtler meanings with time and practice. It has become a touchstone for reality-based leaders and their supporters in their quest to shift the boundaries of legislation, policy and jurisprudence. And also a justification for proposing limited objectives, accepting partial gains, and satisfaction with incremental victories. Why wouldn't we strive for single-payer health care that dispensed with two layers of private sector, profit-oriented service providers? Just ask Otto. But if politics is the art of the possible the processes with which we conduct our government, both legal and de facto, are the limits within which this art is practised.
When Hillary talks about change she is talking about authoring and passing new, and arguably important, legislation, and she constantly emphasises her experience with the existing established conventions of government as a strong argument in her favour, but she is clearly referencing the art of politics as we are familiar with it:
'So I am offering 35 years of experience making change and the results to show for it....if you want to know what change each of us will bring about, look at what we've done.'
Senator Hillary Clinton - The Democratic Debate in New Hampshire NYT 5 Jan 08
When Obama talks about change he is talking about re-engineering the context in which this process occurs, not the constitutional aspects, which he understands very well, but the accretions of convention which have surrounded, and often obstruct, the will of the people in electing their leaders, understanding the workings of government, gaining access to information and getting exposure to the decision making which takes place on their behalf:
'Look, I think it's easier to be cynical and just say, "You know what, it can't be done because Washington's designed to resist change." But in fact there have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better, and I think we're in one of those moments right now. I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes -- not incremental changes, not small changes.'
Senator Barack Obama - The Democratic Debate in New Hampshire NYT 5 Jan 08
Many of these conventions have nothing to do with the constitutional process but are yet strongly limiting factors which constrain the 'art of the possible.' Many of them have more to do with money, and it's step-child, influence, than with the processes of representative democracy as defined by our laws.
There is a wealth of evidence in Senator Obama's proposals to suggest that altering this de facto blueprint of our political machinery informs his candidacy and it is driven by an intention to effect process-oriented change, in office, rather than merely implement a laundry list of specific policies. His attitudes toward Federally registered lobbyist contributions and public campaign finance, for example, have become apparent as his campaign has unfolded. Certainly he has a portfolio of specific policies, which have been discussed at length and compared, sometimes unfavourably among progressives, to those of his opponents. But even in these there is evidence that he assumes that 'process' is the key to their success or failure.
This series of diaries attempts to explore these aspects of his candidacy and will focus initially on how this is reflected in his campaign to date, rather than proposals for his administration, to illustrate how this paradigm has informed his campaign in ways for which the evidence is already before us.
This first diary deals with how his campaign has established outreach to supporters and how he has attempted to create the huge constituency he will require to gain the Democratic party nomination for president.