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Archive for Thursday, June 5, 2008

Obama must reverse retreat posture

June 5, 2008

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— From Iowa in January through South Dakota and Montana in June, Barack Obama has enjoyed one of the great rides in American political history, breaking precedents and setting records along the way. It has been an extraordinary journey, magnified, not diminished, by the gritty, resilient performance of his main rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. On that journey he has given Americans the gift of a new and hopeful chapter in our troubled racial history.

The two props that made it possible for this freshman senator, with far more meager governmental credentials than most of the other dozen candidates running in both parties this year, to capture the Democratic nomination, are clear.

One is his oratory. He was by far the most compelling speaker. He capsulized his message of hope and change brilliantly at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines last fall, and recycled that speech all the way to the end. And the other is his fundraising and voter-turnout organization that dazzled his rivals with its discipline and efficiency, despite going into this with minimal experience.

None of the establishment Democrats, not even Clinton, who had all the advantages going in, could match him in these regards, and the results showed.

But for all those achievements and all those advantages, Obama limped into the nomination as a vulnerable and somewhat diminished politician. After winning 11 primaries and caucuses in a row, his magic touch seemed to depart him. He lost the knack of winning the heart of the Democratic coalition, working families that look for help in meeting the economic challenges of their everyday lives. White, Hispanic, middle-aged or older, they had strong associations with Clinton and many questions about the commitments that lay behind Obama's sweeping, reformist generalizations.

What Democrats are just beginning to figure out is that John McCain is positioned to compete with Obama for the votes of the many Americans who are eager to put the hyper-partisanship of the past eight years behind them and witness a Washington that finally begins to address the nation's challenges.

But anyone who is realistic must recognize that forging fresh agreements in Congress and the interest-group-dominated capital will take an exceptionally strong president. Since early March, Obama has not looked like that president. Once his streak stopped, his only significant win came in North Carolina. He lost Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and, on Tuesday, South Dakota - states where he didn't get that working-class vote.

In the last weeks, Obama visibly retreated. It is rare that you see a presidential candidate - let alone a man headed for nomination - back off from the contest to the extent Obama did. Instead of the frenetic schedule he had kept for months, Obama made a minimum of appearances in the final states, as if relying on his momentum to carry him through. That he lost all but one of the major tests was no surprise.

But the retreat spread further. Over the last two months, Obama has in slow stages backed away from his 20-year association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, first criticizing some of his statements but clinging to their friendship, then strongly condemning those words and finally severing his ties to Wright's former church.

The net result has been to smudge one of the main clues voters had been given to Obama's fundamental values and beliefs, and to create a new aura of mystery about this man.

You could even characterize as a retreat the clever strategy the Obama forces devised for last weekend's meeting of the Democratic National Committee's rules committee, a strategy that closed down Clinton's last hopes of overcoming him. Obama could have stood on principle. He was in full compliance with the rules that were written in advance of the campaign, and he could have insisted that she also play by the rules. Instead, he backed off and gave her a meaningless gift of delegate votes.

Obama still has great gifts and substantial assets. So the first imperative at this point is to stop retreating and regain the initiative - starting with a clear assertion of his absolute right to choose his own running mate and not be pressured into a decision by the Clintons or their friends.

Like Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention in 1980, having the wisdom to reject the plot to install Jerry Ford as his vice president, this is the big-time decision that could define a leader and lead to a victory.

David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

Senator Obama's strategists have tentatively won the nomination for him by very cleverly running out the clock. It's no coincidence that his slide coincided with the revelations about Jeremiah Wright, "Black Liberation Theology," and the Obamas' very close ties with Wright for over 20 years. Americans will also be finding out much more about how extremely out of touch with mainstream America are the radical left-wing Chicago political circles in which Senator Obama moved intimately in order to get his political career started. One of his main fundraisers and political intimates, Tony Rezko, with whom the Obamas also did real estate deals, has just been convicted in Chicago on 19 criminal charges of corruption and extortion that included fraud, money laundering, and bribery, causing Senator Obama to have to say again that his associations with Rezko were a "mistake," and, essentially, as with Wright, "He's not the same Tony Rezko I knew." Stay tuned for more.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Obama backed off primarily because of the non-issues that cato lists above, and the desire to avoid an overly negative campaign with Clinton, which could have damaged the chances of either in the general election.Now that he has the nomination secured, he can again begin to campaign hard. McCain has very high negatives and was a relatively weak and uninspiring candidate among Republicans. Obama may have some problems with certain demographics, but no more so than McCain.

Speakout 6 years, 6 months ago

I watched CNN Tuesday night to see and hear the speeches by McCain, Clinton and Obama. I was so unimpressed by McCain that I can't seem to get it through my head that the Repups have nominated him. Others in the party had a much clearer point of view and ability to say it. I was clearly impressed with Clinton and Obama as speakers, but Clinton's aura disturbs me very much. I have often agreed that we need a change in Washington and new people in our government. It is time to throw out the old, tired and ineffective people and get some new, spirited and competent ones. Lets not vote for someone because she is a woman, but because she would be a good leader regardless or because he, she, it is a Christian or a certain kind of Christian. Leadership is what makes a good president who has the ability to think, be creative and have the ability to communicate ideas. One who can "negotiate without fear and never fears to negotiate."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

"Volkischer Beobachter, the fact that you apparently think that socialized medicine is in anyone's best interest demonstrates that you're a lost cause. "No need to have socialized medicine in order to have universal care. But socialized care can still be better than what exists here, if you measure it by the percentage of the population to whom care is available, and the overall cost in providing it. Great Britain is a good example of that type of system.Or we could adopt a system similar to Canada's, which is not socialized, despite the erroneous claims to the contrary.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

Volkischer Beobachter, the fact that you apparently think that socialized medicine is in anyone's best interest demonstrates that you're a lost cause. Whether you realize it or not, you and others like you want to cripple the best health care system in the world. Can it be improved? Sure. Should it be crippled by socialists who want government to deprive its citizens of the freedom to seek health care as they choose? That, VB, will be up to the voters to decide this fall, and many of us trust that they will choose the path of freedom.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

Oracle, VB, and Bozo, are you aware of the number of able-bodied people in the United States who are perfectly able to afford the purchase of health insurance but choose not to do so? If not, I have a homework assignment for each of you. Please find the answer to this (from a neutral source, please) and report back. Then I would like each of you to explain to those of us who don't need the psychological counseling that you do why the taxpayers of this country should have to provide them with a free ride.And, Oracle, I suggest that you read the WHO report that you cited. Of the five major reasons for a lower life expectancy in the United States, not one of them mentions our health care delivery system. Of the five, four reasons are specifically identified as applying to all citizens. They are HIV and AIDS, tobacco use, heart disease and violence leading to homicides. The causes of each of these, respectively, are unprotected sex, smoking, McDonalds and the misuse of firearms and other weapons. These sad facts, which have nothing to do with our system of health care delivery, are the product of the gradual erosion of personal responsibility in this country. In short, the life expectancy figures would actually be lower if we didn't have the best health care delivery system in the world. And, Bozo, if you don't believe me, just ask all of those good Canadian citizens you mention who routinely cross over the border to receive the health care that they are only able to get here.

jmadison 6 years, 6 months ago

How dare anyone question the sainted judgments of Sen Obama.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 6 months ago

Bozo, if the issues to which I referred are "non-issues," why did Senator Obama and his people, in your words, "back off?" Why did his campaign begin to take a u-turn shortly after the Wright controversy began to surface? These matters may be "non-issues" for you and you may wish that they were for everyone else, but they're not - they're big issues - deal killers - for many Americans who would have voted for Senator Clinton but will not vote for Senator Obama in large part because of concerns like these, and other of his past statements and associations both known and yet to surface. In short, it's very evident that unless the Dems experience a political epiphany and ultimately nominate Senator Clinton, they, and their primary system that essentially has the inmates running the asylum, will have blown it again.

Oracle_of_Rhode 6 years, 6 months ago

If you think we have the best health care system in the world, then you probably need to go seek some of it -- in the form of psychological counseling. The fact that we have shorter life spans than 23 other nations, the majority with so-called "socialized" medicine, should say it all to those who are not blinded by ideology or mental illness.Accroding to the World Health Organization, we rank 24th in life expectancy. http://www.who.int/inf-pr-2000/en/pr2000-life.htmlThe United States rated 24th under this system, or an average of 70.0 years of healthy life for babies born in 1999. The WHO also breaks down life expectancy by sex for each country. Under this system, U.S. female babies could expect 72.6 years of healthy life, versus just 67.5 years for male babies."The position of the United States is one of the major surprises of the new rating system," says Christopher Murray, M.D., Ph.D., Director of WHO's Global Programme on Evidence for Health Policy. "Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you're an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries."(The top 10 nations are Australia, 73.2 years; France, 73.1; Sweden, 73.0; Spain, 72.8; Italy, 72.7; Greece, 72.5; Switzerland, 72.5; Monaco, 72.4; and Andorra, 72.3)

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