It has been an interesting week to listen to the great sound of teeth gnashing across America as the future Obama Administration starts to form, and too many people feel that they aren’t getting the political orthodoxy in the way that they want it. The shock that Obama might be willing to forgive Lieberman, the astonishment that he would want to bring in a DLC’er like Rahm Emanuel. Each twist and turn of the current political soap opera seems to elicit groans and screams from various wings of the Democratic faithful.
To those who can’t understand why Barack would make these choices, I would say read his own words. He has a lot of them out there, from long before this campaign started, or was won.
In addition to two books, countless speeches, and the congressional record, we have blog postings. He kept podcasts on his congressional site, and a very well done post on DailyKos. His posting is from 2005, and talks about the outrage and not filibustering the Roberts nomination. Specifically, he was being taken to task for not showing sufficient outrage at Democrats for voting for the Roberts nomination. He responds:
How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation’s fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist’s threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?
I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.
Personally, I was outraged at the Roberts nomination and the results thereof. But from there we had no choice but to move forward. The filibuster didn’t have support in Votes, nor support in public. The way to win that type of fight was pretty clear to Obama:
There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don’t believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position.
There will always be some common ground on certain issues, and where this exists, we need to be willing to take advantage of it. Even if we have diametrically opposing views on everything else. But to do this, one of those sides has to be willing to accommodate, and open the conversation. We know pretty clearly that the Republicans simply aren’t ready or aren’t willing to do that. That’s why they are out of power. So that burden falls to us. We have to do the hard work to bring some of them into the conversation, give them a voice, and convince them to vote along side the Democrats. Hell, even within the Democrats there are enough differing opinions where this kind of outreach will be needed for virtually every vote. We are our own best opposition after all.
As such, we will always be doing the heavy lifting. We will have to work harder to make our points, to explain our positions, to achieve our goals. The Republicans come from a tight, largely single point of view, the Democrats are always more diverse. They are inherently cohesive, we are not. We have to work at it. Obama continues:
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job. After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart. It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that’s our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.
This should sound very familiar, Barack wrote this before his campaign began, and kept this up throughout the campaign. His positions during the call for a "gas tax holiday" were not the easy, popular soundbites. His reaction to the Fiscal crisis was not the showy headline grabber. His response to Race and class and conflict each time required thought. Which frankly was not something that has been all too common in American politics, but it worked. The people responded to being treated like adults positively, and showed their appreciation to this with votes.
And this demonstrates one of his overriding goals for the campaign, and in his governing style:
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It’s a matter of actually having faith in the American people’s ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.
This isn’t just some "word salad" like that which Sara Palin has been pelting the American public with since her time in the spotlight. This is core to what Barack Obama thinks, and what drives him. He repeats this in his book The Audacity of Hope, and echoes it in his speeches. Its very consistent. We have a real advantage in our new president in that he has given us all a great deal of writing, with his Books, Senate Blog, and speeches, that are more than just happy platitudes and demagoguery, but are valuable insights into how he thinks and why he acts the way he does. We should take advantage of this.
We have forgotten what it was like to have someone who is working this hard to telegraph their actions ahead of time. The degree of consistency in the writings that we have available should take quite a bit of the surprise out of what is happening now. Barack has shown that he is paying more than just lip service into the concept of building greater majorities than just by party, or by philosophy. His outreach toward, and frankly wins in, places like North Carolina and Indiana should offer some proof that this isn’t all crazy.
I’m still going to roll my eyes at forgiving Joe Lieberman, and I will view bringing in hawks and DLC’ers like Rahm with suspicion, but I will try to understand them. I am certain that we will see far more actions like this than less. And if President Obama runs the Government as well as he ran his campaign, I keep cutting him more slack.
Hopefully he will keep writing so we all can continue to understand what he thinks and why.