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Category: 2008 U. S. Presidential Election

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Terms like “bipartisan” and even “post-partisan” were employed throughout the campaign and are being used now in criticism of the Obama administration that is taking shape.

The problem is that we have gotten used to the notion that bipartisanship involves people from two parties who happen to agree on an issue working together. Thus moderate Republicans and Democrats can get together on points on which they can agree, and that is regarded as “bipartisan.”

Trouble is, neither party has a very coherent ideology, and thus there are always issues on which people who already pretty nearly agree can get together. There is a virtue in ignoring unimportant labels in order to work together on common goals.

I honestly didn’t believe it during the campaign, but President-Elect Obama seems actually to have meant bipartisan. Not merely as in Republican and Democrat, but as in conservative, moderate, and liberal, as in people who actually disagree on substance having an input and a part in the process.

That’s much harder to do, and it involves reaching out to people with whom one disagrees. The complaint has been that Obama has done too much reaching to the center and the right hand side of the spectrum.

But it seems to me that the president-elect regards himself as a liberal, and thus any reaching out would involve reaching out to those on that side of the spectrum. He expects to set policy, as he has indicated in answers to the press, and to have this team carry it out. He will be listening, however, to a variety of voices.

This doesn’t involve merely adding a couple of Republicans of moderate persuasion to an otherwise Democratic cabinet. It involves putting people who disagree substantively in a position to be heard by the president.

I don’t know how this is going to work. If the president-elect is less of a leader than he thinks he is, the result could be disastrous. On the other hand, if he is capable of directing this group of leaders he has put together, which strikes me as a bit like herding cats, he could accomplish something quite extraordinary.

Only time with him in actual power will tell us what the result will be, but I would say that I am more optimistic today than when I cast my vote.

There are some issues on which the cabinet concerns me, particularly the Iraq war, torture, and certain constitutional issues in domestic counter-terrorism. I will continue to watch these issues, and to hope that Obama’s view, as expressed in the campaign, is one he can see through with the team he has assembled.

But overall, think there is much cause to hope this coming administration will be better than I expected.

Reflection after the Election

Reflection after the Election

Since I had decided long ago what my vote would be, and the man I thought the better (though not nearly perfect) candidate won, it was enjoyable for me to watch. I really don’t want to dwell on the details.

The greatest problem for President-Elect Barack Obama may not be any of the crises with which he will need to deal, but rather the huge number of hopes, some of them contradictory, which have been read into his person. His election is an historic accomplishment, but as he correctly pointed out in his victory speech, last night was not the change. Last night simply provided the opportunity to accomplish the change. The work starts now.

Any politician discovers that the promises of the campaign trail, even when sincerely meant, are very difficult to deliver. Actual government involves working with many people and it requires compromise. Compromise is, well, compromise. But in Obama’s case, many people have filled the words “hope” and “change” with their own dreams.

I disagree with those who say that Obama was undefined. He made enough policy proposals so that we can know what he wants as well or better than we can with other politicians. But by simply seeming bigger than the moment and than any one person to so many, he has the burden of much more than he actually tried to promise.

Senator John McCain, on the other hand, goes back to the senate. In 2000 I hoped he would be the Republican nominee and I would have voted for him. In 2008 he appeared to be the fractured candidate. I believe his greatest failure was in not running a campaign as his own person.

The urge to draw in the base of the Republican party conflicted with many of his own views and positions. One thing every political operative should know is that you have to put a message in your candidate’s mouth that your candidate can present successfully. John McCain never presented the attacks on Barack Obama in a convincing manner.

I’m not one who objects to negative campaigning simply because it is negative. Rather, a candidate needs to know positively why he is the best person for the job, and negatively why the other guy isn’t, and he needs to present both cases. Adding a conservative candidate to the ticket doesn’t necessarily bring all that candidate’s potential supporters to you, and it doesn’t guarantee you won’t lose any of yours.

The bottom line here is that almost any message, consistently presented, would be better than shifting message from day to day. McCain couldn’t decide how far to go with attacks because, I believe, his heart wasn’t in them.

I wonder how it would have worked for him to campaign as who he is while letting Sarah Palin campaign as who she is, while simply stating that he had chosen to broaden the ticket and that the Republican party was big enough for both of them. It would go against conventional wisdom, and I have no basis for saying it would work, but I wonder if it could be worse. Governor Palin sounded sincere in the attacks. I don’t particularly like her, even though I did at first, but she does have a voice and a natural audience.

In any case, I sincerely hope that McCain will now become part of a center oriented group in congress that will work with President-Elect Obama to give him an alternative to working solely with the left. McCain returned to the man of 2000 in his gracious acceptance speech. These speeches may not mean much, but I hope they do.

As always, I will pray for the leaders of our country, all of them, as they face many difficult problems.

Reflection before the Election

Reflection before the Election

I have been fascinated by politics for as long as I can remember. The first presidential campaign I recall thinking and talking about was in 1968 when I was 11 years old, though I had certainly read and talked about many. There was never any doubt that I would register to vote as soon as I was eligible and get involved.

My first political involvement was working for the 1976 campaign of Ronald Reagan. I’m not one of those Republicans for Obama, nor an Obamacon. In fact I have some difficulty understanding how conservatives decide to support Barack Obama. I support him because I have have become much less conservative, and the elements of conservatism that were important to me back then, especially fiscal conservatism, seem no longer to be of that much interest to Republicans and/or self-proclaimed conservatives. They talk, but they do not do.

Reagan’s 1980 campaign was a disappointment to me. I had already moved a bit to the left on social issues by that time, and Reagan was de-emphasizing his fiscal conservatism and proclaiming supply-side economics.

Barack Obama compared himself in a small way with Ronald Reagan early in the campaign and was criticized for it a great deal. It’s quite true that he is not Ronald Reagan. But there are some similarities in the campaigns and their progress. Many people, especially serious Republican operatives, could not understand us “Reagan Republicans” (I have never been a registered Democrat–I went from Republican to Independent). We had an incumbent president, and surely nobody would throw away that advantage over a newcomer. Reagan was new, unpredictable, dangerous in foreign policy. We couldn’t be sure what he would do.

Gerald Ford, on the other hand, was a known quantity, stable, certain, reliable, a “real” Republican. How could one not want him to continue in the presidency? He represented safety and reliability, things that conservatives (and Republicans in general) should surely want. These were folks, of course, who also thought that Nelson Rockefeller was just fine as well. It was establishment Republicanism.

All us young pups with fire in our eyes didn’t see things that way. You see, we thought Gerald Ford was doing a bad job, that things were not getting better. We didn’t think sticking with him was the same thing. If you’re on a river boat headed for the falls, the guy who’s steering straight for disaster just doesn’t appear all that safe! Some other, less experienced candidate, but one who at least intends to turn around seems much safer.

I also heard some of the same shock from people at Reagan’s victories, both his near success in 1976 and his victory in 1980. He was just an empty shell, they said, a good speaker, but he really didn’t understand what he was saying and doing. There was an effort both to portray him as untested and inadequately defined, and at the same time as espousing dangerous policies.

I see the same thing going on in this election. I am not one to trust the polls. I also don’t think people generally pay enough attention to the margin of error and the possibility of a poll simply being wild. Thus I’m not proclaiming victory. But I do know that many people right now are still quite stunned that so many people support Barack Obama. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Experience is an argument you use against someone you have already decided to oppose.

Obama can be both “dangerously liberal” and “very much an unknown” at the same time. That’s the nature of the political debate. But I think those who pay attention can know pretty much who Barack Obama is and what his policies will generally be. He’s a liberal senator. He has made fairly liberal proposals, and he will, I assume, be a liberal president.

That doesn’t mean he won’t reach across the aisle to build consensus. I think simply being in the presidency requires that to some extent. But don’t expect a sudden conversion into another person. He’s not an empty suit. He has fairly strong positions, and he’s likely to pursue those.

I’ll just add one more thing. I have learned during this election just how much further from the social conservatives and the family values folks I actually am. I’m afraid I share very little of their agenda, and in general I don’t find the most vocal “family values” groups to be all that pro-family. It’s not that I have just now changed. It’s just that I paid more attention to them during the election season and found very little to cheer.

Tomorrow we will vote. I urge you, no matter who you support, to get out and vote. It is a right, a privilege, but even more a responsibility. Don’t sit back and refuse to engage. There are significant differences in what will happen depending on the president and congress we elect. There will also be many, many substantial issues in state and local elections as well. Don’t be a shirker!

In Which God do we Trust?

In Which God do we Trust?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m never one to shrink from producing a thousand words–or ten! I wonder what a video is worth? A certain number of words per frame?

In any case, I wrote earlier about God being mocked in the campaign and I even commented on how “In God We Trust” on our money must be some sort of national joke, considering that we don’t really trust God as a nation, and we do so in our financial affairs least of all.

Now comes an image that’s worth every bit of it:

A Golden Calf?
A Golden Calf?

You can find some more pictures and even video of some singing and (almost) dancing (Exodus 32:17-19) around the calf here.

In relation to this, consider the following ad from the Liddy Dole campaign in North Carolina. Hear the part about “In God We Trust” on the money? What on earth is “godless money” anyhow, other than, of course, money that we put ahead of God and thus make into an idol.

Well, that was probably easy to go through than a few thousand words!

HT: One Thing I Know. Also to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for the video.

Obama and the Socialism Charge

Obama and the Socialism Charge

I’m interested in how one can take a rather ordinary set of proposals and make them incendiary just by providing a label. And sorry, my conservative friends, I don’t buy into the “but he really is a socialist” line. The basis of the socialism charge is specific–Obama’s tax plans–and a response to that particular point is what is needed.

This charge has been one of the many reasons my respect for McCain has deteriorated over the course of this campaign. The fact is that both campaigns are supported tax proposals that redistribute. We’ve had them for decades, and very, very few people would support completely getting rid of any redistributive element in the tax plan.

Flat taxers? Actually not such a totally bad idea, though I think if people looked at their proposed tax bill under flat tax, they might be less excited about it. But you know that exemption of a certain amount of income under a flat tax plan? That’s redistribution.

Alexander Lane of Politifact covers the major points in an article on CQPolitics, Sorting Out the Truth on McCain’s “Socialism” Allegations. McCain, Palin, and the Republican base are just plain abusing the word “socialist.”

PS: Yes, I know this source is biased–it’s biased against the Republican bias.

Value of Basic Research (even in France)

Value of Basic Research (even in France)

In the middle of a speech on commitment to special needs children, Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin chose to take a pot shot at some pork–research into fruit flies. It was a particularly good political shot, because the research is taking place in Paris, France, and obviously, “real” Americans don’t want to pay for anything that takes place there.

Like many research projects, fruit fly research simply doesn’t sound very exciting. It makes a good political joke. And it’s a joke that works because too many Americans have almost no idea of the basic science that must take place before they can drive their cars, operate their computers, or generally have jobs.

Responsible leadership would inform such people of just how essential basic research is. Leaders would examine the process and see just what benefits were intended, even if those benefits were only in developing the framework of scientific understanding in which all that technology, you know, the stuff we all have to have, is accomplished.

But instead, Palin chose to make it a good joke about wasteful spending. I’m not going to go into detail, but it turns out the fruit flies being studied are abundant in Europe and are just starting to appear in California, and successfully handling this may well involve quite a number of people’s jobs in the future.

Brighter people than I am have written up a few more details at Inside Higher Ed. List this as another strong reason why I simply can’t stomach the Republican team this year.

Suspending Free Speech in Politics

Suspending Free Speech in Politics

Though I have decided to support Barack Obama for president this year, one of the great negatives on my checklist for him and for the Democratic party is campaign finance laws. When I put the candidates side-by-side, however, McCain isn’t a significant improvement on that point.

This is illustrated by this story on CQPolitics, informing us that the FEC has deadlocked on whether the National Right to Life Committee can use particular phrasing in some issue ads they want to display. The sentence is: “Barack Obama : a candidate whose word you can’t believe in.”

Now understand that I don’t like the ads. I’ve received print versions and I didn’t like those. This is not speech of which I approve. I’m pro-choice, despite my own dislike of abortion. But on the other hand, I fail to see how it is not speech that can be permitted.

Having dealt with non-profits myself, I do, in fact, understand that particular tax categories are confined to particular activities. Thus it’s generally OK with me from a constitutional point of view that churches are not permitted to explicitly endorse candidates, or that non-profits of particular types be restricted in their political activity in order to have a particular tax status.

I say generally OK, because I think it falls within constitutional boundaries, but I question whether the lines are correctly drawn. In order to grant tax exempt status, the IRS has to define what is a church, what is a charitable non-profit, and so forth. But it is nonetheless troubling to me that a pastor can say “I think you should vote for a pro-life candidate (wink, wink)” without having his tax status threatened, but cannot say “I think you should vote for X who is a pro-life candidate” without risking it. Apparently if he says, “You can’t believe in X as a candidate” that would also be problematic. This is a whole subject in itself, but I can’t really discuss the rest without at least brushing against it.

In this case, we’re talking about what various political action committees can do during an election, and bluntly it sounds to me like a frontal assault on free speech. I despise the ads. I think they should be legal. I think these election laws are not about making elections fairer; they’re about silencing people we don’t like. I don’t approve of silencing people. (Very narrow exceptions, such as incitement, are alright, though I draw the line as far out as possible consistent with some order.)

This is one of the reasons I refuse to register as one of the major parties, besides the biggest reason, which is simply that I think it’s wrong to have political parties enshrined in law. Neither of our parties actually stands, even in a general way, for freedom. They stand in a general way for the freedoms of their constituent groups, and against those of others.

I would like to see our politicians actually support free speech, whether it is spoken for them or against them. “Fair speech,” speech that is distributed according to someone’s idea of fairness, is ephemeral, indefinable, and ultimately results in censorship.

That’s what we have in this case–the FEC deadlocked on whether to censor the speech of the NRLC. In a country that prides itself on constitutional freedoms, it shouldn’t even be an issue.

Religion and God Mocked in Campaign

Religion and God Mocked in Campaign

In an article titled Palin breaks with McCain on gay marriage amendment, I found the following:

Palin also claimed religion and God had been “mocked” during the campaign, although she offered no evidence to support that.

“Faith in God in general has been mocked through this campaign, and that breaks my heart and that is unfair for others who share a faith in God and choose to worship our Lord in whatever private manner that they deem fit,” she said.

(Note that CQPolitics cites portions of an interview released by CBN for this material.)

And Governor Palin is right. Religion and God have been mocked in this campaign. In her case, it was done by many who don’t really understand the stream of Christianity to which she belongs. I too have been prayed for by people whose theology might not 100% coincide with my own.

But it started much earlier, at least as early as the reactions to Barack Obama’s church, to his particular faith, and to his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Because Obama’s church is different, not like all those other churches, and it’s liberal, it’s OK to run down his faith and his associations. If it’s Sarah Palin, and a pastor who sends the crowds after a witch, that’s a misunderstanding. And indeed, I think it is a misunderstanding. But there is also a pretty substantial misunderstanding of Obama’s faith on the right.

You see, folks like Sarah Palin cite “faith in God” as the issue. But if faith in God is the issue, why is anyone concerned with the accusation that Obama is a Muslim? I’ve encountered not a few Muslims in my life, and every one of them had an active faith in God. I certainly didn’t agree with them on much theology. In fact, I find very little in Islam that is attractive to me personally. But there are plenty of Muslims who are quite attractive personally.

Of course, Obama must respond with the truth that he is a Christian. And it is a very important advantage in the campaign that he is a Christian with very specific things to say. One may disagree with his theology or the theology of his church, but it is hard to argue that he is not sincere and committed to his faith. But at the same time, I think that religion and faith in God are mocked rather severely by the simple nature of this debate.

“Faith in God” becomes “faith in God as I define both ‘faith’ and ‘God’.” And that’s a rather sad thing.

There is not supposed to be a religious test for office in the United States. Now that is a legal thing. It doesn’t mean that the voters cannot have such a test. And I think they do. Whatever the role of race in this campaign, I think religion has a very dangerous role. Does anyone doubt that if Barack Obama had to say “yes” when asked if he was Muslim, he would be in the position he is in now? Could he say that he is a loyal, patriotic American who also happens to be a Muslim? I doubt that would work.

That’s because “faith in God” is not the issue. “Faith in God” is not what is being mocked. What is being mocked, at many times and from many angles is a faith that is different. When Palin said that Obama doesn’t see America in the same way that she and her audience did, she was underlining this difference.

You may ask whether I don’t think I’m right about religion, and if so, why I shouldn’t state that claim. Yes, I have a bad habit of being pretty certain that I’m right. The struggle is not to believe that people with whom I disagree are bad because they disagree. The method is to encounter those people, listen to them, and try to understand how they work.

Here’s the key: In my experience, they are not evil and they are often not that different from me. We may disagree on something I hold very dear. But on other subjects they are not bad people. They may worship differently, believe different things, consider different books sacred, and come from different ethnic backgrounds, but I generally find they don’t match up to my worst fears.

The are merely choosing to “worship our Lord in whatever private manner that they deem fit.” Or was Governor Palin really saying that they (the ones who really have faith in God) worship Jesus in whatever manner they deem fit? Is it a case of any denomination (except the liberal ones) is OK, as long as they are Christians?

But I think the greatest mockery of religion is an ongoing one, and that is the way in which we see public symbolism as an expression of real faith. A candidate in most cases must express some form of religious faith. Do they go to church? Do they trust in God? The political answer is “yes” and “yes.” It doesn’t matter what that means in their behavior; it only matters that the right words are said.

This is the attitude that brings us disputes about monuments to the ten commandments. We are told that to reject the monument is to reject God, yet what goes on in the courtroom is not governed by the ten commandments. Many of the commandments are unconstitutional–just start reading with #1–and others are unenforceable. Do we think God is impressed by false labeling?

Then there is the little slogan “In God we Trust” on our money. Some think it’s a national motto. Actually it’s a national joke. We don’t actually trust in God. In financial affairs we trust least of all. Do we suppose that God is impressed by the words as the bill is slipped into a dancer’s g-string or fed to a slot machine?

I’d personally prefer that faith was kept a little more low key in our politics, simply because I think our current determination to have “people of faith” in public office is one of the greatest invitations to hypocrisy ever.

We don’t trust in God, and if we behave as we have been, as Rev. Jeremiah Wright said in his inimitable way, God sure is not going to bless us.

Colin Powell Endorses Barack Obama

Colin Powell Endorses Barack Obama

I know this is old news by now, but I particularly appreciated the tone of the endorsement. As one who has some policy disagreements with Barack Obama, but who nonetheless supports him on balance, I was glad to hear a nuanced endorsement.

Here’s the video:

PS: I particularly appreciated his comment on the question of Obama being a Muslim. He’s not, he’s a Christian, but being a Muslim should not disqualify someone from becoming president of the United States.

So Long to Public Campaign Financing?

So Long to Public Campaign Financing?

I had mixed emotions about Barack Obama’s choice not to accept public financing of campaigns. On the one hand, as an advocate of free speech, I believe that public financing and campaign spending limits are a threat to free speech precisely where it needs to be most free. But on the other hand, I dislike flip-flops, and this was.

What I would have liked to have heard was Obama or his spokesman tell us that, having seen how individuals, when fired up, can produce the necessary campaign cash, he had realized just how important freedom was in a political campaign, and thus changed his position. I don’t regard changing your mind for good, publicly stated reasons to be a bad flip-flop. Doing so for political expediency is another matter.

But I do welcome the fact that Obama’s campaign has underlined already existing questions about public financing. CQPolitics has an article on the $150 million Obama raised in September:

Obama had initially promised to accept public financing if McCain did, but changed his mind after setting primary fundraising records. His extraordinary fundraising is bound to set a new standard in politics that could doom the taxpayer-paid system. Many Republicans have begun to second-guess McCain’s decision to participate in the program.

In a way it’s nice to see this campaign highlight the problems with public financing, an issue on which I believe both candidates are wrong.