2/23/2008

Obama's Inflated Support

Part of the main draw of Barack Obama is that he is branded as the post-racial, post-political, unity candidate. He is the candidate that will deliver "change" and forge a new working political majority that will accomplish great things for the American people. Given the disillusionment of the American people regarding Washington, this is a powerful message he has adopted and it has served him well, as he is on the cusp of securing the Democratic nomination.

Obama fares better in a general election against John McCain than Hillary Clinton and is flush with cash. Combine all this with the lopsided voter turnout in the primaries and caucuses so far and it looks like Obama is a safe bet to become the nation's 44th president.

However, a premature coronation and projections of an electoral rout in November would be unwise. For all of Obama's good fortune, it must be noted that his greatest strength also stands to become his greatest weakness. And this would suggest that his electoral appeal is actually inflated right now.

As was stated earlier, "change" is at the center of Obama's platform. However, "change" has nothing to do with legislation, nor does it have anything to do with government policy. "Change" is primarily defined by Obama as a change in the way the nation conducts its politics. It's about reducing partisanship, forging relationships with political adversaries, and accomplishing the nation's business. This is fine, but the problem is that legislation matters.

Do voters really value political unity over legislation they agree with? Are voters really prepared to abandon their ideological principles for the sake of reducing partisanship? Does the fact that Democrats and Republicans can work together compensate for a tax policy, Supreme Court appointment, immigration policy, and foreign policy that you fundamentally disagree with?

The inspiration for this post you are reading came from watching the most recent debate on CNN between Obama and Clinton in Texas. Both candidates were asked about solving the immigration problem and the perils of the United States becoming a bilingual nation. Both candidates gave respectable and thoughtful answers, but how were these remarks received by independents and Republicans who are leaning towards Obama? Not once did Obama mention the fact that illegal immigrants had broken the law or that there was a national security component to the issue. Not once did he mention border fences, enforcing current immigration laws, or even tightening restrictions on visas. The closest he came to addressing these concerns of more moderate and conservative voters was saying "we could be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants at the same time."

That may have pleased the Democrats, liberals, and Latinos in the audience, but what about other voters? Even for so-called Obamacans, hearing Obama's immigration position probably didn't sit too well with them. Will they really be prepared to compromise so much of their long-held beliefs about such a contentious issue just because they are so inspired by Obama's candidacy? Tom Tancredo's candidacy should have served as a warning to Democrats, but it appears that Obama has yet to heed this message.

Clive Crook of National Journal made a similar observation about Obama's economic policy:

"What Obama's ideas look like, when you see past the brilliant salesmanship, is boilerplate leftism."
Obama was ranked as the most liberal senator of 2007 according to his voting record. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong being a liberal (or anything else), it must be noted that Obama is more liberal than what most voters might be comfortable with. It seems that Obama's appeal is largely based on the idea that voters simply aren't digging this deeply when it comes to assessing him.

This is not to say that voters aren't taking their politicians seriously or that they are wrong for supporting Obama. However, the potential for an Obama letdown is very real. No politician can sustain this level of enthusiasm forever, and there will come a time when Obama's record and platform must come under greater scrutiny. David Brooks of the New York Times has even gone so far as to coin the term Obama Comedown Syndrome.

I warned last summer that Obama was setting himself up for his own downfall:
"The problem with this is that Obama is not a rock star. He is a candidate for President of the United States. And as the president, issues of character, experience, and policy positions become important. During Obama's ascent to media and political stardom, not much attention has been paid to his policy positions and his experience because his freshness trumped any other nagging doubts people had about him. However, these doubts are becoming more difficult to ignore now."
In that post, I incorrectly predicted that some of the other more experienced candidates stood to benefit from an Obama letdown. While those experienced so-called second-tier candidates never took off, the possibility of Obama crashing back down to earth now seems more realistic than ever. And in the event that this happens, it won't be because of anything he did wrong or because of his supposed lack of gubernatorial experience. His downfall is more likely to stem from a more thorough examination of his policy positions which would reveal that he is too ideologically dissimilar to more voters than both he and the media seem to realize right now.

Hillary Clinton is probably not going to win the nomination (at least not by amassing more pledged delegates), but David Brooks' Obama Comedown Syndrome may be the best thing she has going for her right now. Obama certainly has style. And unlike the "all hat and no cattle" barbs used against him would suggest, he does have substance. The problem is that his substance is simply unpalatable to so many of his supporters who are still captivated by his style. Of course, there's always the possibility that these voters are indeed aware of this disconnect, but have concluded that it simply doesn't matter. But I doubt this.

Having said all that, Obama is probably more likely to win the presidency than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain at present. However, he is not as formidable as his fundraising and polling suggest because, simply put, ideas matter. Inching towards the center might be a prudent course of action for him to take, lest he risk having his political base reduced to that of a traditional liberal Democrat.

18 comment(s):

Thomas said...

I am not on the Barack Obama bandwagon but I do understand it. (I hear about Obama pretty often as it seems that 90% of my friends have been swept up in its momentum.) That I am not on this particular bandwagon doesn't mean I am against Barack Obama. I am just doing more research on him and his positions. I like some things and dislike other things. I am one of those deliberate dudes who takes his time deciding stuff. We have until November so I think I will manage.

What I would like to see Obama do (as I suspect some of his hardcore fans would like too) is to see Barack Obama in action. I don't mean another speech or another debate. I mean, I would like to see Barack Obama in action as a United States senator. Ever since Obama started running for president over a year ago, I don't recall him performing many senatorial duties of note. At the very least, running for president should increase one's visibility and likely one's power. Obama should have been taking advantage of this "power bump" to push issues that he cares about. And Obama's campaign has done waaaay more than increase his visibility a little. He is now one of the most famous people on the planet. That should have given him the power and the influence to push legislation that he favors.

There are some problems when a senator runs for the presidency. You can appear to vote against a popular bill because you are holding out for a stronger version of the same bill. There can be technical votes where you vote against something you believe in because you know the votes aren't there at that time and you need to go back and regroup. Pushing for legislation while running for president is inherently risky. Supporting a piece of legislation means you are getting people against your legislation angry. But if a piece of legislation is right, it is right. That a vote on a piece of legislation will make you a little less popular is not something that should enter one's thought process. Chief Justice Earl Warren held out for a 9-0 decision in the Brown v. Board of Education decision because he knew it was such a game-changer that even a little dissent would be picked up and run with by some people. Chief Justice Warren was worried about doing what was right. He wasn't about small steps or waiting for the time when such steps would be more politically expedient.

Obama has been asked why he is running now by many people. He is only 46. He has only been a senator for a couple of years. Obama references Martin Luther King, Jr. when he talks about the "fierce urgency of now." Why is now not the time, Obama asks. The same is true for the responsibilities he controls now as a United States senator. There are pieces of legislation that demand the "fierce urgency of now," well, now. Why hasn't Obama been pushing these pieces of legislation? I would hope he is not acting out of political expediency.

Being a native Texan, I knew quite a bit about George W. Bush when he ran for the presidency in 2000. I knew enough about his years as our governor to know that I would never vote for him for president. It may be hard to remember now but back in the day then-Governor Bush was seen as an easygoing and friendly guy who was easily able to crack jokes. I remember liking Governor Bush as a person. I also liked that he made many attempts to reach out to the Hispanic community in Texas. But I had seen his governing style and I didn't like it. After the election, I thought to myself, "Well, some of us Texans knew just a little more than the rest of the country. But the rest of the country will soon catch up, I hope."

Barack Obama is not George W. Bush, by any means. But who is he exactly? I don't know yet. With George W. Bush, millions of people got caught up in what a great guy he seemed to be. Being a student of his governorship, I knew that there wasn't much "there" there. Barack Obama is truly a phenomenon. But I need a little more. Obama should have spent part of the last year just being a senator. Get some important legislation passed. Or at least work to get it passed. This would have served Obama in so many ways. People couldn't say that he wasn't substantive enough to be president. And also, his followers who are all caught up in the "Obama wave" would have been brought down to earth a little bit by seeing their guy in the give-and-take (and practical world) of politics. Obama's biggest worry now should be the expectations of his supporters who think he will be a miracle worker. He won't be. And when this fact emerges, there might be some hell to pay.

Nikki said...

Hey Thomas didn't I already read this comment in the form of a post on your blog?? Honing in on someone elses blog eh??
Anthony, great topic and post.....I had a thought today watching Hillary spew her anger today on the internet. What do you think the plausibility is that bitter Hillary supporters will float to the moderate McCain quasi-democrat camp?? It is interesting that you mention some republicans support of Obama may be short lived once his liberal policies come to light. I did a post on my blog about a college student who was supporting none other than Mitt Romney and had replaced him with Obama one Mitt dropped out (the post was about her not knowing anything about Obama). I scratched my head on that one. But perhaps once the issues do come front and center it may be a different story. I do think it is possible to recognize the hypnotic charisma of Obama and how he transcends racial and political lines, without supporting his candidacy, however I agree with you, for how long? And will this pied piper movement get any legs itself? Lots of youtube videos showing his fainting women, 6-8 of them, and his short record as a Senator. enjoyed the read as always!! :)N

Freadom said...

A lot can happen between now and November. Great post.

Schenck said...

Instead of inserting a thought-out comment, I'm gonna post this DailyKos thing called "I Refuse to Buy Into the Obama Hype(now a supporter)"

Anonymous said...

I think the tide is turning. People are seeing the light. Only the press and PR managers are maintaining their blind faith in Obama. I have never been stirred by his speeches, they are empty rhetoric. For the most important job in the land we need someone better qualified and that's not Obama. He's just too much of an unknown entity which makes me uncomfortable.

Anthony Palmer said...

Thomas,

I do not know how old you are, but I came around after JFK, Watergate, and Vietnam. So I do not have those events to use as a frame of reference when assessing Obama's appeal. I do, however, believe Obama has ceased to become a politician and has instead become a movement. I am starting to wonder if the main draw of his candidacy is the concept of "people power." I think that maybe even some people who philosophically disagree with him may support him anyway simply because they want to prove that grassroots and regular people matter. In light of Garbgate, Muslimgate, Flaggate, etc., I think these people's fervent support innoculates Obama in a way that I've never seen before. It's as if sliming him only makes him more appealing.

-----

Nikki,

Why do people call McCain a RINO or quasi-Democrat? He is actually in line with most Republicans when it comes to social issues, spending, and the war. What is it about him that makes Republicans recoil in anger. He wasn't initially for some of Bush's tax cuts because they weren't offset by spending cuts and he sought to forge a compromise on judges so that the minority Democrats wouldn't fillibuster. What's so terrible about that?

----

Freadom,

Thanks for your comment. I think tonight's debate between Obama and Clinton is really Clinton's last best chance to even have a chance at winning the nomination without the help of superdelegates. We'll see what happens.

-----

Schenck,

I read that DK post you linked to and learned a few things. However, I don't dispute that Obama has a record or that he's competent. I simply observed that his record is likely more liberal than what some of his more moderate supporters may like. But in terms of how effective he has been in getting his initiatives passed, I certainly learned a few things from the piece you linked to. Clinton had better hope nobody outside of the DK community sees that!

-----

Anonymous,

What makes you think the tide is turning? I've been watching the news, and the only shift I've noticed is that the media seem to treat Obama as the nominee, rather than a candidate for the nomination. So there is increased scrutiny of him, but not in the context of elevating Clinton or making her look more appealing. We'll see what happens after the debate!

Thanks for the great comments everyone.

Nikki said...

Anthony, I happen to like John McCain and am going to vote for him. You'll have to ask all the immigration and tax cut hyper-focused republicans that question. He is more moderate than Clinton or Obama and I can see some bitter Clintonites moving to the McCain camp.....and I don't think it is a bad thing. :)N

Anthony Palmer said...

I personally am more ideologically similar to McCain than either Clinton or Obama. However, I strongly disagree with him when it comes to Iraq and his foreign policy views in general. So I'm not so sure I'd vote for him just yet, although I would be content if he were elected. I actually got into a heated discussion with my students this morning about Iraq and illegal immigration and have decided that it might be worth it for me to mount my own political campaign sometime in the future. We'll see.

icanseeclearlynow said...

great post, anthony and great discussions on your comment page. i like the points you make about obama. i think too many people are using their heart instead of their head for who they support during this campaign. i don't care who wins, frankly. i'm just pleased to be living in these historic times and writing it all down.

thinking about throwing your hat in the ring?! whew! god speed. and i hope you talk it over with your wife. michelle seems to have gotten her memo kinda late.

;)

Deacon Tim said...

Anthony, I am, as you know, an unapologetic Obama supporter. But I have very clear reasons for being so, and they have a great deal to with ideology, or rather the lack thereof.

Obama may be light on policy, but I have a feeling what the electorate is looking for right now is someone less interested in wonking the position papers (like the Senator from New York), and more interested in getting people to believe that they can solve problems by working together. That's one reason Obama's cited Reagan as an influence: Reagan's greatest gift was not the enactment of policy (his actual policies were much in contradiction to his platforms), but in getting people to believe that the solutions to problems lay closer to them than Washington.

Yes, Obama believes that government can be used to solve problems, rather than simply being a problem--and this old dinosaur is ready to give that approach a try. After all, it worked with rural electrification and the space race. It might just work with health care and the care of the aging (like me).

As for foreign policy: the sooner the Bush Doctrine is declared an American heresy, the better. It is certain that having a more modest view of American power will do much to restore our power in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Fuzziness might be good for us right now. Anyway, it's the state I find myself in when the bi-focals slip. And you know what? I look better in the mirror!

Anthony Palmer said...

I Can See,

One thing I like about The 7-10 is that the people here generally respect each other's opinions and take the time to write out thoughtful and well reasoned arguments. This blog doesn't attract a lot of trolls, hotheads, and flamers. So I do hope you stick around and continue to join in the conversation! Thanks for dropping by.

-----

Deacon Tim,

Thanks for dropping by. And I totally understand your point about Obama. I think Schenck touched on the exact same thing a few days ago. Obama is not about him. It's about "us" and what "we" can do together. This may be more important to voters than his ideology. I never did subscribe to the "he has no experience" school of thought because if that were true, he never would have been able to rise as far as he has.

Obama has become a movement driven by people who want him to succeed because an Obama victory would be a triumph of grassroots activism.

One other point: Hillary Clinton is now trying to call Obama a blank slate. Republicans are doing the same thing. The problem is, if the electorate is restive enough, "nothing" may very well trump "something" if that "something" is decidedly what people do NOT want. I recently read that Obama could fall anywhere between JFK and Carter, while with Clinton, you know exactly what you're getting.

Nikki said...

I see Obama's "us" and "we: rhetoric as contrary to what he is proposing. He is not smaller government which is what "personal responsibility" would imply. and he won't be responsible for any failings because he has included "us" in his package. He can always blame republicans and those not in the same "togetherness" fanfare. I do find the implication is that we can achieve change if we all vote him into office and support his agenda. I am not so willing to convert to liberalism just because it is delivered inspiringly instead of ferociously as in the past. I am reading between the lines and this is what I see in this hand holding.

Schenck said...

For a liberal such as myself, "personal responsibility" is more about looking after the welfare of the entire community and helping everyone who is in need. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe conservatives view "personal responsibility" in a more individualized sense - that one is responsible for his or her own actions, failures, and successes. Liberals are called (by God? just kidding) to help others out who are less fortunate than them by attempting to raise those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder at the expense of slightly lowering those at the top of the ladder.

Nikki said...

Hey Schenck.....I have heard the interpretation to personal responsibility as a beligerant "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" ideology. As though republicans are for no help for those in dire straights and it may be a philosophy of some, but it certainly is not one of mine. I do believe that my tax dollars should go to some form of "betterment" of society. The "bootstraps" argument is not an encompassing philosophy of self-reliance. The government should be responsible for some things, individuals should be responsible for some things. But at what point does the slippery slope argument step in. How much should the government control? Is Healthcare really a "right" or is it a privilage? These are questions and I think they are good ones. I think people should help out others and contribute in their communities and I believe they are. But I don't think the government needs to micro-manage the charitable work being done. Citizens are free to help eachother and Americans are doing it everyday and doing it well. Some are republicans and some are democrats and some are who knows what. I think the American people are pretty great already and no one politician is responsible for the kind acts of americans and they certainly cannot credit themselves for what many already engage in. Don't turn a self-reliant philosophy into a non-caring attitude. We are a charitable and capable people, and we will be with or without Barack Obama.

Schenck said...

Healthcare is a right :-)

I wasn't trying to say that conservatives don't care about other people or anything like that; I'm sorry if it came off that way. But with the way our capitalist society is currently working and the increased struggle in ascending the social ladder, I think the government needs to be giving the little people more of a boost.

Nikki said...

your point is well taken about the needed boost!! and I believe people are getting health care with or without insurance, just go to the emergency room in any border state and you will see legal and illegal immigrants getting all the care they need and yes we are already paying for it through our tax dollars and no it doesn't bother me....great conversation!!! Nikki

Schenck said...

Yes, have a good weekend, Nikki, I'll be back Monday... as an afterthought, I am 23 and currently paying out of my own pocket for health insurance because I am a (unexpected long-term) temp with no benefits :-( because my company has a hiring freeze because the economy is crappy because of the war :-)

Nikki said...

You have a great week-end too.....been there done that in my college years, it is just how life is, ups and downs and we slowly muddle through. I am 40 and am just now finacially sound, mainly because of bad credit!!haha couldn't get any for years and now because we have none we are better off....oh the irony!! :)N

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.