Friday, 22 February 2008

Cross-Ideological Appeal

Obama's appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum is positively the best thing about his candidacy. It certainly arouses suspicion among a fraction of liberals and progressives, and exasperation among a fraction of conservatives, but it makes perfect sense. Liberalism and conservatism coexist within every decent thinking human being.

We have been taught to think of ideology as a linear continuum between left and right. It has been my song and dance since I started writing here to point to the fallacy of that notion, even though I occasionally fall victim to it myself. There was a kernel of truth in that famous quote of Churchill's, but unfortunately he framed it in such a way as to reinforce a false dichotomy.

Churchill wrote “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” Today I counter that any mature adult who lacks all conservative values has no brain, and any who lacks all liberal values has no heart.

Watchblog's conservative editor Dana Tuszke has come out for Obama. This does not mean that she has abandoned her deeply felt conservative values. My wholehearted support for the same candidate does not mean I'm not still the champion of liberal and progressive causes that I've always been. It's not that either one of us is compromising on some mushy middle, though some will insist that's exactly what we're doing. We both see in one human being a principled man who can understand and empathize with both sides of an issue, but still take a position and defend it. As Paul Siegel points out, we don't have to agree on every point.

Obama has a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle to create substantive legislation. He did so in the Illinois legislature on a regular basis, including getting Republican support for the requirement that all police interrogations in homicide investigations be recorded. You can see in that single July, 2003 press release from Illinois' Republican Governor Blagojevich, that Obama's name is mentioned prominently in connection with three different pieces of legislation. Concern about police misconduct is typically labeled as a liberal cause, but when the solution addresses the concern directly without tying law enforcements hands too severely, reasonable conservatives can get behind it, because after all it serves no one for hidden misconduct to result in prosecutions of the wrong people. By having the concern of a liberal while understanding the legitimate concerns of conservatives, Obama was able to broker a deal which worked and satisfied a working majority from both sides.

In his short tenure in the United States Senate, Obama has crafted major legislation in concert with Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana to address nuclear proliferation, and significant reform legislation with the very conservative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma enforcing greater transparency in federal spending. Both these bills have passed. Perhaps neither is perfect, but both address real and pressing concerns that people across the political spectrum may share.

Three years ago I wrote of the need for cross-ideological alliances. In Obama, Americans of different stripes are seeing a bridge to span those differences and seek solutions that acknowledge the legitimate concerns of differing perspectives. It's not that every solution Obama suggests will be the magic bullet that solves some problem once and for all. He is certainly not that delusional, even if some of his supporters may be. But an approach to problem solving that lays off of vilification, concentrating instead on cooperation is sorely needed. To have such an approach be at the core of a presidency bodes well for our future.

Americans, there is no need for you to stop being liberal or conservative or moderate. Even radically liberal or radically conservative ideas should be gladly put on the table and debated. Radical thinking has helped humankind on more than one occasion. When people rail against extremism, they should instead be attacking orthodoxy. It is the inflexible thinking which insists that ideas coming from outside one's own perspective are therefore worthless which paralyzes us. Talk to people who disagree with you. LISTEN to people who disagree with you. My great hope for an Obama presidency comes not from a naive belief that his message of hope will translate into a perfect set of policies. My great hope comes from a belief that he can be a catalyst for us to move beyond our differences and slowly replace the attitudes of "my way or the highway" with a genuine concern for our future and our descendants' future.

Yes We Can!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

No Other Choice

I just belatedly posted two articles that I had previously posted only at WatchBlog, giving them the dates of their authorship there. In fact, there's been little difference in content in the last several months between what's been posted here, and what you would find linked at my Watchblog page. Perhaps it's a better use of my time to publish at a site which gets a modest amount of traffic, rather than one that gets very little. But Choosing Hope remains my own little corner of the "blogosphere" and I suppose I am loath to abandon it entirely. Also I see that it continues to get some traffic - much of it lately from one particular reader in Tempe, who seems to be systematically reading everything I've written. I'm flattered. Tempe, you should drop me a note. Also thanks to Adrian for your latest comments to my December posting.

The Obama article actually preceded by a couple of weeks my own stepping up of activity on his campaign. I think I was talking myself into it more than anything else. Mustering one's enthusiasm for a particular candidate's campaign requires greater suspension of skepticism the later into life we are, but I'm bound and determined to remain an idealist at heart as long as I possible can. I read screeds from the left damning Barack for his associations with establishment military folks. Many (not just the left) point to his rhetoric as being a little too pat, a lot too vague, and failing to take on hard issues directly. (I don't know what they expect in a stump speech.) I understand the concerns about how effective he can be once in office, as some remind me of the difficulties Carter had in implementing his agenda, or more sinisterly point to the fate of JFK, to whom Obama has been compared.

But I ask, just who am I supposed to be for? If I am to choose hope, as the title of my blog implies, how can I do anything but embrace this campaign whose central theme is about just that?

So most of what I've written lately has been in the form of emails, whether to Obama elists, relatives in Georgia, friends and neighbors, or Democratic party people. Perhaps over the next few days, I'll share some snippets. Or give a report from the caucus I chaired here in Washington State yesterday, where we sent 5 Obama delegates and 1 Clinton delegate on to the Legislative District caucus.

It has certainly been enjoyable to let go and be surrounded by all this enthusiasm, youthful and otherwise. A very nice birthday celebration for me, indeed.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Sorting out Superdelegates

Are they an anti-democratic outrage or a reasonable protection against an even more undemocratic brokered convention? Born out of the rancor which was the messy Democratic convention of 1968, the introduction of superdelegates is getting more attention this year as the race for the nomination remains close.

I have heard concerns expressed among some fellow Obama supporters that the superdelegates who are party insiders, are heavily skewed toward Clinton, and will tip the nomination to Clinton, even if Obama wins a clear majority of the other delegates. That scenario, in my view, is highly unlikely. Some have misreported the percentage of superdelegates as being close to or even over 40%, when in fact the actual percentage is 19.6%.

Still, that is certainly enough superdelegates to tip the nomination in a different direction than the duly elected delegates in a close campaign such as this one. Such a development would be a huge public relations disaster for the Democratic Party. Party insiders understand that, and I am confident there would be tremendous pressure on superdelegates to avoid it, regardless of which candidate would be affected.

Currently among the 796 superdelegates, 211 are pledged to Clinton & 128 are pledged to Obama, while 457 remain unpledged. (Other counts vary, but not substantially.) Clinton's lead in superdelegates therefore CURRENTLY is larger than her total lead. However, if Obama starts to pull ahead in future contests, but not enough to clinch the nomination with regular delegates, there will be strong pressure on the superdelegates to swing his way rather than create a situation where Clinton gets the nomination solely because of her backing by party regulars. In fact there would be pressure on previously committed Clinton superdelegates to switch rather than create a controversy that would damage the party and hurt the nominee's chances in November.

Call me naive, and I could be wrong, but actually I think practical politics will save us from this fear. That's not to say that I think Obama will win. Clinton still has a huge advantage from the inside machinery. But I believe she'll need to win the majority, or very close to the majority of the regular delegates to win the nomination.

Superdelegates may yet present the party with a PR dilemma if the race remains very close, with different methods of determination showing a different candidate ahead. For instance, what if Obama gains a small 10 to 50 vote lead among the regular delegates, but Clinton can point to a small but real popular vote margin among actual voters in the combined primaries? Or what if Clinton can claim she would have the regular delegate lead by sitting the Florida and Michigan delegates, even when ceding all of the uncommitted delegates to Obama, but Obama is clearly faring better in more recent head-to-head polling against the Republican nominee, as he is currently trending.

While I am confident that a significant number of the superdelegates will be motivated to support the candidate that the public feels has earned the nomination, if both candidates can stake convincing claims to that title, then all bets are off.

People will continue to challenge the logic of even having superdelegates, but we should remember that its genesis stemmed from concerns about brokered conventions, in which the winner can be determined in back rooms, and ultimately have far less to do with who the rank and file have voted for. The thinking was that by having party regulars, a large number of whom were duly elected by their own constituents, constitute a significant minority of the delegates, these folks could be counted on to follow popular trends to help to give a clear leader the majority, when multiple candidacies have split the delegate count sufficiently to otherwise keep that from happening. Since Edwards, the only additional candidate likely to have received significant numbers of delegates, dropped out before Super Tuesday, it turns out the the superdelegates are unlikely to play that role this year.