Dissonance: Obama's Middle Ground 

White talk, God talk and how-to-get-elected talk

Wednesday, Jul 2 2008

THERE’S COLD FEAR in the blogosphere. Liberals from Malibu to Madison have broken out into hives. Hands are wringing and knickers are twisted. Turns out that Barack Obama might be a centrist! Or even worse, it seems.

“Obama Veers Right!” screams a headline on the leftist Counterpunch Web site, as socialist blogger Alan Maas frets that the Democratic candidate has shown himself to be “pro-corporate, pro-military.” Ralph Nader dumps on Obama for attempting to “talk white.” Even less radical analysts shake and shudder because Obama has recently spoken out forcefully for Israel. Because he mildly criticized the Supreme Court for its recent decision barring the death penalty for child molesters. Because he’s doing a lot of so-called God talk. Because he’s wearing an American-flag pin in a Rolling Stone cover photo. Because he gave a speech declaring his patriotic values. Because he voted for a dastardly compromise on the warrantless wiretapping bill that immunizes the phone companies against legal liability.

His critics on the left demand to know, What the heck is going on?

Related Stories

  • Jay Leno's Favorite Target Was ... Bill Clinton

    For all the talk about the "liberal media" (both news and entertainment) favoring Democratic candidates, you'd think a West Coast comedian like Jay Leno would practically be an honorary party chairman. But he embraced former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his friend, and always gave a warm, respectful platform to presidents...
  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • Stop the Anti-Immigration Hysteria: Murrieta's Obama Haters Need a Fact Check 61

    We're pleading here for straight talk on both sides of the illegal immigration debate, so we'll start this party with some brutal honesty: Illegal immigration isn't necessarily good for Latino Americans, and many of us don't always welcome it. Why would we ask for the clock on our U.S. assimilation...
  • Best Colleges 2

    We're used to seeing the likes of Caltech, UCLA and USC on lists of the most prestigious universities in the world and country. See also: UCLA Is a Top 10 Global University But it's rare that a UC Riverside or a Cal State Long Beach makes the top echelon of any...
  • Obama Willing to Further Legitimize Marijuana (Really) 14

    The Obama administration today signaled that it was willing to work with Congress to move marijuana out of the federal outlaw-drug category known as Schedule I. Under that classification, shared with heroin, ecstasy and others, marijuana has no legitimate use whatsoever, even for medical research or patient treatment. Lower schedule status,...

The answer is, quite simply, that Barack Obama wants to get elected. Of course he’s running to the right. The primary is over and the general election is upon us and Obama’s campaign is figuring that — no, Virginia — there apparently aren’t enough “progressive” Democrats to form a national electoral majority. Hell, there aren’t even enough to win a decisive majority inside the Democratic Party. (Please note the die-hard Hillaryoids — most Democratic feminists — who are now vowing to vote for a rigidly anti-choice John McCain.)

Believe me, I know the counterarguments. I’ve been making them for years (and on top of that, I’m actually one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit against the telecom giants for their role in the domestic eavesdropping adventure). They go something like this: Provide the proper leadership and the People Will Follow. Democrats lose because they are Republican Lite. The Democrats will triumph if and only if the Democratic wing of the party dominates and eschews all compromise and wavering. That’s it, right?

But what makes you so sure? If this formula were so exact, we’d have already completed the second term of the Kucinich administration, wouldn’t we? John Edwards would be this year’s nominee, and he’d be vowing not to implement national health care, but rather be promising to further improve it, along with our humming national high-speed rail system, our fleet of biofuel cars and our beloved national service program that provides free college tuition to all students who promise civic duty.

DREAM ON. That we are, instead, still living in the Bush nightmare, paying $5 a gallon for fossil fuel, still mired in Iraq and worried about meeting the monthly mortgage payment does not, on the other hand, mean that we should apologize for or condone blatant political pandering and cowardly capitulation. It’s not free license for Obama, or anyone else, to wuss out. Bold political leadership is more important than ever, and to some degree, people will follow if presented with a compelling example.

The crucial question is, Just how far? So let’s lay down some metrics. Barack Obama won the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party as a freshman senator who defeated the most powerful of establishment political machines. As a candidate with no military background at a time when we’re supposedly leading the Global War on Terror. As a candidate who promises to substitute diplomacy for interventionism. As a candidate who has mobilized and inspired an entire new generation of Americans who actually feel engaged in the political process. As a candidate named the “most liberal” member of the senate by the National Journal. Oh, and did I mention, as a black man, whose middle name is Hussein?

Modestly, I’d have to say that’s pretty damn far to come in America in the age of Bush. And apparently, just about far enough for Obama and his strategists. Judging by his political positioning of the last few weeks, they clearly think it’s time to do some backfilling. They judge they’ve gotten out in front just about as far as they can without going over the ledge. They’re worried that one out of 10 Americans still think Obama is a Muslim. An equal number swear he was born in Africa. They can see that candidate McCain has twice the popularity of his own Republican Party. They note a recent Washington Post poll revealing that 30 percent of Americans admit to race bias. (Not really a shocking figure when, according to the just-published book Just How Stupid Are We? by historian Rick Shenkman, three out of 10 Americans don’t know what the Holocaust is, and a far greater percentage of Americans can name more members of The Simpsons family than they can enumerate the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.)

Nor do I think that what we’re seeing is merely calculated caution. Much of Obama’s appeal from the outset has been his determination to rise above the narrow and often phony and pointless partisanship that has come to define the two-party system. If someone thinks that a progressive majority can actually govern by scorning and ignoring rather than including the tens of millions who consider themselves patriotic, flag-waving, born-again Christians, please let me know. Or better, send your memo directly to Dennis Kucinich.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • L.A. Cops Knew Miley Cyrus' VMAs Date Was a Wanted Man

    Los Angeles authorities were previously made aware that Miley Cyrus' American Music Awards date, 22-year-old homeless man Jesse Helt, was wanted in Oregon, said Martin Silbernagel, Community Corrections director for Polk County. When asked if the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department were notified that Helt had a...
  • Did Miley Cyrus Get Bad Counsel from Charity Consultant on VMA Date?

    Trevor Neilson is big name in celebrity philanthropic consulting, but he's no stranger to controversy. And now he's dealing with a controversy that appears to be of his own creation — failing to fully background-check the homeless young man, Jesse Helt, before letting Helt take the mic for Miley Cyrus...
  • Burning Man Shut Down Due to Weather

    The annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada was shut down today after light overnight rains left the area known as the Playa flooded and muddy, officials said. Organizers advised festival-goers heading to the annual event to postpone their arrival until at least midday tomorrow. Burning Man was providing...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets