Thursday, January 31, 2008

Obama Builds a Bridge to Terabithia? (Or is it a lot more clever than that?)

I have been a frequent critic of Senator Obama's messaging during this campaign. It seems to me that the fundamental premise of Obama's campaign -- that he somehow has a unique ability to bring this country together -- is flat out untrue. On withdrawal from Iraq, FISA reauthorization, and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Senator Obama was not able to bring a single Republican Senator over to our side (on each vote a few Republicans did vote on the Democratic side but they would have done so whether Obama was in the Senate or not). So it seems disingenuous for Senator Obama to make this claim the centerpiece of his campaign, when in fact, there is no evidence that his claim is true. And it frustrates me that traditional media pundits and many Democratic voters take Senator Obama's claim at face value because they seem to like the sound of it, without checking whether it has any resemblance to reality.

But there's a bit of a puzzle here because I like Senator Obama. He seems like a decent guy and not the sort of fellow who would create a narrative he knows isn't true just to get elected.

So then it hit me, Senator Obama isn't talking to Republican officeholders. He's talking directly to Republican voters. That's the thing that makes the statement true. Senator Obama has a unique ability to attract Republican voters and independents to vote for him. When he says 'let's bring the country together again' -- he's asking Republican voters to abandon their party and its nominee. Of course Obama can't just say to Republicans -- 'don't vote Republican, your party has a history of screwing you' (which is what Howard Dean said in 2004, and it was true, but we all know how that turned out). Instead he has to say, 'there's too much partisanship, join me and I'll bring the country together again' (because you just abandoned the party that was screwing you and the rest of America). I hope that's really what's going on here. If it's true, it's incredibly clever.


Erica Peters said...

If you look at his legislative history in the Illinois Senate, he was responsible for persuading Republicans to vote for leftie issues like ethics reforms, death penalty reforms, and getting the police to videotape interrogations and confessions. That's what he means by bipartisan.

RFK Action Front said...
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RFK Action Front said...

hmmm. Thanks for the comment and the helpful data. But it sort of begs the question doesn't it? I think it's great that in the State Senate of Illinois he was able to build some bridges. So how come those skills haven't translated into votes in the U.S. Senate? How come he isn't able to walk across the aisle and bring McCain, Specter, or Collins over to our side on the votes that really matter?

I think you could make a case that Republicans in the U.S. Congress are incredibly partisan (owing to the '94 Gingrich-led Republican revolution) and you just can't work with them (but you can fight them like hell). Which is Senator Clinton's point and the thesis of her campaign.

I still think (hope?) that what Obama is doing is speaking to the frustration Republicans feel towards their own party rather than speaking to his voting record in the U.S. Senate (or even the Illinois legislature).