Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Most Liberal Candidate? Do Conservative Writers And Commentators Really Understand Obama?

The first time I heard Senator Barak Obama speak, I was told to have very high hopes. I was watching the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and had been told by a friend of mine that I needed to hear Obama speak. She had extremely high opinions of Senator Obama, living in a suburb of Chicago, and had followed his career in state politics and had been very enthusiastic about his possible future presidential candidacy. Her only regret was that her particular suburb of Chicago was across the state line and she couldn't vote for Obama in state elections. This probably increased her desire to see him run in an election in which she could vote.

As a speaker, Senator Obama blew me away. The man could give a speech and make you feel it resonate, not just hear the words. When I took a few moments to really consider the words, however, I felt a cold, naked jolt of strong discomfort mingle with my enjoyment of his speaking style. He sounded like Ronald Reagan. I don't mean his speaking style, or that his resonation reminded me of President Reagan's admittedly glorious speaking ability. No. Embedded in the substance of what he was saying there was a faint echo of the substance of Reagan's appeals to the left to move closer to the center in order to join his notion of mainstream America. Now, I hardly think I really am in the mainstream of American politics. My view of the government's responsibility for social welfare is closer to Dennis Kunich's view than to Senator Clinton's view or that of Senator Obama himself. On the subject of 'national security', while I understand that the situations into which Neo-Conservative Neo-Romantics have plunged us in service to their Hegelian world-spirit must be faced with extreme judgement and cannot be solved by such an easy measure as a unilateral withdrawal, I feel that our present administration is really interested in corporate security and I'm not sure that either of the two contenders for the Democratic nomination would be a huge improvement. I'm not moved to Nietzchean sacrifices on behalf of Repulican leaders who see themselves as world-historical figures on the path to empire. On the subject of economics, my views are capitalist but hardly in line with those of the Austrian School free market anarchists who whisper in the ear of conservatives in this era; I believe in Ricardo's labor theory of value and feel that allowing corporations to commit acts that would send individuals to prison is a fascist market rather than a free market. With the possible exception of the late Paul Wellstone, I doubt there's a Senator that's been close to my politics since Robert LaFollette.

Now, as a registered Democrat, I don't feel that it's my duty to move closer to the center when I believe the center to be dangerously compromised by the right on far too many issues. I feel that it's my duty to do my best to advise the leaders of my party about my concerns and that it is their duty to bring the vast majority of Americans who make up the center closer to the left.

If all of the above wasn't clear enough, I'll be short and simple: I feel Barak Obama is far too moderate a candidate for president at a time when we should be boldly championing liberal issues in the face of conservative failures. Remember, that's what they did to us to win back political primacy? Hammer the voting public with conservative fiscal sensibility and moral honesty in the face of Democratic wishy-washiness? It's time for us to trumpet liberal social values and morality in the face of conservative mean-spiritedness, imperial aspirations, and corruption.

Fox News broadcasters and conservative journalists have been throwing about Senator Obama's liberalism. The fact that he is a Democrat automatically makes him a liberal in their minds, and the fact that he uses the word 'change' so often makes him some scary fringe lefty. Wake up people. There aren't any genuinely fringe leftists in the United States. That involves actual socialism, which just isn't popular here. There certainly aren't any genuine fringe leftists in the leadership of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is a free trader, a deficit hawk, and a voice of the party's post-Bill Clinton moderate establishment. John Edwards, whom many will shout deserves the VP nomination again, is a southern populist. Howard Dean, the party's chairman, is a utilitarian of the old school: he'd have been very liberal in Victorian England but is more center-left now.

The fact is, Senator Obama could very well be a closet conservative. He attends a church pastored by a man who looks on paper to be a likely supporter of Governor Mike Huckabee if Mr. Obama were not running. His economic advisors are a collection of moderate Republicans shut out of their own party by people who think it's better to trust a corporation not to rob its stockholders than it is to trust the government with the power to put people like Ken Lay in jail and meaningfully punish corporations for criminal operations. His campaign has attracted a significant number of fiscal and social conservatives leery of the Christian Coalition wing of the GOP. If we are to judge a man by his friends, as one proverb tells us, then we might be led to believe that Senator Obama would have been the most liberal candidate for the Republican nomination... if he could have persuaded Rudy Giuliani to endorse him instead of competing for the all-important pro-choice vote in the Republican primaries.

Of the possible choices for Democratic nominee that remain, I prefer Senator Obama to Senator Clinton. Doubts about his liberal credentials aside, I don't deny his ability to inspire a liberal revolution with his words. Remember, JFK was a moderate too. I distrust Senator Clinton's unwillingness to state her real positions on issues when they might be controversial and disapprove the way she attempts to appropriate moral high-ground in national security debates despite having followed the administration line on major policy votes on Iraq. If I have to have a pro-war president, at least John McCain will tell me he's pro-war to my face and I feel I can trust him to try to draw line between real terrorists and convenient targets. Senator Obama, however, may genuinely have something new to offer and I can't help but agree that his background and life give him more insight into a point of view beyond that of the corporate exploiter or the ignorant redneck bully, the two faces we have chosen to show the rest of the world far too often.

Still, while he may be the best remaining choice for the Democratic nominee, Senator Obama is no liberal.