February 5, 2008 – talkingpointsmemo.com – by Kathleen Geier
That said, I’m getting increasingly weirded out by some of Obama’s supporters.
On listservs I’m on, some people who should know better – hard-bitten, not-so-young cynics, even – are gushing about Barack, raving about his “game-changing” politics, about his “power to inspire,” about how they wept while viewing the now-famous Dipdive video, and on and on.
Then there’s this unsettling article from a few weeks back about Obama’s volunteer operation. One volunteer speaks of her encounter with the man himself:
But the clincher came on March 17, when she met the Democratic contender face to face. She describes how he lit up the room with his wide smile, shook her hand and thanked her for volunteering.” He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words,” said Mack, now a regional field organizer. Obama hugged her and whispered something in her ear – she was so thrilled she doesn’t remember what it was.
Mack wanted to drill home one of the campaign’s key strategies: telling potential voters personal stories of political conversion.She urged volunteers to hone their own stories of how they came to Obama – something they could compress into 30 seconds on the phone.
“Work on that, refine that, say it in the mirror,” she said. “Get it down.”
She told the volunteers that potential voters would no doubt confront them with policy questions. Mack’s direction: Don’t go there. Refer them to Obama’s Web site, which includes enough material to sate any wonk.
Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of “coming to Obama” in the same way born-again Christians talk about “coming to Jesus.”
But he’s not Jesus! He’s not going to magically enable us to transcend the bitter partisanship that is tearing this country apart. And even if he is elected, in no way will that show that somehow we have “gotten beyond” race.
The Obama campaign’s instruction to their volunteers to steer clear of policy questions. How can we truly bring about real political change if the movement the Obama people are building is devoid of ideological content, content merely to mouth gauzy generalities about “coming together” and “yes we can”? Such a movement becomes a cult or personality rather than engine for social justice and political transformation. And personality cults can be a huge turnoff to those who are not already drinking the Kool-Aid.
Don’t get me wrong — inspiration is fine, necessary even, and the impressive grassroots organizing the Obama campaign is doing holds real promise. Ultimately though, neither Barack Obama nor any other leader is going to save us. What progressives achieve or do not achieve during the next presidency is almost completely dependent on how strong progressives are as a political movement.
Just look at our current president. He’s miserably incompetent and widely despised by at least half the country. And yet, he’s gotten much of his agenda passed through Congress. This has little to do with any special talents or abilities George W. Bush possesses has everything to do with the incredible power and discipline of the conservative movement in this country.
That’s why, although I support Barack, I don’t think Clinton would govern in ways that would be much different from him (except perhaps in foreign policy – and even there, there’s some doubt, since their senate votes about Iraq have tended to be similar). Like Obama, Clinton is a savvy pragmatist. If the center of gravity moves to the left, that’s where she’ll be.
I worry, however, that some Obama supporters have become so emotionally invested in him that they would not support Clinton if she eventually prevails. And that would be tragic. Voters are fed up with Republicans, have moved significantly to the left on many political issues, and are more open to voting Democratic than at any time in years. Democrats are well-positioned to finally to enact a progressive agenda and maybe even achieve long-deferred progressive goals like universal health care and labor law reform.
To do any of this, a Democratic president is essential. And the small differences between Clinton and Obama are infinitesimal indeed when compared to the differences between either of them and any of the Republicans.
There’s a famous story about FDR meeting with a group of reformers trying to persuade him to support one of their goals. After they finished speaking, FDR said to them, “You’ve convinced me. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”
We need to remember that — that the next president will do the right thing only if there are incentives (in the form of massive political pressure) for him or her to do so.
So I say, we should all get a grip, stop all this unseemly mooning over Barack, see him and the political landscape he is a part of in a cooler, clearer, and more realistic light, and get to work.