Thinking About Obama
Some of my friends who were big Obama supporters in the primaries are fretting that he's lost his way. They've taken to sending around Arianna Huffington posts urging Obama not to remake himself for the fall race.
I don't take much stock in what Arianna says. She has remade herself too. And very nicely I might add.
Every presidential candidate retools their message for the fall race. McCain is doing it too.
And there are some things that are changing, like the situation in Iraq, that demand new rhetoric, maybe even new policy. I know that many Iraq haters just want our troops out of there and don't really care how it happens. They have seen Obama as their best hope and so when he recognizes that the dynamics are changing, they freak out. I for one, want a President who sees the truth and deals with it. The truth is that Obama will get our troops out of Iraq more quickly than McCain, but there's also an opportunity in Iraq for an even better outcome that didn't seem possible a year ago when Obama put together his plan for the primaries.
I think Obama's greatest political asset is his ability to be "what people want to see in him". I liked this quote so much from a recent Salon piece that I reblogged it on my tumblog:
By refusing to define Red Bull, advertisers allowed each slice of its overall market to interpret the beverage for itself. Likewise, the “vagueness” that many flinty political junkies complain of in Obama permits all sorts of disparate people — progressives, independents, intellectuals, young people, minority advocates, renegade Republicans — to see the reflection of their own desires in the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name.
Arianna is complaining that Obama is "staking out newly nuanced positions on FISA, gun control laws, expansion of the death penalty, and NAFTA." Well maybe what he's trying to do is show some of those "disparate people" that he's a lot more like them than they knew.
The guy needs to get >50% of the votes of all americans to win the Presidency. I don't see how pandering to the liberal base of the democratic party gets that job done.
And while we are discussing "moving to the center", one area where I'd suggest Obama seriously retool his thinking is on free trade. He did terribly in Ohio and not a lot better in Pennsylvania. His message for the ravaged former industrial sections of the country like upstate NY, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, etc is not a strong one right now. Hillary took the traditional democratic positions in those regions and played her hand well. But it's a losing hand once you get the opportunity to govern.
The truth is the manufacturing jobs aren't coming back and to pretend that they are, or that by amending some bad trade agreements will fix the situation, is ignoring the truth. And Obama is smart enough to know the truth, which is that in the global economy that we are in today, those manufacturing jobs are gone.
But the rapid decline of the dollar, the rise of technology that allows for remote workforces, and the reality that our higher education system still turns out well educated kids gives us an opportunity that we must seize. Kids who come out of Ohio State or Penn State or University of Michigan can live and work in their home states for very competitive wages worldwide. We need to look at what Ireland did twenty years ago and do some of those things in the regions of our country where we've lost manufacturing jobs. We need a turnaround plan for those parts of the country, not pandering and lies to make people feel like the good times are coming back.
I suspect that the blue collar workers who have seen their line of work disappear in the past 20 years know that its not coming back. They are resigned to that fact. But what they worry about most is what their kids will do for a living.
That's the opportunity for Obama. Talk about what's possible in the new world we live in. Talk the truth. It won't win him any union points, but I don't think the path to the Presidency flows through the unions anymore.
I don't call that "moving to the center". I call that smart policy and smart politics. And that's what it's going to take for Obama to win this fall.