American Culture

Obama and the art of the wide stance

By Martin Bosworth

I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what Barack Obama is about lately. Like his infamous colleague Larry Craig,the Senator from Illinois seems to be taking a wide stance–but where Craig’s wide stance was bracketed by the infamous airport bathroom stall where he made his political mark (so to speak), Obama’s issue stances are so broad that both supporters and opponents alike are scratching their heads, wondering “What the hell does this guy stand for?”

Consider the following:

While ramping up his efforts to attack Hillary Clinton as a typical DC insider and friend to corporate interests, Obama actually beat Clinton to the punch in expressing his support for the expansion of NAFTA into Peru, guaranteeing that workers’ interests would be shafted in favor of the same corporate interests that would benefit from so-called “free” trade–and assuring them that he can be their friend even better than Hillary.

Then you have his idea of tolerance apparently exemplified as an anti-gay pastor speaking at his rallies, then adding a gay white pastor to speak to largely black crowds–barely.

And Obama seems to have completely swallowed the Kool-Aid that Social Security is a looming crisis that must be immediately “dealt with” in some vague fashion, even though this is an issue that has (at least for me) been thoroughly debunked. How odd is it for a candidate that so strongly espouses change and new solutions as Obama to wholeheartedly embrace a topic that puts him squarely at odds with one of the first big progressive victories of the new millenium?

Not to mention that Obama (along with Biden, Dodd, and Clinton) missed the late-night vote to confirm Michael “Waterboarding’s not really torture” Mukasey as Attorney General.

And yet, Obama has come out in favor of net neutrality more strongly than any other candidate to date. He has joined sponsorship of legislation to prevent media consolidation that would hurt minority media ownership. Despite what people may tell you, he voted against the odious 2005 bankruptcy bill. And he’s been against the Iraq (and Iran) wars from the get-go.

Even as Obama’s rhetoric sharpens against his competitors for the Presidential nomination, he continues to portray himself as the candidate of change, of building bridges, of inclusiveness and bipartisanship. I don’t expect candidates to follow a check-box litmus test of issues I agree with–that’s ludicrous. What I do want is for their stances to make sense, to flow from a coherent framework of an ideal of governance. Obama is trying so hard to be inclusive that his policy positions are all over the place, but he’s not coherently explaining how these differing stances work together.

To paraphrase an old saying, if you try to stand for everything, how can you really stand for anything? Can Obama’s wide stance really hold him aloft, or is he in danger of losing his balance?

9 replies »

  1. But Obama has a nice voice in the tradition of James Earl Jones and Paul Robeson. hehehe

    It was amusing that the Republicans have picked Minneapolis for the 08 convention. They must’ve sent Larry Craig to scout things out.

  2. “. . . he continues to portray himself as the candidate of change, of building bridges”

    There you have it. Like a bridge, he seeks to span the great divide with his “wide stance.”

    Curious to me that you posted on this, Martin, because I had been wondering the same thing about him. In fact, I’d been wondering why most Democrats are inconsistent in their positions.

    To true progressives, they seem unintegrated. They thus resemble much of the public, who approach issues one at a time, as if they exist in a vacuum. Instead of as links in a chain.

    It speaks to lack of grounding in the core progressive values, around which positions should revolve. I won’t use the word “ignorance,” but I think many Democrats demonstrate a naivete about issues that apes that of the public.

  3. One more thing. . .

    In the latest Rolling Stone, actor/comedian Chris Rock is interviewed. Here’s part of his answer to the question “Is America ready to elect a black president?”

    “I think sometimes Obama doesn’t realize he’s the black candidate. . . If you’re the only black guy playing ball with white guys, they expect you to dunk. ‘We could have picked another white guy to stay on the ground.'”

  4. Russ,

    Actually, a lot of Republicans have the same problem with unintegrated policy positions. That’s why the right-wing base hasn’t embraced Mike Huckabee, for instance–true, he’s an evangelical fundie, but he’s also supported real positions on global warming, supports protections against predatory lending, and (most of all) raised taxes as Governor of Arkansas. That’s driving them nuts.

    Ron Paul is the same way–his positions are probably the most consistent in terms of a framework, but they’re not positions that the business/neocon wing of the GOP can embrace.

    You’ve seen how Giuliani and Romney have feverishly cast aside some of their old progressive stances (abortion rights, national health insurance) to embrace the psychosis of the fundies. That’s how these guys work–their policies are as inconsistent as the Dems, but they’re better at being two-faced. 🙂

    Now, as far as the Dems go, Dodd and Edwards have fairly consistent policy frameworks coming from their histories–Dodd embraces both the best and worst aspects of the classic patrician Northeastern liberal, and Edwards works the Southern populist angle. Hillary is the centrist and the one most likely to appeal to the big money players who just want someone to ensure the stock market will be stable, and the neocons who want a continued military presence in the Middle East.

    Obama’s trying to appeal to all of these different bases at once, and the end result is he has this amorphous message of change and hope, but nothing really solid to back it up.

  5. Martin,

    “. . . he has this amorphous message of change and hope”

    Amorphous mess is more like it.

    Yeah, you’re right about the Republicans.

    And Dodd, Edwards and Paul are the only ones who are true to their traditions in their entirety. Dodd and Edwards, liberal; Paul, libertarian.