Hilzoy did a lot of my anti-Obama work for me by approvingly listing the pieces of legislation he’d helped craft in his first two years in the Senate. He’s done work on securing loose Russian nukes, fighting bird flu, quality control for genetic testing, lobbying reform, raising CAFE standards, and banning no-bid contracts for FEMA.
She characterizes these issues as, “The wonky legislation that I love.” Wonky legislation is good insofar as it pegs the legislator as a competent technocrat who will make the trains run on time. Unfortunately, since nobody in the US rides trains outside the solidly Democratic Northeast Corridor, this approach isn’t worth much when it comes to winning elections, to say nothing of being a good President.
A lot of people are going on about how Obama has not sponsored legislation on any of the Vital Issues Of The Day. Personally, I think that he’d have to be delusional to introduce, say, his own solution to the health insurance crisis: no bill on such a topic introduced by a freshman senator from the minority party would have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, and the only reason to introduce one would be to grandstand. For that reason, I think that his failure to do so tends to speak well of him.
(Besides, consider how many Senators must have been watching for any hint of self-importance when Obama arrived in the Senate, given the press he had coming in; how many of them would have had to have been waiting for any sign that he was thinking: here am I, the wondrous Barack Obama, ready to set the Senate straight! The fact that he seems to have disarmed most of them is, I think, an achievement in its own right; it would have been impossible had he introduced his own comprehensive anti-poverty program, or something.)
The only thing that indicates is that inexperienced people should not run for President. If Obama can’t be bothered to write legislation on an issue that requires making a stand, it’s always a strike against him. It’s not so much the initiative that counts as the showing signs of caring on an issue that polls at less than 70%. I know of exactly one important piece of legislation Feingold crafted – the State-Based Health Care Reform Act. That’s not why I was enthusiastic about his potential candidacy; that honor belongs to his dissenting vote on the Patriot Act.
The fact that so many of those competence based bills are bipartisan should suggest that picking a candidate based on them is futile. McCain is as capable of making trains run on time as any Democrat. If liberals oppose him but support Obama, they’re nothing but partisan hacks who’ll vote for any demagogue with a D next to his name.
Incidentally, the same competence based approach is becoming more and more party dogma. The last piece of mail I’ve received from the Democratic Party asked me to rank the most important national issues, in a closed survey where the choices are,
Strengthening Social Security
Expanding the middle class and making it more prosperous
Lowering sky high gas prices and reducing dependence on foreign oil
Resolving the Iraq War
Making quality health care more affordable
Protecting the U.S. from terrorism
Preserving our environment
Note to the Democratic Party: you have a significant contingent of voters whose number one concern is keeping abortion legal, making sure gays have the same rights as straights, or offering illegal immigrants legal status. Women and minorities are floating your coalition; white men voted Republican 53-44 in 2006, and white, straight, Christian men voted Republican in even greater numbers. Apart from that, you also sit on a large number of voters who would appreciate it if you mentioned something about restoring habeas corpus.