It’s official: Obama officially declared that he’s exploring a Presidential bid. He did not announce his candidacy explicitly, but at this stage there’s no difference between going around the country and giving speeches, and being an official candidate. Said Obama,
Running for the presidency is a profound decision — a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone — and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country.
SLC has referred to him as “PZ and Alon’s whipping boy.” Although PZ and I hardly like the guy, I certainly don’t think he’s the worst person in the Democratic primary, and apparently, neither does PZ. He’s completely right when he says,
The only ones with a hint of charisma are Obama (who I will not support) and Edwards; the others just put me to sleep. I guess we just wait to see which drone will receive the DNC coronation—and it won’t be the most interesting candidate, or the one who promises to shake anything up—and we pull the lever for not-Giuliani or not-McCain.
I’ll add to that that although Obama and Edwards have the ability to inspire an audience, they don’t even come close to Bill Clinton in warmth and ability to connect to people. Even Feingold, who managed to win in an insurgent campaign, isn’t up to WJC’s standards.
Of course, inspiring an audience isn’t enough. Hitler was probably the most inspiring major politician of the 20th century. My criticism of Obama and Edwards – Obama more so than Edwards – is that as with the Clintons, the product they’re selling is ultimately an annoying mediocrity.
Obama’s shtick is that he’ll make the trains run on time. Much as I appreciate being able to travel to Philly with relatively few delays, it’s not my top concern; that status is reserved for keeping abortion legal, rolling back the Patriot Act, and scrapping the plan to invade Iran and Syria. Now that Bush seems to be preparing for an invasion of those two countries, it’s even more important to have a candidate with a sufficiently firm foreign policy to be able to say “no.”
Unfortunately, Obama is a complete wildcard on most of those issues (I think he made pro-choice remarks, but his speeches to Evangelicals make me suspect he’ll sacrifice that issue to gain the support of the Sojourners). The official exploratory website’s video mentions that in the Illinois Senate race, he was the only major candidate to oppose the Iraq attack.
Now, I appreciate that; I really do. In 2003, I supported Dean’s bid mostly on account of his opposition to the Iraq war. But as I later learned, Dean’s opposition was a sham, a political ploy. In late 2002, his position on the issue was perfectly mediocre, talking about Saddam’s hypothetical WMD. Taken alone it was still alright, but as Joshua Frank notes, he supported every other American war, when he couldn’t use his opposition to carve out a niche for himself.
For someone with background in international relations, Obama talks surprisingly little about foreign policy. He’s said nothing that I know of about Iran or Syria, the next major issues. Getting out of Iraq is important, but not destroying Iran and Syria is even more important. Right now, the only American politicians I can trust not to mess that up are those who voted the right way on Iraq in 2002. Edwards’ “Sorry, I was duped” apology doesn’t quite cut it.
One of the things I appreciate about Lieberman is that I know where he stands on the issues that matter to me. His stances are usually the diametric opposites of mine, but at least I know what he really thinks and have reasonable grounds to believe he won’t flip-flop.
So Obama is an empty suit who’s being deliberately obscurantist about his politics, except that he thinks that God is great. He’s black, but I’d rather have a black President who isn’t a complete political wildcard. Al Sharpton, who I loathe for his race-baiting rhetoric, would make a better President. Even Condi Rice would make a better President.
But as I said, I don’t think he’s the worst person in the race. He’s certainly not my favorite whipping boy, unless “boy” is interpreted in a gender-specific way. Everything I’ve said about Obama here applies to Hillary Clinton, only she voted for the war, and proved herself to be totally unable to create a workable health care proposal. Obama is untested; Clinton has been thoroughly tested and found woefully deficient. Obama might actually not be a mediocre meanderer if he wins; Clinton will be anything but a mediocre meanderer when she sees the back of her own ear.
Personally, the sort of candidate I like the most is the type that combines competence with vision. The only thing that’s worse than a politician whose slogan is “I’ll make the trains run on time” is a politician who can’t make the trains run on time. I could get excited over Feingold and even Warner because they have very concrete, forward-looking visions, and a record of success in their respective elected offices to prove that they can execute their visions. Obama and Clinton have no vision I can discern; even if they had ones, Clinton couldn’t execute it, and I don’t know if Obama could.
I don’t think that Mr. Bush is going to invade Iran and certainly not Syria. However, a bombing campaign by the US against Iran appears to be likely. I doubt that tSyria will be attacked but they might be warned that if they start trouble in Lebanon, the US will remove the handcuffs from Israel and allow the IDF to finish the unfinished business from last Summer.
One of the reasons Democrats are so reluctant to put their collective feet down on Iran and Syria is because they in a position of power they haven’t seen for a while, and they don’t want to give the Republicans an excuse to drape the “appeaser” label around their neck should Ahmedinejad or the Assaad family get a bit bold for their political positions. I doubt that this will happen, as Ahmedinejad seems more concerned with subtly baiting the U.S. to keep anti-U.S. hysteria (and oil prices) high enough so that his regime can remain stable. But the Democrats are scared shitless of pulling the rug out from underneath their current political upswing.
I don’t think it has anything to do with power. It could be that in 2003, many liberal and Democratic foreign policy realists talked about the importance of Iran as a way of diverting attention from Iraq. Bush made just the right amount of noise about Iran early on for the Democrats to be unable to exploit that politically, to say, “We were right about Iran all along.” They’re faced with the choice of changing their view of foreign policy or toeing Bush’s line. Although politicians have never been wary of flip-flopping, saying “When we talked about Iran, we didn’t mean the US should use military force” is too hard for the Democratic party.
It could be that in 2003, many liberal and Democratic foreign policy realists talked about the importance of Iran as a way of diverting attention from Iraq.
I don’t think that the two causes are necessarily mutually exclusive. The basic problem the Democrats have is that whatever bad things happen are going to be laid at their feet, no matter what, by the Republicans. The Democrats are playing hot potato with Iraq, as well as Iran and Syria. They’re castigating Bush as a way to avoid having to fall into a political trap themselves.
Another thing to consider: if the Republicans go with an escalation in Iraq and Bush goes for some sort of “unitary executive” order to Bomb Iran, the Republicans will be radioactive come 2008, making the Democrats chances much better. The Democrats may want the Republicans to dig their electoral hole just a little bit deeper. Immoral, yes. But the incentive is clearly there.
Immoral, and not necessarily effective. The last time Bush started a war amidst falling popularity, his approval rate shot up by about 20 points. Iran isn’t going to have that effect because the people are too tired of Bush, but it could plausibly promote warmongering enough that McCain and Giuliani will benefit politically.
“isn’t my least favourite’ ..I’m still crunching this one.
Get back to you when I figure it out.
btw the next two years is going to be an endless debate about whether America is ready for a black president, or is america ready for a female president… is america ready for a … really taking away from serious core issue debates. Sad.
As I have stated on Mr. Packards blog, the reluctance of the Democrats to take a stand on Iraq/Iran is due to the lingering effects of the 1950s where the charge that the Truman administration “lost China” and that the Democrats were soft on Communism reverberated with the electorate. They don’t want to be subject to the charge “who lost Iraq.” and that they were soft on Islamic fundamentalism.
Oddly enough, “making the trains run on time” is probably close to what the founding fathers expected of the President. Congress was expected to be the place where visions where pressed forward. I’m not arguing that Americans must or can rewind 200 years of history, nor am I saying the Presidency was outlined as simply as I have just described it. But still, it always amuses me that people on both sides of the aisle make the mistake of electing incompetent presidents with charisma, but never the other way around. Alas.
I don’t think that Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush 1 and 2 could be described as charismatic. Possibly, that term could be applied to Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton.
1. Those uncharismatic presidents did not beat charismatic candidates. The issue doesn’t show up on every election cycle. Eisenhower vs Stevenson is as dull as you can possibly get.
2. Charisma isn’t an objective virtue. Many people find Bush 43 charismatic, even if you and I don’t. He’s very effective on the electoral front. Same can be argued of Carter and Johnson. It sold people at that time, which is all they needed. People are re-thinking Gore today, but back in 1999 he wasn’t inspiring.
The only one on that list that is a stumper is Bush 41, who probably cashed in on Reagan’s capital. The victories of the others can be explained by factors that were present on elections when charisma wasn’t even an option. Three of them were VPs appointed as presidents, two of which went on to relect themselves based on the weight of incumbency. Nixon and Carter won due to large public discontent and faced other lame candidates.
Bush Sr. cashed in not only on Reagan’s capital, but on Dukakis’ utter lack of charisma. If I’m not mistaken, Dukakis was ahead until his death penalty blunder.