A few days ago Coturnix made the best case for Obama I’ve seen. He meant it as a case for Edwards, but ends up making Obama look better. For some reason, people obsess too much about Obama’s purported bipartisanship. The idea, Bora and Ezra say, is that since Obama doesn’t piss too many people off, he must be a bad choice.
Obama supporters who are familiar with his record in the Illinois legislature say that his bipartisanship is simply a method of getting liberal policies passed. Forming alliances with moderate Republicans is certainly a good thing—if you don’t believe me, ask Feingold. The trick is to make sure that you’re not the side that’s being conned out of its agenda.
Candidates aren’t there to please the party’s base. The base will vote for the nominee no matter what; the trick is to please independent voters. Rove tried to campaign by running to the right, and as a result the Republicans lost decisively in 2006 despite running against a politically impotent party.
Normally, I don’t encourage candidates to run to the center, because it tends to involve selling out too much of the agenda. But Feingold could reach out to libertarian-leaning independents, while remaining the most liberal person in the Senate. Likewise, Obama’s reach is a rhetorical move, a strategy intended to convince people who aren’t yet convinced.
In that light, Coturnix’s complaint becomes a very strong case for Obama and against Edwards. Maybe a few members of the Democratic base will support Edwards because he’s liable to annoy people. Those who want to achieve things rather than to gloat should then vote for Obama.
Obviously, I’m not as pro-Obama as the previous few paragraphs make me sound. My main misgiving is something only somewhat related to Obama’s search for friends rather than enemies: I’m not sure where Obama stands on a few key issues, and he’s unlikely to say something stark enough for me to ever be.
Obama’s reaching out to Republicans is perfectly alright, since it’s easy to have this sort of bipartisan reach without abandoning liberal values. The problem is when a segment of the Republicans is invited to the Democratic Party, where it can agitate for changing the Democratic Party’s values.
I don’t think Obama himself holds Dominionist values. He’s not pro-separation of church and state, but he’s not a Dominionist, either. On the cardinal issue of Dominionism, abortion, he appears to be on the liberal side. Even his “Atheists should shut up” rhetoric could be excusable if he did good things for the secularist agenda.
However, his Call to Renewal is nothing if not an invitation. Inviting Jim Wallis and Amy Sullivan to the party, even with the best intentions, is a recipe for disasters. No matter what they say about abortion now, they’ll change their tone once they have enough power within the party.
Evangelicals didn’t take over the Republican Party by showing up and demanding bans on abortion. No; they showed up and suggested that Republicans talk about moral values and emphasize that they were fighting an enemy whose values were inimical to those of Christianity. The main focus wasn’t on social conservatism, but on noting that economic conservatism was compatible with Christian Evangelism.
So far, there’s nothing that differentiates the Republicans’ alliance with Dominionist voters in the 1970s from the impending Democratic alliance. However, there is one worrying disanalogy. Beginning in the 1980s, Dominionists had nobody to turn to except the Republicans, so the Republicans could take them for granted. Reagan threw them bones, and so did Bush Sr. and Gingrich. In 25 years the only thing they could achieve was a Supreme Court justice and a half (Roberts is pro-life but pro-gay rights).
If the Democrats appeal to Dominionists, they won’t be able to take them for granted. Even if the Republicans nominate Giuliani, who has little appeal to Evangelical voters, they’ll still carry a sizable block of foreign policy-minded Dominionists, so that the Dominionist movement as a whole will be able to parry with both parties over cultural issues.
Still, the point is that there’s a big difference between working with the other party and inviting its voters over. The former would be a Feingold-Hagel bill to cut off funding for the occupation of Iraq. The latter would be Feingold making a speech saying the Democratic Party ought to listen to social conservatives provided they are anti-war. One is a political strategy to achieve one’s goals in the real world; the other is political suicide.
Although Obama does both, the attacks on him unfairly concentrate on the former. It’s a good thing that Obama is forming temporary alliances where it’s in both sides’ interest; the politics of negotiation work better than the politics of Rovian partisanship.