Monday, January 28, 2008

Briefly Noted

Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) endorsement of Barack Obama was confirmed by the New York Times this morning. For those of you who don't have time to read the article, Teddy's official entry into the chase for delegates was prompted by his dismay over the Clinton campaign's tactics in South Carolina. Kennedy will also have an influential role in the campaign for Super Delegates, of which there are over 700 if the Michigan and Florida delegations are not seated.

That said, also in today's Times,Paul Krugman points to the need for we academic historians to work faster than we do to get analysis to the public, something some of us are starting to talk about as a methodological category with its own set of challenges: "recent history." Krugman asks those who are comforted by Obama's promise of inclusiveness and a politics freedom from conflict: "Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?" Click here for Krugman's reminder that after Bill Clinton's stunning victory, which had strong populist elements, that the administration was first disabled (on health care and gays in the military) and then pushed strongly to the center on social issues, not by division within the party, but by Republican dirty deeds that kept the administration on its heels fighting ludicrous charges that were repeated by the media as if they constituted legitimate political issues. "No accusation was considered too outlandish," Krugman reminds us: "a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler." Does Obama think he is immune from this? Early indications suggest that the lunatic fringe has already begun to circulate such stories. Therefore, we who are preparing to shift gears and support him should the nomination go his way hope that he is aware of what the road to hell is paved with.

Krugman also points out that although some of the tactics from the Clinton campaign have been "boorish,"the Obama campaign has also practiced the art of selective interpretation spreading false information to "demonize" its opposition. But even if this were not the case, the lesson of 1992 is not that Obama's promise of inclusiveness will create change once he gets to the White House but that a new administration needs to be committed to policies and ready to fight for them from day one, perhaps without compromise. "What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward," Krugman concludes. "Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing."

Right on. And it could be any of the three candidates who are able to steer this course, with the right allies. Readers here know that I am most convinced it can be Edwards. But here is a piece of wisdom I would offer the Obama camp in terms of crafting a strong campaign: Barack's heavy emphasis on matters of political style, as if that in and of itself constituted a break from the political past, is simply naive. I am particularly turned off by the notion, which I have heard him speak about three times (once in the South Carolina debate), that he will conduct high-level policy negotiations on C-Span. Personally, I think both Edwards and Clinton have demonstrated a great deal of grace by not telling him in public that promising his supporters this is either dumb or rash, depending on the level of genuine good will behind the idea. If Obama really believes that this will happen, or that a President can just tell the Congress to put committee meetings that are not now open to the public on national television, he knows less about Washington than he should, even after the short time he has spent there. On the other hand, if he is just saying this to persuade us of his desire for transparency it is misleading. It has just as much chance of happening as videotaping a debate over a tenure case and putting it up on YouTube.


Debrah said...

Questions for the Clintons

Obama will obliterate those bottom-feeding cretins.

There is a G/d!

Anonymous said...

there have been less strange things on youtube ;P

undine said...

I think the key here is "repeated by the media." Krugman is right about what happened to Clinton in 1992, and, as if in a gigantic overcorrection, the media paralyzed itself for the first five years of the Bush administration, terrified that someone would label it "unpatriotic." Media outlets willingly repeated absurd lies fed to them by the White House in the name of "fairness," never commenting on inconsistencies or changes in stories (the only one to note those was Jon Stewart on _The Daily Show_).

The singular triumph of the Bush administration has been its brilliant handling of the press, at least until someone woke the press up a couple of years back. The Republicans will pull the same stunts again, and whoever the candidate is will have to deal with them, but let's hope that the media can bring a little skepticism and objectivity this time, not to mention an attention span longer than that of a goldfish.

Belle said...

Opening such debates to a public that is only rarely connected to the reality of international politics and considerations? Is he insane? Will his supporters (obviously, no, I'm not one) buy that? You may be right that he's not that naive, but are his supporters?

gwoertendyke said...

this seems like a strange thing to criticize, actually.

it is neither here nor there....Clinton seems to know exactly what she will do "on day one" and possibly for the duration of her presidency but somehow this is no less discomforting.

is it not impressive that, despite policy differences, Obama has proven able to mobilize broad support? it is true, he seems far closer to Bill C. than Hillary C., and perhaps that carries with it some unwanted baggage.

the country has moved so far to the right, edwards doesn't have a chance....Clinton promises to polarize in ways that go far deeper than Obama.

i'm just sayin.

LumpenProf said...

This post has really made me want to start posting tenure meetings on youtube...

Anonymous said...

Have you noticed that the 2008 Barack Obama has fewer skeletons in his closet than the 1992 Bill Clinton? Have you noticed that Barack Obama is more judicious and less impulsive than the 1992 Bill Clinton?

Do you think Barack Obama hasn't studied the history of the Presidency?

Do you think Barack Obama is stupid enough to begin his Washington agenda with an issue like gays in the military?

I think you underestimate Barack Obama. And Krugman underestimates his readers.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear anonymous,

I notice a great many things. Particularly that Obama seems to be working hard to get *hostility* out of politics. So chill, why don't you? Or if you can't chill, don't be anonymous and take responsibility for your tone. It's one thing for debrah to be bombastic -- it's her role in life -- but leaving her (slightly more subdued than usual) post up is not an invitation to others to insult me.

I think all these comparisons are silly. I hope Obama doesn't have skeletons in the closet, but frankly most people who have had long and interesting lives do, and what is a skeleton to one person is just an interesting piece of personal history to another.

And there was nothing stupid about Clinton putting gays in the military at the front of his agenda in 1993-- it was a deeply honorable thing to do, given that it was a campaign promise to gays, who turned out in large numbers to support him. And I say this although I myself am not one of those people who would start reforming society by creating more opportunities for queers in the military.


Anonymous said...

"I think you underestimate Barack Obama."

No offense, but I think you may be overestimating him.

Anonymous said...

5:32 PM EST wrote:

"No offense, but I think you may be overestimating him."

Would you do me a favor and go over my post at 9:19 PM EST and let me know exactly how I have "overestimat[ed] him"?

I will be happy to respond to your response in detail, if you oblige me this request. Thanks.

Debrah said...

Moynihan's widow backs Obama

Anonymous said...

"Moynihan's widow backs Obama."

At least it wasn't Moynihan.

Debrah said...

From the article:

In “The Gentleman From New York,” a biography of Mr. Moynihan, Godfrey Hodgson wrote: “Privately, the senator’s wife had not hidden her impression that Hillary Clinton ‘didn’t get it,’ meaning that she didn’t understand how either the Senate or the senator worked.”

He wrote that the Moynihans were impressed with Mrs. Clinton’s “intelligence and candor,” but that even on the eve of the July 1999 visit to the farm, Mrs. Moynihan had reservations about using her home as a public launching pad.

“I’ve never made a circus for Pat, and I’m not going to make a circus for her,” Mrs. Moynihan was quoted as saying.

Mrs. Moynihan said she did not notify the Clinton campaign of her decision, but in her statement said that Mrs. Clinton had “become a very good senator.”

On its Web site Wednesday, The New York Post endorsed Mr. Obama, saying he “represents a fresh start” while Mrs. Clinton “and her husband, stand for déjà vu all over again, a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.”