07.05.08 Obama: Change We Can’t Believe In

I certainly don’t claim that the title of this post is original (you’ll find it all over the internet now).  But it seems to sum up the state of Barack Obama’s candidacy better than any other rubric I can think of.  Or you might consider the title the New York Times gave their lead editorial yesterday “New and Not Improved.”

My lefty and generally cynical friends are beating up on me now for ever having swallowed the Obama kool-aid.  Well, it’s better to admit that one is wrong (ala John Edwards and the war vote) than to stick with being wrong (ala Hillary Clinton [who, apparently thinks she has never made a mistake in her life]).  I was wrong.

I didn’t catch the Obama virus back in ’07.  He seemed too centrist and wishy-washy all along.  It was only when he won Iowa that I swooned.  It was not only my excitement over his rhetoric and his masterful delivery.  It was also the whole movement that was coalescing around him.  How refreshing to be part of something so grass-roots, so authentic, so hopeful!

Besides, I have loathed the cynical Clintons for a good decade and Obama seemed to promise the opposite of their say-anything, do-anything brand of incessant triangulation and posturing.

What a lesson the past three weeks have taught me (not to mention tens of thousands of other Obama supporters).

For me, the first clear indication of bad news was the way Obama withdrew from the public campaign finance system.  I reluctantly agreed with the decision itself: there is no point in tying one’s hands behind one’s back, while the other side gears up its shadowy 527 groups for a massive Swiftboat attack.  

The disgusting part was Obama’s attempt to wrap this tactical decision in lofty rhetoric: a “Declaration of Independence,” a triumphal moment of returning politics to the little guy.  What a load of cynical, self-serving crap!  (Let me amend that: it was hardly self-serving.  This bullshit didn’t gain Obama a single vote.  It merely served to shatter the image he had built of being an honest and different political leader.)

Then came, in rapid succession, the betrayals on FISA, guns, separation of church and state, withdrawal from Iraq, the death penalty.  And yesterday, the news came out that this cynical pol is going soft on choice (he has now called for excluding mental health from the “health of the mother” exceptions to the ban on late-term abortions).

There certainly remains a stark contrast between Barack Obama and John McCain.  If nothing else, think about the prospect of two more GOP appointments to the Supreme Court.

What has disappeared entirely for me is the contrast between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Here we have the same old Clintonian story: a lack of philosophical principles; the use of cynical, false rhetoric to try and gain momentary advantage; pandering to the right whenever it feels convenient.

I expected the Democratic nominee to tack toward the center once the primaries were over.  What is so striking about Obama is the rapidity with which he is abandoning any pretense of progressiveness on almost every issue one can think of.  And further: how unnecessary most of this run to the right and to cynicism has been.  (How many votes do you think Obama gained by publicly opposing the Supreme Court’s only correct decision in recent weeks — the one to narrow application of the death penalty?!)

After watching Gore and Kerry run to the right and lose in 2000 and 2004, neither one able to articulate a reason for running or a principle they believed in, I swore I was done supporting any similar candidates at a national level.

I also swore that I would neither support — nor vote for — Hillary Clinton, if she got the nomination, for reasons I’ve touched on above.

More recently, I let Maryland’s senior senator, Barbara Mikulski, know that I would never again cast a vote for her because of her consistent sell-outs to the Bush Administration on FISA and other issues.  (Sen. Ben Cardin, after having been on the correct side of FISA all year, also caved last week.  Kudos to Rep. Chris Van Hollen who voted the right way in the House two weeks ago.)

So, what am I going to do abut Obama?

If I lived in a swing state, I would hold my nose and vote for him.  The risk of Bush Term III under McCain is simply too great.

But I don’t.  I live in Maryland.  So, for the first time in my life, I am going to vote for a third-party candidate for president.  I don’t know yet who that will be; though, you can be damn certain that it won’t be Nader, who is directly responsible for the past 7.5 years of utter hell.

What remains to be seen is whether Obama can win, after having wrenched the guts out of his entire rationale as a candidate. Despite my disgust with him, I sure hope he can.  

©2008 Keith Berner

Explore posts in the same categories: Politics, Presidential Campaign 2008

11 Comments on “07.05.08 Obama: Change We Can’t Believe In”

  1. Dennis in Portland (OR!) Says:

    Damn Keith! Now you tell me. Just after I spent a whole week organizing our block to have a bake sale because we were Hungry for Change! Even raised $455. Should I have kept the money?


  2. Kevin Zeese Says:


    Congratulations for seeing the realithy of Obama. It is very sad to see him run to the right so fast that people are getting whiplash but it is predictable. This is the Democratic Party playbook — turn your base off by taking them for granted and show the swing voters you can’t be trusted to say what you mean are stand for your views.

    Many people got it about the Democrats when LBJ ran as the peace candidate against Goldwater and then escalated the Vietnam War. I didn’t fully get it till the Clinton triangulation years. Glad to see you’re getting it now.

    I’m sorry to see you still have it wrong on Nader-Gore-Bush but it is hard to get it all right all at once. Hopefully, down the road you will see that the reason that Gore lost is pretty evident; Gore lost because . . . (drumbeat please) . . . because of Gore! He ran to the right, picked the most hawkish Democrat possible Lieberman as his VP (a heart beat away from the presidency, how frightening) and even sounded more hawkish than Bush during the 2000 campaign. And then, after running a lousy campaign, he ran a lousy post-election struggle for an accurate vote count — set the wrong strategy and then backed down too soon. Gore did not deserve to win — and as a result we all got Bush.



  3. Keith Berner Says:

    Reply to Dennis in Portland: Definitely keep the money. Use it as a down-payment on a new SUV!


  4. Mark in Virginia Says:

    Sorry Keith

    I am still voting for Obama, still volunteering, and still giving money. I think both you and Kevin have it wrong as to why Democrats lose and I think the netroots have it wrong.

    Democrats lose because they do not fight back against the successful stereotypes Republicans throw at them.

    Democrats lose because they believe that there actually exists a 51% majority that supports liberal democrats on most every issue.

    Democrats lose because they beat their chest over every transgression there candidate makes against liberal orthodoxy.

    Democrats lose because they believe that living in a supposedly safe democratic state means they can lodge a protest vote, ignoring the fact the MSM is just waiting to create a meme that Obama has lost his base and then creates a persistently negative tone of coverage, affecting the actual swing states.

    I do not like his FISA position, I don’t really give a damn how he pulled out of the campaign finance system, and I don’t like his comments on the supreme court decision. But I think Obama will be a damn stretch better than McCain, will bring change, and will surprise those when he is president who are now feeling moral superiority and retreating to the comfort of a protest vote.


  5. Ed Says:

    For heaven’s sake. Everybody knows why the democrats don’t win presidential elections and there are 1000 different “this is why” themes. Today’s democrats are not the feisty, tough working class democrats of yesteryear. Today they are middle class centric and unable to focus because of their anger.

    That said, here’s my take (number 1001): democrats are not a united party with a central philosophy or mission any longer. They are literally hundreds of angry single-issue groups joined by the one idea that they are unable to be anything else but democrats. They can’t be conservative, standard-republicans or NeoCons … so they are democrats or, worse, independents.

    Focus on one thing … THE SUPREME COURT. Forget the rest if you are unable to compromise your lofty principles or your values. The next president gets to appoint several justices and the majority of them will be replacing the lonely 4 progressive justices we now have. Think on that and do what you have to. POLITICS IS ABOUT COMPROMISE and if you don’t understand that you don’t understand anything at all.


  6. Kathy P Says:

    Keith: I thought this piece. “Vast, Left-handed Conspiracy,” belonged on your blog!

    Sunday, July 6, 2008; B02


    When Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain take the stage for the presidential debates, attentive viewers may notice both candidates scribbling notes with their left hands. Political junkies will remember that such a curiosity has occurred before: In 1992, all three contenders — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot — were southpaws.

    In the race for the White House, lefties seem to have the upper hand. No matter who wins in November, six of the 12 chief executives since the end of World War II will have been left-handed: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush, Clinton and either Obama or McCain. That’s a disproportionate number, considering that only one in 10 people in the general population is left-handed.

    For years, left-handedness was not treated as a point of pride, much less a qualification for high office. Remnants of anti-leftiness are everywhere: A right-hand man is indispensable, but who wants a dancing partner with two left feet? The words “adroitness” and “dexterity” derive from the French and Latin words for “right,” while “gauche” and “sinister” derive from the words for “left.” In the New Testament, the souls of sinners who fail to meet with the Savior’s approval are sent to his left — and to eternal damnation. No wonder that, well into the 20th century, children who showed signs of left-handedness when writing were forced to switch hands.

    Even today, left-handers are thought to be accident-prone (not true), and a study once showed them to be at risk for early death (it was debunked). But what about their brains? Is it possible that right- and left-handed people — and presidents — think differently?

    Perhaps. Some left-handers may be better armed for the challenges of leadership because of the way their brains handle language and dexterity (sorry, there’s no other word). For nearly all right-handers, language abilities reside exclusively on one side of the brain — usually the left, which controls the right hand. But one in seven lefties process language on bo th sides of the brain, possibly because using their left hands during childhood stimulated the development of the right half. So Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama may have left-handedness to thank for their legendary speaking abilities.

    The benefits of being a lefty aren’t only verbal. Many artists and great political thinkers were lefties — Pablo Picasso and Benjamin Franklin, for example. Lefties are overrepresented among the mathematically talented and are also more likely to find unexpected or counterintuitive solutions on problem-solving tests.

    So maybe the number of left-handed presidents isn’t so surprising after all. But why did they only start popping up in the past 50 years? Probably because before that, many lefties were turned into righties by stern tutors and teachers, so few presidents before World War II would have been officially left-handed. In fact, the only known left-handed president before the turn of the 20th century was James Garfield. He was ambidextrous, and legend has it that he could write in Latin with one hand while simultaneously writing the same sentence in Greek with the other. Talk about a way with words.

    Then again, we know of no historical evidence to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was left-handed, and he had an even better way with words. The first President Bush, on the other hand, was a southpaw but wasn’t exactly known for his silver tongue (more like a silver foot, in the late Ann Richards’s inimitable phrase). So should we add left-handedness to the requirements for U.S. presidents? As two right-handed scientists, we recommend some . . . evenhandedness.

    — Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, co-authors of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life”


  7. Keith,

    You and I have had a few exchanges over the years, and they have always been about the same thing: the Democratic Party sold out to the unpatriotic, multinational monopoly corporations long ago and has never looked back to their roots as a Jeffersonian-Jacksonian party of the people.

    It’s good to see that you see the truth about Obama. Now, can you see the truth about the Democratic Party as a whole?

    There’s a reason Obama has stabbed his supporters in the back: money! BIG MONEY!

    There’s a reason the Democratic Party has stabbed the people in the back, over and over for decades: money! BIG MONEY!

    Here’s my advice for avoiding politicians that serve big business instead of serving us: follow the money!

    It will always work for you. Just follow the money!

    I’ll refer you back (above) to Kevin’s comments on Ralph Nader. And I’ll add that Nader is our only nationally recognized and widely heard voice right now and for the last 8 years expressing a genuine progressive agenda in national elections.

    Of all progressive voices, his is the only one with the integrity to never sell out to big money and big business that also has a national and international bullhorn. Most of us never get heard. Why reject that voice based on an urban myth spread incessantly by the very institution that has sold us out again and again, the Democratic Party?

    We’ve got to get past our fears and start voting our hopes if we are ever to save our sinking democracy, and I can’t think of a better place to begin than with supporting Nader’s campaign, turning the current 6 percent he is getting in the polls into 10 percent so we can get him into the Google/Youtube debates and then turning that perch into a genuine three-way race that will shake up the status quo and move the discussion onto our real problems and solutions.

    As for the “Supreme Court” argument mentioned above: I can’t think of a more fallacious reason for throwing your vote away on a corporate Democrat who has shown over and again how willing he is to ignore your needs and focus only on the needs of the big corporate monopolies.

    What we’ve found over the centuries our nation has existed is that presidents have never been very accurate at their attempts to control the future through their Supreme Court appointments. People change with the times and often, those considered “liberal” deliver conservative decisions in conservative times those considered conservative deliver liberal decisions during liberal times. The Supreme Court has always been notoriously susceptible to public opinion. They are human beings just like the rest of us are and they are subject to the same public pressures.

    If people would pay more attention to changing the public discussion in a more progressive direction than micromanaging Supreme Court decisions during presidential campaigns, we’d get a more progressive Supreme Court. The Senate has a total veto power over Supreme Court appointments and can always scuttle an appointment it doesn’t want. Let’s start moving the country in the right direction, stop throwing our votes away on politicians we know in advance will betray us and we’ll get the Supreme Court we deserve.

    The bottom line here is that national politics is not a zero-sum game: Focus your vote strategically on moving the public debate in a progressive direction and we’ll start seeing real change. Continue to throw your vote away on corporate sell outs and we’ll continue to get what Bill Clinton and George Bush gave us: the gutting of welfare for the people and extension of welfare for the rich; trampling of civil rights and liberties, decades of piss-poor health care while the rest of the developed world had a lot better for a lot less money, and wars of aggression in the pursuit of profits.

    One thing is still true in our country: you get what you vote for and for far too long we’ve voted for the the lesser evil and we’ve gotten evil!

    Sincerely, Chris Driscoll


  8. tgibson24 Says:


    I disagree with you that Obama is the same as Clinton. I do not think he has really changed his Iraq position or his position on church vs. state (I seriously think you should look a lot more into diffferent views on faith based initiatives as Obama’s is not Bush’s). I agree that his FISA change was horseshit but his stated reason for doing so (basically small changes toward a larger goal is a decent way of governing rather than “everything or nothing” which tends to lead to overreach and future probs for the party that does it (see Republicans now) is solid.

    I am completely ok with him saying no to the public funding as it will kill the inherently awful system and (hopefully) lead to a better one. Plus this is first chance in my lifetime that the dems have (and $$ plays a part in this) to really change the demographics for the next two decades or so. Watch as the SW and interior west go blue (montana, alaska, texas) in the next 20 years and a large step (not the first in texas) is this election.


  9. Michelle Says:

    Many of us on the left have always been deeply skeptical of Obama’s “beyond red and blue” rhetoric, if not condemning it outright as bullshit. We kept hoping that once in power he would actually paradoxically have more chances of passing a genuine leftist platform that would a triangulating Dem centrist. And now this disillusionment. And yet we keep hoping that he is lying. It’s almost, “Please, Senator Obama, lie your way into office about your ability to move beyond red and blue, your ability to forge ties across the aisle, but once you’re in office, with a Dem majority in both houses, please be true to the Blue.” Sadly, I don’t think this country can move beyond the divide. And sadly, I don’t think Obama is lying.


  10. […] After Clinton herself, the campaign’s next biggest debtor is discredited political strategist Mark Penn and his firm.  This is the guy who pushed the “inevitability strategy” that killed  any chance for Clinton after she didn’t deliver the (supposedly) inevitable knock-out blow to Obama on Super Tuesday.  This is the guy who never thought the campaign was negative enough or that Clinton needed to show any human side.  Everyone hates Mark Penn: Hillaryites who know that substantial blame for their loss rests on his shoulders and Obamamaniacs who saw his manipulative, scheming brand of politics as the ultimate enemy of “change we can believe in” (notwithstanding that many of us no longer believe in that change – see my earlier post). […]


  11. […] I pointed out in previous posts, Barack Obama has shown since June that he is not the different kind of politician he wanted us to […]


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