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