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Sunday, November 11, 2007

You Know What I Like About Obama?

posted by on November 11 at 12:26 PM

I just watched Barack Obama on Meet the Press. (Here’s the transcript if you missed it.) And I have to admit—as much as I hate to acknowlege my loyalty in this primary is being swayed by personality and not just the issues—I love the way he speaks. What everyone missed during the furor about Biden calling his opponent “articulate” (“clean” was probably the real clue to Biden’s racial consciousness) is that when Obama is talking about an issue, he actually lets us see the way his mind is working. His reasoning is as if not more evident than his positions. (Okay, maybe “articulate” was not the right word. I’ll go with “eloquent.”) That style of rhetoric is probably all wrong for a presidential campaign—it can’t be easily reduced to soundbites, it can sound overly “professorial” and insufficiently decisive. But what a relief it is after seven years of listening to George W. Bush, whose most alienating quality is not inarticulateness (though he has that too) but an absolutely opaque mind.

Look at the way Obama responds to Tim Russert on a patented MTP quote question implying that he’s been inconsistent on Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: You were not in the Senate in October of 2002. You did give a speech opposing the war. But Senator Clinton’s campaign will say since you’ve been a senator there’s been no difference in your record. And other critics will say that you’ve not been a leader against the war, and they point to this: In July of ‘04, Barack Obama, “I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know,” in terms of how you would have voted on the war. And then this: “There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.” That was July of ‘04. And this: “I think” there’s “some room for disagreement in that initial decision to vote for authorization of the war.” It doesn’t seem that you are firmly wedded against the war, and that you left some wiggle room that, if you had been in the Senate, you may have voted for it.

SEN. OBAMA: Now, Tim, that first quote was made with an interview with a guy named Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS during the convention when we had a nominee for the presidency and a vice president, both of whom had voted for the war. And so it, it probably was the wrong time for me to be making a strong case against our party’s nominees’ decisions when it came to Iraq.

Look, I was opposed to this war in 2002, 2003, four, five, six and seven. What I was very clear about, even in 2002 in my original opposition, was once we were in, we were going to have to make some decisions to see how we could stabilize the situation and act responsibly. And that’s what I did through 2004, five and six, try to see can we create a workable government in Iraq? Can we make sure that we are minimizing the humanitarian costs in Iraq? Can we make sure that our troops are safe in Iraq? And that’s what I have done. Finally, in 2006, 2007, we started to see that, even after an election, George Bush continued to want to pursue a course that didn’t withdraw troops from Iraq but actually doubled down and initiated the surge. And at that stage, I said, very clearly, not only have we not seen improvements, but we’re actually worsening, potentially, a situation there. And since that time I’ve been absolutely clear in terms of the approach that I would take. I would end this war, and I would have our troops out within 16 months.

MR. RUSSERT: Some involved in the anti-movement have said that in 2004, 2005, 2006 Barack Obama voted to fund the war. Every time there was a proposal to have a fixed date withdrawal you said no, it would be a slap in the face to the American troops, it may create bloodshed and more division, that American credibility was at stake, that you were not a leader in trying to stop the war until you ran for president and got to Iowa and got to New Hampshire and had a sense of the anti-war, war fervor in the Democratic base.


MR. RUSSERT: Where was the leadership?

SEN. OBAMA: I, I, I disagree with that. You know, throughout I was a constant critic. The first hearing that I had was with Condoleezza Rice in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This was a few months after I had been sworn in as senator. And I told her at that point, we need to wind this war down. It is true that my preference would not be to end this war simply by cutting off funding. My preference would be for the president to recognize that we needed to change course, and that was what I continually pushed for. At the point where we realized the president was not willing to change course, I put forward a very clear timetable for when we should remove our troops. And, when that was vetoed, I then suggested that the only way to get the president to the table to negotiate how we’re going to move in a different direction in Iraq is by not giving him a blank check when it comes to funding.

Ka-pow. Look, as regular Slog readers will know, I’ve stayed with Obama’s original position on the war much longer than most people who initially opposed the war. I still have serious misgivings about premature withdrawal, and think the surge has been working better than most Democrats are willing to admit. In the long term, though, I realize that I’m losing that argument. (Blackwater is not helping my cause.) And there’s no way I would resort to hawkish Republicans (with their truly reprehensible positions on global warming and taxes and gay rights, not to mention abortion and intelligent design) to keep troops in Iraq. So Obama’s relatively moderate position is acceptable to me. But what really gives me comfort is the way he reasoned through this policy transition. The fact that he was right on the war to begin with isn’t just a “ha ha, I told you so” issue for me. It’s a signal that he reasons correctly and vigorously. And I see the logic in—though I’m not persuaded by—his gradual change of heart. I just love seeing someone stand up to Russert’s plaintive reduction of ideas to political maneuvers: It did take leadership to resist early calls for complete and immediate withdrawal. It still takes leadership to admit troops will remain to protect American interests in Iraq for a long time.

Say what you will about Donnie McClurkin. (And I’m sure you will in the comments: for the record, here’s the relevant section of the MTP transcript.) Please continue to put pressure on Obama about his contributor-inflected energy policy. I still feel a wave of relief—and yes, hope for the future of politics—when I hear him speak.

RSS icon Comments


People liked the way Ronald Reagan spoke, too. BFD.

Your ignorance is on display for the world to see, Annie. Even Erica does politics better than you.

Posted by ivan | November 11, 2007 12:39 PM

Yeah. I have to agree with Ivan. I've seen a lot of talk from Obama, but lots of disappointing action when it comes time to put his money where his mouth is.

The most recent example (and I'm not letting Clinton, Dodd or Biden off the hook for it either) was his absence from the vote on the Mukasey nomination.

And because of it we now have an Attorney General who believes:

1. That the President is above the law because he is free to ignore the laws that Congress passes and he signs.

2. Waterboarding may not be torture.

I'm sorry. Obama's absence from this vote is inexcusable.

Posted by Jonathan | November 11, 2007 12:51 PM

"It is true that my preference would not be to end this war simply by cutting off funding. My preference would be for the president to recognize that we needed to change course... "

Yup, but when the President won't change course, you need to do more than speak out -- you need to cut off the funding.

To cut off funding you merely block or do not pass the next funding bill. So you don't need that 60 vote margin you need in the Senate to get things done.

What you need is courage.

So far, neither Obama nor Clinton has been out there demanding that we cut off funding now.

Posted by Cleve | November 11, 2007 1:18 PM
The most recent example (and I'm not letting Clinton, Dodd or Biden off the hook for it either) was his absence from the vote on the Mukasey nomination.

And because of it we now have an Attorney General who believes:

This is just not true. The vote was 53-40, and the result would be the same even if every one of those Senators were there to vote "no". Perhaps they should've been there as a symbolic gesture, but it's almost certain they already knew for sure that enough Democrats were defecting to make their own vote essentially meaningless.

Posted by tsm | November 11, 2007 1:40 PM

You have articulated what I like about him as well. I like how he speaks and how he breaks down his thought process and shares that.

Posted by Suz | November 11, 2007 1:59 PM

What 4 said. 2, it's Feinstein and Schumer who should draw your ire.

Posted by annie | November 11, 2007 2:01 PM

Obama caters to christian anti-gay bigots. He's made me get active and give hard cash to the Edwards campaign.

Posted by MyDogBen | November 11, 2007 2:12 PM

Here has been my biggest (positive) issue with Obama...

Lets say, hypothetically, he had been president these last seven years. And to take it further, he believes and acts the way Bush has. Basically we have GW in Obama's body.

That hybrid, i maintain, could have eloquently and convincingly gone to the UN and convinced them "hey, lets take care of this douche over in Iraq."

Our reasons for going there sucked. And the way it was done, and especially how it was executed after we got there and in the following years, was horrific. THAT SAID, Saddam was killing literally hundreds of thousands of people. For shitty reasons. And we, as a race, have a responsibility to say NOT ON OUR PLANET. He needed to be stopped. What he was doing was not OK.

But if we had a well spoken black man who could make the world see this, instead of a cowboy with the worlds most powerful army at his command, things would have gone differently. I really believe that.

And THAT is why Obama needs to be the next president. He is, at his core, a more moderate democrat. Far lefters may not like that, but the fact is, a Howard Dean type will just lock up our government as republicans kick and scream with every move. He is, through and through, a guy who can bring the respect back to our country, worldwide, something I'm not sure Hillary has the charm to do. He is smart, he sticks to his convictions...

He is just right.

Posted by Andrew | November 11, 2007 2:15 PM

Obama is very good at sounding conversational and wonky at the same time. He's the only mainstream candidate who doesn't speak entirely in sound-bites and focus-group-approved cliches. It really is striking after the Bush years, and in contrast to Hillary Clinton for that matter.

Posted by Gabriel | November 11, 2007 2:55 PM

Maybe it's my own problem, but he speaks well, he just doesn't speak presidentially. Elections these days are won by TV impressions and quick bites on issues, people just don't sit and think about candidates like they used to. If they hear about somebody, they vote for somebody. He'll protect families by keeping those nasty gays apart? I'll vote for him. He wants a free national health care system? I'll vote for him. Obama would be great for the olden days when people came from miles to hear candidates debate for hours on end, but for our doofus-ass voter base expecting campaigns to be run like Coke vs. Pepsi, he's out of his league. To his credit, but still.

Posted by The CHZA | November 11, 2007 3:05 PM

Personally, I'm just happy to hear someone who doesn't sound like a Southern hick (Bill Clinton, Edwards), screechy fishwife (Hillary Clinton) grim reaper (George I and Reagan when they were being serious) or whiney dork (current Bush)is refreshing.

Listening to Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy - even Carter and johnson - makes me realize how low we've sunk.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 11, 2007 3:24 PM

Obama's and your mistake is that you a) concede that somehow our presence in Iraq makes the political situation better, and b) the military can be trusted to act in a manner consistent with our stated objectives (rather than the real objectives that have driven this administration's actions all along). There's even another blind spot, though it's not really a mistake but a heremeneutic tick or bad habit: the constant bracketing of context. *Now that we are in Iraq...* as if the reasons for getting in have no bearing on the current situation. The Iraqi's haven't forgotten about the excessive destruction of the invasion, the contrived stories about WMD's, all of which puts the occupation squarely in the category of *typical US overthrow and occupation masquerading as democratization/modernizaion*. That context is still very much a live and pertinent force in Iraq today. Obama's consistent tendency to ignore just as Bush does makes him seem more like Bush-lite than like a real opponent of the war.

Posted by kinaidos | November 11, 2007 3:30 PM

What exactly are "American interests in Iraq"???

Posted by wf | November 11, 2007 5:11 PM

I have to wonder why when Biden used the term 'clean' to describe Obama everyone immediately assumes it is something to do with his race. The most obvious assumption, in the context of Washington politics, is he is clean in the sense of having no scandal or negative political baggage hanging around his neck like Clinton and most others. He rose to his position with integrity intact.

I can't blame him for currently playing the political games. The nation is deadlocked and immobile until Bush is gone. It is pointless to throw away your energy on a no win cause. It only takes Lieberman to jump party and the Dems lose their sliver of control control of the Senate and they become even more lame for the next 13 months.

Posted by mike in oly | November 11, 2007 5:16 PM

List of suggested things you can say after realizing you were wrong about the war:

  1. "Let's hear from someone who was right about the war all along."
  2. "I'll shut up now."

I think that about covers it.

Posted by elenchos | November 11, 2007 6:49 PM

a) when did Obama say that we're making the political situation better?
b)does ANYBODY still think that our military (or our hired guns)are acting in a way that's consistent with our stated objectives?!
And saying that Obama is like W lite is just silly.

Posted by jb | November 11, 2007 7:44 PM


Howard Dean was pretty moderate too, in actual ideology. He's just a wee too straightforward. That doesn't go over well in the Beltway.

Posted by keshmeshi | November 11, 2007 8:23 PM

"I still have serious misgivings about premature withdrawal"

thankyou annie

Posted by boner | November 11, 2007 9:57 PM

Anyone who seriously believes a Democrat will be elected President in the next election has been living in Seattle too long.... LMFAO

Posted by Reality Check | November 11, 2007 11:20 PM

My Dad met Hilary Clinton recently in New Hampshire, and was impressed by her health care & energy plan, eloquence, command of the issues, etc. He told her she has his vote if she wins the nomination. (unlike, say, Kucinich) I said, "good, because she's probably going to be the nominee". I mean, who are we really kidding here? She's a shoe-in. Unless some trainwreck derails the nominating process. I used to say "anybody but Hilary" as far as electable Democracts were concerned. But now, I say, whatever, let's get behind her. The Clinton machine is most likely unstoppable. Now I say, "anybody but another Republican" (Rudy? yeah, probably), otherwise one way Amtrack tickets to B.C. are going to sell out fast. It's time for America to have a woman president anyway, goddamnit, even though she'll inevitably end up sucking ass due to the shitty mess left by the fascistic dipshit neocons.

Posted by otla | November 11, 2007 11:23 PM

Annie and 4--as Glenn Greenwald points out, the Dems could have filibustered. That would be putting one's money where one's mouth is. None of them is without blame, including Obama. Wringing our hands and blaming Schumer and Fenstein (who deserve our scorn, no doubt) is a little dishonest. All the Dems chose not to kill that nomination. They decided that opposing torture is a politically uncertain move. Republicans didn't have the 60 votes to break their filibuster.

Posted by dp | November 12, 2007 1:25 AM

The Dems aren't going to cut off funding for the war. There is about as much chance of that happening as there was in Bush finding Bin Laden before the last election. They need the war to be THE issue for the next election.

Posted by Clint | November 12, 2007 10:01 AM

You know what I like about Obama? He likes to throw gays under the bus. I'd like to see that. I bet they're squishy.

Posted by MNG | November 12, 2007 10:23 AM

@4, 6.

The failure of the candidates to even show up speaks volumes, and I believe the lack of commitment to challenging the nomination by the candidates explains why Schumer and Feinstein felt free to vote to approve the nomination in committee and the failure of the dems to filibuster it when it reached the floor.

Posted by Jonathan | November 12, 2007 10:59 AM

"I still have serious misgivings about premature withdrawal, and think the surge has been working better than most Democrats are willing to admit."

Yeah, the surge has been a smashing succes. No doubt. It's just that the Democrats and the Iraqi people don't want to give credit where it's due. In fact, the Iraqi people are such raging anti-Republican ideologues that a strong majority of them think that the surge has, in spite of its obvious success, made their situation worse; and a growing plurality want US troops out immediately:

US troops are also having a hard time accepting the success of the surge. In fact, in 2007 more of them than ever decided to die rather than admit they were wrong:

Posted by Bison | November 12, 2007 11:59 AM

Thank you, Annie.

Posted by Amelia | November 12, 2007 12:38 PM

his eyes.

i like his eyes.

they are dreamy.

Posted by michael strangeways | November 12, 2007 3:17 PM

"Anyone who seriously believes a Democrat will be elected President in the next election has been living in Seattle too long.... LMFAO"

Could the country REALLY have become that mentally retarded, or have you been talking to your relatives again?

Posted by Concerned | November 12, 2007 7:29 PM

The guy who made the most noise about Obama's hiring McClurkin, Aravosis, should have no credibility in the progressive community because Aravosis threw the transgenders under the bus when he was pushing for ENDA.

Sorry, closeted gay man who became an activist once being a staffer for a Republican Senator didn't work out; you have no standing to talk about anyone throwing anybody under a bus.

Posted by aravosis sux | November 12, 2007 10:15 PM


You might want to consider leaving the city limits once in awhile.

Noone will vote for Billary, and it seems like the Dems have conceded he is the candidate.

Too bad the rest of the country may hate Bush, but they will never put her in power.

If you believe otherwise you are destined for disappointment again during the next election day.... and you thought this past election didn't go your way...

Posted by Reality Check | November 13, 2007 12:31 AM

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