2008 You Know What I Like About Obama?
posted by November 11 at 12:26 PMon
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.
SEN. OBAMA: No.
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.