2008 Yup, Still a Liberal!
posted by July 11 at 17:06 PMon
I’ve been watching all this hubbub about Obama “lurching” to the center with some amusement. Sure, I was bummed about some recent developments (FISA, notably, though I would’ve been more vexed had the vote been even vaguely close), but overall this is much ado about nothing.
Remember, kids, according to Obama’s basketball-coach brother in law, Obama’s signature move is to “fake right and veer left.”
The supposed issues:
1) FISA. (Let’s get this one out of the way.) Yep, Obama voted for an expansion of the government’s spying powers, along with an immunity provision that he had once vowed to filibuster. Lame. That said, he voted to narrow the legislation on each of the three immunity-related amendments (Dodd’s to strike Title II [“Protections for Electronic Communication Service Providers”], Specter’s to “limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a Federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional,” and Bingaman’s to “stay pending cases against certain telecommunications companies and provide that such companies may not seek retroactive immunity until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President’s Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress”), all of which failed decisively. On the telecom immunity portion of the bill, at least, Obama’s votes weren’t so much a flip-flop as a resigned capitulation. And the legislation itself passed 69-28, so let’s not pretend Obama’s vote would have made a difference either way.
2) Campaign finance. You know, I don’t much care that Obama opted out. It’s really our responsibility as voters (and as taxpayers—only 7.3% checked the box for the public campaign financing system in 2006) to demand a public financing system that’s attractive to candidates. The campaign finance system is meant to be a carrot (you spend less than X, and we’ll help you do it), not a stick. We can’t operate the system if it’s based on virtue and shaming—the decision to opt in can and should be based on rational self-interest.
3) Reproductive rights and abstinence education. I understand why people are freaking out about Obama’s recent comments (to an evangelical magazine) on this issue, but there’s just very little reason to worry. Obama is a cosponsor of a Senate bill with the key phrase “life or health of the mother,” which is understood to encompass mental health. And he’s taken plenty of shit throughout his career for supporting medically accurate sex education (with noncoercive information about the abstinence option) at all grade levels. The fact is, a president is not a legislator. A president does, however, appoint Supreme Court justices. And Obama should and will nominate people (like these contenders) who are litmus-ready on choice. McCain would do precisely the opposite.
4) Child rapists and Heller. OK, I’m fiercely pro-gun control and anti-death penalty. Particularly in the case of child rape, you don’t want to disincentivize reporting of the crime—and parents don’t necessarily want to be responsible for sending a family friend or relative to the gallows, even if this person raped their kid. But we really need to take everything Obama says about recent Supreme Court decisions with a gigantic spoonful of salt. Duh, Obama doesn’t want to get people riled up by saying child rapists should get off easy, but again, this is really a question about what sort of thinkers he would nominate to the Supreme Court. And he would almost certainly nominate liberals who will vote exactly as the liberal justices voted on these two cases.
5) Faith-based initiatives. Yes! This is exactly the sort of centrist move on a fringe issue that could help peel away some religious voters without causing any real harm. The Christian Science Monitor did a good job of explaining how Obama’s vision diverges from Bush’s.
6) Hedging on the Iraq Timetable. Thank goodness. I always thought Obama had a sensible approach to withdrawal, and I strongly appreciate that he has retained close ties to Samantha (“Monster Remark”) Power and her intense drive to prevent genocide in Iraq. And this doesn’t really qualify as a flip-flop. Obama has always given strong signals that the pace of withdrawal would take account of circumstances on the ground (“as careful getting out as we were careless getting in”). He should not be sworn in with the public believing he is obligated to get all troops out by 2009, and he’s making smart moves to avoid that now.
On all the serious issues in this campaign, Obama has not slipped an inch. He’s sticking with his tax proposals, he hasn’t futzed with his environmental platform, he’s still for repealing DOMA, he’s still for universal health care, he still mocks the notion of a gas tax holiday, he’s still for reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work. I like that he’s capable of generating “Obama Lurches to the Center” headlines by making minor tweaks on fringe issues and saying unexpected things about Supreme Court decisions. Obama is proving himself the ideal stealth liberal. The bloom has not faded.
And let us daily remind ourselves, the enemy is John McCain.