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Monday, October 29, 2007

Obama’s Meta-Problem

posted by on October 29 at 15:00 PM

There’s a lot to be said about Obama’s bad week (and a lot is being said, including here, here, and here).

Much of it amounts to piling on to all the criticism of Obama for not understanding how bad an idea it would be to have Donnie McClurkin, a man who has been “delivered from homosexuality,” as part of the recent pro-Obama gospel tour.

But the bigger problem is this: Obama is (or should be) trying to gain traction among Democratic primary voters. Again: Democratic primary voters.

To do this, he promised on Sunday to rev up his campaign by taking a tougher line against Hillary Clinton. But based on his performance since, Obama seems to have misunderstood why Democratic primary voters wanted someone to be more forceful against Clinton in the first place.

There are a lot of Democrats who worry that Clinton is too mainstream, too… Republican. They want someone to challenge her forcefully from the left, and they want Obama to be that person. They want Obama to be a proxy for them, for their frustration at how wildly far to the right they think the country has pulled in the last eight years.

Naturally, a lot of these people are gay or gay-friendly liberals. Naturally, these people have bad memories of the last presidential campaign and all its gay-baiting and homophobe embracing. Obama needs these people, and a lot of them are naturally drawn to him (or to an idealized vision of him), but here’s what he’s done lately to win them over:

First, he ran a campaign that failed to mount a forceful challenge to Clinton’s candidacy. Then he promised he would get tougher against Clinton and point out where his positions are actually more in line with liberal values than hers. And then, within the span of a day, he proved not even tough enough to yank an anti-gay voice from one of his campaign’s own events, infuriating liberals all over the country.

If Obama’s not tough enough to defend the interests and beliefs of left-leaning Democratic voters at his own events, why should these people now believe that he’s tough enough to successfully take on Clinton? More importantly: Why should they believe he’s any different than Clinton?

That’s Obama’s big problem nowócaused by the whole McClurkin mess, but much, much bigger than the sum of its parts.

RSS icon Comments


i appreciate this much more thoughtful post on obama and the mcclurkin affair. much better than the race baiting of previous posts.

Posted by Jiberish | October 29, 2007 3:32 PM

I'm going to say this shows that Obama's his own man, and while he acknowledges and accommodates the views of many, he is not going to tap dance when some special-interest group tries to pull what they think are his puppet strings.

Posted by true believer | October 29, 2007 3:37 PM

@2 - And the "special interest group" in question would be who, exactly?

Posted by mike | October 29, 2007 3:39 PM

@2 - I think the term "constituency" is more accurate than "special-interest group" in this case, since I can only assume that your comment is supposed to be a jab at the gay community.

Great post Eli, right on target. You're damn right I was hoping he'd come after Hillary from the left. God damn, what an overall disappointment.

Posted by Hernandez | October 29, 2007 3:50 PM

A great summation. Thanks, Eli.

Posted by tabletop_joe | October 29, 2007 3:56 PM

@1, can you point me to the race baiting in the previous posts? I would like to see where those are at.

Posted by Just Me | October 29, 2007 3:57 PM

No Nig-Nogs for me!

Posted by IMAdrgQ | October 29, 2007 4:00 PM

I think we'll still see obama coming after Hilary from the left.

Obama's thing is to push for authentically progressive positions but frame them in common ground ways that don't alienate conservatives. Like being a pro-gay candidate but not being willing to exclude people who support pro-equality positions but aren't ready to endorse homosexuality as "moral" or whatever. Maybe it's harder for dyed-in-the-wool liberals to find this exciting, but as a solution to the dumbass polarization and bogus "culture war" mentality that has plagued american politics, it's thrilling to me.

This might be a liability in the primary, but in the general it's a recipe for victory. That's why Obama's doing better than Hilary in all the matchups, according to Zogby.

Posted by Kevin Erickson | October 29, 2007 4:07 PM

Damn right I wanted him, or anyone, to finally stand up for what's right and stop caving to the Republicans and right-wing media. Edwards at least has tried; if he's failed it's because most people don't think he's sincere, and he hasn't done enough. Dodd is making a nice stand on the FISA bill and is relatively outspoken on the war, but again it's too little too late. Obama's done nothing, so he deserves the largest share of our collective disgust.

If it's just a bunch of typical Democrats running, then I'll take the one that I think is most likely to win. That's Hillary Clinton. But I don't just want someone who can win and then turn around and screw the interests of liberals, gays and lesbians, and other key Democratic constituencies. That was dispiriting enough when Bill Clinton did it, even if the unrelenting horrors of Bush have made us forget. I want somebody who will lead the country and move us to a place where we can stop playing defense and start solving our real problems. Pandering to bigots should be off the agenda, period, for all the candidates.

Posted by Cascadian | October 29, 2007 4:30 PM

@3 and @4: the special interest group is "Gays against insecure, self-hating anti-gay gay biblethumpers," "Gays and allies for the suppression of all speech they don't like," "Liberals seeking an excuse not to vote for a black man," and "Hillary Clinton Supporters."

Posted by true believer | October 29, 2007 4:50 PM

I find it generally irritating that people can't get over the fact that Obama is trying to broaden his constituency. As a gay man in a commited relationship, I don't feel slighted by Obama's recent campaign through SC. I think McClurkin sounds like a nut job, but so does Mr. Savage at times.

If Obama starts talking about prayer in schools, an end to abortion, or a need to teach intelligent design is schools, then I'll be concerned. The last thing I want is a politician to pander to the shrillest noise - regardless of the group making noise.

Anybody who thinks Hillary is better on the issue of gay rights, they're not paying attention.

For those who say that the Obama apoligists would feel different if a Republican asked McClurkin to participate, you're probably right because all many Republicans have ever done is preach hate.

Posted by Adam | October 29, 2007 4:58 PM
The last thing I want is a politician to pander to the shrillest noise - regardless of the group making noise.

Speaking of that, what about Hillary's flag burning amendment? Talk about pandering.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 29, 2007 5:13 PM

Personally, I feel that since the MSM is not reporting this as an issue (it's buried way way back in the pages), it really doesn't matter.

The MSM is still fixated on crowning Clinton and Guilani as "our picks" for President - that's Obama's biggest problem.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 29, 2007 5:24 PM

11 said: "Anybody who thinks Hillary is better on the issue of gay rights, they're not paying attention."

Their voting records are identical. The difference is how they're cultivating the evangelical vote, particularly among African Americans. She's got bigoted supporters, but she's not sponsoring events where they rail against gays, and she's not supporting soft bigotry by making dumb-ass comments about how it's just the unhappy gays that her supporter is preying on. She's either savvy enough to avoid saying shit like that on the record and disciplined enough to keep her supporters from embarrassing her, or she actually believes what she says. Obama has either lost control of his campaign or is triangulating against gays and lesbians in order to improve his prospects in evangelical strongholds such as South Carolina. That makes Hillary a better candidate for the interests of gays and lesbians.

Posted by Cascadian | October 29, 2007 5:27 PM

That makes Hillary a better candidate for the interests of gays and lesbians.

Yep, Hillary's cold and calculating where Obama's warm and sincere. I almost hope she wins so I can watch her sell gays down the river like Bill did with DADT. Enjoy your closet, gays!

Posted by true believer | October 29, 2007 5:57 PM

Geez Cascadian! "Obama has .... lost control of his campaign" because one of his supporters believes something nutty? Its more disturbing to me to think that people in Clinton's camp are only allowed to talk if their ideas have been carefully vetted by "the boss."

Posted by mikeblanco | October 29, 2007 6:45 PM

If Clinton is being considered too "Republican", and Obama is hating the gays, and not being forceful enough... who else in the democratic party is a strong enough candidate, and not as "mainstream"? I know that Kucinich is kind of weasley, but his views are very progressive. I, along with most of the country, want change.... but I just don't feel comfortable with any of the candidates anymore. I personally would vote for Hillary out of default if she became the democratic candidate.... but it's hard to trust someone who's been to the Builderburg meetings, and quite frankly I don't want to be stuck in the Clinton-Bush ping pong game anymore.

Posted by hmmm | October 30, 2007 7:54 AM

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