Sunday, January 06, 2008

Obama's New Year?

Sometimes you need to step back, take a deep breath, and start over. January is a good time to do that. Sorry, this is going to be long.

On the presidential race front Obama has been amazing and his momentum is growing. He is either the new Kennedy, Bobby or John, or as Andrew Sullivan has just called it, the new Reagan. The Australian:
Could Obama be a potential liberal version of Ronald Reagan? Could he do for the Democrats what Reagan did for the Republicans a quarter century ago? It's increasingly possible. Reagan was the cutting edge of the previous realignment in US politics. With a good-natured civil appeal to Democrats who felt abandoned by their party under Jimmy Carter, Reagan revolutionised the reach of his party.

He didn't aim for a mere plurality, as Bill Clinton did. Nor did he go for a polarising 51 per cent strategy, as George W. Bush has done. He ran as a national candidate in search of a national mandate, a proud Republican who nonetheless wanted Democrats to vote for him.

He came out of a period in which Americans had become sickened by the incompetence of their government. Reagan shocked US elites by pivoting that discontent into a victory in 1980. And by his second term, he won 49 out of 50 states.

You can see the same potential in Obama. What has long been remarkable to me is how this liberal politician fails to alienate conservatives. In fact, many like him a great deal. His calm and reasoned demeanour, his crisp style, his refusal to engage in racial identity politics: these appeal to disaffected Republicans.

He is particularly attractive to those on the US Right who feel betrayed by the Bush administration's version of conservatism, just as many Democrats felt betrayed by Carter's liberalism.

These voters -- non-evangelical, fiscally and militarily prudent, socially tolerant -- do not feel at home in the angry, southern, anti-immigrant Republican Party of the past few years.

Almost one-quarter of those voting in the Democratic caucus last Thursday night were Republicans or independents. In both categories, Obama beat Hillary Clinton by more than two to one. In New Hampshire, independents are even more prevalent and may well represent 40 per cent of the Democratic vote. (In Iowa as well as New Hampshire, you can change your party registration on the day of the vote.)

Reagan won a national victory on the strength of Reagan Democrats. Obama could win with Obama Republicans. That's remarkable in itself. When you realise he's also a liberal urban black man whose middle name is Hussein, it's gobsmacking.

Put these disaffected Republicans together with a spectrum of minorities and a black vote potentially greater than at any time in history, and you begin to see what Obama offers his own party.

The other strikingly Reaganite aspect to Obama is his appeal to the younger generation. People forget that the oldest president was extremely popular among the under-30s.
Even conservative Pat Buchanan, who is not a Obama supporter, believes this could be The Last Hurrah for the Reagan Coalition. "The Party of Reagan is losing the country because it is no longer the party of the principles, policies and persona of Reagan, as applied to the problems of our time."

Another British journalist calls Obama the new JFK.

A young conservative talks about voting for Barack Obama:
From somewhere among the motley crews of aged, disgruntled Republicans who have done nothing but inspire fear, from the midst of shrill Democrats who did nothing but talk about “taking down” the rich – somewhere from out of this variegated array of fatalists, one voice rose above it.

I think that an opportunity will have presented itself for conservatives if they are able to vote for Obama in the general election. There are two aspects to his persona that appeal to me. The first is the charismatic side; the side that rejects precedent, that defies tradition and seems to eschew the crusty old cynicism that dominates party politics. Whether you view it as artificial or sincere, it is something our country needs.

The second aspect that appeals to me is his ideology. If Obama is a “moderate,” he’ll be no worse than Huckabee if he is the Republican nominee. If Obama is an extremist, he will illustrate for America what socialism looks like. When Lyndon Johnson did that for us nearly five decades ago, it acted as a catalyst for the coming of Ronald Reagan.

In either case, it is something the nation will easily survive. The latter possibility is something that conservatives can even benefit from.

On the other hand, if we vote for Mike Huckabee, we will be condoning a continuation of the Bush legacy. I find that to be much more frightening than anything the Democrats have presented. Liberalism is what it is, what it has always been; we are all familiar with it, and we know what to expect. It is socialism. It is a destroyer of nations. What else is new?
Those who do not see Barack Obama as a new Reagan see him as a new Kennedy, a deeply inspiring candidate:
"For many months, we've been teased, even derided, for talking about hope," he said. "But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead, or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it."

Powerful stuff, given with a goose-bump delivery -- by a victorious black dude in Iowa.

Going forward, this campaign could redefine American politics for a generation, or more.
The conservatives who have rejected Bush and the new strident bellicosity "win at any cost" direction of the Republican party seem drawn to Obama. Here is what Andrew Sullivan wrote about Obama almost a year ago:
This guy is a liberal. Make no mistake about that. He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I've heard in my lifetime. As a conservative, I think he could be absolutely lethal to what's left of the tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and small government that I find myself quixotically attached to. And as a simple observer, I really don't see what's stopping him from becoming the next president.
And today: "What strikes me about Obama is not that he is conservative or liberal, it is his policy liberalism with conservative temperament. It is his movement beyond these exhausted ideologies." And Friday: "Obama's legislative record, speeches, and the way he has run his campaign reveal, I think, a very even temperament, a very sound judgment, and an intelligent pragmatism. Prudence is a word that is not inappropriate to him."

I am also having to consider Barack Obama as a more prudent, more unifying, more transformative call for a new direction than Edwards. As Andrew said "no one captures the sheer, pent-up desire for a new start more effectively than Obama." And as Howard Dean writes: "Seven years after taking office, President Bush's approval rating is stuck around 33 percent. Roughly two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. But on issue after issue, while Democrats offer real solutions and new ideas to provide the American people with the change they want, the Republicans offer a third Bush term."

In every way the most transformative change would come from Obama but paradoxically he could also be the most unifying change candidate. My only doubt about this being Obama's year comes from my sister. My sister, a conservative Independent, doesn't like Obama and thinks "he acts like he is entitled." She favors Hillary Clinton.

I think Edwards is still the top tier candidate with the most progressive message but he now seems almost a one-trick pony and is not the inspiring, hopeful choice. I am not the only progressive who is torn between the two candidates - Still True to ObEdwards – Why I Keep Donating to Both Edwards and Obama. RIght now I will also keep a dual endorsement, Obama has been added to your left. I sometime wish for a British type of system where we elect a party and the top posting is all internal party stuff.

So how are the candidates doing? Obama jumps to a 13 point lead in New Hampshire. Edwards is also moving up in polls but it looks like Obama, Clinton, Edwards.

CNN National Poll Matchups 12/12/07- John Edwards Still Most Electable Democrat. Will that change after next week?

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