December 11, 2006

Blank Slate

Barrack Obama is a blank slate. A tabula rasa. Since he has essentially no political track record, he is a blank canvas onto which Democrats can project whatever philosophy or policies they feel he represents. Obama's hot selling book "The Audacity of Hope" apparently does not shed much light on his policy positions so we shouldn't expect to learn all that much about what he might be like as President by reading it apart from the observation that Obama is a positive and uplifting guy. The feel good rhetoric and slogans that he employs certainly worked for Massachusetts Governor elect Deval Patrick, whose “Together we can” sloganeering and substance free political platform captured the hearts of countless Massachusetts liberals. As a stand-alone entity, there is nothing wrong with positive and uplifting rhetoric and slogans. But there is something disingenuous about those who claim to be open to all ideas across the political spectrum but who are in reality liberals. From what limited information about his stances that came to light through the Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign, it is clear that Deval Patrick is a liberal. Similarly, from the limited track record of Obama, despite his seemingly all-inclusive rhetoric, he too unequivocally, is a liberal as well. Perhaps Obama will switch to become a centrist candidate of some sort but as of now, as Dick Morris points out, his limited track record indicates that he is very much a liberal. Morris says, “…In reality, Obama is no "third way” politician. He is a party line Democrat, according to the National Journal, the 18th most liberal member of the Senate, which puts him ahead of (or behind) 60% of his fellow Democrats in the Senate. The gospel according to Planned Parenthood? He gets 100%. Right to life? Zero. The AFL-CIO celebrates his vote with them on nine out of ten issues and the ACLU agrees. He talks like a moderate, but he votes like a liberal.”

Barrack Obama is also enjoying the same kind of swooning liberal media backing that Deval enjoyed. I just hope that this time around the media can do its job and find out the actual policy positions of the candidate, rather than just echoing their slogans and generic platitudes. Perhaps Deval and Obama will run together some day on the same ticket, in which case their combined slogans almost comprise a complete thought. Deval Patrick and Barrack Obama: “Together we can…have the audacity of hope.”


Barr said...

Jaz, it's me Chris. The display name is my last name, and for some reason I can't comment unless I sign in with my gmail account name and password. In other words, blogger sucks.

I think you capture Barack's all inclusiveness very well. As I'm sure you've heard by now, I worked for Barack for three years in the Illinois Senate and then went with him to the US Senate for a year or so before deciding to come back home and work at a junior college. Barack's a good guy.

I do disagree that he's such a tabula rasa like you state. Also, he is no new comer to politics either. He served in the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate before being elected to the US Senate. As for the rasa, he has many things in his past that make him not so clean. He's admitted to using cocaine, smoking weed, catting around; and the worst of all, the dude’s middle name is Hussein. Hardly a clean way to begin any political conversation.

But let me get this straight, a few weeks ago you argued that the Democratic Blue Wave that swept the US House, Senate and six governorships, and which not one single Dem lost, was a conservative victory because they “embraced conservative values.” That the election of 35 new Democratic members of Congress was actually a reaffirmation of conservatism was your thesis. Then, in the comments section, I pointed out that of the 29 new Democratic House members 27 were surveyed and all of them supported a raise in the minimum wage, 25 of the 27 supported advancing stem cell research and all but five are pro-choice. Even after bringing to your attention the stances of the new members which hardly coincide with a reaffirmation of conservatism, you largely stood by your notion that it was a conservative victory and stated, “that it is fair to say that many of the Democrats who won were moderate enough to be palatable to a center right to conservative voting population.” Despite their progressive stances, you fell short of calling them such, or much less liberals.

Now enter Barack Obama. Based on his voting record and public statements, Barack would fall right in-line with those 27 who were surveyed, and which you claimed were conservatives. The only other “liberal” issue that you mention, with Morris’ help, that I didn’t is Barack’s support of the AFL-CIO. I have no doubts that a vast majority of the 35 new Democratic members also fervently support the AFL-CIO, if not all of them. That means the overwhelming majority of the new members support a very left leaning progressive agenda, yet you call them conservative or “palatable.” But the same criterion makes Barack a liberal?

When Dems retake an entire branch of government it’s a conservative victory, but for Barack who walks and talks nearly identical to those new 35 members, he’s a liberal?

Jaz said...

Thanks for the comment Chris; the new blogger system seems to require e-mail information because the two entities of G-mail and Blogger have been fully integrated. Sorry for the hassle.

I certainly hope that the neither the blue dog Dems nor Barrack Obama decide to embrace the agenda of the far left and full on liberalism. And yes, I am simultaneously saying that many of the Democrats who won in the most closely contested congressional races can be considered conservative as well as saying that Barrack Obama, according to all objective measures that I am aware of, is a liberal. Both observations have a strong and objective consensus behind them. With Obama, it’s still so early in his political career that he has time to make moves (votes) that will allow him to be seen as the moderate he sometimes sounds like. I think that it is fair for a politician’s views to evolve over the years. Jeane Kirkpatrick for example, apparently originally was a Democrat then, as the years passed, she grew a little older and a little wiser and became a Republican. Her views evolved. As far as Obama’s perceived place on the political spectrum, it’s all going to come down to what his stances on the issues are. I just hope that unlike with Deval Patrick, the media bothers to take the time to understand and highlight what those stances are.

Barr said...

Jaz, color me perplexed. For at least an hour now I’ve tried to figure out exactly what you’re trying to say here. The best I can come up with is that you’re stating that yes everyone is a liberal and yes everyone is a conservative, depending upon how you personally feel at the moment and about that individual person.

Just to recap, you first said that the election of 35 new Democratic members of Congress (now 36 after yesterday’s Democrat win in TX23) was a reaffirmation of conservativism. Then you slightly changed your mind and said that “many” who won were at least palatable to those on the right. Now you are saying that “many who won in the closely contested” races are conservative but Barack is still a liberal. Even though Barack is equally identifiable on the issues to those you’re calling conservative, he’s exempt from your labeling for some reason.

You mention that “according to all objective measures” that you are aware of, Barack is a liberal. What are those measures? In your post a few weeks ago someone who is pro-choice, in support of stem-cell research and an increase in the minimum wage was still a conservative. Are those the measures you’re using for Barack also? I’m curious to know what makes Barack the liberal and the other Democrats conservative.

In 2004 Barack won election to the US Senate with over 70% of the vote. That means he won a lot of conservative and Republican votes. Wouldn’t that mean that he is at least as “palatable” to the right of center to center voters as those “who won in closely contested” races also?

Then, for some reason, you go into politicians views evolving over time. I agree with you that I too think it’s fair for such to happen, but we’re not talking about evolving issues here. Barack’s stance hasn’t changed from what it was when he was first elected to the Illinois House. His stances have always been in line with the 27 who were surveyed and whom you agreed were conservative, palatable, moderate and centered. The very one’s you said were proof of a conservative affirmation.

Not to keep hammering this in, but it sounds like you’re trying to have it both ways.

Is that a Pats hat you’re wearing?

Jaz said...

It’s pretty simple really. The Blue Dog Democrats that I refer to when I say “closely contested races” are defined according to wikepedia as “… conservative to moderate Democratic Party members of the United States House of Representatives”. The National Journal gives Barrack Obama the ranking the 18th most liberal member of the Senate, which means that he is considered to be more of a liberal than 60% of his fellow Democrats in the Senate.

So I guess I’m taking the sources of wikepedia and the National Journal at face value and buying into the assessments that each entity portrays.

I understand the point that you are making however. You are suggesting that the Blue Dog Democrats and Barrack Obama share more similarities than they do differences. This assertion, I suppose relies on the fact that the Blue Dogs and Obama have in the past voted in the same way on several issues. But to me, as they are all Democrats after all, I’m sure if you look hard enough you can find many issues about which all or most Democrats agree.

Without getting too much into the semantically challenging argument of what defines modern conservatism as opposed to what is meant by saying conservative Democrat, I think it is a fair statement to say that the Blue Dogs are more conservative than the average Democrat. They are not conservative in the neo-con sense, they are just considered to be more conservative amongst Democrats.

As I said, there still is time for Obama to change people’s perception of him as a liberal to a conservative Democrat, but that time has not arrived yet. As of now, regardless of how many issues they may vote together on, Obama and the Blue Dogs represent different parts of their own party’s political spectrum.

I’m curious to know what it is that you think. Are you suggesting that Obama should be considered a conservative Democrat? Or are you suggesting that the Blue Dogs are not all that conservative?

I’d be open to either argument, but as of now I’m sticking with my summation, which categorizes Obama and the Blue Dogs into two distinctly different factions within their own party, conservative dems and liberals. And I think you know which of those two groups is considered to be closer to the political center.

Yes, Pats hat. We just released newly aquired WR Doug Gabriel. Got any good WR's that we can borrow? We're hurting in that regard after losing Deon Branch to Seattle. Somehow, we'll manage.

Jaz said...

For the sake of clarity, perhaps we could separate the following two discussions:

The definition of what the philosophy of modern conservatism amounts to.

Amongst Democrats, who is to be considered liberal as in further to the left, and who is to be considered conservative as in closer to the center than liberals, but still on the left side of the political spectrum.

The last topic is really what we are debating; I probably should not have mentioned my definition of modern conservatism in the context of this discussion.

Lisa said...

Without getting into whether the new Democrats are conservative or liberal, I think it's pretty clear where Obama is on the ideological scale. He's a liberal. At least, that's what George Will says, and that's what his record supports, as Chris points out. (For the record, Will thinks he could win.) Granted, he's charming and personable, and possibly inspiring. It's easy to see why Democrats might want to embrace someone like this as their nominee. He's the anti-Hillary. (I'm talking about personality now, not ideology.)

How are we defining the terms liberal and conservative? If we view liberals as being for gun control, abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and people who are generally pro-labor, then I'm going to have to agree when Chris says that the new Democrats were more progressive than conservative.

I think that it's probably more accurate to say that the result of the November election was a vote of no confidence in the Republicans and their lack of leadership. It also didn't hurt the Dems that they had quality candidates to run against incumbents in those closely-contested races. But I still contend that those who voted for Democrats were just voting for change in general, and not necessarily for everything on the Dem agenda.

But I'm getting a little bit OT here...

Back to Obama. If this country could ever elect someone with a liberal ideology, it would probably be someone like him. But I do think that our next president should be someone who has a firm grasp on foreign policy, based on what is happening in the world today with terrorism and potential future skirmishes with Iran, Syria, Russia, and North Korea. Inexperience or shallow knowledge in this area should disqualify someone from the Presidency IMO.

Of course this would disqualify quite a few potential candidates, including Obama, but we need a president who understands the threats we face and someone who can effectively threaten the bad guys. I don't know if that kind of candidate has emerged yet for either side, but that is definitely a characteristic we should look for.

Jaz said...

Thanks for weighing in Lisa, I agree with what you have said here…almost entirely.

I think we can all agree that the primary reason Democrats were so successful in November has to do with the voter’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the Republicans in power, who I conceded in a previous comment, to be characterized as fat cattish and complacent. I went on to make the argument that Republicans would have been more successful in November if they had stuck with the conservative principles that they were elected to carry out. Republicans have been successful in the past when they aggressively advanced the philosophy of conservatism. When they get away from that and pass spending bill after spending bill, something usually associated with the Democrats, they water down their own conservatism and become indistinguishable from their opposition. However, as Chris points out, Republicans do not have a monopoly on fiscal conservatism I suppose, but it is certainly even more important to be fiscally conservative if members of a party are proponents of tax cuts rather than tax hikes as the Democrats typically are. In any event, I think it is fair to say that the November elections had more to do with the voters' dissatisfaction with the Republicans in power than it had to with any shift to the right or left by Democrats.

But it is when we begin to discuss the characterization of the new Democrats where I must circle the wagons and insist that the Democrats did not win by moving further to the left. As I have pointed out previously, the Democratic mastermind of the last election cycle, Rahm Emmanuel handpicked “moderate” Democrats to run in some of the various tight races. It was certainly not move far left liberals that won the day in the most hotly contested races, just ask Ned Lamont. So perhaps what Chris is highlighting by bringing up the voting records/voting tendencies of some of the new Democrats is that they often times in the past voted liberal, but when it came time to run for a congressional seat they, with the held of Rahm Emmanuel, were able do whatever they could to be seen by the voters as moderate or even conservative. So I’ll concede that the new Democrats can be characterized as liberals, If Chris concedes that they in fact ran as moderates or conservatives, because I just don’t believe that the Democrats were swept to power by highlighting their liberal stances on all issues. If anything, I imagine Democrats largely ran away from their liberal voting records of tax raises, open borders, and various other far left causes such as the hampering of George W Bush’s efforts to conduct an aggressive war on terror by attempting block efforts to wire tap and track the finances of terrorists and so on. I don’t think Democrats where successful because they adopted the philosophy of Harry “I killed the patriot act” Reid on matters of anti-terror.

In the end, I think we can agree that the last elections cycle had more to do with the performance of complacent and somewhat incompetent Republicans in power, than it did any one monolithic characterization of the new Democrats. However, I just don’t accept the notion that Democrats were successful because the entire party moved more to the left and embraced full on liberalism as one of the reasons behind their success, if that even is the position that either of you, Chris or Lisa, hold.

Barr said...

Jaz, sorry I tried to reply last night and I had internet issues. Now it looks like my delay has let the discussion go a little astray. But we'll manage.

Your simplification has a few assumptions, however. I would be curious to know what new member Blue Dogs you are referring to when you describe those as being in closely contested races. Of the 36 new Democratic members of Congress only 7 have said they would caucus with the Blue Dogs. Of those 7, none were involved in all that close of a race. Therefore, when you say the ’06 midterms were a reaffirmation of conservatism because of closely contested races in which Blue Dogs won, what precisely are you referring to? Nor would I hardly agree that 7 new members of 36 constitute much of a reaffirmation of conservatism at all. My opinion of course.

Also, could you please provide a link to the National Journal rankings? I tried to find but couldn’t-- possibly because I had internet troubles last night. But I would like to read the rankings and analysis before commenting.

It also appears that you are passing the buck a little when answering why you call the new members of Congress conservatives but not Barack, who is nearly identical on the issues to the new members. You say you are going by Wiki and National Journal. But your own words from your own posts and comments state that even though the new members have very progressive stances (if not left of center) you still claim them to be conservative because of some Blue Dogs being in closely contested races. Either the ’06 midterm is not a reaffirmation of conservatism or according to you Barack is a conservative also.

We could possibly separate the debates if you wish, but it would also have to mean that your prized post of a reaffirmation of conservatism would be nearly outmoded.

Lisa, the first half of your comment I could possibly agree with entirely. Yes the midterms were a vote against Republican corruption, mismanagement, fiscal irresponsibility and lack of leadership. And yes the Dems ran some really good marketable candidates. But I will disagree that the people didn’t entirely vote for the Dem agenda in general because like the saying goes, you dance with the one you brought. However, this is probably for another comment section ;)

Where I will stray from you a little is your “Back to Obama” paragraphs. This country has elected someone with a liberal philosophy many times. Lincoln was a liberal. Wilson was a liberal. FDR was a liberal. Kennedy was a liberal. And there are many more. So it has happened in the past. Electing a liberal is not the doom and gloom the neocons make it out to be. However, if a firm grasp on foreign policy is a must for a president then Bush, who couldn’t even name the leaders of some of our closest friends and allies and even those who are not when quizzed in 2000, certainly doesn’t fall into that category. Bush had absolutely no foreign policy experience when running for president in ’99-’00. Shallow knowledge is probably an understatement for Bush.

Good to see you around Lisa.

Barr said...

Jaz, I will try to address some parts of your latest comment...but probably in a hurried fashion.

--"So I’ll concede that the new Democrats can be characterized as liberals, If Chris concedes that they in fact ran as moderates or conservatives, because I just don’t believe that the Democrats were swept to power by highlighting their liberal stances on all issues."

I disagree. I wouldn't call them liberals, and haven't been. I've said that they are not conservative (in the neocon sense) and do not constitute a reaffirmation of conservatism. I think I've been consistent with that all along. So I'm not asking that you call them liberals, just not a reaffirmation of conservatism. Or that if they are conservative, call Barack the same as well.

However, where did they run away from the left's issues? Again I must go back to the original argument that 27 of the 36 were surveyed and all supported an increase in the minimum wage. All but five are pro-choice. 25 of the 27 supported advancing stem-cell research. These are all issues the left has embraced and issues the new members ran with and won. These are the very issues that those on the right reject and ran against, and lost. What possibly did they run away from?

You say that they ran away from "their liberal voting records of tax raises, open borders, and various other far left causes..." Well how soon you've forgotten history my friend. The first George Bush raised taxes more than any president since FDR. George W. Bush, the most right-wing president ever to hold office, has done nothing to close our borders and instead wants amnesty. And the Republican controlled, neocon congress failed to implement one bill that addressed the border issue. If these are causes of the left, where's the evidence to support that the right has done anything to suggest that these are even causes, much less solely belonging to the left?

I've never said the Democratic Party embraced full on liberalism to win in '06. But the Party and the new members who won did embrace a very progressive agenda (fiscal responsibility, advancing stem-cell research, overwhelmingly pro-choice, an increase in the minimum wage and so on) and won an entire branch of government in doing so.

Jaz said...

You need some sort of online subscription to access National Journal content, so I guess I'm taking Dick Morris' word for it as to the journal's assessment of Obama.

You seem to want blood over my ‘Blue dog day afternoon’post Chris. Right away I conceded that I perhaps overstated my case. Sometimes I’ll be provocative to encourage a response and initiate debate but ultimately the real point of that post is that while the elections were not necessarily a reaffirmation of conservatism in the neo-con sense, they results were not as disastrous for conservatives than one might initially assume. As I pointed out before, something that you did not entirely disagree with, the composite of congressional leadership has become more conservative on both sides of the aisle. A greater percentage of Democrats can be considered to be conservative than before the elections as well as the Republicans. How this fact represents a defeat for conservatism is beyond me. You did say that the composite is also more progressive than before which means that somehow congress is more conservative than before and it is more progressive. If this is the case, it would explain why it is apparently so difficult to classify the win one way or another in any monolithic sense. Or it could mean that we are discussing different things when we say “progressives”. To me, there are progressive causes like stem cell research and the advocacy of gay marriage, and then there is the progressive title that liberals invented to rename themselves in an effort to avoid any negative connotations of being called a liberal. This second group is characterized by the website ‘Think Progress’ that routinely bashes sensible democrats like Lieberman and has close ties to the move on. Org and Michael Moore wing of the party. So what we perhaps have is two types of progressives even. Joe Lieberman certainly has some progressive stances (as well as conservative) on domestic issues yet he was alienated by the far left in favor of Ned Lamont. So maybe you see what I mean. Which of those two candidates is the progressive, the socially progressive Lieberman or the “progressive” candidate Ned Lamont?

I’ve conceded a lot already and possibly brought up some new concerns, but its time for some reciprocation. If I can’t have it both ways neither can you. Meaning, you cannot say that that the new Democrats are not to be characterized as conservative, but Obama is. So I’ll ask again, what is your argument? Is Obama a conservative Democrat or are the new democrats not really all that conservative?

And I notice how you and another left leaning friend of mine, Spencer, both jumped to Bush bashing when questioned on the matter of Obama’s limited experience. This is way of changing the subject whereas now your opponent is suddenly put in the position of defending Bush rather than discussing the merits of whether or not Obama has enough experience. The “well what about Bush’s experience?” argument also is flawed in that it suggests that; well, we made a mistake electing Bush because of his lack of experience so what’s one more mistake of the same nature. In other words, that Bush was not qualified, according to your argument, does not now mean that it is it’s a good idea to elect another under qualified individual to the presidency. Either you have to stop saying that Bush was not very qualified, or you must concede that Obama’s lack of experience is a genuine concern. Once again, you cannot have it both ways.

Anyway, have a good weekend and Merry Christmas.

Barr said...

Jaz, it's not blood that I want, it's just that I find the notion that the '06 midterms were a reaffirmation of conservatism as totally inaccurate verging on retardation. I find it a way for the neocons to ultimately through a public relations stunt try to claim some sort of victory out of total defeat. And total defeat it was. Not one single Democrat lost. Not one. In 1994 the Republicans barely took control over the House and they labeled it a revolution. Nonsense. 12 years later the Dems retake the House, Senate and 6 governorships and the right wing still wants to call it a victory for themselves. It's almost delusional. And frankly, I'm tired of hearing the MSM repeating such nonsense. And I've made a promise to myself to fight such a notion all the way. Everytime I hear it, whenever I hear it.

Maybe we both have different definitions of conservatism, progressism and liberalism; but what struck me was that you used the same evidence to argue that the '06 midterms were a reaffirmation of conservatism as you did to prove that Barack was a liberal. All I'm saying is that if Barack is liberal because he supports the AFL-CIO, a woman's right to choose, stem-cell research, a raise in the minimum wage and fiscal responsibility; then also so are the new members of Congress because they overwhelmingly fall right in-line with Barack. It confused me that even though you agreed the new members supported a very progressive agenda, you still tried a couple times to argue for some sort of conservative spin to it, and then used those very same progressive issues to label Barack as a liberal. I saw it as very inconsistent on your part.

I don't view progressivism as a title invented by liberals at all. I see a difference between progressives and liberals. In some instances there are huge differences, in others they are very similar. I think it's very possible to be conservative/moderate and still be progressive. For instance, I consider myself fairly moderate because I do oppose abortion and higher taxes, but I do support such progressive issues as civil unions, stem-cell research, a raise in the minimum wage and most social programs.

It's not that I don't think some of the new members are conservative, because some are on some issues, but they are not far enough to the right to consider the election as some sort of victory for conservatism (at least not of the conservatism that we've seen the last 6-10 years from Republicans).

As for Obama, and yes you have been patient with me and conceded quite a bit, I view him as a progressive Democrat. I agree that he has some liberal stances but I think his liberalness is pulled right back in check by his moderate views. For instance, Barack broke with his party and voted for class action lawsuit reform and voted against capping credit card interest rates. Two very liberal bills which he voted against. Plus, Barack is a very religious person and routinely references God and Jesus. That's just something you don't see liberals doing. There are other examples I'm sure, but it's not that I was ever claiming Barack didn't take liberal stances, all I was doing was trying to bring some consistency to your arguments in which you took the same criteria and concluded two different things. One was to prove a victory for conservatism and the other was to try and bash a friend of mine.

As for the Bush bashing, again you're reading me wrong. I bring up Bush's lack of foreign policy experience not to say that it's okay to elect another non-qualified person, or it's okay to make the same mistake twice, but to show the inconsistencies in people's arguments and that people in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks. Again, it's not to bash Bush but to say why bring something like that up when just 6 years ago your party elected someone you're now saying shouldn't be president.

--"This is way of changing the subject whereas now your opponent is suddenly put in the position of defending Bush rather than discussing the merits of whether or not Obama has enough experience." Yep, it's called politics and you do the very same.

Merry Christmas to you too and do take a break this weekend from blogging and relax with a nice cold Sam Adams for me. Thanks for having a blog and letting me rant.

Jaz said...

Ok, I feel that we’ve reached some sort of conclusion, for now at least. But I do have to say that for the record that it was never my intention to “bash” Obama, and I don’t feel that I have done so. But I guess if discussing someone’s policy positions and wondering if someone has enough experience to be president is bashing, then so be it, I’m guilty. I actually like the fact that he is a former stoner who dabbled with cocaine; at least he’s honest about it. And if the best argument as to why he shouldn’t be president is that he happens to share a name with a former despot, then he’s looking pretty good.