“Kumbaya”? Not so much

Obama appeals over the heads of the Republican leadership to Republican voters. That’s a much greater threat to their power than ranting about how evil they are. Why would you call a candidate who knows how to hit his opponents where it hurts “naive”?

The critique of Obama’s theme that it’s possible to transcend partisan and ideological bitterness &#8212 what Kevin Drum, among others, has called his “Kumbaya shtick” &#8212 is that it takes two sides to make a dialogue, and the leadership of the plutocrat/lobbyist/imperialist/Christofascist coalition that is the modern Republican party isn’t interested in compromise &#8212 cf. the S-CHIP debacle &#8212 and needs to be destroyed, not temporized with.

I never thought Obama was naive about Jerry Falwell or Grover Norquist or HIAA or PhARMA, any more than I think he’s naive about Ahmadinejad or Castro. It seems to me that he’s directing his “Kumbaya” message over the heads of the Republican leadership to (some of) the voters who have, often to their own disadvantage, supported GOP candidates out of their fear and hatred of the libruls who make fun of their religion and who want to regulate their thermostats, take away their guns, and teach their children twelve different ways to have sex.

But of course I’m as capable as anyone else of projecting my beliefs and plans onto the politicians I’m currently supporting. So I was pleased to see Obama, in his “closing argument” speech, lay out a “theory of change” on exactly that principle:

I’ve spoken to veterans who talk with pride about what they’ve accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq, but who nevertheless think of those they’ve left behind and question the wisdom of our mission in Iraq; the mothers weeping in my arms over the memories of their sons; the disabled or homeless vets who wonder why their service has been forgotten.

And I’ve spoken to Americans in every corner of the state, patriots all, who wonder why we have allowed our standing in the world to decline so badly, so quickly. They know this has not made us safer. They know that we must never negotiate out of fear, but that we must never fear to negotiate with our enemies as well as our friends. They are ashamed of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and warrantless wiretaps and ambiguity on torture. They love their country and want its cherished values and ideals restored.

It is precisely because you’ve experienced these frustrations, and seen the cost of inaction in your own lives, that you understand why we can’t afford to settle for the same old politics. You know that we can’t afford to allow the insurance lobbyists to kill health care reform one more time, and the oil lobbyists to keep us addicted to fossil fuels because no one stood up and took their power away when they had the chance.

[big snip]

There’s no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don’t need more heat. We need more light. I’ve learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That’s the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election.

For the first time in a long time, we have the chance to build a new majority of not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans who’ve lost faith in their Washington leaders but want to believe again – who desperately want something new.

We can change the electoral math that’s been all about division and make it about addition – about building a coalition for change and progress that stretches through Blue States and Red States. That’s how I won some of the reddest, most Republican counties in Illinois. That’s why the polls show that I do best against the Republicans running for President – because we’re attracting more support from Independents and Republicans than any other candidate. That’s how we’ll win in November and that’s how we’ll change this country over the next four years.

You want to be really, really, nasty to the goon squad that now runs the Republican party? Don’t rail at them; it runs off them like water off a duck’s back. If you want to hit them where it hurts, you have to take away their voters. I don’t know how much of that Obama would be able to do, but I’m confident that he could do more of it than either of his rivals for the nomination.

Update Mark Schmitt’s (pre-speech) take is the pretty much same as mine: like me, he sees in Obama a Machiavelli dressed up as Mother Teresa.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com