Obama and the telecom amnesty bill

It’s no secret that Barack Obama’s candidacy is on the ropes. Yes, he’s likely to win, and win big, in South Carolina, but he’s likely to do so by winning an overwhelming volume of African-American votes while HRC and John Edwards split the white vote. I doubt that reporters will need the guidance they’re certain to get from the Clinton spin control team stressing that Obama has become the new Jesse Jackson, fundamentally “the black candidate” for President. His appearance on national TV Saturday night, in the midst of a sea of black faces, will just reinforce that message. None of that is likely to give his campaign the boost it needs to get back into competition on Hyper Tuesday.

[Yes, it’s possible that there will be a revulsion against Clintonian tactics, such as Bill’s “hit job” reference today. But I’m not betting on it. If someone says that Bill Clinton’s using a phrase suggesting violence with reference to Barack Obama was one more dog-whistle appeal to the racism of white and Latino voters, all the Clintonites will react with mock horror and complain that Obama is racializing the campaign again. The basic fact Obama confronts is that if the campaign becomes racial, he loses, while if it becomes gendered, Hillary wins. Not a good hand to play, once the Clinton machine decided to bring up race and gender at every opportunity.]

So how does he change the topic? And how does he refute the absurd charge that he is more sympathetic to Reaganism and less opposed to the last seven years of abuse of Presidential power than HRC? (Only Hilzoy seems to be paying attention to the fact that Clinton, but not Obama, uses Republican weasel-words about torture.) “I did not say nice things about Reaganism.” “Did too!” “Did not!” “Did too!” is not a winning debating strategy, despite the fundamental falsehood of the Clintonite attack. (No one in the mainstream press, or in blogland, has picked up on my demand that HRC produce the “exact quote” she promised.)

So here’s a proposal, for what it’s worth:

Harry Reid, having let the Republicans hold up every legislative proposal the Democrats wanted with purely “paper” filibusters, has now decreed that if Chris Dodd wants to stop the telecom-amnesty bill he’s going to have to mount a “live” filibuster. What would happen if Barack Obama announced Saturday night, or even tomorrow, that he was going to fly directly from his South Carolina victory celebration back to DC to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dodd against executive-branch lawlessness? (Obama, like Clinton, is already on record supporting Dodd against the Cheney-Reid axis.)

Yes, that would take him off the campaign trail for a while. But I bet he could get more, and more favorable, free media from the Senate floor than he could from the tarmac somewhere in California. And it would leave HRC with the option of joining him &#8212 making Obama look like the leader and HRC the follower &#8212 or remaining on the campaign trail herself, dramatically illustrating the difference between patriotic leadership and raw ambition.

Looks to me like a plan with a big upside and a small downside.

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