Obama for President

Blue policies, Red cadences. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

When Democrats lose national elections, it’s because they get creamed among whites who attend church at least weekly. If we could find a candidate who could make serious inroads into that group without sacrificing what Democrats believe in, we’d have a sure winner.

There seems to have been much more news coverage of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Barack Obama to speak at his megachurch than there has been of the speech itself and how it was received. But if E.J. Dionne is to be believed, Obama told the Orange County crowd that dealing with AIDS meant, among other things, making condoms and microbicides available for those not practicing sexual abstinence … and got a standing ovation at the end.

I’m well known to be a Wesley Clark fan. If Clark runs in 2008, I wouldn’t expect him to make the rookie mistakes that cost him so much in 2004. And his national security cred would be a huge plus. Compared to a Dukakis, a Gore, a Kerry, or a Hillary Clinton, he’s way more culturally Red-compatible. But I can’t see him getting a standing ovation at a conservative megachurch after talking about condoms. I’ve heard him talk about the importance of faith, and I don’t doubt he’s sincere. But he sounds like (I don’t say he is, but he sounds like) someone who believes in religion. Obama, with the Bible in his cadences, sounds like (I don’t say he is, but he sounds like) someone who believes in God.

We know how to save people’s lives. We know the medicine is out there and we know that wealthy countries can afford to do more.

That’s why it was so frustrating for me to go to South Africa, and see the pain, and see the suffering, and then hear that the country’s Minister of Health had promoted the use of beet root, sweet potato, and lemon juice as the best way to cure HIV. Thankfully, the South African government eventually repudiated this, but it’s impossible to overestimate how important it is for political leaders like this to set a good example for their people.

We should never forget that God granted us the power to reason so that we would do His work here on Earth – so that we would use science to cure disease, and heal the sick, and save lives. And one of the miracles to come out of the AIDS pandemic is that scientists have discovered medicine that can give people with HIV a new chance at life.


Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. While most would agree that the AIDS orphan or the transfusion victim or the wronged wife contracted the disease through no fault of their own, it has too often been easy for some to point to the unfaithful husband or the promiscuous youth or the gay man and say “This is your fault. You have sinned.”

I don’t think that’s a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners.

My faith also tells me that – as Pastor Rick has said – it is not a sin to be sick. My Bible tells me that when God sent his only Son to Earth, it was to heal the sick and comfort the weary; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to befriend the outcast and redeem those who strayed from righteousness.

Living His example is the hardest kind of faith – but it is surely the most rewarding. It is a way of life that can not only light our way as people of faith, but guide us to a new and better politics as Americans.

For in the end, we must realize that the AIDS orphan in Africa presents us with the same challenge as the gang member in South Central, or the Katrina victim in New Orleans, or the uninsured mother in North Dakota.

We can turn away from these Americans, and blame their problems on themselves, and embrace a politics that’s punitive and petty, divisive and small.

Or we can embrace another tradition of politics – a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another – and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.

Amen, amen! Hallelujah! Preach it, Brother!

For all Obama’s excellent policy-wonkery, that sort of language, and thinking, makes him far more strange to me than Wesley Clark is. But it makes him far more familiar and far more comfortable to tens of millions of people whose votes we need. As long as we elect a President who shares my policy preferences (and has the personal integrity, intelligence, judgment, energy, sense of humor, and intellectual humility needed to do the job), I don’t much care whether we elect a President who shares my metaphysics.

Obama has two years to get some national-security cred, and is obviously a sufficiently quick study to be able to do so. Even then, he’d be well advised to pick a running-mate who can talk strategy, weapons, and tactics: he could do a lot worse than Clark, whose personality clashes with some of his fellow brass hats wouldn’t be nearly as much an issue if he were running for Veep.

But with the Democratic field shaping up quickly, it’s time for all of us to start lining up behind our candidates. Mine’s Obama.

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

57 thoughts on “Obama for President”

  1. First, sometimes when Democratic candidates lose elections, it's because of the Supreme Court. Second, those churchgoers that cream us? Some of them might, might, might consider voting for a bible-quoting Southern Baptist and … oh wait, we ran one of those! They still hated him!
    The trouble with Obama's speech (and, to a lesser degree, his position) is the simple fact that he's going to piss off a lot more people who won't want to vote for him than he's going to win over. Sure, the hard core churchies will nod their heads and say to themselves that, well, he's a nice guy and he's not going to be a horrible President, if elected… and then they'll pull the lever for McCain or whoever. Because that's what they do. There has not been a single solitary Democratic candidate in my lifetime that did not pander to the Christians. Sometimes they go for him (Carter), sometimes not (Mondale). But when they go for him, it's not the quality of the pander that gets them, it's something they're pissed off about on the other side (Watergate, Iraq (maybe)).
    I want Obama to do well, and he's certainly got a gift for rhetoric, but this kind of thing isn't going to win or lose elections, however much the "be nicer to Christians" caucus wants to think that it will.

  2. I'm not a believer, and believers talking to believers don't generally reach me.
    And yet, when Obama uses that voice, I feel my blood racing. He speaks with the voice of the humble, strong, earnest, compassionate, generous Christianity that's rumored to exist but somehow never takes center stage in our national dialogue.
    It's exciting because I know that as a progressive, Christians should be my natural allies, and yet somehow their most visible leaders have become tools of a bitter, hateful, small-minded militant ideology of intolerance and fear.
    (Or would it be more correct to say that the tools of a bitter, hateful, small-minded militant ideology of intolerance and fear have somehow become their most visible leaders?)
    I can't make that case, though. As a non-believer, I can't get the voice right, and I sound like an outsider and a phony if I try.
    So my question is directed at any believers out there: Does Obama sound as good to y'all as he does to me?
    (A standing ovation seems like a good sign, but experience teaches that a reporter's account of a crowd reaction is nothing more than a reporter's account of his personal reaction. And for all I know, a standing ovation is considered merely polite in those circles. Believerland is a foreign country to me.)

  3. I'm not ready to pick my horse–too many got shot out from under me last time around–but I do have two thoughts (or maybe just reactions):
    1. I'm wary of picking a candidate because s/he speaks "their" language (whoever "they" are) rather than mine.
    2. Maybe I'm just turning into a grumpy old man but it really seems like we're selecting a "spokesmodel" rather than someone we really expect to, like, govern.

  4. I've long thought that for most Americans the idea of a Wonk-in-Chief is vastly overrated. Hillary's strength here is also her weakness. But George W Bush has also reminded us why we need an intelligent and intellectually accomplished leader. Obama easily clears this bar.
    What I don't think we need is what everyone seems to focus on, i.e. an accomplished legislator. Dime a dozen in DC. IMHO we need someone who can do the harder work of leading the pubic to believe in something that can be turned into legislation. Like health care or equal marriage rights or a re-committment to Habeus Corpus. All dull and/or controversial stuff that needs galvanizing leadership.
    Perhaps Clinton had both the wonkiness and the ability to inspire (though he always struck me as a tad maudlin), but it didn't really matter — his times hemmed those gifts into mostly small bore stuff. If Obama has the same gifts in a post 9/11 world, and proves them on the campaign trail, then I'm sure I will soon be a supporter too.

  5. Nope. Not gonna go there. This life-long Democrat & dyed in the wool secularist just ain't gonna pull that lever. One of the fundamental problems of American society is that too many people "believe in God." The rest of the developed world has mostly gotten over this sort of magical thinking.

  6. Joseph says:
    "Nope. Not gonna go there. This life-long Democrat & dyed in the wool secularist just ain't gonna pull that lever. One of the fundamental problems of American society is that too many people "believe in God." The rest of the developed world has mostly gotten over this sort of magical thinking."
    You are mixing up a bunch of different issues that succeed in making all of them incomprehensible. Sort of your own brand of magical thinking, if you ask me.
    For example, despite being a former missionary, I'm a lifelong Democrat and dyed in the wool secularist as well. Just because I believe in God doesn't mean I don't believe in a secular government.
    I am not however an atheist, which is the position you really seem to be defending but without saying so.

  7. It's a predominantly Christian country. Both parties are largely composed of Christians. This is a fact that we atheists, as a tiny minority, have to acknowledge, and it forms a constraint within which we have to work.
    If you want there to be two parties, a Christian party and a non-Christian party, you're going to lose and lose huge.
    As for me, I'm perfectly happy to make common cause with Sermon-on-the-Mount Christians like Obama. Let the other party have the Leviticans with their "God Hates Fags" signs.
    Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and what you did to the least of these you did to me? That's 100% pure liberalism. It'd be madness to turn up one's nose at allies like that.

  8. It's hard to not love Obama when he's making speeches. And his ability to tell people what they generally don't like hearing and get them to thank him for it is approaching legendary. Even though he does seem rather too timid on a variety of things, if he does break out of that during a Presidential run, he'll be a damn nice looking candidate.
    As for the religion comments above, I'm not a believer, I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins, and I don't give a damn if politicians use religious language like that. In favor of teaching evolution in schools, and not ID? That question will generally tell me if you're reasonable enough on church/state issues to get a thumbs up from me.

  9. I want to be clear about something: When Obama talks like that, I love it. It's not just that it sounds to me like he'll reach Christian voters that way, though it does.
    I just love it. He's speaking clearly and forcefully about things I care about, and if he and I got to the same place from different starting points, that doesn't matter so much.
    He's got the magic. I wasn't an Obama guy, but Kleiman's argument that the vision thing is more important than legislative chops makes a lot of sense.
    Imagine this guy, talking like that, from the bully pulpit of the Presidency. Imagine, further, the contrast between him and his predecessor, should he win in 2008.
    I'm not ashamed to admit that when I hear him speak, I believe he can move mountains. He's got an awesome gift.

  10. I am not a believer but, I respect those who do as long as they feel the same back.
    I think Obama's speaking religion is twofold.
    One: To show a dem isn't afraid of God and that you must vote the person and not the party.
    Two: To show that republican doesn't mean God and Democrat doesn't mean Satan.
    I also think he's showing the republicans they do not have a lock on religion
    He feels if he is comfortable in his then he will take it to thier door and show them and the gop.
    It did shut alot of the evangelicals up. That's the point.
    I've been a fan since he ran for Senator here. He is the real thing.

  11. I'm a Christian and a commie (seriously). I have read the full text of Mr. Obama's speech and was impressed by it. There are notes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu within it. I'm also a big fan of Richard Dawkins and find little substantive discord with what Mr. Dawkins says and the substance of Mr. Obama's message of action.
    I do, however, think that it is wrong to publicize this speech in terms of Mr. Obama's presidential aspirations. The focus should be on the substance of his message: stopping AIDS and helping those who have contracted it. To turn this very important speech into a poker chip for handicapping the 2008 election is the utter height of shallowness and vapidity, particularly for Democrats.
    The corporate media is already so infested with "horse race" pseudo-journalism that the last thing we need is the alternative media to start aping them. Stick to real issues. Stick to real substance. Talk about what affects real people every day. Then people will listen and act.

  12. As an addendum. I am a hardcore physics enthusiast and evolutionist and have no problem incorporating "God" into the warp and woof of these sciences. Makes perfect sense to me. But if Democrats want to lose yet another election because they "refuse" to vote for a Democratic candidate who professes a belief in God, then let the fascists win. Again. Great victory strategy.

  13. Star-quality speeches are good. Star-quality speakers are good. Star-quality speeches that use evangelicals' language to bring some of them around to issues that affect living human beings' lives, as opposed to those yet to appear, are good.
    But Mark, imho this is a John the Baptist role, and frankly at this stage of Obama's career I think that's fitting.
    Remember how refreshing, humble, honest, and Christian Jimmy Carter was in 1976, but remember also how quickly he was worn down by the DC machine, the press, events beyond his control, and his own inability to change modes.
    We've seen one mode of Obama. He has important things to do in our national discourse. But he needs more seasoning.
    I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, and it doesn't mean I'm for anyone else; I sure don't think we need Hillary.
    Right now, imho, Obama looks like the perfect vice-presidential candidate. We only know one dimension, and he looks too raw and inexperienced for the lead.

  14. I wasn't alive when Jimmy Carter was elected, but I've read Hunter S. Thompson praising him, and it does seem like there's a passing resemblance between Carter in '76 and Obama now.
    But: Two different guys, two different decades, et cetera. All I know for sure is that Obama is a master speaker who gives me chills and doesn't sound like any other politician, and that a lot of other Americans feel like I do about him. In the absence of any known negatives aside from inexperience, I feel like he's too good to pass up.
    The problem with Bush was not precisely his inexperience, but his stupidity – something that was a matter of public knowledge in 2000. I've heard no hint of that with Obama.
    I wish there were a guy exactly like Obama but with about another decade's worth of experience dealing with bureaucratic infighting and foreign policy. But there ain't no one like that. And I'd rather have Obama's utterly unique brand of charisma and apparent intelligence and integrity than anyone else's years of Washington experience.
    Lastly, on the faith issue: When Obama appeared on the scene in '04, I was an agnostic and found him inspiring. Since then I've become a believer (but not a Christian) and still find him inspiring.

  15. I'm concerned Obama will be Lieberman plus eloquence. I've found his willingness to push the Republican "Democrats aren't religious enough" line to be infuriating and his reaction to the Alito opposition bizarre. His background and accomplishments so far are admirable but not presidential. At this point in Obama's career I think his next step needs to be governor of Illinois or vice-president. I'd much prefer Clark or even Gore.
    Also, sadly, I doubt the country is ready for a black president, esp. one with a first, middle, and last name that many will find jarring.

  16. rilkefan
    Obama is not 'really black' ie he is not Afro-American, he is the son of a Kenyan immigrant. This matters both to whites who might vote for him, who buy into the immigrant narrative and the light-coloured skin, and perhaps to black Americans who might not. He doesn't share in the pathologies of black Americans and that, oddly, might make him the best chance ever for a black man to reach the White House.
    My concern is that we are watching a rerun of 'Being There' with Peter Sellers. This was partly Carter's problem.
    We saw in Carter a salvation for a dirty, dishonoured government. To be fair, he had a credible (but not incredible) record in state government. He turned out to be ineffective in the White House.
    The Democrats have since run a series of 'policy wonks', they even ran a war hero policy wonk, and basically the public does not elect them: Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale…
    So instead they might run a cypher. The danger, to me, is that when cyphers get to power, they might turn out to be empty of policy direction.

  17. > without sacrificing what Democrats
    > believe in,
    What about Democrats who believe in the core Constitutional principle of separation of church and state?
    Would Obama dismantle, continue, or expand the "Office of Faith-Based Initiatives"?

  18. For a while, Obama had Samantha Power as one of his foreign policy advisers. From her, he would have gotten a good grip on 21st century foreign policy problems: humanitarian intervention, changes in the nature of the nation state, changes to the international system, genocide, limits of military power, peacemaking, peacekeeping, nation-building. All of the problems from hell. And Power's apprenticeship was with Morton Abramowitz, so while not fully left-of-center, it was very firmly reality based. All he needs to do is start talking about it.

  19. The Obamaphiles here all seem to be desperately wishing for some heroic figure to lead them out of the wilderness. If we had a sane politics, Obama would make a perfectly good Republican candidate for president.

  20. The hate Obama seems to now have in some blogosphere corners is interesting to me. He was one of the few names pre-2006 elections Kos used to defend against the idea that the blogosphere never had an election victory. Now he's Republican-lite? Never happy without someone to attack, some people.
    And no, Obama isn't perfect, but he's way better than some people seem to think.

  21. I am baffled that anyone thinks that white evangelicals will vote for Obama — never going to happen.
    I will vote for the Democratic nominee, but I would certainly never support Obama in the primaries — his constant attacks on the Democratic base are deeply offensive to me.
    And as far as religion goes, I am a solemnly professed monk, vowed to celibacy, obedience & poverty — you don't get to much more of a religious fanatic than that.
    Al Gore if he runes, Wes Clark after that — but please, no more calculated triangulation from Obama or Hillary — Ross Perot is not going to come along & save the Democrats in 2008.

  22. I'm with Prior Aelred. Enough of this triangulation & religiosity. The good Prior is also correct in that white evangelicals are not going to vote for Obama, no matter what song he sings.

  23. I agree that with Obama people are projecting their hopes onto a blank slate. His slate is blank, not because we know so little about him, but because he reveals nothing of himself in his actions because he never takes a principled stand on anything. It takes more than oratory to be president. Obama hasn't voted the right way during his past term. He doesn't align with democrats on the issues that matter to me. A yearning for a centrist moderate coalition that can avoid all hard conflicts and evade difficult decisions may seem like a way out of our problems, but that cannot be characterized as leadership. Obama may rally our spirits with his speeches but I don't believe he can make and stick to hard choices. The religion issue is a red herring.

  24. Does Obama have real, practical and effective ideas? And I don't mean that as a rhetorical question. It's obvious Mark likes Obama because he talks like The Most Electable candidate. But what good does that do, once he's elected? I'm not interested in just getting our guy in there, if all he's going to do is be likeable.
    The reason I supported (and still support) Clark is that, when he discusses or writes about difficult issues like Iraq, he demonstrates that he understands the problem, and he describes options that are actually doable. He's given no indication that he would compromise solely for the purposes of compromise (unlike the last Democratic President). Obama has given many indications that would do just that.
    And Clark would be just as electable, if not more so, than Obama in the general election. Obama is young, and will therefore be perceived as weak.

  25. Just to add a bit more cynical take on Obama's superior electability:
    1. He's not white
    2. His name will appear to many swing voters (i.e. uninformed voters) as vaguely arabic
    3. His last name is one letter removed from "Osama"
    Brilliant. I can't wait for him to become our next nominee. And don't bother with a "I'm just being a jerk" response, because not everyone in this country is as educated and refined as the readers of this blog. These factors will be huge in the general election. Huge.

  26. For all Obama's excellent policy-wonkery, that sort of language, and thinking, makes him far more strange to me than Wesley Clark is. But it makes him far more familiar and far more comfortable to tens of millions of people whose votes we need.
    Gosh, Mark, you are a true technocrat. The people are a mere obstacle to your preferred policies. The people are there to be ruled, commanded. I get the sense that a wise King is what you're looking for. That's totally defensible but it's crazy to see it put so starkly.
    Part of this is merely a hard-headed acquiescence to the reality that the president is not merely a care-taker but an active agenda-setter. This much, I realize. As a libertarian, I'd prefer the Grover Cleveland model, but hey, it's a new millenium now. No sense allowing ourselves to be ruled by the Dead Hand of the Constitution.
    If I were a lefty, I'd go for Gov. Vilsack. What are the Rs going to say: "He'll turn the whole country into Iowa!" Oooh, I'm so scared.
    Here's the problem with Obama. There are still racists in America. A small minority to be sure, but not an insignificant one. If 2008 turns out to be close–it probably won't, it's the Ds turn–then Obama's skin tone could cost you electoral votes. (The Electoral colleges allows small minorities in states to have a greater voice. That's why we pander to Cuban-Americans in Florida, corn farmers in Iowa, etc. etc.)
    Anyway, Hillary's got the nomination locked up.
    And she'll be our next President.
    Mark my words.

  27. If Obama's religion-talk is going to be so popular among evangelicals, why it the most popular figure in that demographic the adulterous, pro-choice Rudolph Giuliani? Obama won't get squat from them unless he changes parties. They like Obama the same way they like Lieberman–they think he's a tool. I'm not sure they're wrong.

  28. I'm seeing some vague references to Obama as Republican-lite here, but nobody's being very specific about what votes or stances he's taken that put him in that category. Can someone please explain?

  29. I can't see Obama choosing Clark as his veep.
    If he's elected, he should have foreign policy experience at his disposal, but that should be a few people he can hire and fire. Having a veep with such overwhelming military and foreign policy experience and a very public profile as veep risks creating a rival center of power, could make for wounded pride and difficulty resolving policy disputes raised by subordinates.
    Better to put a few people with a lot of knowledge and a lower public profile in the key slots–State, NSA, DoD–and have an open policy process where agenda and policy selection would be decided by the PotUS and his chief of staff.

  30. I agree that Obama is a better speaker than the rest of the current crop, but "gift for rhetoric"?? Obama is like a guy who's hitting .260 when the rest of the democrats are below .200. That doesn't make him a gifted speaker. He sounds tentative and tepid to my ear. Compare him to JFK, RFK or King. Forget about it. Apples and oranges. Obama's not even in the same league. When I listen to King or Kennedy I get chills down my spine. When I listen to Obama, I bite my nails and hope he doesn't fuck up or mispeak.
    The key to this whole thing is that we DO NEED someone who REALLY has the gift for rhetoric. I think you folks have forgotten what that is, and what it sounds like. There really is such a thing as the gift for rhetoric. We just haven't witnessed it for several decades. When (and if) you hear it, you'll understand instantly.
    If that person can't be found, I suppose Obama's the best bet, but then again, look what they did to Ford in Tennessee. Racism will trump religion with a lot of those potentially useful idiots you hope to recruit to the electoral cause.

  31. Doug Watts up above: Dude, you are seriously overreacting. Here's the safest political prediction you will see this year: the Democratic nominee in 08 will be a man or woman who has publicly professed a belief in God.
    The obvious problem with an Obama-Clark candidacy is that people will wonder why it's in that order. And the only answer would be: Obama gave some good speeches.
    Obama lacks the executive experience and the national security chops for the job. The correct ticket is Clark-Obama: the candidate with the strongest security credentials with the rising star in the second spot. That ticket wins in a landslide against any candidate but McCain, and has the best chance of beating McCain.

  32. Professor Kleiman, are you now moderating comments for content? I posted an answer to Tom's question above this morning, with supporting links, but it has not appeared. Probably it's just a technical matter, but if you have a policy of editing comments, you ought to let your readers know.

  33. I expect your problem is the "supporting links." Link-rich comments are usually spam, and some filters will block them. Good filter, says I.

  34. It would be ironic if a "fact-based" weblog like this, sponsored by an academic, blocked comments containing links. I am as aware as anyone of the problem of comment spam, but the fact-based online community is meaningless without the ability to link to sources.

  35. Joseph: You can type in the url without setting it as a link. Then readers can copy and paste.
    This site receives about 1000 spam pseudo-comments per day, all with embedded links. There's no other way to filter them without hiring staff.

  36. Thanks, Mark, I was confused because even in this comment thread at least one legit comment contained a live link (from "rilkefan"). I tried initially to use standard html, but when that got stripped out I just pasted the links into the post. Presumably, I need to cut off the http://. Have you thought of going to a catchpa system?

  37. Trying again:
    I'm using Firefox w/ XP. Thanks for the information, though.
    To the point: Obama the progressive voted for the bankruptcy bill last year. Links: http://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/2006/12/crashing_...
    Obama, who would be the second black president, after Bill Clinton, is also, like Clinton, a triangulating faux-progressive. And all the talk about God that Mark likes so much just puts me off. But that's just me. If it only put me off, that would be all right, I suppose; the problem is, as many have noted, that white conservatives are not going to vote for Obama. They are simply lost souls to the Democratic Party.
    Obama has been reliably pro-choice, though his rhetoric of accommodation to the religious right on this subject is not encouraging for progressives.Furthermore, many of the Christians to whom Obama wants to appeal are racists. I grew up with them, I know. It's "soft racism," if you will. If a pollster asks, "Would you vote for a qualified African-American for president," they would overwhelmingly answer "Yes," but in the privacy of the voting booth they would sooner vote for Daffy Duck than a black man.
    So let me sort this out: 1) Obama is not a real progressive; 2) he has never won a difficult election; 3) he criticizes fellow Democrats for not pandering to the religious right; 4) he will not be able to deliver the fantasy evangelical vote.
    On both practical electoral issues as well as many progressive fundamentals, Obama is a loser. Mark says we should be lining up behind our candidates now. I think it's a little early, but I think Al Gore's time may have come. He has been to the wilderness & returned with real wisdom. I think he's had the triangulation beat out of him. Like Mark, I was a supporter of Wes Clark last time around & I still think he'd make both a fine candidate & a fine president.

  38. Obama's the man.
    The guy alredy owns the illinois electoral votes if he wins the dem. nomination.

  39. Joseph, I appreciate your reality-based response to my question.
    I'm not convinced though. The articles you link to seem to basically be faulting Obama for not being a Proxmire, McGovern, Church, or Wellstone. I'll certainly acknowledge that, but I don't think it's realistic to insist on that type of person as a presidential nominee.
    Voting for Alito and for the bankruptcy bill are not decisions I agree with, but I'm willing to cut Obama some slack and assume that he did those things for tactical reasons and his heart is in the right place. The Senate is what it is, and you pretty much have to do certain things in order to get there and be effective there.
    I think Obama is *at the very least* another Bill Clinton. I can remember being a disaffected leftist during the 90s, but the Bush years have made me sit up and take notice that there are far worse options than Bill Clinton. I am far more concerned with nominating a winner in '08 than with seeking the absolute best ideological candidate. The next supreme court nomination and the future of the UN will both be a lot better off with any Democratic president. A Democrat will also be a lot less likely to invade Iran, and may well provide an opportunity to undo the horrible Bush policies on torture, arbitrary detention, and domestic spying.
    Lastly, I think a person is more than the sum of his votes and policy positions. I get a good vibe off Obama; a lot of people do (though clearly there are some doubters). It is a real possibility that the people who feel that he is an actual good person are right.

  40. Also, if anyone's still reading: Even if Joseph is right that a lot of evangelicals are racists who will never vote for Obama, it can still be useful to spend some time and rhetorical effort appealing to those people and acknowledging their worldview and their concerns.
    Even if we assume that their worldview is wrong in all respects and their concerns are all stupid and that no genuine rapprochement is possible, it is still better for us if they do not feel highly motivated to vote.
    Consider the way right-wingers react to Hillary vs. how they react to Obama. It's been said a million times that one good reason not to nominate Hillary is that she will fire up the right-wing base because they think she's some megalomaniacal lesbian communist or whatever. Well, Obama has the opposite effect – he's capable of commanding actual respect from at least a significant number of people on the right. Maybe they won't vote for him, but they might not actively work against him, and they might stay home on election day, especially if the Republican nominee is someone who they don't feel a strong sense of kinship with.
    And then there's the fact that Obama is a good enough speaker that he might actually be able to change some minds and bring some moderates and conservatives over to the reality-based left. In the long run, that's something we really need.

  41. Well, Tom, you make the best arguments I've heard in favor of Obama running for prez. I'm still not convinced, but I appreciate your reasonable response.

  42. Let me help you with your speculation. I am a moderate, white, evangelical precisely those targetted by Sen. Obama. What he said rings true to my ears. It is extremely significant that he spoke at Saddleback. The evangelicals who appreciate Rick Warren are by and large apolitical and hate the bickering that has been going on for the last two administrations. One commenter asked obliquely what about Bill Clinton? Well, Clinton got a significant white evangelical vote that neither Gore nor Kerry got. So, yes, speaking our language does help. What doesn't help is comments that we cannot get past his name or his race. Marketing 101 tells you don't insult the "customer".

  43. You know, I could have sworn that the Democrats cleaned the Republicans' clock in 2006 without kissing the butt of the evangelicals and without gaining ground in the South. Perhaps that strategy was all wrong, and we should go back to the triangulation strategy of the prior 12 years where the Democrats managed to lose both houses and keep them lost. Also, we should nominate Kerry again, because he's a decorated veteran! They would never attack his service again,/i>. OTOH, Obama sounds churchy, so they could never discredit him on religious issues. So he's a sure winner, too.

  44. The Democrats won this year for three reasons:
    1. They ran more moderate candidates
    2. The sleeze factor for the Republicans
    3. General disatisfaction on the War in Iraq
    Number three won't be an issue because none of the Republican candidates will be named Bush. Two is unknown but since most of the front runners look like reformers than this will probably be off the table. So, all the Democrats have going for them is number one (props to Schumer and Emanuel for recognizing this in this cycle). So, yeah, go ahead and run an in-your-face, secular liberal.
    It is not the policy distinctives that matter it is the in-your-face style. It has been noted that Giuliani doesn't have much of a problem with evangelicals. That's because his pro-choice views are not obnoxious. You can sell progressive ideas to faith-based communities. You can even gain their respect and support by disagreeing in a respectful manner like Giuliani has done. But what you cannot do is insult them. That guarantees they will vote Republican while crawling over broken glass.

  45. 3. McCain's not named "Bush", but there are pictures of the two embracing. And McCain's stance on Iraq is crazier than Bush's. And the situation in Iraq come election season will have us pining for the current catastrophe.
    2. A year of investigation will bring up plenty of scandal the media will find tasty, and plenty of that scandal will either stain the R candidates or will make them run from their party.
    1. The Democrats ran better candidates. They were more moderate only by virtue of not being far-out-wackos like most Republicans these days. Compared to Brownback or McCain or Gingrich, any Democratic nominee will be a moderate. If the religious fringe primary voters somehow accept a Mormon or a cross-dressing adulterer, maybe there will be a relative standoff on this point, but I doubt it.
    This story makes Obama look good: http://media.orkut.com/articles/0619.html

  46. The Democrats won this year for three reasons:
    1. They ran more moderate candidates
    Like Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb ….
    So, yeah, go ahead and run an in-your-face, secular liberal.
    Yes, I was proposing that Madalyn Murray O'Hair be the nominee.
    But what you cannot do is insult them.
    Gee, thanks. I'm not lucky enough to receive Rove's faxes, so I keep forgetting how the Dirty Hippie Party keeps insulting the godly manly-men!
    Any more crap right-wing generalizations?

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