Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Personal savior?

Posted by Ron Coleman on October 29, 2008

This was meant for Facebook, but maybe the question is entitled to a somewhat larger audience?  Today I have one…

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15 Responses to “Personal savior?”

  1. Brian said

    Ron,

    Will “President Barack” improve the divisions you spoke of? Doubtful. I hope I’m wrong, but if he wins, I am confident that he will be even more polarizing than Clinton or Bush. (How can he not be, as someone who has never reached across the aisle to oppose his party on anything remotely controversial?)

    A lot of people didn’t like Clinton’s ideas or his morals. A lot of people didn’t like Bush’s actions. And now, a whole lot of people abhor everything that Obama stands for, as they perceive it. I’ll leave aside any discussion of whether those people are right or wrong. Perception is reality and for them, to sway their opinion would take a Herculean act of moderation from Obama, which nobody has any right to expect from him.

  2. Ara said

    The polarization you mention is something that has been around for a long, long time. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought too, especially since reading Rick Perlstein’s excellent “Nixonland,” a book I highly recommend to you, if you like reading history.

    In it, Perlstein points out that our nation has long been divided — certainly long before Nixon came to power — but in spite of (or because of) the gains brought about through the Great Society, the divisions were brought forth in high relief beginning in the mid-sixties and persist to this day.

    Nixon saw that early on and took advantage of it:

    Millions of Americans recognized … that America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which.

    By 1972, defining that order of battle as one between “people who identified with what Richard Nixon stood for” and “people who despised what Richard Nixon stood for” was as good a description as any other.

    Richard Nixon, now, is long dead. But these sides have hardly changed. We now call them “red” or “blue” America, and whether one or the other wins the temporary allegiances of 50 percent plus one of the electorate — or 40 percent of the electorate, or 60 percent of the electorate — has been the narrative of every election since. It promises to be thus for another generation. But the size of the constituencies that sort into one or the other of the coalitions will always be temporary. You can see it in the way both sides view each other — with fear, uncertainty and doubt. One side greatly fears an Obama presidency, the other side greatly fears a Palin presidency. Neither side trusts the other and both sides describe an America laid to waste if their side loses.

    I guess it’s a step in the right direction that we can identify the problem; solving it is another thing entirely.

  3. Ara said

    Hmmm, thought I blockquoted Perlstein’s text, but I guess not. Paragraphs 4-6 in my comment are excerpted from Perlstein’s text.

    Brian:

    [Obama is] someone who has never reached across the aisle to oppose his party on anything remotely controversial…

    Not sure I buy that; after all, running against the Clintons (who ARE the Democratic Party) surely qualifies Obama as a maverick — certainly a bigger one than McCain who could have (but didn’t) run against Bush in 2004.

  4. Ara said

    Dang! Only the first half of par. 6 above is Perlstein’s. My half starts with “You can see it in the way both sides view each other — with fear, uncertainty and doubt…”

    Sorry about that.

  5. Brian said

    Ara,

    I don’t know if I buy your assertion that the Clintons are the Democratic Party. To my mind they haven’t been the party since the 2004 race. The Clinton/Kerry/DLC wing of the party appears to have been shunted aside in favor of the MoveOn/Kos wing.

    Running as a candidate hardly qualifies anyone as a maverick. Ted Kennedy ran against an incumbent Carter in 1980, and I don’t think anyone seriously considers him a maverick who bucks the party establishment. No name–not even Clinton–says “Dyed in the wool Democrat” more than Kennedy.

    That said, I will assume that you know what I meant about Obama not opposing his party. I’m talking legislatively. His own example of bipartisanship, which he keeps mentioning, is that he worked with Dick Lugar on a nuclear proliferation measure. It was a good piece of legislation but it passed by unanimous consent. Not exactly a contentious battle against the party. Ditto for his “Google for Government” bill with Tom Coburn. Again, a good piece of legislation. So good that it also passed by unanimous consent.

    Nobody can point to a contentious issue on which the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate pushed its members to vote one way and Obama opposed them, because it never happened. When has he ever upset his party the way McCain has?

  6. Ara Rubyan said

    I don’t know if I buy your assertion that the Clintons are the Democratic Party.

    The last sitting president of the party (either one) is always considered the putative head of that party. I didn’t make up the rule.

    Ted Kennedy ran against an incumbent Carter in 1980, and I don’t think anyone seriously considers him a maverick who bucks the party establishment.

    Ted Kennedy had been a US Senator for 18 years already when he challenged Carter. That said, he was considered “royalty-in-exile” (yes, those are air-quotes).

    That said, I will assume that you know what I meant about Obama not opposing his party.

    I know exactly what you meant and I was waiting for this part of the conversation to say this: I don’t care if you’re a maverick or not — what I care is … are you doing the right thing? If you have to be a maverick to do the right thing, then that says as much about your party as it does about you. “Maverick” is not a qualification to be president. Knowing the difference between right and wrong and then doing the right thing — that counts in my book. So…I give credit to McCain for doing the right thing back then. In fact, I voted for him in 2000. But I would never do that again because he is a shell of the man he was.

    Nobody can point to a contentious issue on which the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate pushed its members to vote one way and Obama opposed them, because it never happened.

    Two things, one good one bad. It was hardly the popular or easy choice to be against the war in 2002 and if you think it was, you probably weren’t paying attention. No, Obama wasn’t in Congress, but so what? He called it the way he saw it and he was right. Now the bad: his vote on the FISA bill was enough to lose him votes with what you call the “MoveOn/Kos” wing of the party which, by your own observation, runs the party. Again, he called it the way he saw it. I disagreed then and I disagree now.

    When has he ever upset his party the way McCain has?

    As I said above, if that is what a “maverick” is, it’s value-neutral. What matters is making the right choice.

  7. Jack said

    Whereas I disagree with a lot of what Ara implied (wink, wink, the Angels know where he stands on what’s right, don’t they?), there is one thing he got spot on.

    There will always be one population group in this country that don’t care much for what the other population group does or says.

    For instance one group wants to revolt from England and become a whole new thing, another wants to stay comfortably in the Empire. One group is pro-slavery, one group is against it. One group wants to save the Union, another to dissolve it. One group is for a particular war, another opposed. One group wants to assimilate the Injuns, another to reservate them. One is pro-civil rights, another opposed. One is law and order, another ain’t. One is for going to the moon, the other thinks we only oughtta go to the moon after all the problems on Earth have been solved first (good luck on that one ladies and germs). One group is pro-religious, the other ain’t. One side believes individual liberty at all costs is some kinda god, the other thinks it is the sulfur that paves the charcoal road to hell. One side is one thing, the other is something else.

    It’s always been that way from our very inception, and always will be.
    In this world anyways, lessen you believe this world is self-perfecting.

    I’m laying odds it ain’t, just banking on prior history.

    It dories however generally tend to trend better and better over time.
    That is if you think this world is bad, and it sure can be on occasion, just try about 1942 for a change a pace. Or 1492 for that matter. The winters were colder, the diseases harsher, the food and water harder to come by, and Death rode around for a whole lotta people standing in both stirrups at full gallop.

    That’s living I reckon, except nowadays, Global Warming and the end of all things notwithstanding the march of history, well, it ain’t paradise, but it ain’t the Great Flood either.

    We’ll survive McCain, or Obama, if we get em.
    Hell, we’ll probably even survive a Democratic Congress and the likelihood of successfully inviting a new attack by gutting the military again.

    Well, in any case, let me put it to ya this way: anything is possible.
    And sometimes even likely.

    That’s just the price ya pay for progress.

  8. happyfeet said

    oh. I blame The Daily Show mostly. But historically has electing a dirty socialist to be president ever made people more nicer anywhere it’s been tried? I’m trying to think. Maybe certain parts of Canada.

  9. Jack said

    “But historically has electing a dirty socialist to be president ever made people more nicer anywhere it’s been tried? I’m trying to think. Maybe certain parts of Canada.”

    Now, now. They can’t help that HF. That’s like blaming the stink on a polecat for smelling funny. I think we should just all let Canada be Canada with the perfect understanding that that is just the way they’re made.

    However if one of our Coast Guard vessels ever needs a tugboat ride around Nova Scotia we’ll know who to call.

  10. Brian said

    Ara,

    Getting back to Ron’s original topic: Whether a President Obama would improve the political divisions in our society. My point still stands.

    Let me use something you said as a jumping-off point.

    “If you have to be a maverick to do the right thing, then that says as much about your party as it does about you.”

    Perhaps. By your logic, whatever the Democratic Party does must, inherently, be the “right thing.” If you didn’t believe that it is almost always right, then you would necessarily believe that the party must be regularly opposed. Someone who did so would be labeled a “Maverick” or something with a similar connotation.

    And someone who shows the ability to reach out to putative adversaries, and to take positions against his/her own party, is someone who can do some good in narrowing the divisions Ron asked about in the video.

    I’m opposed to doctrinaires of any stripe. I live in Maine, where we have (according to the Washington Post’s vote database) the two Senators who have voted against their party more than any of the other 98 members of that body. They’re both Republicans. My district has a Democratic Congressman who has gotten my vote in the past and will get it again. All three have my support largely on the grounds that they don’t just rigidly do what the party says. I’m a Republican, but when I dug into my Congressman’s voting record, I didn’t find much to sway my opinion of him. I consider that healthy, on either side of the aisle.

    Obama is not the kind of person who is going to bring people together. Sorry. Living in a Blue state with two Republican Senators who have the highest approval ratings in the Senate, I know what a uniter looks like. Obama isn’t it.

  11. Ara said

    I hear you.

    But let me stop you right there. re: McCain the maverick — Has everyone missed the simple fact that he has voted with Bush 90+% of the time since Bush took office? OK. So let’s stop calling him a maverick, shall we?

    As for the rest of your thesis — I live in Louisiana with a Democratic Senator — Mary Landrieu — who regularly votes with Republicans and (although I don’t know her approval ratings) it looks like she is going to cruise to a comfortable victory next week.

    And while that frustrates me on a regular basis, it is a reflection of the constituency that keeps her in office. But in and of itself that doesn’t qualify her to be president. Nor does it qualify Snowe and Collins either.

  12. Ara said

    Oh and before I forget: we had a president in the 90s who regularly crossed the aisle (back in the day we called it “triangulating”) to pass epochal things like welfare reform. I don’t recall him being called a “maverick,” nor do I remember him being held in particularly high regard by Republicans.

    I’m just saying.

  13. Obama and the democrats have no intention of bridging the right-left divide. McCain probably wants to, but politics is a confrontational, zero-sum kind of thing. In each political confrontation, only one team can win. Expecting the red team and the blue team to join hands, work together and sing kumbaya before (and after) the big game is kind of unrealistic.

    This is one reason why politics is not really a solution to many problems. Trade, and technology are not zero-sum games, and they tend to do more to benefit the population in the long run. Who has done more to solve the problems of the world’s poor – Adam Smith, Karl Marx or Norman Borlaug?

    Politicians are basically bureaucrats. Their job is to maintain the infrastructure – maintain the roads, pick up the garbage, pay the bills. If we listen to the debates, we can see that McCain and Obama are both reasonably competent bureaucrats. That’s all we should expect of them.

    Politicians who are not bureaucrats, politicians with vision can be truly dangerous. Americans are pragmatic, self-reliant people who tend to avoid real visionaries like a plague. Historically, we tended to avoid relying on the state, or messianic politicians, to solve our problems.

    Since Europeans rely on the state to solve their problems, Europe embraces visionaries and extremists. In America, lipstick-wearing white supremacists tend to be relegated to the sidelines, or to jail. In Europe, the become heads of state.

    In the last decade, nearly everything seems to have become more and more politicized. Comedy shows, college classes, talk shows, actors, musicians – everyone has to declare which political team they belong to. In the nineties, people rarely talked about politics. I didn’t know what party most of my friends belonged to. I didn’t care. Back in the ’90’s, the only dividing lines were MACs vs. Windows. Now I know where everyone stands politically. The more we rely on these teams, the more European we become.

  14. Jack said

    “the more European we become.”

    There is an irony in this that causes angels to weep…

    When politics becomes your God
    And Truth is told by leaning,
    It seems to me to give a nod
    To a certain kind of dreaming,
    The vision now that day will come
    When all our ideals prevail
    If only men could once become
    What most they wish to entail,
    But man that thing that is so flawed
    Has camouflaged his faults
    Behind the curtain most enthralled
    That sways the mind distraught,
    He trusts if only more of him
    Could be grown or made
    Convinced a million like himself
    Than all our failings saved,
    But no-one sprouts a perfect plant
    From a billion stalks of woe
    A seed of wrong just really can’t
    Cause paragons to grow,
    The best achieved in politics
    Is just to do no harm,
    If salvation seek you in your tricks
    You’ve fallen for the charm,
    But oh how many modern folk
    Place stock in other men
    As if their party is the yolk
    Of wisdom beyond ‘ken,
    But stack a thousand faulty stones
    To try and build your walls
    Collapse is then knit in your bones
    And time assures your fall,
    Yet hail the wise and hail the best
    A Savior now is born,
    A Leader unlike all the rest
    By all our hopes adorned,
    If only men by rhetoric
    Could just remake their souls
    Then talk and happy politics
    Would save the world we know…

    Think it’ll ever actually happen that way?

  15. Nice poem!

    I hope the current obsession with politics is a fad, like disco or dot coms, but it is disturbing to notice that conservatives and liberals both favor bigger government. The extremes of both parties support legally enforced behavior modification (with liberals favoring laws to force everyone to accept multiculturalism, and conservatives favoring laws enforcing moral values).

    If people expect Obama to be a savior, and if he’s elected, the inevitable disappointment might be enough to turn people off of the idea of politics as a solution. If our politically obsessed mass media collapses financially, that could also help.

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