Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama hopes and worries

I realize that Obama can push the envelope only so far past the conventional view of things during the Presidential campaign. Assuming he wants to push the envelope. But if he gets elected, withdraws from Iraq and gets some kind of practical comprehensive health insurance program passed, then he will have put the major building blocks in place for something we could call a conservative revival.

This is a preface to expressing concerns about the state of the Presidential fight. but I want to call attention to dday's post Obama's Big Bet - The Power Of The Ground Game Hullabaloo blog 08/20/08, which addresses Obama's "ground game", putting an elaborate get-out-the-vote operation in place. Obviously, his ground game in the caucuses was key to his success, a strong point that let him offset Clinton's advantage in the primary states. And I've seen his organizational approach mentioned before, described as putting a new grassroots party organization in place.

He quotes Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein, "For all the talk of post-partisan 'unity,' Barack Obama has been proving himself the most party-focused presidential candidate in recent history - possibly ever." I want to believe that this will be very effective. And I think dday makes an important point. It's one that the trivia-and-sex-obsessed Establishment press largely ignores.

Now to my concerns. Obama's recent statements on Iraq sound pretty emphatic about getting all the troops out, though he's still fudging on trainers, aka, military advisers, and on soldiers to protect the embassy. The latter would sound unexceptional except that the mega-embassy Cheney and Bush are building there is meant to be much more than your average embassy building.

But seeing the text of the speech he just gave to the VFW makes it sound like he's determined to escalate the Afghanistan War.

"This is a war we have to win," he says there. If he winds up just shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, with the Republicans all the while blaming him for every single thing that goes wrong in either place (the Reps' starry-eyed view of all the "progress" will evaporate as soon as Obama is in charge), this will likely destroy his Presidency. It's not as much of a disaster as McCain would create by waging war on Iran. But too much disaster to build a dominant progressive coalition on.

He also said that he was "crystal clear" that "Georgia should be integrated into transatlantic institutions." I suppose we should be relieved that he didn't say "Georgia should be made a member of NATO", although I'm not sure what other meaning we can take from his statement. Does he really want to make a military alliance with a state like Georgia that doesn't physically control the borders it claims as its own?

There is money to be made in selling arms to Georgia. Legislation that Obama supported allows weapons to be sold to Georgia on pretty much the same terms as to NATO allies. (See Billmon's post from Monday.)

And there are many other ways in which massive military spending and the foreign policy fears that justify it are almost hard-wired into our political culture, if that metaphor makes any sense. Obama's willingness to challenge the whole assumption of the Iraq War is an important rejection of national-security-state thinking.

But his expressed positions on Afghanistan and Georgia are largely consistent with Establishment thinking on foreign and military policy. Which is still stuck to an amazing degree in the Cold War mold. In McCain's case, that's painfully obvious. He seems to think eternal Cold War and perpetual hot wars as a secondary aspect of it should be the normal state of affairs. Or at least the extreme Cheney-Bush version of it.

The other discouraging aspect of Obama's speech is that his objections to McCain's attacks on him played right into the Republican script and come off sounding whiny. It's silly to whine about how the Republicans are running a nasty campaign. They're Republicans, that's what they do! He needs to jam their attacks back into McCain's face, using either humor or direct attacks or allowing surrogates to do it. If he loses this thing, his refusal to defend Wesley Clark when he provoked media-Republican faux-outrage by saying McCain's military experience wasn't in itself directly relevant experience for the Presidency will be one of the worst wrong turns of his campaign.

I agree with Josh Marshall in Free Advice, Worth Every Penny TPM 08/20/08: "Don't ever demand someone stop attacking you. Doesn't work. Don't do it. Sounds weak. Sounds pathetic. And a lot else." Obama needs to hit back at McCain's supposed strengths and, yes, deflate his I'm-a-saint-because-I-was-a-POW schtick.

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"It is the logic of our times
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