January 21, 2008

THE PROBLEM FOR OBAMA'S TRUE BELIEVERS...:

The Choice: The Clinton-Obama battle reveals two very different ideas of the Presidency (George Packer January 28, 2008, The New Yorker)

The alternatives facing Democratic voters have been characterized variously as a choice between experience and change, between an insider and an outsider, and between two firsts—a woman and a black man. But perhaps the most important difference between these two politicians—whose policy views, after all, are almost indistinguishable—lies in their rival conceptions of the Presidency. Obama offers himself as a catalyst by which disenchanted Americans can overcome two decades of vicious partisanship, energize our democracy, and restore faith in government. Clinton presents politics as the art of the possible, with change coming incrementally through good governance, a skill that she has honed in her career as advocate, First Lady, and senator. This is the real meaning of the remark she made during one of the New Hampshire debates: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do—the President before had not even tried—but it took a President to get it done.”

In the overheated atmosphere of a closely fought primary, this historically sound statement set off a chain reaction of accusations, declarations of offense, and media hysteria, and for a few days the Democratic Party seemed poised to descend into a self-destructive frenzy of identity politics.


...is that Ms Clinton has the history right, which makes the theory right too. While the Founding does not explicitly anticipate the two party system and specific Founders (most notably George Washington) hoped to avoid the coming of party politics, the divide between Left (the search for security, dominant among female voters) and Right (the desire for freedom, characteristic of males) is natural and eternal. Partisanship is, thus, a manifestation of an open and healthy political process and what really matters is that your constitutional architecture keep the two in tension and not permit one to become so dominant that half the population becomes truly disaffected. Our providentially well-structured system has given us 200 years (not 20) of vicious partisanship and energized democracy. Nearly all the progress we've made--with the possible exception of abolition--has been incremental and the biggest mistakes we've stumbled into (the New Deal, Great Society, Roe v. Wade) have been a function of the relatively rare periods of political imbalance.

Given this historical perspective it is evident that Ms Clinton's political program (inherited from her husband) of incremental change is profoundly American. Of course, the irony is that for all the mindless chatter about how Senator Obama can serve as some kind of apartisan talisman and bring "real" change, one of the most conspicuous facts about his campaign is that he proposes changing almost nothing as he has failed to do anything at all in the Senate. If anything, he's an even more cautious incrementalist in reality than Ms Clinton is in rhetoric. Not that either has any choice if they want to win an election in America...

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 21, 2008 8:42 AM
Comments

when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do—the President before had not even tried—

If "the President before had not even tried" is referring to President Eisenhower, this is a base calumny. Ike proposed two Civil Rights Acts, Lyndon Johnson did his parts behind the scenes to help water them down in the Senate (not wanting to upset his fellow Southern Democrats), but the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were passed. President Eisenhower wanted stronger Civil Rights Acts than passed, but the Southern Democrats filibustered and weakened the proposals.

Posted by: John Thacker at January 21, 2008 9:27 AM

when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do—the President before had not even tried—

If "the President before had not even tried" is referring to President Eisenhower, this is a base calumny. Ike proposed two Civil Rights Acts, Lyndon Johnson did his parts behind the scenes to help water them down in the Senate (not wanting to upset his fellow Southern Democrats), but the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were passed. President Eisenhower wanted stronger Civil Rights Acts than passed, but the Southern Democrats filibustered and weakened the proposals.

Ms. Clinton does not have the history right.

Posted by: John Thacker at January 21, 2008 9:29 AM

Was that an incrementalist who tried to take over health care the first year her husband moved in the White House?

Her comment was it took a white man to realize a black man's dream. Implying it would take a white woman to destroy another one's.

When I first read the comment, it sounded a statement of fact, albeit distorted. After reading it a couple more times, I think the blacks are right. Her meaning was: MLK? What's the big deal? It took a president ...

If she meant what Packer wrote, she could have said: it took King's vision, and the president's power to make changes. One could not do without the other.

Posted by: ic at January 21, 2008 10:27 AM

Yes, the changes that Congress might have passed would have been quite incremental.

Posted by: oj at January 21, 2008 12:22 PM

Another term for Hillary's incrementalism is "Fabian socialist."

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 21, 2008 7:10 PM

Off-topic: OJ, Please fix whatever is going on with your server regarding comments! Every time I post it takes forever, and then I get an error message about the server dropping the connection. I then have to wait for minutes to refresh the page to see if the comment got posted, because a quick refresh doesn't show it. Sometimes it gets posted, and sometimes not.

I'm sure this accounts for the many double- and triple-posts here recently.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 21, 2008 7:15 PM

PapayaSF,
You're not alone, I've been bugging oj about this forever via email!
BTW, in my ignorance I'd taken the "President Before" as icon JFK. After all, he was the "President Before" LBJ and did nothing more than mouth platitudes written by his speechwriters. Cold as it may be, he did more for liberal progressives by being killed than he ever could of done as President!

Posted by: Mike at January 21, 2008 8:53 PM

They always post. Just move along.

Posted by: oj at January 21, 2008 9:31 PM

Other than nationalization, the Fabians were indistinguishable from Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: oj at January 21, 2008 9:49 PM

Once you get the error, "go back" and do another "preview". My comments always appear in the list, and I don't have to fight with unflushed caches.

The real problem is that those New England squirrels just don't have the stamina to keep a server running. Need to import some Mexican ones who'll work harder and cheaper.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 22, 2008 2:19 PM
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