( * This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008)

Did you know that Barack Obama had a “diary” at the Daily Kos?

But back in September of 2005 Mr. Obama was so concerned about the good opinion of the denizens there, he felt he had to write an apology about not having attacked those Democrats who voted for the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court more forcibly.

Mind you, Obama himself did not vote for Roberts.

Still, he felt the need to explain how he and the Democrats in general need to pretend to be less radical than they really are if they are going to get enough people elected into power to really change things the way they and the folks at Daily Kos want to.

In other words, Mr. Obama tells the Kossacks about the need to hoodwink the American public in order to get their way.

From the Daily Kos:

Tone, Truth, and the Democratic Party

by Barack Obama
Fri Sep 30, 2005

I read with interest your recent discussion regarding my comments on the floor during the debate on John Roberts’ nomination. I don’t get a chance to follow blog traffic as regularly as I would like, and rarely get the time to participate in the discussions. I thought this might be a good opportunity to offer some thoughts about not only judicial confirmations, but how to bring about meaningful change in this country.

Maybe some of you believe I could have made my general point more artfully, but it’s precisely because many of these groups are friends and supporters that I felt it necessary to speak my mind.

There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don’t believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists – a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog – we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in “appeasing” the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don’t think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don’t think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don’t think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

It’s this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearings. A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don’t think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession. Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence, a judge appointed by a conservative president who could have done much worse (and probably, I fear, may do worse with the next nominee). While they hope Roberts doesn’t swing the court too sharply to the right, a majority of Americans think that the President should probably get the benefit of the doubt on a clearly qualified nominee.

A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt. That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.

I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning. But short of mounting an all-out filibuster — a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations — blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.

In such circumstances, attacks on Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and the other Democrats who, after careful consideration, voted for Roberts make no sense. Russ Feingold, the only Democrat to vote not only against war in Iraq but also against the Patriot Act, doesn’t become complicit in the erosion of civil liberties simply because he chooses to abide by a deeply held and legitimate view that a President, having won a popular election, is entitled to some benefit of the doubt when it comes to judicial appointments. Like it or not, that view has pretty strong support in the Constitution’s design.

The same principle holds with respect to issues other than judicial nominations. My colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, spoke out forcefully – and voted against – the Iraqi invasion. He isn’t somehow transformed into a “war supporter” – as I’ve heard some anti-war activists suggest – just because he hasn’t called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. He may be simply trying to figure out, as I am, how to ensure that U.S. troop withdrawals occur in such a way that we avoid all-out Iraqi civil war, chaos in the Middle East, and much more costly and deadly interventions down the road. A pro-choice Democrat doesn’t become anti-choice because he or she isn’t absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn’t become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn’t become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.

Or to make the point differently: How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation’s fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist’s threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won’t be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won’t go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won’t change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won’t have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won’t have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won’t have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job. After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart. It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that’s our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more “centrist.” In fact, I think the whole “centrist” versus “liberal” labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. Too often, the “centrist” label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don’t think Democrats have been bold enough. But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don’t work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans).

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of “framing,” although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It’s a matter of actually having faith in the American people’s ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Finally, I am not arguing that we “unilaterally disarm” in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response.

My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable,” and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone’s greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

In that spirit, let me end by saying I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenges we face, and I look forward to periodic conversations with all of you in the months and years to come. I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies.

In effect, Mr. Obama is just saying, “tone it down. I’m doing it. But you will screw it up if you make it too obvious.”

Which, as many will recall, is pretty much what other Democrats were telling the radical left about withdrawing troops from Iraq around this same time.

(This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008)



July 30, 2010

Posted Image

  1. Spencer Ackerman – Wired, FireDogLake, Washington Independent, Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect
  2. Thomas Adcock – New York Law Journal
  3. Ben Adler – Newsweek, POLITICO
  4. Mike Allen – POLITICO
  5. Eric Alterman – The Nation, Media Matters for America
  6. Marc Ambinder – The Atlantic
  7. Greg Anrig – The Century Foundation
  8. Ryan Avent – Economist
  9. Dean Baker – The American Prospect
  10. Nick Baumann – Mother Jones
  11. Josh Bearman – LA Weekly
  12. Steven Benen – The Carpetbagger Report
  13. Ari Berman – The Nation
  14. Jared Bernstein – Economic Policy Institute
  15. Michael Berube – Crooked Timer, Pennsylvania State University
  16. Brian Beutler – The Media Consortium
  17. Lindsay Beyerstein – Freelance journalist
  18. Joel Bleifuss – In These Times
  19. John Blevins – South Texas College of Law
  20. Sam Boyd – The American Prospect
  21. Ben Brandzel – MoveOn.org, John Edwards Campaign
  22. Shannon Brownlee – Author, New America Foundation
  23. Will Bunch – Philadelphia Daily News
  24. Rich Byrne – Playwright
  25. Jonathan Chait – The New Republic
  26. Lakshmi Chaudry – In These Times
  27. Isaac Chotiner – The New Republic
  28. Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic
  29. Michael Cohen – New America Foundation
  30. Jonathan Cohn – The New Republic
  31. Joe Conason – The New York Observer
  32. Lark Corbeil – Public News Service
  33. David Corn – Mother Jones
  34. Daniel Davies – The Guardian
  35. David Dayen – FireDogLake
  36. Brad DeLong – The Economists’ Voice, University of California at Berkeley
  37. Ryan Donmoyer – Bloomberg News
  38. Adam Doster – In These Times
  39. Kevin Drum – Washington Monthly
  40. Matt Duss – Center for American Progress
  41. Gerald Dworkin – UC Davis
  42. Eve Fairbanks – The New Republic
  43. Henry Farrell – George Washington University
  44. Tim Fernholz – American Prospect
  45. Dan Froomkin – Huffington Post, Washington Post
  46. Jason Furman – Brookings Institution
  47. James Galbraith – University of Texas at Austin
  48. Kathleen Geier – Talking Points Memo
  49. Todd Gitlin – Columbia University
  50. Ilan Goldenberg – National Security Network
  51. Arthur Goldhammer – Harvard University
  52. Dana Goldstein – The Daily Beast
  53. Andrew Golis – Talking Points Memo
  54. Jaana Goodrich – Blogger
  55. Merrill Goozner – Chicago Tribune
  56. David Greenberg – Slate
  57. Robert Greenwald – Brave New Films
  58. Chris Hayes – The Nation
  59. Don Hazen – Alternet
  60. Jeet Heer – Canadian Journolist
  61. Jeff Hauser – Political Action Committee, Dennis Shulman Campaign
  62. Michael Hirsh – Newsweek
  63. James Johnson – University of Rochester
  64. John Judis – The New Republic, The American Prospect
  65. Foster Kamer – The Village Voice
  66. Michael Kazin – Georgetown University
  67. Ed Kilgore – Democratic Strategist
  68. Richard Kim – The Nation
  69. Charlie Kireker – Air America Media
  70. Mark Kleiman – UCLA The Reality Based Community
  71. Ezra Klein – Washington Post, Newsweek, The American Prospect
  72. Joe Klein – TIME
  73. Robert Kuttner – American Prospect, Economic Policy Institute
  74. Paul Krugman – The New York Times, Princeton University
  75. Lisa Lerer – POLITICO
  76. Daniel Levy – Century Foundation
  77. Ralph Luker – Cliopatria
  78. Annie Lowrey – Washington Independent
  79. Robert Mackey – New York Times
  80. Mike Madden – Salon
  81. Maggie Mahar – The Century Foundation
  82. Dylan Matthews – Harvard University
  83. Alec McGillis – Washington Post
  84. Scott McLemee – Inside Higher Ed
  85. Sara Mead – New America Foundation
  86. Ari Melber – The Nation
  87. David Meyer – University of California at Irvine
  88. Seth Michaels – MyDD.com
  89. Luke Mitchell – Harper’s Magazine
  90. Gautham Nagesh – The Hill, Daily Caller
  91. Suzanne Nossel – Human Rights Watch
  92. Michael O’Hare – University of California at Berkeley
  93. Josh Orton – MyDD.com, Air America Media
  94. Rodger Payne – University of Louisville
  95. Rick Perlstein – Author, Campaign for America’s Future
  96. Nico Pitney – Huffington Post
  97. Harold Pollack – University of Chicago
  98. Katha Pollitt – The Nation
  99. Ari Rabin-Havt – Media Matters
  100. Joy-Ann Reid – South Florida Times
  101. David Roberts – Grist
  102. Lamar Robertson – Partnership for Public Service
  103. Sara Robinson – Campaign For America’s Future
  104. Alyssa Rosenberg – Washingtonian, The Atlantic, Government Executive
  105. Alex Rossmiller – National Security Network
  106. Michael Roston – Newsbroke
  107. Laura Rozen – POLITICO, Mother Jones
  108. Felix Salmon – Reuters
  109. Greg Sargent – Washington Post
  110. Thomas Schaller – Baltimore Sun
  111. Noam Scheiber – The New Republic
  112. Michael Scherer – TIME
  113. Mark Schmitt – American Prospect, The New America Foundation
  114. Rinku Sen – ColorLines Magazine
  115. Julie Bergman Sender – Balcony Films
  116. Adam Serwer – American Prospect
  117. Walter Shapiro – PoliticsDaily.com
  118. Kate Sheppard – Mother Jones
  119. Matthew Shugart – UC San Diego
  120. Nate Silver – FiveThirtyEight.com
  121. Jesse Singal – The Boston Globe, Washington Monthly
  122. Ann-Marie Slaughter – Princeton University
  123. Ben Smith – POLITICO
  124. Sarah Spitz – KCRW
  125. Adele Stan – The Media Consortium
  126. Paul Starr – The Atlantic
  127. Kate Steadman – Kaiser Health News
  128. Jonathan Stein – Mother Jones
  129. Sam Stein – Huffington Post
  130. Matt Steinglass – Deutsche Presse-Agentur
  131. James Surowiecki – The New Yorker
  132. Jesse Taylor – Pandagon.net
  133. Steven Teles – Yale University
  134. Mark Thoma – The Economists’ View
  135. Michael Tomasky – The Guardian
  136. Jeffrey Toobin – CNN, The New Yorker
  137. Rebecca Traister – Salon
  138. Tracy Van Slyke – The Media Consortium
  139. Paul Waldman – Author, American Prospect
  140. Dave Weigel – Washington Post, MSNBC, The Washington Independent
  141. Moira Whelan – National Security Network
  142. Scott Winship – Pew Economic Mobility Project
  143. J. Harry Wray – DePaul University
  144. D. Brad Wright – University of NC at Chapel Hill
  145. Kai Wright – The Root
  146. Holly Yeager – Columbia Journalism Review
  147. Rich Yeselson – Change to Win
  148. Matthew Yglesias – Center for American Progress, The Atlantic Monthly
  149. Jonathan Zasloff – UCLA
  150. Julian Zelizer – Princeton University
  151. Avi Zenilman – POLITICO