Obama’s Record on Bipartisanship and Defending Liberal Principles

David Igantius has bad timing with today’s op-ed. He accuses Obama of being thin with regards to being a bridge builder, taking a selective view of his record to support his premise. Today’s news provides one of many examples to contradict his argument as The Times of London reports on Obama’s plans to consider Republicans for his cabinet:

Obama believes he will be able to neutralise McCain by drawing on the expertise of independent Republicans such as Hagel and Lugar, who is regarded by Obama as a potential secretary of state.

Larry Korb, a defence official under President Ronald Reagan who is backing Obama, said: “By putting a Republican in the Pentagon and the State Department you send a signal to Congress and the American people that issues of national security are above politics.”

Korb recalled that President John F Kennedy appointed Robert McNamara, a Republican, as defence secretary in 1961. “Hagel is not only a Republican but a military veteran who would reassure the troops that there was somebody in the Pentagon who understood their hopes, concerns and fears,” he said.

While the appointment of McNamara did not turn out very well, we cannot judge all potential Republican cabinet members based upon his failings.

Obama’s record both in the Illinois legislature and in the Senate is far stronger than as described by Igantius, including measures involving achieving bipartisan support. I previously wrote about Obama’s record here. Ignatius also revives the bogus attacks on Obama for voting present in the Illinois legislature. Members of the Illinois legislature have defended Obama’s record as noted here. I also had more on this issue here. An op-ed at The Chicago Tribune has argued that this disparagement of Obama’s voting record doesn’t hold up. Lorna Brett Howard, the former President of Chicago NOW, changed her support from Clinton to Obama after seeing how Clinton was distorting Obama’s record.

Obama’s ability to transcend partisan divides can also be seen in the support he receives from independents and even some Republicans. Another example can be seen in the influence of Obama’s economic advisers from the University of Chicago. This leads to a number of economic policies which transcend the traditional left versus right divide by promoting progressive aims with consideration of conservative Chicago School economic views.

The type of criticism of Obama coming from Igantius is also an example of Obama being held to a higher standard than other politicians. Few people really expect Obama to be able to suddenly eliminate all partisan disputes. I support him primarily based upon the issues. For example, of the three remaining viable candidates from either party he is the only one who has a liberal record on civil liberties and social issues where I have many areas of agreement, and is the only one to have opposed the Iraq war. The fact that Obama does show some ability to transcend partisan disputes is a plus, but hardly the main reason to support him.

Obama, like Clinton and McCain, is also a politician and it would be quite naive to believe that he has never considered the political implications of issues. Some people incorrectly compare Obama’s bipartisanship to Clinton’s triangulation but there are major differences. Obama continues to support liberal principles while achieving bipartisan support for his positions while Clinton is to ignore principle based upon political expediency. One of the best examples came after the 2004 election when it was revealed that Bill Clinton advised John Kerry to support the Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in the states where this was on the ballot in order to pick up more votes. Kerry refused to ignore principle by following this advice, but does anyone doubt that Hillary Clinton would have? We also see her willingness to pander to the right in her support for a ban on flag burning, her crusade to censor video games, and her support for the drug war (including opposition to needle exchange programs and her views on sentencing).

Igantius also seems to find McCain to be purer than Obama, but this does not hold up when looking at how McCain has refused to repudiate John Hagee, especially when compared to Obama’s response to his support from Farrakhan. McCain has also pandered to the religious right in the past, such as with his claims that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. McCain’s position on lobbyists is contradicted by recent revelations. McCain also voted the party line, ignoring his previously stated principles, when voting on the water boarding ban.

Bill Clinton is right when he describes voting for Obama as a gamble. However, when looking at the positions and records of Hillary Clinton and John McCain, this is a gamble which I believe we should make. With both Clinton and McCain we are virtually guaranteed to continue with the status quo. Of the remaining candidates, only Obama offers any hope of real change on foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues. Only Obama offers a chance to move beyond the current strategies of both parties to impose their viewpoints based upon achieving the support of 50% plus one and achieve a new majority.

SciFi Friday Part II: The Week in Review

Lost has benefited greatly from centering the final seasons around telling a story with a definite end point. They have also avoided using the exact same format week after week. This week’s episode got away from telling about one of the Oceanic Six in the flash forwards and instead dealt with Desmond, who is unstuck in time. There was even a brief homage to Billy Pilgrim from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, who was also unstuck in time.

We find that Desmond’s situation isn’t unique. Every episode lately tries to end with a surprise which is consistent with the events of the episode. This week’s ending suggests that Daniel Faraday’s problem is similar to Desmond’s as we see an entry in his notebook saying, “If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be my constant.”

The episode also verifies the earlier hints that something strange is going on with time. The helicopter with Desmond and Sayid left the island at dusk and landed mid day, with those on the island finding a delay which did not surprise Faraday.


Jericho is becoming increasingly political, with some aspects of the United States resembling Iraq, and other aspects containing allusions to the Bush administration. We’ve already seen that the Cheyenne government is pushing a new flag, a new Constitution, and even a new right wing history. This week’s episode has many comparisons to Halliburton and Blackwater with Jennings & Rall being involved in everything, including government functions. Meanwhile Ravenwood is being used as a private army. Does it mean anything that the new government and Dick Cheney both come from Wyoming?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles remains mixed in quality but is doing an interesting job of applying aspects from the original movie series to current plot lines. A new twist is being added as it is unclear if the cyborg Cameron (Summer Glau, above) can be trusted. The final two episodes of the season are being aired as a two-hour episode on Monday.

Torchwood as aired on BBC America remains behind the BBC showings, but delaying SciFi Friday at least allows me to comment on the more recent episodes while avoiding spoilers for episodes which have not aired yet. Last week’s episode, Adam, involved an alien who lives off of false memories planted in others. He gives the members of the Torchwood team false memories of him having been one of them for years, but in the process disrupts their memories and changes them. Gwen loses all memory of her fiancè Rhys and thinks he is a stalker when she finds him in her apartment. Owen undergoes the biggest change, becoming a real geek. The most dramatic actions come when Adam gives Ianto false memories of being a serial killer after Ianto notes that there is no mention of Adam in his diary.

The episode might be most notable for providing information on Jack’s childhood, but those memories, as well as all other memories involving Adam, must be removed in order for Adam to be eliminated. At the end nobody has memories of Adam but there are clues that he had been there. I did find it a little unrealistic that they would not want to investigate the last couple of days which were missing from their memories.

This week’s episode, Reset, works in three different groups which are involved in studying aliens. Besides Torchwood, there’s UNIT which lends a medical specialist, and there’s a medical center which uses aliens in an unsafe manner to attempt to cure human diseases. The UNIT medical specialist happens to be Martha Jones, who finished medical school very quickly after returning from her adventures with The Doctor. The episode ends with Owen being shot, which will lead into the events of the subsequent two episodes which have already aired in the U.K.


Looking at television beyond science fiction, Saturday Night Live has managed to be in the news several times after returning last week. Last week’s episode began with a skit based upon the Texas debate, which Hillary Clinton mentioned during the Ohio debate (video above). There was some controversy over having a non-black cast member play Obama’s role. The episode also included a defense of Clinton by Tina Fey who argued that it is bitches who get things done. Mike Huckabee also had an appearance.

This week they began with another debate in which Clinton argues that she can get the most done by being so obnoxious that people will just give up on opposing her. This is followed by an appearance by the real Hillary Clinton (video here). Rudy Giuliani also had an appearance in which he compared his campaign to a Saturday Night Live skit which starts out strong but goes nowhere. The musical guest was Wilco, a big supporter of Obama.

There’s good news for fans of Scrubs. While NBC has never shown the show much respect, ABC is now negotiating to pick up eighteen episodes to allow the series to be completed as planned.

A high definition trailer for the Sex and the City movie is available on line here. We find that Carrie and Big do get engaged, but things might not go well at the alter. Charlotte is pregnant, as was seen in earlier pictures, and Steve admits to Miranda that he cheated on her once.

The Other Boleyn Girl opened to mixed reviews. Any movie with both Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson can’t be all bad. There’s one minor coincidence I noted in the cast when comparing this with Showtimes’s version of the story, The Tudors. Scarlett Johansson appeared in the Woody Allen movie Match Point with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry in The Tudors.

Season two of The Tudors begins on March 30. During season one, Mary, followed by Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), worked to seduce Henry. Anne always found ways to ensure that Henry would not be satisfied until they married, as can be seen at the end of season one. Video is available here (definitely not safe for work).

One of the things I watched during the strike was the DVD set of Arrested Development. It is certainly understandable that there were a lot of protests when the show was canceled. Plans have now been announced to make a movie version of the show.

SciFi Friday Part I: A Science Fiction Debate

SciFi Friday is a little late this week, which actually works out well as a couple of the stories include shows from Saturday night. Tonight I’ll also break SciFi Friday into two parts.

During last week’s debate in Ohio, Tim Russert went overboard with hypothetical questions leading me to comment that I half expected him to next ask Clinton a question such as, “What would you do if Cylons attacked Earth?” This got me thinking. There are already people pushing for a Science Debate. What if Tim Russert pursued some really hypothetical questions and hosted a Science Fiction Debate?

There are many potential hypothetical questions which Russert could ask. Star Trek fans would love to know how the candidates would handle the situation when Vulcans make first contact with humans. Terminator fans would want to hear how the candidates would prevent the building of Skynet. They would also be concerned about whether candidates are prepared to defend humanity against killer robots.

Wait a minute. This just might not be science fiction anymore. There were news reports last week of killer robots which might be used by terrorists. Fox News even compared them to Daleks out of Doctor Who.

So, the whole topic of killer robots might have to be moved from the Science Fiction debate to the Science Debate. We’ll move on to Planet of the Apes and question whether the candidates are prepared to handle the danger of intelligent apes taking control of the planet. That must might have to be moved to the Science Debate also in light of recent reports that chimpanzees might have a much greater capacity for language than earlier believed.

Even the upcoming Star Trek movie is making some attempts to keep the science as legitimate as possible. The Arizona Daily Star has an interview with Carolyn Porco, scientific consultant for the movie. Here’s a couple of the questions:

What will you work on?

“Not at all with warp drives and phasers. I’ll probably be working with them creating astronomical scenes, planetary scenes, whatever there’s going to be.”

Do you think you’ll have to shoot anything down?

“I doubt there will be very much shooting down (with) inane things like phasers. I’m going to be the planetary policewoman. That’s what I’ll try to be. I’ll be consulting, but in the end it’s Abrams’ decision what he takes and what he doesn’t of my advice. From what I can see, this is a sincere group of people trying to get it right. From what I’ve seen, the idea is to make this movie different. Of course, it’s still gonna be ‘Star Trek.’ “

I’ll look at some shows from the past week in Part II.

Obama vs. Clinton on Civil Liberties

I’ve frequently noted that the conventional wisdom is wrong in saying that there is little difference between Obama and Clinton on the issues. There are significant differences between them on foreign policy, social issues, and civil liberties which lead me to support Obama but make me unlikely to vote for Hillary Clinton should she win the Democratic nomination. Jeffrey Rosen looks at their differences on civil liberties issues in The New York Times:

IF Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian. Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has been more consistent than Hillary Clinton on issues from the Patriot Act to bans on flag burning. At the same time, he has reached out to Republicans and independents to build support for his views. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has embraced some of the instrumental tacking of Bill Clinton, whose presidency disappointed liberal and conservative civil libertarians on issue after issue.

Mr. Obama made his name in the Illinois Legislature by championing historic civil liberties reforms, like the mandatory recording of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Although prosecutors, the police, the Democratic governor and even some death penalty advocates were initially opposed to the bill, Mr. Obama won them over. The reform passed unanimously, and it has been adopted by four other states and the District of Columbia.

In the Senate, Mr. Obama distinguished himself by making civil liberties one of his legislative priorities. He co-sponsored a bipartisan reform bill that would have cured the worst excesses of the Patriot Act by meaningfully tightening the standards for warrantless surveillance. Once again, he helped encourage a coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. The effort failed when Hillary Clinton joined 13 other Democrats in supporting a Republican motion to cut off debate on amendments to the Patriot Act.

That wasn’t the first time Mrs. Clinton tacked to the center in a civil-liberties debate. In 2005, she co-sponsored a bill that would have made it a federal crime to intimidate someone by burning a flag, even though the Supreme Court had struck down similar laws in the past. (Mr. Obama supported a narrower bill that would have satisfied the Constitution.) And Mrs. Clinton opposed a moderate proposal by the United States Sentencing Commission that would have retroactively reduced the draconian penalties for possession of crack cocaine, a proposal supported by Mr. Obama, and by liberal as well as conservative judges.

The real concern about Hillary Clinton’s record on civil liberties is that her administration would look like that of her husband. Bill Clinton’s presidency had many virtues, but a devotion to civil liberties was not one of them. After the Oklahoma City bombing, the Clinton administration proposed many of the expansions of police power that would end up in the Patriot Act. (They were opposed at the time by the same coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives that Mr. Obama has supported.) The Clinton administration’s tough-on-crime policies also contributed to the rising prison population, and to the fact that the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other country.

Hillary Clinton’s conduct during the Clinton impeachment does not inspire confidence in her respect for privacy. Kathleen Willey, one of the women who accused President Clinton of unwanted advances, charges in a new book that Mrs. Clinton participated in the smear campaigns against her. A federal judge found that the Clinton White House had committed a criminal violation of Ms. Willey’s privacy rights by releasing her private letters. (An appellate court later criticized the judge’s “sweeping pronouncements.”)

Rosen does note some favorable actions by Clinton, such as her opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus. Unfortunately Clinton’s record is quite mixed. Rosen finds problems as Clinton’s “approach to the subject is that of a top-down progressive” to Obama. He rightly fears that “A polarizing president, who played primarily to the Democratic base and refused to reach out to conservative libertarians, would have no hope of striking a sensible balance between privacy and security.” He has greater hopes for success from Obama:

Mr. Obama, by contrast, is not a knee-jerk believer in the old-fashioned liberal view that courts should unilaterally impose civil liberties protections on unwilling majorities. His formative experiences have involved arguing for civil liberties in the legislatures rather than courts, and winning over skeptics on both sides of the political spectrum, as he won over the police and prosecutors in Chicago.

As a former grass-roots activist, Mr. Obama understands the need to make the case for civil liberties in the political arena. At a time when America’s civil-libertarian tradition has been embattled at home and abroad, his candidacy offers a unique opportunity.

Rosen notes that “the core constituency that cares intensely about civil liberties is a distinct minority some polls estimate it as around 20 percent of the electorate.” While this might make me part of a minority, it is civil liberties issues, along with opposition to the war, which has caused me to generally vote Democratic the last several years. Clinton has a poor record on both the war and on civil liberties, leaving me little reason to vote Democratic should she win the nomination.