Listening to Obama

Gail Collins also comments on the question of Obama moving towards the center and what he stands for, which I discussed in the previous post. She argues that some people are surprised by his current views because they have failed to listen to what he has been saying all along. This is consistent with the argument of my previous post that his views don’t fit clearly on the traditional left to right spectrum. Liberals who expect him to take the traditional Democratic line on all issues would be expected to be surprised by some of his statements.

Collins does not see a major change in ideology and finds that most of the alleged policy changes fall into one of two categories:

Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns — attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance.

On the common-ground front, he’s called for giving more federal money to religious groups that run social programs, but only if the services they offer are secular. People can have guns for hunting and protection, but we should crack down on unscrupulous gun sellers. Putting some restrictions on the government’s ability to wiretap is better than nothing, even though he would rather have gone further.

Dumb-avoidance would include his opposing the gas-tax holiday, backtracking on the anti-Nafta pandering he did during the primary and acknowledging that if one is planning to go all the way to Iraq to talk to the generals, one should actually pay attention to what the generals say.

Touching both bases are Obama’s positions that 1) if people are going to ask him every day why he’s not wearing a flag pin, it’s easier to just wear the pin, for heaven’s sake, and 2) there’s nothing to be gained by getting into a fight over whether the death penalty can be imposed on child rapists.

There is only one change she considers a flip-flop, but she still does not think this will affect many voters:

His decision to ditch public campaign financing, on the other hand, was nothing but a complete, total, purebred flip-flop. If you are a person who feels campaign finance reform is the most important issue facing America right now, you should either vote for John McCain or go home and put a pillow over your head. However, I believe I have met every single person in the country for whom campaign finance reform is the tiptop priority, and their numbers are not legion.

I see this as more a tactical decision than as a complete flip-flop. It is more a realization that the current system does not work than a violation on principles with regards to campaign finance reform. John McCain has hardly been pure on this issue either.

Obama has changed which aspects of issues he has stressed due to the differences between a general election campaign and fighting for the votes of partisans in a nomination battle, but there has been little in the way of actual policy differences which matter (with the exception of his FISA vote, which I find more of a change than Collins describes, but the political motivations are obvious). Ultimately it is a question of what he stands for compared to McCain. Collins tries to find Obama’s core beliefs and rather than looking more in terms of his philosophical views as I discussed in the previous post. She tries to distill Obama’s concerns down to three main issues:

Obama has made it clear what issues he thinks all this cleverness and compromising are supposed to serve: national health care, a smart energy policy and getting American troops out of Iraq. He has tons of other concerns, but those seem to be the top three.

For many Democratic voters, these issues will be enough to overlook what they see as a move to the center. I must point out one major area of disagreement in her assumptions in writing this column. Comparing Clinton and Obama she writes that their “policies were almost identical.” While true of the issues which the mainstream media primarily covered, there are significant underlying differences between the two which I discussed in many posts, such as here. While differences beween Clinton and Obama do not matter any longer with regards to the nomination, being aware that there are differences between Democrats, even when the media generally miss them, helps understand why Obama’s current views might be received by different Democrats in different ways.

Obama’s Ideology

Dan Baltz writes the latest in a recent string of articles in the media which quesiton whether Obama has moved towards the center. As I’ve discussed previously,  often a candidate appears to be moving towards the center due to the issues which are stressed in a general election campaign and in a partisan primary campaign.  Other times there is a real change based upon political calculation. On the FISA compromise I have questioned if  he is making the right move in taking what appears to be the politically expedient position as opposed to sticking to principle.

Baltz moves beyond the political calculations to consider Obama’s underlying philosophy. He notes that Open Left feels an Obama victory would bring about “centrist government” while many on the right feel he is too far to the left. One possible conclusion when one is attacked from both the left and right is that they are a centrist. This would be an oversimplification, and I agree with Baltz that, “The reality is that Obama is some of all those things.” He presents some views as to what Obama’s political philosophy is, beginnng with Clinton advisor William A. Galston:

Galston cited three strands that he regards as helping to define Obama-ism. First is an “all of us together” approach that rejects “diversionary interests and short-term gains.” Second is an effort to bring people together across partisan lines. Third is his effort to broaden participation in politics and his use of modern technology to do so. This appears to be a marriage of Obama’s roots in community organizing and his willingness to tap the power of technology to open the processes of government to more than the traditional cadre of experts.

“What Obama is talking about is a bottom-up view of how the world works,” said Andrei Cherny, editor of the journal Democracy. “When he talks about American politics and how to reform it, how America can reach out to people around the world, he is not talking in the same way Democrats talked about it 30 years ago from the top down.”

“His tone is very much post-partisan and post-ideological,” said one Clinton White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a frank assessment of Obama’s candidacy. “The challenge will be coming up with the ideas to go with it. If you drop the same agenda into the same Washington petri dish, you’ll get the same results.”

Heather Higginbottom, Obama’s domestic policy director, said the candidate’s agenda and priorities are shaped in large measure by a reaction to what she called “the disastrous eight years” of Bush’s presidency. “The priorities for the country are very clear,” she said. “What we’ve lacked is ability to get things done. . . . He has this attitude that we can’t solve these problems doing them the way we’ve been doing them.”

Obama’s views do not fit into a linear left to right political spectrum. On some issues he is the most liberal Democratic nominee in recent years. For example, his health care proposals go far beyond those advocated by Kerry and the other Democratic contenders in 2004. His opposition to the Iraq war from the start has resulted in considerable support from the left. On the other hand, his economic views are also heavily influenced by the University of Chicago. This post from last month provides one summary of his economic views.

Obama’s views have also been categorized by many as being more left-libertarian, representing a change in direction for many on the left from the days in which leftists supported more socialistic programs. This results in a viewpoint which is not truly centrist, but which contains aspects which in the past have been labeled as both left and right. While this leads to some people on the left and right to be dissatisfied with his views, it also results in significant degrees of support from many libertarians and conservatives, along with his liberal support. To a considerable degree, the questions over Obama’s philosophy stem from a break down in our old classifications with Obama not fitting exactly into either old definitions of left or right.

Flint Cracks Down on Sagging Pants

Between their high crime rate and terrible economy, you would think the people of Flint, Michigan would have more important things to worry about than to crack down on sagging pants.

Flint residents now have to watch their butts because Police Chief David Dicks is on the lookout.

Dicks, who took over the department last month on an interim basis, announced that his officers would start arresting people wearing saggy pants that expose skivvies, boxer shorts or bare bottoms.

“Some people call it a fad,” Dicks told the Free Press this week while patrolling the streets of Flint. “But I believe it’s a national nuisance. It is indecent and thus it is indecent exposure, which has been on the books for years.”

On June 27, the chief issued a departmental memorandum telling officers: “This immoral self expression goes beyond freedom of expression.”

The crime, he says, is disorderly conduct or indecent exposure, both misdemeanors punishable by 93 days to a year in jail and/or fines up to $500.

Reason notes that such laws have become a new trend.

Posted in In The News. Tags: . 2 Comments »

Polling on Religion, Education, Age, and Race

Gallup has some new polls related to the presidential race which present little surprise. While the religious right is not terribly fond of John McCain, and while Obama has been trying to receive more support from religious voters, religious intensity still is predictive of a tendency to support the Republican candidate. Of course polls taken now might be more indicative of traditional trends than a measure of the success of moves taken this election. It will be interesting to watch and see if this result changes over the course of the campaign. It is far too early to use poll results to try to evaluate whether Obama’s strategy is effective (despite some bloggers having made such an attempt).

One result has shown a change over time. During the primaries Obama received the support of some subsets of Democratic voters. Over time various polls have shown that Obama has been capable of expanding his support to those which did not initially back him. Several states which voted for Clinton in the primaries later showed increasing support for Obama. Obama has been polling well among Hispanics, overcoming this problem in the primaries. Now a poll shows that, in addition to Obama’s strong support from highly educated voters, he is also gaining in support among those with less education.

Another poll shows that McCain’s age might be a greater problem than Obama’s race with voters. They found that “Twenty-three percent of Americans say John McCain’s age would make him a less effective president were he to win in November, while only 8% say Barack Obama’s race would make him less effective.” I wonder if this partially means that Americans are simply more willing to admit to voting based upon age than race, especially as an argument might be made that age is relevant to performance of the job.