02 December, 2007

Obama and his "gaffes"

Frank Rich at NYT makes a case for Obama. His basic argument is devoted to overturning the "beltway logic" that Obama is unelectable or an easy Republican target compared to the "battle-tested" Clinton. Republicans, he argues, are salivating at the thought taking on Hillary. They've run their campaigns with the assumption Clinton would be the nominee, and so they wouldn't know where to begin with Obama. His obvious soft-spot, his race and foreign-sounding-ness, would be too difficult for Republicans to exploit without suffering a backlash.

In the best passage, Rich attacks the tired cliches of Obama's inexperience and continual "gaffes":

The Washington wisdom about Mr. Obama has often been just as wrong as that about Mrs. Clinton. We kept being told he was making rookie mistakes and offering voters wispy idealistic sentiments rather than the real beef of policy. But what the Beltway mistook for gaffes often was the policy.


Mr. Obama’s much-derided readiness to talk promptly and directly to the leaders of Iran and Syria, for instance, was a clear alternative, agree with it or not, to Mrs. Clinton’s same-old Foggy Bottom platitudes on the subject. His supposedly reckless pledge to chase down Osama bin Laden and his gang in Pakistan, without Pakistani permission if necessary, was a pointed rebuke of both Mrs. Clinton’s and President Bush’s misplaced fealty to our terrorist-enabling “ally,” Pervez Musharraf. Like Mr. Obama’s prescient Iraq speech of 2002, his open acknowledgment of the Pakistan president’s slipperiness turned out to be ahead of the curve.


I have tried to get at this a couple times on debaser: that Obama differs markedly from Clinton on policy as well as style. However, that fact goes underreported by a press that doesn't engage with issues qua issues. So I am ecstatic that Rich has come out and said what has frustrated me for so long as I've followed Obama's campaign -- namely, that the conventional wisdom is so ingrained that any alternative policy positions find their way into the headlines only as "gaffes", immediately discrediting Obama's ideas -- and even worse, perpetuating the myth that he doesn't have ideas -- even before the reader begins the story.

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