20 June, 2008

Putting Obama Under the Microscope

Now that the excitement of the primary season has died down, it's time to take another look at Obama. I'm not expecting this to lead to any action--the probability that I'd vote for McCain is vanishingly small--but Barack's had more than enough uncritical adoration in this election. And as aspiring academics (some of us), I think we have an obligation to subject his policies and actions to the same analysis that we would the policies of a candidate of whom we were less enamored. So in that spirit, here are some cracks in the veneer that are beginning to surface:

1. Public Financing. As everyone is reporting, Obama has declined the public money and spending caps that every other major party candidate since 1976 has accepted. Moreover, Obama won't be asking his supporters to cap their donations at any particular level. As I said I'd be a month ago, I'm somewhat disappointed with this decision. Especially since Obama he promised that there would be "negotiations" with the McCain campaign about public financing that never materialized.

We can discuss this more in a subsequent post (I'm hoping Elliot has something to say), but my stance is basically that acquiring the credibility to enact changes to the financing system requires making a sacrifice (as in many commitment devices) and Obama has basically decided that this is not that important. There are reasonable objections to this view, but I think the loss of credibility outweighs them.

2. Israel. Speaking before AIPAC, Obama said that he supports an "undivided Jerusalem". This can really only mean one thing--no Palestinian state--because any Palestinian state will include East Jerusalem as its capital. It's a code word used by supporters of Israel, but Obama didn't know this, and so he's backing away from that language. But what went wrong here? Either he didn't realize the connotations of his language and none of his staff caught it, or he attempted a major pander that he later was forced to recant. Neither option seems good.


Elliot said...

I definitely want to weigh in on the public financing part, if I can ever find time these days.

I will say on the Jerusalem thing, there's not much defense. Though it was, taken together, a pretty smart speech, on that point he blew it.

Eremita said...

Way to go Spence. I too am feeling a sense of backing off from Obama, which is, I think, just this - the need to re-investigate him and his policy proposals. Like you, I do not particularly expect to change my position. Still, I feel the need to be able to discuss Obama's positions without the assumption that I will argue in favor of all of them.

I think this stems from this moment in the election process: we are re-committing to Obama, this time in an official way, as the liberal candidate. I believe support/donation/votes in the national election should weigh on us more heavily than in the primary. Additionally, there is something to be said about confronting Obama's policies vis-a-vis McCain's, rather than (largely) against Hillary's.

Elliot said...

Its interesting that you put it that way, eremita. For me, supporting Obama is much easier in the national context, versus McCain, than it was in the context of the primary. Comparing his policies to Clinton's was often an exercise in nuance and arguments about who would be better at implementation. Versus McCain, though, the differences are much starker.

Cassady said...

Holy cow! Responsible politics where we examine even those candidates we support!!!

Was that just me, or did the Earth tremble?