Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Dem Presidential Field: I Like What I See

I'm not completely sold on any one Dem candidate for president, but Barack Obama continues to impress.

The $25 million Obama raised in the first quarter of this year isn't nearly as impressive as the fact that it came from 100,000 different people -- that's twice Hillary Clinton's number and nearly three times John Edward's number. Notably, the top GOP taker, Mitt Romney, refused to disclose the number of individual donors contributing to his $20 million haul, a sign that it's not an impressive figure.

On the whole, I'm really quite happy with the Dem field at this point -- it's certainly a far more impressive list than what currently exists on the right. I think the top three Dem candidates all have unique strong points:
  • Obama is a movement candidate. He not only has the ability to change the party that controls the White House, he has the ability to change the way the country thinks about politics. And, importantly, he can do it for people who never thought they would give a damn about politics. The guy's a rock star.
  • Edwards is a populist candidate. His message strikes directly at the heart of the conservative conception of class as a cultural entity, which -- even more than foreign policy -- has been the trademark of the conservative ascendancy dating back to Goldwater. Edwards reminds people that class is about economics, while simultaneously reinserting that fact as the centerpiece of the Democratic Party.
  • Clinton is as attuned to detail as it gets. But not in a boring, minutiae-driven kind of way. She has the ability to both master the details and present them in a way that flat-out impresses audiences, even those you'd think she would turn off. As an ironworker put it at a recent union rally: "She knows all our passwords."
I'll probably end up backing Obama or Edwards because they have the ability to be the type of president that Reagan was for the GOP -- one who can change attitudes in addition to the party that sits in the Oval Office. Obama can change attitudes toward politics, Edwards can change attitudes toward the Democratic Party. I just don't see Clinton having that type of influence, although I respect -- more than a lot of lefties, it seems -- what she brings to the table.

And I know there are a lot of people out there who lament how early the presidential race is starting, and I see their point. But, at the same time, 2008 could be much more than just a presidential election.

This is the first time in over 50 years when neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president is running. Toss into the mix distress over Iraq and US foreign policy in general, along with growing unrest over economic inequality at home, and the times look downright ripe for a change that spans beyond the typical one that Americans are asked to consider every four years.

And that's the type of decision that deserves an early start.



Anonymous Al said...

I still like Richardson better than any of those three. Still, I guess an Edwards-Richardson or Obama-Richardson ticket would be OK, and maybe that's where we're headed. He's got to be the obvious choice for VP if none of the top three falter--not only is he from the West, but an all-around bright guy as well.

I'm just not a big fan of having immediate family members of former Presidents running for president. Hillary would be better than what we have now, but I'm going to hold presidential family members to a higher standard. If she were to win in 2008, it would guarantee (by 2012) that we would have 24 straight years of either a Bush or Clinton presidency, and I just don't like that.

April 05, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I like Richardson, too. But he doesn't have the star quality of Obama or Edwards. While an argument could be made about why this shouldn't matter, the fact is it does matter -- a whole lot.

I think Richardson as a VP is a good idea, and I get the feeling that his campaign feels the same, although it certainly would never say anything like that. I expect Richardson to take the high road as much as possible once the primary debates start to really kick off. Not to say he wouldn't do that, anyway, but I think a big reason that ensures he'll play nice is that he doesn't want to tick off any of the top candidates who may look his way for a running mate.

I'd say Jim Webb is also a darkhorse candidate for VP, but Richardson's credentials -- particularly in foreign diplomacy, which is sure to be key to the Dem nominee's message -- and campaign experience make him a more attractive option overall.

April 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that you like what you see, but as an ind, I would not vote for any of the democratic candadates. John Edwards is nothing but a slick trial lawyer, that uses the class welfare card, while he lives in a multi-million dollar estate. He could not even get re-elected to senate in his own state. Then we have Barak Obama, who has no exp. and is very left of center. Then we have Hiliary Clinton, who is an embarasement toward women. What this County needs is a true fiscal conservative as president, be it Republican or Democrat. It seems to me that the candates for the Democrats and too far to the left. At least some of the Republican candates are in the middle, which I think that vast majority of the American people are.

April 05, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Perhaps you'd like Bill Richardson.

And how, exactly, is Obama "very left of center" and Clinton "an embarrassment toward women"? While you may fashion yourself as an independent, those don't sound like conclusions that have been reached independently.

April 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, you do not think that Barak Obama is left center? He wants to increase taxes, believes in late term abortions, want to grow government, need I say more. Hilary Clinton, stayed with her husband Bill when he was cheating on her, not only when he was in the White House, but when he was Governor of Ark. She is a joke. I heard her at the DNC a few months back, how she would "take" oil company profits. Give me a break. It seems to me all the Dems want to do right now is raise taxes and grow government. This is not a good thing. I was encourged by their so called plan during the 2006 election, but as it seems to be turning out they are returning to their old ways, tax and spend.

I admit, that I probably lean toward the republican side, but I have been disgusted about how they spent money over the last few years. It seems that the Dems will just continue this trend, based on their new budget.

I guess, I want a congress that is one party and a president from another. Not all Democrat and not all Republican.

I have a question, why are people on the left so quick to raise taxes and not cut spending?

April 05, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Is Obama left of center in his positions? Well, he is a Democrat. And I'd say, when it comes to policy, he's a very mainstream one at that.

On raising taxes, Obama said he would roll back the Bush tax cuts to pay for health care reform -- that's a position held by 76 percent of Americans, according to a February 2007 CBS/NY Times poll (see page 16).

On late term abortions, are you referring to the hysterical stink Alan Keyes made over Obama's vote as a IL state senator against a bill that made no exception for the life of the mother? I wouldn't say that vote was at all out of the mainstream.

And "grow government"? Obama -- like all Dems -- doesn't believe in expanding government as a goal, as much as GOPers say otherwise, but he's also not afraid to use the government to provide a quality primary education, ensure access to affordable health care, maintain necessary defenses, etc. Most Americans agree with that.

Your take on Clinton as a woman is astounding. You're actually going to use her personal decision to not divorce her husband as a reason to not only not support her candidacy, but also say she's "an embarrassment toward women"? Are you kidding? That doesn't even dignify a response.

And Clinton's comment was that she wants to use oil profits to establish a Strategic Energy Fund aimed at promoting alternative energy and help consumers pay for spiraling energy costs. Taking it out of context is great for a RNC press release, but the proposal is a serious and relatively modest one. Most Americans see it as a problem that oil profits are skyrocketing at the same time that Bush and the GOP is handing out tax breaks to the oil companies. Tax cuts for businesses that need it is one thing, but the oil companies clearly don't need it.

As for your last (loaded) question, people on the left aren't quick to raise taxes. People on the left view it as a matter of public finance. The public wants things, how are you going to pay for them? Scaling back in some places to pay for expansions in others sometimes works. But it doesn't always work. So what are you going to do? While increasing taxes isn't popular in general (and neither, ironically, is cutting services), the public does support it in some instances -- such as to pay for health care, or as long as it's on items like cigarettes. The GOP has tried to cultivate this "with us or against us" attitude toward taxes that is flat out unrealistic to uphold. That's why Colorado just voted to suspend provisions of TABOR to give itself some breathing room in the face of deteriorating public services. Looking at the national level, Reagan was a big spender, he just did it on credit, just like Bush. The difference between liberal and conservative, particularly on the national level, comes more in where the money is spent.

April 05, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Obama is not a movement candidate. As David Sirota, no less a paragon of the progressive movement than anyone, reports:

"Obama’s top strategist is bragging to reporters that he is crafting a campaign aimed at shunning all ideology and issue-based stands in order to present a pure personality story)."


"Barack Obama told me “I don’t consider myself the leader of a movement.”

But he does conclude:

"Edwards is openly trying to use his candidacy to lead a real substance-based movement."

The single most important part, though not the only part, of building a progressive movement, is about changing the frame of debate in this country. Obama reiterates right-wing rhetoric and frames, as he did this week again on the supplemental. The second most important part of building the progressive movement, especially one that includes the Democratic Party as its electoral vehicle, is drawing a clear and bright line between liberals and conservatives on economics - You're On Your Own versus We're In This Together.

The largest failures of the pre-progressive movement Democrats of the Clinton years, including failing to build long-term institutions and reinforcing right-wing messaging, was in their adoption of Republican economics, with people like Rahm Emmanuel and Robert Rubin going directly against Bill Clinton's populist campaigning of 1992 and pushing through things like NAFTA and "welfare reform" that have failed to combat economic injustice and insecurity.

Who is among Obama's top policy advisors? Robert Rubin's equally Eisenhower Republican son.

Read Robert Kuttner's fantastic article on Robert Rubin and his tentacles in the Obama and Clinton operations from the American Prospect. Great read.

John Edwards has started to articulate a progressive vision for this country that goes from broad overarching principles and values and drilling down to specifics, communicating his message to citizens that resonates. And he has the opportunity to enhance the progressive voter universe and identification by articulating what liberal values and principles are and how they align with the ideal of America - and in a way that is bringing new people into the political process (not to mention building a super-charged people-powered grassroots movement that is empowered) and bring white, working-class males back to the Democratic side, like Jim Webb, Jon Tester, and Sherrod Brown did in 2006.

John Edwards is the progressive movement candidate, for these reasons and many others. Barack Obama's cult of personality campaign and inability and unwillingness to embrace progressive movement-building indicates that he is anything but.

April 05, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment, Peter, and for the links.

But I never said Obama was a progressive movement candidate. The way a movement candidate is defined is certainly up for debate. But when I used the phrase, I was referring to the way Obama moved people by bringing them into the political arena, particularly those were have become disengaged in recent years and those who never thought they'd be engaged. And he does this largely through the way in which he talks about politics; that is, his angle is much more as a community organizer (not so coincidentally) than as a political populist. In many ways this does eschew ideology, which is why I made the distinction between the type of change that can come from his campaign (more generally political) and that of John Edwards (more specific to the Democratic Party).

The fact that Obama downplays the scope of his campaign doesn't mean much at all. His appeal is in the way that he works to put himself on the same level as people. Not just Democrats, but people. By claiming he's a conscious leader of something would diminish that, even though everyone knows he is the leader of something. Edwards does the same thing.

And no matter what Sirota says about Obama being part of the beltway establishment and not the "People Party," it's tough to argue with 100,000 individual donors in the first quarter, not to mention packed houses wherever he goes.

I can see from your blog that you're already firmly behind Edwards, and I think that's great. I would have no problem at all with seeing Edwards come out on top -- in fact, I would gladly work for his campaign. Edwards surely is the more progressive candidate, but I think there is plenty of room for cultivating progressivism in Obama's broad and sweeping style of politics.

April 05, 2007  

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