Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'll Caucus for Obama

OK, I've chosen my candidate for the Caucus. I leaned towards Edwards for a long time but in the end I picked Obama. Here's why...

First, why I didn't decide to Caucus for Edwards or Clinton:

Edwards would probably be the most competitive candidate in the Republican strongholds. But he strikes me as too populist, too anti-trade and too much of an old 20th century Democrat - an old style New Dealer/Great Society Democrat. I'm not opposed to his goals of eliminating poverty but I don't trust him to get beyond the old approach of massive transfer payments and high taxes. I also think that free trade must be the center piece of any plan to resolve poverty both at home and globally. I don't think Edwards understands that basic economic reality.

Clinton strikes me as not the right person for the job right now. I feel that our next President needs to be less polarizing and more interested in re-establishing constitutional limits on executive power than I think Hilary Clinton will be. I think she is smart and capable and if she turns out to be the nominee, I'd vote for her willingly. I also think it would be important for our country to have a woman President at some point and if we say that Clinton isn't qualified to be our first female President, we would be hypocrites - especially after electing Bush. My biggest concerns about Clinton are that she is evasive and at times self-contradictory about Iraq. Also, I believe that if she becomes President, rather than ending programs like the NSA surveillance of US citizens, CIA renditions and FBI infiltration of domestic political groups, she'll say to herself, "Oh goody! Look at all these neat new powers I have!"

Now, I like Obama for these reasons:

I've heard from two people who are close relatives of Obama's former teachers (one in the 8th grade, one at Harvard Law). Both of these people told me that their relatives told them that they have always singled Obama out as an exceptionally gifted and intelligent young man. If part of the problem we have today is that we have a remarkably unintelligent President, Obama represents the biggest improvement. I think being smart is important because of the tendency of the Washington establishment to try to bully newcomers into taking their positions. I think this is largely what happened with Bush. He was so dumb that he was just clay in the hands of opportunistic factions like the Neo-cons who could get him to go along with their agenda and think it was his own idea. I can't imagine Obama being so manipulated.

Among the major Presidential candidates in both parties, Obama is the one who has been the most clear about his opposition to torture and the Bush extension of executive power. I've also seen TV spots of him in town hall meetings (one on MTV at Coe College in Cedar Rapids in particular) in which he said that he would order his Department of Justice to investigate all past practices by the Bush administration for their constitutionality and end any programs that violate the Constitution. Obama was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago so he probably has a very clear idea of what programs need to be dumped. In the MTV town hall meeting he was asked what kind of Supreme Court justice he would appoint. He said the biggest issue was civil liberties and checks on executive power. I'm paraphrasing here but essentially he said he would look to appoint someone willing to tell him (the President) "no." That's a big advantage in my mind over the other Democrats with a real shot.

Obama has also been the most clear about his intention to make a major break with our current foreign policy - especially with regard to Iraq and the Middle East in general. His willingness to talk to Iran (something Clinton has ruled out) and get tough with Musharraff set him apart from all the other major candidates of both parties.

Early polls in swing states show Obama beating every major Republican candidate except for Giuliani with whom he is essentially tied in Ohio. I don't think Giuliani will get the nomination and if he does, Dobson and his Bigots for Jesus have pledged to run a third party candidate (which would doom the Republicans entirely). Of course, I can imagine that running an African American candidate with a "ferrin name" will lose likely votes - especially in the Old Confederacy states. However, recent elections have shown that Democrats can win without getting any electoral votes from the South so long as they win the Great Lakes states and Pennsylvania. That said, a serious African American candidate might just boost African American turnout. If African American turn out goes up by 10% or so, it could lead to a Democratic Party landslide in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even states like Missouri, Virginia and Florida. So I think Obama is more than viable in the general election.

Finally, I think that recent gaffes by his surrogates in South Carolina regarding homosexuality are overblown and don't reflect his own beliefs.

All that said, I'm concerned about Obama's Kerry'esque/Professorial speaking style when not giving a prepared speech. He has a tendency to make a big show of thinking before he answers questions. A lot of people want to see someone who appears more decisive (thus the appeal of our current Idiot in Chief).


Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks for the good run-down, RbR. You make a good case for Obama. Maybe you could also address more specifically three concerns I have about him...

1. Lack of Experience. Obama has little experience running a national campaign and little experience standing up to the Washington establishment. Though I certainly do not question his intelligence, I worry that Obama's lack of experience on unfamiliar turf will lead him--with the best of intentions--to permit the Washington establishment to dictate his campaign and to manage his Presidency. I worry he will be more concerned with getting people to like him than with getting things done.

2. Lack of Record. Obama says he will make the tough choices, but has not had to do so yet. For example, he was not yet a Senator in 2002 and did not have to vote on the Iraq war. Would he really have voted NO? Every Democratic Senator who considered running for President in 2004 or 2008 voted for it: Bayh, Biden, Daschle, Dodd, Edwards, Harkin, Kerry, Lieberman, Reid.

3. Religion. What's his thing about faith and politics? I can't figure it out. It sounds like the biggest "triangulation" ever... or it could be serious. It would be nice if someone could explain what he's talking about.

4. Elect-ability. Clinton beats Giuliani, Romney, and McCain by as large or larger a margin than Obama in most nationwide polls. (For example, see Real Clear Politics. The differences are usually within the margin of error, however.) Have you seen Obama do noticeably better in specific statewide polls than Clinton does?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Er, four issues. (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition...!)

Dr. Strangelove said...

Why did I leave Clinton off the list of those who voted for the Iraq War Resolution? Oops! She most certainly did. Editing error, I guess. Can I blame it on the Writers' Strike?

The Law Talking Guy said...

As an Obama/Edwards fence-sitter, I want to thank RBR for these comments. It gives me a lot to think about.

To answer Dr.S. on a few points:
1. The following people had not run a national campaign when they won the presidency: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. The following had no Washington experience: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush., Jimmy Carter. So I don't think lack of experience in that sense matters. The real problem is his lack of having weathered a very competitive election of late. The Senate was a cakewalk for him.

2. Obama has been in the Senate for three years now. That's enough of a record to matter. Would he have voted against the war in 2002? Well, probably - he had no immediate presidential ambitions then.

3. The Religion Thing: Obama is a liberal Christian, just like I am. Incidentally, you can see our church and our clergy (the actual people) on The Amazing Race. Kate and Pat are the married lesbian clergy and the opening scene is the altar where I was married. So I get Obama. I suspect it won't matter much in the general, because he's not "triangulating" with Evangelicals. That's HRC's game.

4. Don't pay that much attention to electability polls now. They measure name recognition more than anything else.

5. I worry that Obama will be perceived as too liberal because he is black. I worry that his poll numbers will always seem inflated because people will not want to tell pollsters of their unwillingness to vote for him.

6. I agree that HRC is probably the wrong choice right now. She is the most divisive candidate out there in either party right now, with massive negatives and no chance of any honeymoon when she gets into office. Democrats need a candidate who can govern from the center. HRC is too hated for that now.

7. So much depends on Iowa. The real question most Democratic voters have is... which candidate is a winner? Whoever wins Iowa will be perceived as a winner. That vote may propel the victor to the nomination in Denver all by itself. So, RBR, a weighty choice is on your shoulders.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I'll reply to LTG's points, as he conveniently numbered them.

1. You have refined my point. Obama has no experience in a tough election.

2. Obama has not completed a single term of office at the federal or gubernatorial level. Voters have not had a chance to weigh him for re-election. We have not seen how he might pander when seeking re-election. Sorry, but I cannot agree: three years is really just not enough of a record to matter.

3. Obama talks a lot about religion and politics. Are you sure he's "just" a liberal Christian? Why then is he cavorting with Evangelicals in South Carolina?

4. Fair enough.

5. I am not so worried about this.

6. I hear people say Hillary is "divisive" and "polarizing" but that's just not true. Sure, the right-wingers use her name as a lightning-rod for their OWN efforts at polarization and division. But she is not trying to divide or polarize the country like Bush/Rove did. Don't blame the victim. HRC is no more of a polarizer than her husband was.

7. I think HRC can still win New Hampshire even if she loses in Iowa. No other candidate has that cushion.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Dr.S., I don't see how you can say that it's not true she's divisive. HRC has very high negatives, nearly at 50%, and very few voters say they are undecided about her. She may not try to divide the electorate, but the electorate is very divided about her. She will find it very hard to build bipartisan coalitions or govern from the center.

Raised By Republicans said...

To LTG's list of Presidents with little prior experience we could add Lincoln and Kennedy. Also, if we don't count being a famous general as being a national political leader there is also Washington, Grant and Eisenhower.

I don't discount Obama's experience as a community activist, constitutional law professor and state legislator so easily. It's not as if his pre-political career was without relevence to the job of President. I mean it's not like he was an actor or playboy baseball team owner.

I didn't say he would beat Republicans worse than other Democrats. I said he would beat Republicans.

The lack of a record on the national scene is a problem. However, he was a state legislator for some time and we have a fairly good idea of his reputation there. There were ads running in Iowa at one point showing a Republican state legislator endorsing Obama as a bi-partisan legislator who got things done etc.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I still believe what I said that Hillary is not divisive. She has just been attacked harder than anyone else so far.

Re Hillary's negatives in the mid-40s... You know that by the time the election happens next November, the candidates from both major parties will have high negatives, no matter who they are. As a wise man once said, don't pay that much attention to electability polls now. They measure name recognition more than anything else.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, here are the numbers from

Unforuntately, they aggregate the very unlikely and the somewhat unlikely to vote for X responses. I haven't seen numbers in a while but what I've seen is that Hilary's negative numbers (i.e. people saying they have already made up their minds about her and they don't like her) are around 45%. That would mean she is devisive.

She may be devisive because she's been attacked constantly by the right for about 15 years but that's not really getting her candidacy off the hook.

My bottom line however is that I don't like Hilary because of who I think she is not who the Right Wing attack dogs want me to think she is. I think she is not as trustworthy on issues of constitutional government and civil liberties as either Obama or Edwards.

I don't like Edwards because of the trade/market economics issue.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I guess we have different definitions of "divisive" and "polarizing" that won't be reconciled anytime soon. But we all agree that Hillary has negatives around 45% at the moment. If HRC were not in the race, I would support Obama. I like Obama. But I give the edge to HRC for a few reasons:

1. HRC has more experience with the Washington crowd and so I believe she would be more effective at moving the Democratic agenda through Congress if she were President. I worry Obama's first term could be a repeat of Clinton's first term, where big dreams met big disappointment.

2. HRC has more experience fighting tough elections. Her husband is a hell of a campaigner. I think she can win the election in 2008. I am less certain of Obama's ability to do so. My belief is that, in the slugfest, the negatives of both candidates will approach 50% anyhow. I expect HRC will make fewer "rookie" mistakes than her opponent.

3. HRC projects an image of being tough that I think is essential to winning in 2008. The last point was more about campaign tactics; this is about image and issues. I think Obama would have been a better choice had 9/11 not occurred--I like his spirit. But I feel this country still wallows in fear and uncertainty, and are not willing to put hope first.

4. I trust her to do the right thing when it comes to civil liberties and the constitution. It concerns me that RbR and LTG do not trust her, and this causes me to re-think this issue. I am still mulling it over.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. I think you have reasonable points on issues 1 through 3.

On point 4 you baffle me. HRC has contradicted herself numerous times on Iraq. Also, on torture she SAYS the right thing on TV but she also is the Democrat most prone to prevaricating on the torture issue. Finally, I've seen her up close and heard her speak. The look in her eye when she speaks is kinda squinty and calculating. The people I know well who look like that when they talk are not trustworthy and are not concerned about things like rules - just results.

That said, I'm sort of convinced that HRC would direct her abuse of executive power (backed up by reference to Bush precedent) against people I don't agree with. But that's not the point.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think Dr.S.'s biggest argument for HRC is that she will make fewer rookie mistakes and be better at getting legislation through. Given the 60-vote threshold in the Senate these days, you need some bipartisanship. I think she'll run into a filibuster buzzsaw without more, and Obama might get a honeymoon.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I am also VERY concerned about the torture issue. I feel like she, and to some extent Bill Clinton also, have taken a West Wing position on the military. If you watched the West Wing, you might have noticed that Aaron Sorkin very irritatingly had his liberal president defer abjectly to the military and intelligence services at every turn. Sort of as an apologia for the behavior of some antiwar protestors in the Vietnam era who attacked the soldiers. I feel that Clinton - either one - is going to be likely to drink the kool-aid on the need for "coercive interrogation." Obama above all seems to understand that this is a grave threat to our constitutional republic.

The biggest problem with Obama is that he is portrayed in the media as something of a lightweight. I suspect that changes with the first electoral victory.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Btw, the NH "firewall" may not be all it is cracked up to be. The Manchester Union-Leader today linked to Rasmussen Reports:

"Senator Hillary Clinton’s lead in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary has fallen to its lowest level of the season.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of the state’s Likely Primary Voters shows Clinton leading Senator Barack Obama by ten percentage points, 34% to 24%. Former Senator John Edwards attracts 15% of the vote while New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson earns 8%. No other candidate tops the 3% level of support.
At 34%, Clinton’s current level of support is the lowest measured in any Rasmussen Reports poll this year. Four previous polls in New Hampshire found her consistently in the 37% to 40% range."

Note that is also lower than the national figures.

Dr. Strangelove said...

It will take a few more polls to see if the new figures represents a trend or a fluke.

Raised By Republicans said...

It's even tighter in Iowa. Polls from last month show that Clinton has 29% support among likely Democratic Caucus goers. Edwards is second with 23% and Obama is third with 22%. 11% are unsure and 8% are going with Richardson.

My feeling is that 11% who are unsure and the 8% going with Richardson are not going to switch to Clinton. They MIGHT switch to either Edwards or Obama. My reasoning is this: Clinton is by far the most well known candidate. If people haven't started supporting her by now, it's because they know her and don't like her for some reason.

The media does nothing but report meaningless national numbers. That just plays into the hands of Obama and Edwards. When one or both of them beat or nearly beat Clinton in Iowa and or New Hampshire, all the brainless twits that read the news to us on CNN will be SHOCKED!