Photo: Fox Smear at Work
By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama
"The most that can be expected at this stage are November electoral mandates for peace and a speedy withdrawal from both American and Iraqi voters. This will not be easy, despite the peace majorities entrenched in both countries. In the meantime, Congressional debate over the secret US-Iraq "status of forces" agreement will keep the issues front-and-center.
If Barack Obama goes through with his high-risk plan to visit Iraq [and Afghanistan], he may be confronted by US military commanders and Iraqi leaders questioning his 16-month timetable as naive and threatening to national security. On the other hand, Obama risks demoralization within his electoral base if he wavers on basics.
Meanwhile, in John McCain, the hawks have found the perfect iconic candidate for keeping the Iraq war alive through the present depths of its democratic legitimacy crisis. McCain's election would serve the interests of the Pentagon, revive the neo-conservative era, and further deepen the conflict between democracy and empire."
-- Tom Hayden, The Huffington Post, July 12.
I don’t want to "pile on" along with those already complaining about Obama’s "move to the center." But I am concerned that some people might be in denial about his failure to gain traction in the polls even as McCain seems to flounder on.
There always are explanations – it’s summer, polls fluctuate, etc.
But I think the Obama campaign may be falling into the Rove game plan. Besides the hard-core 40 percent who never will vote for Obama, the Republicans only need to reinforce and deepen the doubt among another ten percent about who Obama is and what he stands for.
There are many ways to move to the center which are consistent with Obama’s promise to change the frozen categories of partisan politics. For example, he could strongly support start-up businesses and individual entrepreneurs in all sorts of ways. But seeming to reverse himself so significantly on the electronic surveillance bill sent a different message, that he’s not the candidate he promised to be.
It’s possible to argue that he’s been slipping ever since the late stages of the Democratic primary campaign, but I won’t go there. Certainly the promise of spending money and campaigning in 50 states may be seen as hubris, once the realities of the fierce two-party competition sink in.
And then there’s Iraq, always Iraq. Taking Sen. Hagel to Baghdad with him is certainly a good move, but the place is not exactly a controlled environment for presidential events. If anyone controls the scene, it’s the Pentagon, White House, and the al-Maliki government, and they’re not going to do him any favors. The same is true of Afghanistan. For that matter, even his plans for Germany have been rattled by partisan politics. It’s hard to see the upside of these high-risk, high-wire events when he could be campaigning in, say, Colorado and New Mexico. Images of Obama as a global "leader" may be of some value, but they don’t connect with Middle Americans who wonder why he says Sioux Falls instead of Sioux Rapids, or why he was surprised that Pittsburg has a nice river and mountains.
It will be hard to avoid criticism of Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan from the very "commanders on the ground" he says he wants to listen to. They, the Pentagon, the White House and the mainstream media will tell him the plan is unrealistic and destabilizing. If that happens, will Obama publicly reject what they say, be protected by Hagel, or issue a "refinement" of his policy that stirs up the whole anti-war movement?
As far as I can tell, his three compelling arguments with McCain, in addition to "change", are:
* End the War: ending the Iraq War through diplomacy and troop withdrawals, versus McCain’s policy of winning miitarily and retaining an army of permanent occupation;
* Economic Growth: redirecting Iraq spending and ending Bush’s tax breaks to invest in health care and public works projects, and re-regulating out-0f-control financial markets and war contractors to stabilize and improve the economy, versus McCain’s tax cuts, threats to Social Security, and reluctance to regulate.
* Protect the environment instead of doing favors for the big oil companies, with a massive focus on "green jobs" in conservation and sustainable energy projects, versus McCain’s deference to oil company priorities
To get there requires delivering on two other Obama themes: mobilizing the public to participate creatively and actively more than they ever have, and thwarting the hordes of fossilized lobbyists in Washington.
Isn’t that the substance that brought Obama this far, and that he himself symbolizes in his personal story? That message is backed by the voluntary and fragile faith of millions of Americans. Yes, Americans want a certain level of pragmatism and deal-making, but it that’s all they wanted they would have chosen someone other than Barack Obama, and still may.
The unusual quality of Obama’s campaign is that it rests on a fleeting "audacity of hope", not on the institutional machinery of traditional politics. The Republicans and the media, in different ways and for different reasons, will do everything possible to throw Obama off that focus. They want to instill a sense of buyer’s remorse. It can happen very quickly, hardly noticeable at first, but becomes irreversible when the image solidifies.