Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obama and the Angry With Bush Vote

So much for the bipartisan-hand-holding-love-fest.

Did Obama's message of conciliatory unity cost him the New Hampshire primary? Sure looks like it. According to exit polls, 30% of Democrats identified themselves as "dissatisfied" with the Bush administration. Obama narrowly won those voters, 39%-38%. However, among the 62% of participants in the Democratic primary who described themselves as "angry" with the Bush administration, Clinton won 39%-34%. And thus, we have Clinton's 2.6% margin of victory almost precisely.
Voters are angry. They respond to the message of change, but talk of merging ideologies into cooperative progress with Bush's Republican Party seems to fall on deaf, frustrated ears.

I hold Obama to a higher standard than I do Hillary or Edwards. I have wanted to see he or Edwards succeed in nomination since this time last year, and Edwards fell out for me when he chose public funding. I have only three criticisms for Obama, but for me, they are often hangups. One, I still am not convinced what sort of general election campaign we could expect from him, considering his social security reform messages last summer (completely unnecessary talk, for a Democrat) and the insistence on bipartisan messages without first enforcing the Democratic identity. Two, his failure to seize the opportunity, with Chris Dodd, to reinforce a progressive ideology and protect our Constitution with the FISA filibuster. Those were votes in your pocket, man, and for a very important battle. Where the hell were you? His absence (thankfully) didn't effect the outcome of the showdown, but I worry that he didn't see it as an opportunity to show leadership. On FISA, his actions were inline with Clinton's. I expected her absence, I found his disheartening. Third, and probably most important (and also an encapsulation of the former two) is what appears to be an inability or unwillingness to cohesively promote a campaign of change while more aggressively working toward a stronger Democratic Party brand. Dean started the work in 2004, and Obama can/should finish it. Will he?

This isn't to say these are concrete problems with Obama, only that he hasn't expressed these ideas properly, often enough, or (exampled in the FISA showdown) at all. We may be looking at a very long primary which would widen the fissures in the GOP yet prove an opportunity for Democrats to further explain themselves and the party to voters (something they have been waiting to do since the 60's).

He/She who misses the least opportunities to define the identity and contribute to a political realignment instead of bipartisan promises will grab the nomination.


  1. Bipartisanship can be bad for policy from any perspective. I really liked Rep. Jeff Flake's (R) take on Obama's call for bipartisanship:

    "...bipartisanship tends to produce the worst that Washington has to offer — transactional politics where lawmakers scratch one other’s backs without regard to the bigger picture. Pork-barrel spending goes unchallenged because members of both political parties know that by objecting to one project, they jeopardize their own...

    Partisanship is underrated. There is a time and place for it, and more time and place than we realize.”

    I tend to think that nationally the Democrats are right about 50% of the time when they are partisan and maybe 10% when they try to do anything together with the Republicans. The Republicans are right about 40% of the time when they are partisan and 5% of the time when they compromise.

    Partisanship is nearly always better than bipartisan compromise!

  2. First of all, the pre-election polls and the exit polls in NH weren't wrong. The electronic vote-counting by LHS Associates was wrong.

    Obama won by eight percent in the exit polls. Kucinich's campaign is asking for a manual recount that may help uncover what happened.

    Another point-- Hillary is the anti-Bush? Not hardly. Her argument against Obama boils down to, "he voted almost as badly as I did in the Senate." For example, Hillary says Obama voted for the USA PATRIOT Act-- but she voted for it TWICE.

    Too bad the media have forgotten Edwards is in the race. He's the best candidate now that Richardson is out.

  3. I agree on Edwards. And despite my disappointment that he has gone the public funding route (a noble idea born out of necessity that would kill him in the GE) he has done much to frame the debate, and push both Obama and Clinton left (more so Obama, obviously).

  4. A little bit of clarification here, after comments received claiming I'm too harsh on Obama.

    I am not promoting an anti-Obama attitude here, but rather a pro-Obama agenda aligned with the successful rebranding of the Democratic Party against myths perpetuated by Republicans, and too often accepted by Democrats.

    I understand trying to draw independents during the primary with talk of bipartisan appeal, but there is an opportunity in this long primary and general election to dispel perceptions and create a stronger identity for liberals (something the Republicans have been more successful at -- evidenced in the number of voters who still see them as 'fiscally responsible') to draw voters. This won't be accomplished by perpetuating the idea that progress can only be achieved if Democrats and Republicans band together in common causes. And I'm simply wondering if Obama sees this, and will fight in such a way during the general election.

    It should be expressed as "Democrats can get this done, Republicans can' for Democrats. Democrats stand for X and Republicans don' for Democrats." Polarize the issues, then show results, rather than perpetuating the idea that Republicans can get things done, but Democrats can only get things done with they have the Republican stamp of approval.

    I hope that ads more clarity to my argument.

  5. I agree with jason's post, but I think it's more effective to rebrand the party once you're in office. The Republicans got a chance with their contract with America, and they solidified it with actions once in office. Democrats need to do the same thing. Winning the White House is a big deal, what you do with it in your first few years will be what resonates with voters when it comes to rebranding the party.