Change What Senator Obama?

Political speeches are intended to appeal to people and they are not terribly reliable as policy statements or even as expressions of sincere sentiment. (In 2000 Bush was the self-proclaimed “uniter.”) I found Obama’s speech about race to be sincerely moving and I see it as something of historic significance. Nonetheless I am growing impatient for him to provide more content to the notion of change that he talks about.

He certainly describes a rather dramatic change in approach from the current administration and, accepting that he really intends to withdraw from Iraq promptly, he proposes a meaningful change in foreign policy. Eisenhower said that the toughest fight of the president was trying to restrain the military and Obama talks as if he will engage in that fight, which would be a meaningful change. Eisenhower said that he would not have been able to prevail in his fight had he not been the leader of the allied forces in World War II, suggesting that even in the 1950’s the fight to restrain the military was not an easy one. It would be interesting to see how successful Obama is in carrying this out . McCain has said nothing I’ve heard to indicate that he would oppose the wishes of the Pentagon in any regard.

It is in terms of domestic policy that Obama’s notion of change is unclear. My impression is that he is trying to position himself as a Clinton (Bill) Democratic, fiscally conservative. On health care, and the financial crisis he is more conservative than Hillary Clinton in terms of government intervention. Like Bill Clinton and Republicans before Reagan, he posits that one of the chief domestic issues is getting the nation out of so much debt. As far as I know most economists (such as Alan Greenspan, who sees Bush’s economic policy as disastrous) and for that matter businesses outside the defense industry agree that a more conservative fiscal policy, such as the Democrats propose, would be a good thing.

My sense right now is that if Obama can successfully deal with the Pentagon he would change foreign policy, but that domestically there would be little change in governmental programs. I should say that I do not view the health insurance proposals of Clinton and Obama as dramatic policy shifts. Maybe there should not be a dramatic change; maybe the system just needs improvement, not serious change. Kucinich’s single payer program was a significant shift, but apparently it is conventional wisdom that a dramatic shift would not be attainable or perhaps is not desirable.

I understand that part of the process of getting elected is avoidance of policy statements that will alienate a segment of the population and the trick is avoid saying anything too definite so as to avoid alienating anyone. Just the same I personally would feel better knowing exactly what policy Obama would champion.

Change What Senator Obama?
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3 thoughts on “Change What Senator Obama?

  • March 29, 2008 at 12:12 am
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    I think a lot of people haven’t fully grasped what Obama is saying when he talks about change. To me, one of the big differences between him and Clinton is that she is saying that we need to work within the current (corrupt) system to get things done, and she has experience working the system and knows how to do it. Obama is saying that we need to change the way the system works, that we need to limit the role of the special interests and give ordinary citizens more avenues to participate in government if we are going to be able to make any meaningful change. There’s a compelling argument for both, and I can understand why some may be skeptical that Obama can actually achieve that kind of fundamental change. I myself am skeptical, but I believe that his ability to raise so much money from ordinary people might actually make it possible. As president, he would be far less beholden to big corporate fatcats than Clinton or McCain, since he has demonstrated the ability to raise a lot of money in small donations. He also has some great ideas about how to utilize technology to improve citizen participation in government, such as making the White House website interactive and giving citizens 5 days to weigh in via comments before signing any non-emergency legislation.

    I don’t know if Obama will succeed at making government more transparent and curtailing the influence of corporate special interests, but I’d rather have a president who is willing to try than a president who says it can’t be done and won’t even try to change the system.

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  • March 29, 2008 at 12:35 am
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    Thank you for that response and I agree that the things you mention would be good. It is the details that I want. He is clearly against the influence of special interests and I applaud that, but how precisely does he propose to effectuate the change. I’ve heard politicians of all stripes talk about this. I believe that Obama is sincere but what exactly would he do to accomplish this. Remember that Carter promised to eliminate tax loopholes for corporations and he actually proposed revisions to the tax code that were shot down by a Democratic congress. Obama will probably have to overcome his own party to do anything. Consider how the Democratic congress has recently (hopefully with the exception of FISA) voted for Bush’s agenda to a disheartening extent.

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  • March 29, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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    “And the notion that somehow it’s cute or amusing, or a useful diversion, I think, is something that all of us have to recognize is just not the case. We all have First Amendment rights. And I am a constitutional lawyer and strongly believe in free speech, but as a culture, we really have to do some soul-searching to think about what kind of toxic information are we feeding our kids,”

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