October, 30th 2007

Dem debate countdown/Obama thoughts

– Liz Mair

I've been working on a couple of columns today, so haven't been blogging too much, but I have been watching MSNBC rigorously (as I always do) and getting ready for tonight's Democratic debate.

The topic of the day seems to be, is Obama going to come out fighting tonight, and beat Hillary Clinton up for being an unspecific, imprecise, philosophically-ungrounded, pandering, rhetorician-cum-smokescreen artist. Or, is he going to play nice and do nothing much to upset anyone.

I'd love to say the former (hey, I'm not an Obama fan, but someone other than blow dry needs to make the point that she's a waffling, say-anything-substance-lacking so-and-so who has no place running the country). But, I'm going to say the latter.

Here's why. Anyone else seen this ad?

It seems to me that with this ad, Obama is better set up to be running for a Nobel Peace Prize than he is President. Why? It's all about bringing people together (lovely thought), cuddly principles-- and it's definitely not about attacking Hillary Clinton (who is, of course, the target here, even though you can't exactly tell) in any definitive terms. With the end result being, of course, that the ad achieves nothing except winning Barack the "Friendliest Guy in the Class of 2008" prize, an award I think only he and Mike Huckabee are in serious contention for, anyway.

Why won't Barack come out and attack (rhyming unintentional, I promise)? OK, well, if you listen to Hillary's folks, he is, dammit, he is-- and he's abandoning the Politics Of HopeTM! Except, he's not, and I don't even think the reason he's not attacking her in any forceful or, hell, even noticeable way is because he's afraid that people might be annoyed at him abandoning the Politics Of HopeTM. I think it's because-- wait for it-- he's actually just too nice a guy. And hopelessly naive and ill-suited to the task at hand.

Please look at Obama and tell me if he in any way looks like he's capable even of dressing up and playing the part of hatchet-man for his daughters' Halloween party tomorrow night. I seriously don't think he could even make it through two hours of pretending to be such a person. No, this is a Ivy League dude who shies away from conflict (that's why, unlike most politicians, he actually sounds sincere when he says he wants to dispense with partisanship and work across the aisle-- he does, because he doesn't like screaming and yelling and name-calling and he actually prefers to get things done, even when it means working with people like Tom Coburn, who he probably thinks is barking mad). The kind of conflict he likes (or rather can manage to stomach with relative comfort) is most likely the variety one gets as a lawyer negotiating documents at 4 in the morning-- minor snarky comments exchanged during a quick phone call, followed by laughs and champagne when the deal is done.

There's nothing wrong with that. Despite the fact that I am a blogger, and a columnist, and I receive hate mail every day (some of it threatening, in fact) and dish out sometimes less than polite or friendly views, I don't dig conflict that much, either. Even in communicating with, say, certain bloggers at DailyKos, who shall remain nameless, I get uncomfortable about labelling people communists, in anything other than pure jest (even when, yes, rather socialist ideas are being advanced) because, well, it's all a bit unmannerly.

But the point is this: I'm not running for President, and maybe if Obama can't get himself comfortable with the idea of saying "Listen, I'm all about hope, but lady, you're a special-interests-money-taking, fast-double-talking, philosophically-rudderless, take-a-hatchet-to-your-enemies, bomb-whoever-to-look-tough, stay-married-to-a-philanderer-because-you'd-be-nothing-without-him, out-and-out-lying-cheating-morally-bankrupt politician, and when I say America wants change, I bloody well mean it," then maybe, just maybe, he shouldn't be running for President, either.

A few weeks ago, I commented to a friend that Obama's core problem was, he was seeking to run as the anti-establishment candidate, which is great and all, but it's damned tough to get anywhere with the party establishment-- which makes or breaks would-be nominees-- when you're intent on bringing them down. That is, indeed, part of Obama's problem. But, it's not the whole of it. After all, McCain had that same basic problem as Obama in 2000, but he was still capable of beating George Bush (surely as domineering and powerful as Clinton) by 19 points in New Hampshire.

Does anyone really see Obama pulling that, or rather its equivalent, off? No. Because here's the difference between him and McCain. McCain had cojones. Obama has friendly platitudes and meaningful sayings. McCain was the political candidate equivalent of a Black Sabbath song-- loud, annoying (to the mainstream, anyway), and not giving a crap. Obama is the political candidate equivalent of a Hallmark card-- makes you feel good, looks nice, possibly even clever-- but sadly rather ineffectual.

So, will he call Clinton out tonight? I highly doubt it. But I hope I'm wrong.


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