Home > US politics > In reply to Stephen on Obama

In reply to Stephen on Obama

It was nice to read to the reaction to the note I wrote on Sen. Obama last week, and in responding briefly to these, I want to follow up on Stephen’s lengthy response in particular.

I can accept your point about bipartisanship, that what matters is the actual policies and bills, not token bipartisanship for its own sake. But that cant be said of the two most prominent acts of bipartisanship from McCain. In both of the cases, McCain deserves more credit than Feingold or Kennedy respectively, because they were taking a more politically safe option from their own background. My problem with Obama’s sparse record of bipartisanship is that despite a lot of his talk, he hasnt acted in a way that would be politically dangerous for him. Obviously this was difficult for him during his time in the Senate, as he was planning on stading for president from the time he was sworn in, but that didn’t stop McCain advocating the unpopular surge in Iraq.

An issue he could have taken to stand out from accepted Democratic orthodoxy would be on trade. I dont mean to say it’s the only one, only that it’s one (as you must have gathered) that I’m interested in, and having mentioned it in the last note, it leads me nicely to my next point. I dont believe Obama is any more a protectionist than President Clinton was, or that he’s much more so than I am myself. He could well be less of a protectionist than the current President Bush. My problem with him on this front is his rhetoric on the matter. That he was promising in the primaries to renogiate NAFTA while letting it be leaked that he was reassuring the Canadians that he make no significant change so that those of us who understand the problem with tariffs as a policy will know where he really stands was a genuine Scanton-San Francisco moment. He could have told the crowds that the failing of recent administrations was opening up trade without the appropriate safety net and transitional programs for those who would lose in the short term, thus addressing the real and legitimate concerns with the pace of globalization you mention. The reason Americans are more concerned with opening up of trade than most Europeans is because of the stronger social services in countries here, so that a European who loses a job due to it being relocated does not become as close to destitution as his or her American counterpart. (Thanks for that link on his economic policies, it was quite interesting).

On the religious question, it is obviously very difficult to know what Obama believes. If he was an agnostic and isnt telling us, he wouldnt make it clear in his memoir. Perhaps both Hitchens and I simply have a biased view and think that a man of his intelligence, having been brought up by atheist parents, would not become a Christian. It is sentences like “And it was in search of some practical application of those values that I accpeted work after college as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago that were trying to cope with joblessness, drugs, and hopelessness in their midst” and “I came to realize that without a vessel for my beliefs, without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to always remain apart” (p. 206) that made me think that Obama was a social liberal who found Trinity United to be the best way to connect with those who he was working with on the ground.

Given that, however, I will admit that I could be wrong. There is what I would call a Brideshead (and Hitchens, also a fan of Waugh, should know what I mean) moment two pages later, when he says “The questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me”. One way or another, you mentioned something that I’ve brought up with you before, whether the influence of Christian churches on Obama’s policy could be harmful. He has proposed expanding the current faith-based initiatives started under the current President Bush to a formal Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The more benign way of looking at this is that rather than have faceless bureaucrats dealing with those in need, they will get to meet someone in their own community who would probably be more in touch with their actual needs. Despite these good intentions, I worry about the precedent. While First Amendment violations could be rare in the one or two terms of an Obama presidency, that could be quite different under a religiously conservative president like Bush or Reagan. Those involved in churches could still be involved even without it explicitly in the title, so I believe the emphasis was an attempt to improve his credentials and lessen the impact of his clinging remarks (which was probably in turn an attempt to lessen the impact of his involvement with Trinity United).

I will give Obama credit for raising the depth of political debate, but my difficulties with him really come down to a gut feeling that he lacks honesty a lot of the time. Yes, you’re right that the hard-line position the Democrats have on abortion is ridiculous, my own views on the matter would probably class me as a conservative in their eyes. That whole discussion, however, just seemed to be another case of being economical with the truth, claiming to have voted against the Born Alive Bill because of it’s effect on Roe v. Wade, despite the proviso that bill had stating that it would not affect it.

A lot of this does come down to gut reaction, and many like you will say that at least on these counts, he is far better than most politicians America has had in recent times. But on what really matters, I’m with him. Were it simply a question of character, I’d favour Sen. McCain, but it is obviously about who I’d rather see implementing policy as President of the United States.

Thanks for the other comments as well. I had a feeling that other ex-Clinton supporters like Iain would feel the same way about him, but still on balance follow the Democratic ticket because of the issues. Then as to John, if I make a habit of these notes, as I hope to, I would like to come back to your argument that states should legislate for abortion, and why one way or other on the abortion question, with the Bill of Rights and other later Amendments, it should be determined at a federal level.

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