Friday, July 11, 2008

Is Obama really a lefty?

Well, unless you're a follower of a certain radio pundit whose initals are R.L., the answer has always been a clear no. As a Paul Krugman reader, I think there's been a valid debate over whether Obama or Clinton really represented progressive interests—that is to say that it's not really clear that either Clinton or Obama could really be described as liberal or progressive, much less that one of them could be said to be more progressive than the other. Actually, as an unrepentant socialist, I think it's rather depressing that there was ever any genuine possibility of the deeply centrist Clinton operating as the "progessive" side of any equation.

Alex Koppelman at highlights Obama's progressive "net-roots" supporters' concern with his "vote for FISA legislation (and to a lesser extent, his recent positioning on the death penalty, Iraq, abortion and faith-based initiatives)."

To understand where . . . net-roots leaders are coming from, it's important to remember that there have long been concerns in those quarters about Obama's positions on a variety of issues: his "bipartisan" rhetoric; his claim that Social Security is in "crisis"; his support for a residual troop commitment in Iraq; his relationship with anti-gay ministers; even his healthcare plan, have all drawn fire. He didn't become the preferred candidate of the progressive net roots until the contest became a one-on-one fight with Hillary Clinton.

Even then, net-roots enthusiasm for Obama was mainly attributable to appreciation for his revolutionary use of Internet technologies to raise money and organize volunteers, and his early opposition to the Iraq war (compounded by hostility toward Clinton), rather than any general approbation of him as a progressive stalwart.

So all the current talk we are hearing, much of it from chortling conservatives, about the net roots' love affair with Obama coming to an end, should be tempered with the understanding that for many, it was always a complicated relationship. Maybe some love has now been lost, particularly for net-roots activists who backed Obama from the beginning. But what's really emerging, or reemerging, now is a partnership based on cold political realities.

A partnership based on cold political realities? How Clinton-esque.

My point, of course, is not that Obama is bad. It's simply that it looks like the Clinton/Obama dichotomy was largely a rhetorical mirage. Is there really that much difference between a liberal who tacks to the center (Clinton) and and centrist in progressive clothing (Obama)? While either Clinton or Obama would be immeasurably better than either the current regime or McCain, I have always been skeptical of the argument that Clinton somehow represented an "old" way of doing politics and that Obama offered something new.

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