Friday, January 4, 2008

Interpreting Iowa

The good news is that Obama campaigned on cooperation and won. The bad news is the same as the good. The Huckabee Moment demonstrates that evangelicals, even though they haven’t paid for it, still own the Republican Party. That makes me nervous. But let’s talk about Obama.

The conventional wisdom, which is probably correct, is that Democrats are more likely to favor cooperative solutions to problems, and cooperation itself as an ethical ideal, while Republicans come down on the side of authority and force. Of course, since a two-party electoral system pushes both parties toward the median voter, those tendencies are often muted in practice. During the past eight years, however, we have lived under a regime whose voting strength came from its base and not the uncommitted middle, and the ideology of force has flourished. Obama proposes the mirror opposite: enthusing the Democratic base under the banner of caring-and-sharing.

There is an aspect of this which is exactly what we need. For me, the political and economic world is, more than anything else, a vast array of collective action problems. From climate change to ending global poverty to human rights to public health, we have to find ways to work together for the common good. This applies even, and perhaps especially, to “national security”, which is really the security of ordinary people to live their lives without fear of being attacked by soldiers, private militias or suicide bombers. I would like to think that the big turnout for Obama reflects a widespread desire to build a more cooperative world.

The mistake, as Paul Krugman has been repeatedly arguing, is to think that we can get to cooperation by being cooperative. On this point Edwards is right: there are powerful interests, corporate and political, who will sabotage the cooperative impulse every step of the way. We have to fight tooth and nail for the right to care and share. Obama wants to lie down with the lions as an opening strategy, and he has signaled his desire to split the difference with the hard right on issues like health care and social security.

To be fair to the guy, his ability to run as a black man for president of a white-run country depends entirely on his being non-threatening. If he adopted even a smidgeon of Edwards’ rhetoric he would sink like a stone. This isn’t his fault; chalk it up to lingering racism. But that doesn’t change the political reality, which is that, to get the friendlier world the Obama voters thought they were voting for, we need the confrontational chutzpah that Edwards pushed.


Bruce Webb said...

Well that sounds exactly right.

What interested me was learning that the caucuses were open to independents but only if they were willing to reregister as Democrats. People who walked in the door in response to Obama walked out the door as ostensible Democrats. To the extent that sticks it will be a permanent benefit. Obama's lead among previously registered Democrats was a single point, the final margin and the mindblowing turnout is certainly a credit to Obama and kudos for that.

That being said I still can't get past the fact that some of his unfortunate rhetoric and positions mirror those of his economics team. People with leftists tendencies who are currently buying the 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge I am really a traditional liberal playing a moderate' may be projecting beliefs onto Obama that he really doesn't share.

Anonymous said...

and his website is a little too slick for my taste.

i am afraid the politics of compromise leads to the realization that half pregnant is a difficult management policy.

Bruce Webb said...

Well the trends are shaping up, Obama does have the wind at his back. I do see signs that he is being increasingly pressed to outline what he would actually do. Cooperation is fine in the abstract, but ends are important. Germany, Italy and Japan cooperated by forming the Axis and in so doing served as Change Agents in a world historical way. You can have good change and bad change. You can have good cooperation and bad cooperation.

I think that the key now is to maintain this as a three person race until Obama is at least forced to lay out his positions openly. If he really wants to push Goolsbee's free market, skill premium argument for income inequality then have at it. If he really intends to use some sort of a mandate to push Liebman's LMS SS Plan well then fine, there is nothing to be lost by having this policy struggle fought out in public. Because we really cannot afford to have these positions simply be presented on a platter and justified by majority rule. That was how Bush tried to sell Social Security, he had political capital earned in one area and claimed authorization to invest it wherever he wanted. Well it doesn't work that way, or shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

kind of makes you sick to think that they all, both parties, are just competing for the job of being the guy that sells the public on neutering social security.

i think our real rulers have decided on that policy long ago, and are just looking for a way to be able to say that's what they people decided.