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Barack Obama’s Letter To The Daily Kos

Did you know that Barack Obama had a “diary” at the Daily Kos?

But back in September of 2005 Mr. Obama was so concerned about the good opinion of the denizens there, he felt he had to write an apology about not having attacked those Democrats who voted for the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court more forcibly.

Mind you, Obama himself did not vote for Roberts.

Still, he felt the need to explain how he and the Democrats in general need to pretend to be less radical than they really are if they are going to get enough people elected into power to really change things the way they and the folks at Daily Kos want to.

In other words, Mr. Obama tells the Kossacks about the need to hoodwink the American public in order to get their way.

From the Daily Kos:

Tone, Truth, and the Democratic Party

by Barack Obama
Fri Sep 30, 2005

I read with interest your recent discussion regarding my comments on the floor during the debate on John Roberts’ nomination. I don’t get a chance to follow blog traffic as regularly as I would like, and rarely get the time to participate in the discussions. I thought this might be a good opportunity to offer some thoughts about not only judicial confirmations, but how to bring about meaningful change in this country.

Maybe some of you believe I could have made my general point more artfully, but it’s precisely because many of these groups are friends and supporters that I felt it necessary to speak my mind.

There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don’t believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists – a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog – we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in “appeasing” the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don’t think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don’t think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don’t think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

It’s this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearings. A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don’t think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession. Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence, a judge appointed by a conservative president who could have done much worse (and probably, I fear, may do worse with the next nominee). While they hope Roberts doesn’t swing the court too sharply to the right, a majority of Americans think that the President should probably get the benefit of the doubt on a clearly qualified nominee.

A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt. That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.

I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning. But short of mounting an all-out filibuster — a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations — blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.

In such circumstances, attacks on Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and the other Democrats who, after careful consideration, voted for Roberts make no sense. Russ Feingold, the only Democrat to vote not only against war in Iraq but also against the Patriot Act, doesn’t become complicit in the erosion of civil liberties simply because he chooses to abide by a deeply held and legitimate view that a President, having won a popular election, is entitled to some benefit of the doubt when it comes to judicial appointments. Like it or not, that view has pretty strong support in the Constitution’s design.

The same principle holds with respect to issues other than judicial nominations. My colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, spoke out forcefully – and voted against – the Iraqi invasion. He isn’t somehow transformed into a “war supporter” – as I’ve heard some anti-war activists suggest – just because he hasn’t called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. He may be simply trying to figure out, as I am, how to ensure that U.S. troop withdrawals occur in such a way that we avoid all-out Iraqi civil war, chaos in the Middle East, and much more costly and deadly interventions down the road. A pro-choice Democrat doesn’t become anti-choice because he or she isn’t absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn’t become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn’t become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.

Or to make the point differently: How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation’s fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist’s threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won’t be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won’t go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won’t change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won’t have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won’t have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won’t have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job. After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart. It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that’s our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more “centrist.” In fact, I think the whole “centrist” versus “liberal” labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. Too often, the “centrist” label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don’t think Democrats have been bold enough. But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don’t work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans).

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of “framing,” although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It’s a matter of actually having faith in the American people’s ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Finally, I am not arguing that we “unilaterally disarm” in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response.

My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable,” and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone’s greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

In that spirit, let me end by saying I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenges we face, and I look forward to periodic conversations with all of you in the months and years to come. I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies.

In effect, Mr. Obama is just saying, “tone it down. I’m doing it. But you will screw it up if you make it too obvious.”

Which, as many will recall, is pretty much what other Democrats were telling the radical left about withdrawing troops from Iraq around this same time.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

7 Responses to “Barack Obama’s Letter To The Daily Kos”

  1. VMAN

    Bammy doesn’t understand why the lady holding the scales has a blindfold on. God help us.

  2. curvyred

    Barry the Kool-aid King in summation “YOU DEMOCRATS HAVE BEEN TOO LAX, NOW GET BUSY AND SPREAD THE WEALTH!!!”

  3. Consilience

    Hey SG, Here’s a link to Tony Blankley’s excellent piece which goes to the heart of the thug messiah’s letter. Source is Creator’s Syndicate.

    http://www.creators.com/opinion/tony-blankley.html

  4. Helena

    ” How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton. ..”

    John Bolton – flawed? He really sees John Bolton as flawed?

    How can people so backward keep from falling down stairs and bashing their soft heads open?

  5. Steve

    Mr. Limbaugh just referenced this article (though he mistakenly cited Gateway Pundit as the source, when they got it from us).

  6. sharke

    Obama’s comment about corporations should be enough to disqualify him from this race (let alone his slur against John Bolton).

    To say that corporations are “inherently evil” betrays the kind of simple minded left wing economic ignorance which unfortunately is the soup of the day.

    It is clear from Obama’s tax agenda that he dislikes big business and envisions a shift in balance in favor of small mom ‘n’ pop operations. Because big box retail is destroying our souls, right?

    A quick lesson in basic economics for Obama – because of the economies of scale, big business is, in general, able to manufacture and distribute goods and services to us at much lower prices than small businesses can. They also do it with less energy expenditure per unit (you’d think the Greens would be excited about that, but you’d be wrong).

    The relatively low price of our everyday mass produced essentials accounts for a substantial part of our prosperity. If Obama hikes the taxes of big business, they’ll pass that extra “production cost” onto us. For proof, observe the recent increase in consumer prices when fuel prices rose.

    And when consumer goods are more expensive, who is hit hardest? The poorest members of society of course. I thought the left was supposed to care about the poor?

    Not only that, but small businesses will suffer as weekly household budgets begin to edge out the kinds of goods and services that they provide. With a higher weekly grocery bill, some will find themselves having haircuts less frequently, doing odd jobs themselves and taking matters of pest control into their own hands. Luxury items will take a hit.

    Small businesses have a high rate of failure and many operate on narrow margins of profit, especially in their early stages. Many will not survive the drop in revenues which will result from Obama’s tax hikes on big business.

    One way or another, we will all pay for Obama’s tax hikes whether in the form of higher prices, layoffs, or the movement of capital to other countries. The economy will suffer greatly in the long run. You do not raise anybody’s taxes during a recession, especially on those who manufacture and distribute our daily essentials. Everyone knows this – it’s common sense. But Obama, like most socialistic leftists, doesn’t have common sense.

    He sees the economy as a stage on which to perform morality plays about “greed” and “sharing.” Who cares about the long term economic effects of plundering the wealth of the most productive, just as long as we’re making a point about excess, right?

    Someone should also tell Obama about the kind of economic consequences unions have forced upon us over the years. When a union coerces wage levels which are higher than market rates, the consumer pays for that too. And since the consumer is paying more for one thing, that means they have less to spend on another thing, which means job losses. Unemployment and price inflation – what’s not to like?

    Similarly, an enforce minimum wage merely prices out of the market those whose labor is not worth that much. More unemployment.

    The trouble with the population these days is that on the whole they are no more intellectually advanced than medieval peasants. Back in those days, their problems – disease epidemics, crop failures – were blamed on evil spirits. The answer was seen in the worship of “good” spirits who could defeat the bad ones. Now, everyone blames their problems on the “evil” capitalists and corporations – and the answer is seen in the worship of big government, whom they hope will step in, fight the evil fat cats and solve everything.

    Another intellectual Renaissance is needed.

  7. sdkruiser

    Disappearing down the Kos memory hole in 5…4…3…

    I bet the Obama Web scrubbers are on it already. They’re everywhere.




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