Monday, January 28, 2008

The big Obama-Clinton post

I've had previous thoughts on the controversy over Obama's church and other bits on the campaign. Now I want to do a big post on the fighting going on between Obama and Clinton.

Bottom line: I don't buy the line that Obama is a wonderful guy and the Clinton attacks on him are the height of depravity. Both have, no doubt, done less-than-reputable things of the sort that all politicians do, but the Clintons' stuff isn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be.

Take, for example, Bill's "fairy tale" remark. This is supposed to be obviously disreputable? Political campaigns, and the media coverage that surrounds them, a chock full of fairy tales. You don't have to be a genius to think a tale being spun by your opponents is a fairy tale, but it at least shows you're smarter than the people who are shocked at the very idea that any such thing is going on.

Or, consider this fuller list of supposed Clinton "lies" which I found linked, unfortuantely, by the normally first-rate Richard Chapell. One of them is demonstrably not a lie. Obama really did vote "present" on anti-abortion bills. The Clinton campaign is free to claim this was a bad thing, even if Obama supporters have defenses of what he did. I'm inclined to side with the Clintons. The official explanation for Obama's votes was "present" votes would be harder to use against a candidate on re-election. That is a cowardly strategy. Even if Obama wasn't at risk and was merely trying to set an example for politicians at a bigger risk of being removed from office, he is still guilty of encouraging cowardice. Understand this is a pettier form of the sort of cowardice that prevents the major Democratic presidential candidates from endorsing marriage rights for gays and lesbians--non candidates like Al Gore have no problem here, nor do candidates who don't havea real chance. Yes, I'm indicting Hillary here too, and it would be nice if she'd clean up her act on that point, but it doesn't make her campaign's criticism of Obama on another point a lie.

Other instances on this list are trivial slip-ups: Obama saying the Republicans had all the ideas (with a generally positive tone) vs. Obama saying the Republicans had all the good ideas. More precision in the criticism would have been nice, but this was hardly a major lie.

Andrew Sullivan, among the countless posts venting his Clinton-hate, had one of the more baffling pieces of spin I've seen in my life:
In the war of words, both men were hurt, but a majority sided with Obama:
In the exit polls, we asked voters in this primary if the candidates were attacking each other unfairly. Fifty-six percent of those voting so far think Obama attacked Clinton unfairly, and while that is a high number, more people thought Clinton unfairly attacked Obama -- 70%.
If a majority thinks Obama's attacks were unfair, then a majority wasn't siding with him. The two satistics allow for a majority of general disgust, or what is perhaps more likely, a nice split between Clinton-supporters, Obama-supporters, and the generally disgusted. Hillary did worse by 14 points, but this is surprisingly low given the treatment she's gotten from the media.

I find the whole thing rather distressing. Even the normally cynical Michael Reynolds declares he's putting away his cynicism for Obama's sake.

That said, I've found plenty of more encouraging stuff. John Derbyshire calls Obama's material "vaporous flapdoodle." Vastleft (at one time my co-blogger at God is for Suckers!) has had good stuff here. As has John Cole. And Jason Rosenhouse. I recommend them all.

I want to be clear that I have seen a couple people given decent attempts at arguing Obama is actually strong for policy reasons. On the whole, though, his campaign strikes me as a troubling representation of style over substance, and the current spin on his confrontations with Clinton is no exception.


Richard said...

While cynicism is certainly fashionable these days, I don't see that you've offered much substance here to support your stance. You have "no doubt" that Obama is disreputable, but also no, um, evidence.

As for the 'present' votes, Clinton misled voters into thinking that Obama was weak on choice when in fact he was co-operating with Planned Parenthood's political strategy. If you want to argue he "encouraged cowardice" for the sake of defeating an anti-abortion bill, go for it. But when Clinton tells voters that he's weak on choice, that's pure deception, and we should demand better of our politicians. It's disappointing to see you defend such behaviour.

Richard said...

(I mean, I assume you'd find this lazy "a pox on both their houses" stance irritating when self-styled "moderates" compare democrats and republicans, no?)

Hallq said...

A literal reading of your comment seems to require that cowardice isn't at least strong evidence of weakness, which strikes me as highly dubious. Think about your comments more carefully before you accuse others of laziness.

vjack said...

I think that both would be adequate, but I'm less inclined to support Clinton simply because I see her as less of a departure from the current administration. I'm not saying she would be the same, only that she would be more similar.

Unless John Edwards has dropped out and I failed to receive the memo, I plan to support him and to suggest that he remains a viable choice.

Vinny said...

Obama has as squeaky a reputation in Illinois Democratic politics as anyone since Paul Simon. That says a lot to me. I agree that the Clintons are not as bad as they are made out to be, but the knowns about them trouble me more than the knowns about Obama.

vjack said...

Well, jumpin' Jesus on a pogo stick, Edwards DID drop out and I didn't get the damn memo! Damn!

J. J. Ramsey said...

richard: "If you want to argue he 'encouraged cowardice' for the sake of defeating an anti-abortion bill, go for it."

hallq's reply to richard: "A literal reading of your comment seems to require that cowardice isn't at least strong evidence of weakness ..."

Putting the two comments side by side, there seems to be no support for the claim that a literal reading of richard's comment says what you say it does. Care to clarify?

Hallq said...


You omit the part where he insisted it was dishonest to suggest Obama was weak.

J. J. Ramsey said...

hallq: "You omit the part where he insisted it was dishonest to suggest Obama was weak."

The only places where he uses the word "weak" is where he uses the phrase "weak on choice," and that phrase pretty clearly means "not solidly in favor of the legality of abortion."

Hallq said...

There's a difference between being theoretically in favor of something and being willing to "take a stand," to quote what the Clinton people were actually saying.

J. J. Ramsey said...

hallq: "There's a difference between being theoretically in favor of something and being willing to 'take a stand'"

Trouble is, since Obama's "present" votes were part of a political strategy of Planned Parenthood, they are piss poor evidence of him only being theoretically in favor of legal abortion, as richard pointed out already.

J. J. Ramsey said...

A couple links on the "present" votes. I suggest you read these before you shovel more B.S.:

* Disparagement of Obama votes doesn't hold up
* A Vote for Obama is a Vote for Women

Note this bit from the former link:

"In practical terms, a "present" vote is as good as a "no" vote because the law requires a bill to win the votes of a majority of the lawmakers in either body, not simply a majority of those voting."

A "present" vote is not quite the same as the (more common?) "abstain" vote, which counts as an "aye" if there are more "aye" than "nay" votes.

Hallq said...

I read both links, and they said approximately the same things I have read elsewhere. My original post was, in fact, specifically responding to the sorts of things contained therein, which was the entire point of my comments about cowardice.

Now what on earth are you trying to say? Richard seemed willing to concede for the sake of argument that Obama was supporting cowardice. You have made no move to differ with him here, and you've made no move to deny that cowardice is indicative of weakness in the relevant sense of being willing to take a stand. Do I need to number the premises of the deduction?

Even here, we're getting away from the point. My main point in the original post was that Clinton people could criticize Obama on this point without lying. The fact that I'm inclined to side with Clinton was an incidental point. Am I lying in the paragraph immediately preceding this one?

J. J. Ramsey said...

hallq: "Now what on earth are you trying to say?"

What I first tried to do is get you to clarify your position, since your reply to richard hardly seemed to make sense. When you indicated that you were eliding the difference between being "weak on choice" and being weak altogether, I called you on it.

Now, to echo Richard's concession, if you want to argue that Obama should have increased the likelihood of an anti-abortion bill passing just so he could somehow discourage cowardice, feel free. However, don't mistake his attempt to ensure the defeat of an anti-abortion bill for weakness on his stance favoring legal abortion.