Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Does the Right really believe Obama is a radical?

While they wrangle over whether Obama is Maoist or Stalinist over at the NRO Corner, and while the McCain campaign continues to push Bill Ayers on an unreceptive public, Daniel Larison injects some common sense into the debate:

I’d like to think that I have also more or less recognized the same thing that David Sirota saw in Obama months and months ago, which is his avoidance of confronting power and his aversion to risk. His preference for consensus-building and his habit of using conciliatory language, which annoyed so many progressives early on, show him to be the opposite of a radical; he has no interest in getting at the root of our current problems, but generally wants cosmetic changes and wants to tweak how things are managed. Flipping on the FISA legislation and signing off on the bailout are just two prominent examples from this year of how he yields to establishment consensus; his less-than-outspoken opposition to the war inside the Senate, his half-a-loaf withdrawal plan and his endorsement of the Iraq Study Group proposals are more examples of his desire, as Kass says, to go along and get along.

Sirota has argued persuasively that Obama yields to powerful interests, which bothered him particularly in connection with Obama’s trade and economic policies, but whatever area of policy you’re in you can come away with the consolation or disappointment that Obama will accommodate himself to the status quo. This is the real reason why trying to portray him as the terrorist’s pal or as a raging anti-American black nationalist (and, again, I have to stress that it is the anti-Americanism of Ayers and Wright that agitates the people who obsess about them) is so profoundly stupid.

I think this is mostly right. Obama's nature is that of a pragmatist. He may associate with people who have radical views, but only as far as it helps accomplish some policy goal, or, let's be honest, as it furthers his own ambitions.

Obama served on the same board (headed by a Republican, BTW) as William Ayers in Chicago because he wanted to improve the public school system, not because he was somehow sympathetic to setting off bombs in government buildings. Obama went to Jeremiah Wright's Black Liberation church not because he thinks the country is the United States of KKK, but because he felt needed to make inroads with the black community (at least that's my opinion), and going to a church popular among African Americans was a good way to make that connection.

These facts seem self-evident, and they paint a picture of a politician who is perhaps a little cynical, but certainly no radical. Of course, Republicans love to say that Obama has never gone against his own party, and claim that this somehow disproves any pretence of pragmatism and bipartisanship. This is ridiculous for a couple reasons.

First of all, real bipartisanship is not limited to jumping ship from your own party to support some legislative idea from the other party, it also includes convincing members of the other party that your party is right. And in the case of Obama, his party happens to have been mostly right over the past few years, or at least less wrong than the other party.

And for all these right-wingers whining about Obama's supposed lack of bipartisanship, I'd love just one of them to acknowledge that the Democratic Congress caves in on most of Bush's demands as soon as he stamps his feet. I mean, they haven't stopped funding the war or slapped him down on FISA. Actually, don't get me started on FISA. That's the kind of "bipartisanship" these idiots want.

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