Friday, February 15, 2008

Obama - Hope is Not a Plan

From Ezra Klein on "I think Matt is right to say that Obama's great advantage is that "he's the kind of person whose support for an idea makes the idea seem more compelling than it otherwise would have. You can imagine him getting people interested in things that didn't previously interest them, or convincing people that steps they used to think were too risky are, in fact, necessary." But this is what's been so disappointing about the Obama campaign: It has refused to press that advantage.

I can imagine him doing those things, but, as of now, I literally have to imagine it. He hasn't done any of them. Whatever your opinion on mandates, Obama went in a timid direction on health care, avoiding mandates, single payer, automatic enrollment, and every other step that could be considered risky. On that issue, he's ended up using his extraordinary eloquence to defend timidity and caution, not sell hard steps. On other issues, he's been better, but not by all that much. Take taxes, where Obama's plan is just a broad-based middle class cut, and Iraq, where he's gestured towards progressive opinions but not actually picked many fights (the negotiations fight, remember, was started by Hillary). This is not to say his plans are bad, or totally bereft of innovative elements (carbon auctions are important, as is government transparency, and he's got a great technology plan), but for all his talk of telling people the hard truths, he's largely protected them from both hard truths and unfamiliar policies.

That's not to deny his potential in these areas. But I have to take it on faith that he'll use his talents to push forward, rather than to merely get elected. Because though a major part of the case for Obama is his preternatural persuasiveness, which we can all imagine being pressed into service of an aggressively progressive platform, we're being left to make that connection on thin evidence. Obama may say he wants to be a president like Reagan, but on substance, the fact of the matter is he's campaigned much like Clinton. And that worries me about him. Obama may tout the politics of hope, but when it comes to getting presidents to govern in the way they'd like them to, progressives should remember that hope is not a plan."