1) Has Obama grappled seriously and smartly with the big questions of the day; and
2) Has he, in the course of this grappling, told Dems something they don't want to hear, or demonstrated independence from Dem interest groups that enforce the party's line in unfortunate ways (e.g., teachers' unions impeding education reform, seniors unwilling to accept any Social Security cuts, populists who pretend bargaining-down drug prices will largely solve the problem of health-care costs, etc.).
You'd hope that even Dems who don't agree with the DLC-ish sentiments behind #2 would insist on #1. But, yes, Obama could do #1 without #2.
Has he done that? A few weeks ago, Obsidian Wings catalogued Obama's "wonky" efforts.** He's against loose nukes, avian flu and unregulated genetic testing! That's impressive, but follows a standard good-Senator's path of picking off a chewable, discrete problem and pushing a rifle-shot, programmatic solution (typically involving creation of a small new federal office to control nukes, prepare for avian flu, or establish gene-testing standards, etc.). It's not the same thing as confronting deeper, bigger, less easily addressed problems: How to structure the health care system, how to pay for entitlements, how to confront the terror threat, the rise of China, the problems of trade and immigration, the increase in income inequality at the top.
Josh Gerstein of the N.Y. Sun makes a better case: Obama listens to Samantha Power and Susan Rice on human rights, Gerstein reports. He wants to talk to Iran, he discounts the Chinese military threat but surprisingly, for an early Iraq war opponent, he has said he'd favor "launching some missile strikes into Iran" if that was the only way to stop "having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons." (Does Iowa know this?) He's unpredictable as well on trade. What's less clear is whether that unpredictability reflects a developed world-view or ad-hockery that's fine in a Senator but in a president, not so much.
More talk on these issues, please. And no fair "transcending" them!
Unpredictablity of any sort is a plus when it comes to #2, of course. But so far Obama isn't close to meeting the Joe Klein Piss-Someone-Off Test, despite the efforts of his press boosters to claim he has. Tom Maguire points toa comical attempt by the New York Times, where a mini-profile by Jefff Zeleny declared:
He has demonstrated an occasional willingness to break from liberal orthodoxy, including his vote to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, which at the time infuriated liberals (13 Democrats opposed her).
Wow! As Maguire notes: "So Obama boldly stood with a mere 86 fellow Senators .... " P.S.: What's the word for trumped-up contrarianism? Sister Fauxjah? ...
Sunday, December 24, 2006