Saturday, June 28, 2008

Will Obama Ever Get It?

Barack Obama delivered a couple of lessons to his supporters on the left this week. As he stated over and over in The Audacity of Hope, Obama has considerable empathy with conservative values and Republican positions on issues. As a result, he was able to view the current FISA legislation as furthering American national security and as a genuine compromise between the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership. Liberal bloggers were outraged by Obama's perceived "cave" on the FISA bill but Obama decided to view the issue of national security as overriding blogger concerns about Bush administration and telecom immunity.

Obama's view seems reasonable. Obama's view also seems like it rises above partisanship. And the left needed to know that Obama was not one of them just as Obama has always said that he's not one of them.

But now it's Obama's turn to learn a lesson. The Republicans don't believe in compromise.

According to M. S. Bellow of Huffington Post:

In a press conference call this morning, John McCain surrogate Sam Brownback (R-KS) pointed at Barack Obama and essentially called him a spineless panderer -- and welcomed it, saying he expected Obama to cave in on Iraq withdrawal next. McCain senior policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, with tremendous self-assurance, described Obama's support for the FISA bill -- a bill McCain also supports! --as an example of Obama's supreme commitment to his own "political fortunes" above all else . . . Brownback said Obama's spinelessness on the D.C. gun ban, campaign funding, and, most importantly, on FISA, meant he probably would eventually cave in on Iraq. Brownback even "set down a marker" -- dared Obama -- to concede on Iraq just like he's said he'll do on FISA.
What bloggers know and Obama doesn't is that this kind of "heads I win, tails you lose game" is how the Bush administration and the right-wing sets up most issues in American politics. In the case of the FISA bill, the Bush administration set up the issue so that they could characterize opposition to the Bush administration position as being "weak on terrorism," "putting America in danger" and "surrendering" to al-Qaida and Iran.

That's the "heads I win" part.

The Bush administration also sets up a "tails you lose" dynamic. In the case of the FISA bill, the Bush people put in a number of "poison pill" provisions that would allow them to engage in extensive data mining, by-pass the FISA courts and immunize the telecoms from civil lawsuits. The point of these provisions was to ensure that the Democrats would not like the bill and that Democratic acquiescence would be a "capitulation" to the Bush administration. This allows guys like Brownback to gloat about the Democrats as "spineless," "weak," and "craven." Here, the Republicans can bask in a sense of their own strength, power, and toughness and sneer at the Democrats for not being willing to stand up for their own principles.

From their point of view, the Republicans win either way. If the Democratic leadership opposes FISA, the Republicans call them weak on terrorism. If the Democrats give in, the Republicans get to treat them as just simply soft and weak.

It's important to emphasize that the Republicans normally don't see political issues the way that Barack Obama views them. Unlike Obama, the Bush administration and the right does not recognize Democratic politicians, liberal interest groups, or Democratic constituencies as having legitimate concerns or points of view. Unlike Obama, the Bush administration doesn't see politics in terms of mutual respect, compromise, or finding common ground. Unlike Obama, the Bush administration views the political game strictly in terms of domination and submission in which giving ground is appeasement, compromise is "surrender," and mutual agreement is selling out.

From this perspective, Obama is weak because he views conservatives as having legitimate viewpoints. Obama's support for the FISA bill is just confirmation of his spinelessness and guarantees that Obama will knuckle under on Iraq when he starts feeling the pressure.

Everything I've said is common sense to liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald, Huffington Post, Digby, Atrios, Daily Kos, and Jane Hamsher. Unlike the Congressional Democrats and Obama, liberal bloggers figured out the political gamesmanship of the Bush administration from an early date.

Barack Obama brags that he doesn't read blogs. Maybe he should start.

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