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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Obama/McCain...Rhetoric Vs. Reality

Barack Obama is now famous for his rhetoric of rising above partisanship and reaching across and ending partisan politics. While Obama has certainly been able to say these things with a charisma that is not usually found, he is not the first politician to say it. Here is some of the high minded rhetoric that Barack Obama says...

We're tired of being divided. We are tired of running into ideological walls and partisan roadblocks. We're tired of appeals to our worst instincts and our greatest fears. So I say this to you guys, that America is desperate for leadership. I absolutely feel it everywhere I go. They are longing for direction and they want to believe again.


And it is because of these failures that we not only have a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of great opportunity. We have a chance to bring the country together in a new majority -- to finally tackle problems that George Bush made far worse but that had festered long before George Bush ever took office -- problems that we've talked about year after year after year after year.
And that is why the same old Washington textbook campaigns just won't do in this election. That's why not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won't be popular just won't do. That's why telling the American people what we think they want to hear instead of telling the American people what they need to hear just won't do. Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we're worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won't do. If we are really serious about winning this election, Democrats, we can't live in fear of losing it.

So, clearly, Obama has built his campaign as a politician that transcends politics as usual. He makes himself out to be an agent of change. He makes himself out to be the individual to finally shake things up in Washington so that it is a government that takes care of people rather than takes from them. While this is noble and lofty rhetoric, one has to ask if Obama has any accomplishments that go with this.

Sean Hannity is fond of challenging Obama supporters to name one thing he has actually accomplished. One time, he asked a Democratic group of voters in a focus group led by Frank Luntz what Obama has accomplished. None of them could actually name anything. In fact, In fact, when asked on television, Obama supporter Kirk Watson repeatedly couldn't name one accomplishment. In fact, Obama's lack of leadership on any substantive issues is the focus of this New York Times article.

Even those with knowledge of Obama's accomplishment point vaguely to "work" on bills regarding ethics reform and even more nebulous work on health care reform in the Illinois Senate. The reality is that Obama's actual accomplishments are very bare, but more importantly, he has never shown the kind of courage necessary to really bridge partisan divides. His rhetoric maybe lofty, but it is backed up with absolutely nothing that tells anyone that he will be able to deliver.

While Obama talks about transcending politics, reaching across the aisle, and being able to transcend partisanship, there is one candidate in this race with a history of actually accomplishing these lofty goals: John McCain.

In fact, on issue after issue, John McCain has become the scourge of die hard Republicans and Conservatives for doing what Obama says he will do. On the issue of campaign finance reform, John McCain reached deep across the ideological aisle to Russ Feingold. Campaign finance reform was a long and arduous struggle from concept to completion. It was first introduced in 1995 and it didn't become law until 2002. It went through many stages and evolutions. During that time, McCain had to reach out to many Democrats in order to make his vision a law. In fact, in its final version, it was voted on by more Democrats then members of his own party.

Barack Obama has also worked on the issue of campaign finance reform and transparency. He has proposed a series of vague and hard to define measures in his campaign. He has had no bills turn into law. He has lead no investigations. His time in the Senate has been spent in a supporting role on this issue besides the consistent lofty rhetoric he has.

On the issue of climate control, McCain again reached across the aisle, this time to Joe Lieberman. McCain/Lieberman became nearly the scourge of his own party that McCain/Feingold was. Once again, at political risk, McCain reached across the aisle to work in a bi partisan manner. It is ironic that this bill never became law specifically because members of his own party blocked it. For all of Obama's talk, I welcome anyone to name one issue on which he bucks to establishment of his party, let alone introduced a bill that bucked it.

On this issue, Barack Obama has again proposed a plan but turned nothing into law. His plan is described by this source as typical liberal policy. It is vague and undefined much like his plans for transparency and campaign finance reform.

I believe McCain's biggest coup of bi partisanship came with the Gang of 14. The battle over judges became more and more contentious over the years. During 2005, it came to a head, as judge after judge was being filibustered by the Democrats. The Republicans proposed the so called nuclear option that would remove the filibuster on judges. McCain saw this issue in a unique way. If the nuclear option was employed, it would change a rule that had been around when Daniel Webster roamed the halls of Congress. He felt that such traditions were more important than partisanship. Thus, he lead a group of 14 Senators, 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans, in creating this so called Gang of 14. They created a nebulous term, extraordinary circumstances, however since, no judges have been filibustered and the nuclear option hasn't been employed.

My Conservative brethren hold this as one of many unforgiveable actions by McCain, however I believe that political gamesmanship is disastrous for all. (Just read more about the 2003 fiasco over redistricting in Texas to see what happens when neither side backs down in a game of political gamesmanship) Had the Republicans employed the nuclear option, the Democrats would likely have walked out and shut the government down. Who knows where the crisis would have ended? In Texas, the Democrats went to Oklahoma and Tom Delay ordered their arrest in a public fiasco in which both sides exhibitied the most ugly characteristics of politics. McCain lead a group of fourteen Senators that avoided such a Mexican showdown.

On the issue of judges, Obama has stayed largely silent. He voted against both justice Roberts and Alito. On the issue of abortion, his position is so radical that he is actually to the left of Planned Parenthood on the issue. We don't know what sorts of judges he would choose because he has never said and no one has asked. His radical social agenda indicate someone more left than Ruth Ginsberg, and it is unclear how such a choice would accomplish any of the lofty rhetoric he proclaims.

Finally, McCain's boldest piece of bi partisanship came during the most recent campaign season. During the campaign this past summer, McCain reached out to liberal icon Ted Kennedy to try and pass comprehensive immigration reform. His contentious and controversial idea made him the scourge of his own party and nearly killed his campaign. It ultimately failed, however without a doubt it was political courage of the highest order. During the primary season he reached out to an enemy of most of the voters he was seeking and tried to legislate on a contentious and controversial issue. It was an unprecedented and bold move by a Presidential candidate. (On the other hand, Barack Obama has skipped the votes on most of the most controversial issues of the day during the primary season)

On this issue, Obama has also largely stayed in the background. His only leadership role was in trying to bring driver's licenses for illegals to Illinois. His biggest claim to fame on this issue was a major speech in front of the radical separatist group, La Raza. He stayed largely in the background of this past summer's illegal immigration debate. He has absolutely no substantive accomplishments on the issue, and his position is largely in line with his party as a whole.

So, what we have is a contrast between rhetoric and reality. There is one candidate in this race preaching about bi partisanship, change, and shaking things up and another one with a history of doing so. To truly reach across the aisle, buck partisanship, and bring everyone together requires political courage. It requires courage to buck your natural constituency and reach out to folks your supporters despise. It requires the gumption to withstand the attacks of your ideological comrades. One candidate has a history of doing all of these things, and the other one, a Democrat, was was voted most liberal Senator in 2007. In other words, while he talks about trascending politics, his voting record shows he is the exact opposite. It is quite ironic that Obama preaches bi partisanship and change, because on the merits, he is all talk on both issues and McCain, his opponent, has a unique and remarkable history of accomplishment on both issues.


Stephen R. Maloney said...

Outstanding piece and exactly the kind of message McCain supporters need to get out.

steve maloney

Mad said...

I agree wtih Stephen 'Outstanding'!

Keep it up! I will get some links/track backs and crossposting of this up for you on some other sites.


Brad Marston said...

As will I. Really good stuff here!

Todd Biggs said...

Michael, great piece. Just what we need, thanks for sending. Passing it on right now.

Todd Biggs said...

Great piece. Just what we need. Passing it on to friends.

Ron said...

John McCain has flip-flopped on every issue that the GOP espoused and he opposed. Tax cuts during a war? Was bad, is now good. Jerry Falwell? A bad guy who John now loves. Immigration reform? Won't say how he'd vote on his own Bill.
Add in his early comments on the stunning success of the Iraq war (before he figured out the majority of Americans had recognized Bush's incompetence and rushed to the head of the "bad Rummy" parade) and you end up with a desperate old man making his last grab at the gold ring. He'll once again fall short even as the "straight Talk Express" runs out of gas in its new role, "The Right Turn Pandermobile".

mike volpe said...

Ron, if you are going to have credibility, you are going to have to be more specific than "flip flopped on every issue". you will have to specify the issues and show how he flip flopped.

Besides that, it appears you hold it as a negative that he once had problems with Jerry Falwell and then made up with him. You will have to explain yourself.

On Iraq, he was not only one of the first to call out the Rumsfeld strategy but one of the first to get behind the surge. If you have a problem with his position, you will have to be more clear.

He was against the tax cuts because they weren't combined with spending cuts. He is for tax cuts, but they have to be responsible and be combined with spending cuts.

On immigration reform, he lead in the Senate to get a bill passed. Some people liked it, others didn't, I am in the second category. The one thing I know is that he stuck his neck way out. Where was Barack Obama way deep in the background.

As for Obama, I guess you could say he has never flip flopped but then again we have to know what his position is before we know he has flip flopped. Hillary Clinton hasn't met an issue she can't straddle.

Sanity102 said...

I'm wondering how long it will take for people like Ron to understand that McCain is running for the president of the WHOLE United States, not president of just conservatives.

The guys that did the "real" conservative thing LOST.

And they would have lost in November because not everyone in America is conservative and agrees with them.

Actually, not everyone in America is Liberal either, which doesn't make Obama very electable.

The bottom line is how important is it to keep a GOP in the WH and a cut and run Liberal out?

If the answer is very important, then follow Reagan's 11th commandment.

WordsMatter said...

Outstanding analysis and commentary. You have written what I have been thinking. Thank you. The American people would be extremely foolish to pass up the opportunity to have John McCain as their President. Frankly, I don't think they will pass on him.