Saturday, December 08, 2007While Barack Obama has been rising in the polls - and now seems to have a reasonable chance to win the Democratic nomination - at the same time he's giving a lot of liberals heartburn. When Obama first emerged, he seemed like a candidate with tremendous potential, and I suppose he still is. I was excited not just because he was the first African-American with a chance at the presidency, but because he's a brilliant orator who uses appeals to idealism and national unity to justify liberalism.
I haven't been one of those who saw Liebermanesque posturing in his statements about bipartisanship, rather I saw it as an effort to broaden the liberal coalition - which is, after all, what you need to do to create a real political majority. His support for coal liquefaction I ascribed to his representation of Illinois. His health care plan lacked a personal mandate, but that didn't bother me, because I have serious questions about the political viability of such an approach, as well as skepticism that the subsidies for lower & middle income people would be sufficient. (By the way, the Massachusetts plan has been struggling for the very reasons I articulated here). And finally I think lifting the income cap on the payroll tax paying for Social Security is probably a good idea.
But Krugman and Ezra Klein (although I disagree with them on the individual mandate), are right about one thing - Obama's rhetoric on these issues has been bizarre. Why focus on Social Security at all, since it's not really a big problem? Why attack health care plans that have mandates, rather than say why your approach is better? And why in the world would your campaign attack Paul Krugman??
I've been considering these questions for some time, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that Obama is trying to win the "media primary" (which I referred to awhile ago). My suspicion is that Barack is attempting to appease/manipulate the class of establishment pundits, and with them the press corps as a whole. It's not a bad strategy as far as it goes. As Rove knew, if you can get the press to attack a candidate, you don't have to do it (or pay the price with higher negatives). An opponent, no matter how formidable, isn't so scary if he or she is busy fighting the press AND the opposing campaign. By making noises about Social Security and mandates, Obama is feeding the media beast. Heck, it might even work, if recent polls are any evidence.
What concerns me is that the beast is always hungry. I know Obama doesn't want to go on some crusade against the powers that be (look what that's done for Edwards), but do you really have to suck up to them that much? Do you really think the press will stay friendly to you forever? Did you read that execrable Washington Post piece on the "Madrassa" rumor?
So while Obama's (or should I say David Axelrod's) strategy might make sense, I find it very, very worrisome.