Obama wrote the book himself. That is a good thing. On the other hand, I was actively annoyed with the guy for the first 150 pages or so as it seemed to me that he was all about talking around subjects in order to let us know that he respected both sides’ views. But I stuck with the book and he eventually got around to citing some positions. They are, in general, your basic moderate Democratic views, with maybe a tilt left here and a little right there. We could do worse. He portrays himself as just a regular guy, albeit one with a rather exotic background, having lived in Hawaii and Indonesia, as well as Chicago. He lays it on a bit thick, I thought. Obama is a top notch orator, and he excels at stirring us with a cheerful, balanced view. At times it seemed to me that oratory was the only thing he was about.
He seems much taken with Robert Byrd and Bill Clinton. He tells of meeting Byrd and how Byrd’s advice to him was the very basic notion that it was critical to learn the rules of government. He should pay attention.
I picked up that he disparages the liberal wing of the party. On page 75 he refers to “the MoveOn.com crowd, the heirs of the political counterculture the senator had spent much of his career disdaining. Using the word “crowd” here indicates that Obama shares Byrd’s view. I believe there is more substance to those who support MoveOn. Without pressure from people who have strong beliefs we (democrats) will be condemned to be led by a host of politicians unwilling to stake out strong, progressive positions (see Hilary) and deliver us from this repressive, anti-working-people, anti-environment, anti civil-liberties, pro-theocracy nightmare. One Taliban is quite enough.
Quotes and comments
One of the surprising things about Washington is the amount of time spent arguing not about what the law should be, but rather what the law is. The simplest statute—a requirement, say, that companies provide bathroom breaks to their hourly workers—can become the subject of wildly different interpretations, depending on whom you’re talking to: the congressman who sponsored the provision, the staffer who drafted it, the department head whose job it is to enforce it, the lawyer whose client finds it inconvenient, or the judge who may be called upon to apply it…the diffusion of power between the branches, as well as between federal and state governments, means that no law is ever final, no battle ever truly finished; there is always the opportunity to strengthen or weaken what appears to be done, to water down a regulation or block its implementation, to contract an agency’s power with a cut in its budget, or to seize control of an issue where a vacuum has been left.
He follows this by pointing out how the Republicans simply ignored all our laws and understandings in applying their wishes to things like Abu Ghraib and Teri Schievo, the same thing they accuse the Dems of all the time. The conclusion is obvious to me, but he is unwilling to go there. There is no law. There is only power.
Addressing the filibuster he notes that it was used for many years by right-wingers to prevent civil right legislation, thus he has ambivalence.
The threat to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominations was just one more example of Republicans changing the rules in the middle of the game.
…I would supported the filibuster of some of these judges, if only to signal to the White House the need to moderate its next selections. But elections ultimately meant something…Instead of relying on Senate procedures, there was one way to ensure that judges on the bench reflected our values, and that was to win at the polls…I wondered if, in our reliance on the courts to vindicate not only our rights but also our values, progressives had lost too much faith in democracy.
He conveniently ignores that the right has gleefully prevented Democratic presidents from doing just that. Again, he seems willing to unilaterally disarm against a sociopathic opponent.
So if we all believe in individual liberty and we all believe in these rules of democracy, what is the modern argument between conservatives and liberals really about? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that much of the time we are arguing about results—the actual decisions that the courts and the legislature make about the profound and difficult issues that help shape our lives…If it doesn’t help us to win, then we tend not to like it so much.
[He talks about the strict constructionist adherents and those who view the constitution as a dynamic entity, saying that he has sympathy for the former, but that he felt he would side with them only when the meaning of the framers was crystal clear regarding the issue at hand, and that when there was no such clarity, he was of the dynamic constutional bent.]
What the framework of our Constitution can do is organize the way by which we argue about our future. All of its elaborate machinery—its separation of powers and checks and balances and federalist principles and Bill of Rights—are designed to force us into a conversation, a “deliberative democracy” in which all citizens are required to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an external reality, persuading others of their point of view, and building shifting alliances of consent.
[Byrd’s advice] “Learn the rules,” he said. “Not just the rules, but the precedents as well.” He pointed to a series of thick binders behind him, each one affixed with a hand-written label. “Not many people bother to learn them these days. Everything is so rushed, so many demands on a senator’s time. But these rules unlock the power of the Senate. They’re the keys to the kingdom.”
I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the term “special interests,” which lumps together ExxonMobile and bricklayers, the pharmaceutical lobby and the parents of special-ed kids. Most political scientists would probably disagree with me, but to my mind, there’s a difference between a corporate lobby whose clout is based on money alone, and a group of like-minded individuals—whether they be textile workers, gun aficionados, veterans or family farmers—coming together to promote their interests; between those who use their economic power to magnify their political influence beyond what their numbers might justify, and those who are simply seeking to pool their votes to sway their representatives. The former subvert the very idea of democracy. The latter are its essence.
Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, we should end every single tax break the industry currently receives and demand that 1 percent of the revenue from oil companies with over $1 billion in quarterly profits go toward financing alternative energy research and the necessary infrastructure. Not only would such a project pay huge economic, foreign policy, and environmental dividends—it could be the vehicle by which we train an entire new generation of American scientists and engineers and a new source of export industries and high wage jobs.
Politics is hardly a science, and it too infrequently depends on reason. But in a pluralistic democracy, the same distinctions apply. Politics, like science, depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. Moreover, politics (unlike science) involves compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing…Any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion. This is not entirely foreign to religious doctrine; even those who claim the Bible’s inherent inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, based on a sense that some passages—the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ’s divinity—are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life. The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a constitutional amendment banning it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.
If a sense of proportion should guide Christian activism, it must also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach in the wall of separation. As the Supreme Court has properly recognized, context matters.