This fascinating article in New York Magazine by John Heilemann gets to a point I've been circling around, but never quite reached, in my own musings over Barack Obama and his candidacy and potential presidency. It's a long article, and this nugget comes on page 5:
Obama an Independent? Sure, why not? That, perhaps, is the root of his appeal for so many Republicans, I suspect. And the source of concern for so many Democrats who instinctively jumped on the Hillary Clinton bandwagon, a phenomenon I never quite understood. (I did try to address the misunderstanding here, though.)
The whole article is fascinating, especially if, like me, you're wondering what an Obama presidency will look and smell like. My biggest fear, all along, at the prospect of Democrats winning back the White House is the Clinton Spectre: the chaos, the partisanship, the non-stop defense we were forced to play. I don't see that, especially after reading this article, in a No-Drama Obama administration.
There's another nugget in here, toward the end, that reflects my belief, held since reading George Lakoff's Moral Politics, that the whole concept of a left-right political spectrum is just bogus. I see politics as two huge overlapping circles, not some sort of fixed line where a person's political persuasion is artificially embedded in between two opposite poles. Here's Heilemann :
From as far back as his days at Harvard, where I first ran across Obama, his bedrock political orientation—centrist? Liberal? Neoliberal? What?—has remained opaque. The evidence, much of it on display during this campaign, points in all directions. His Senate voting record: traditionally liberal. His temperament: technocratically pragmatic. His rhetoric: somehow centrist.
There's another word that's gone out of vogue recently, but that's "framing". Obama does it instinctively and gracefully, unlike its advocate George Lakoff (hence the concept's lack of vogue-ness). In a nutshell, it's the ability to appeal to the other side—or those in the other circle—by making your arguments in a way that reflects the core beliefs of the other side. Quick example: Obama's repeated references to personal responsibility in his stump speeches, his telling parents to turn off the TV if they want to improve their child's education, since government can't do that for them. Sounds like something Reagan would say, and be pilloried for by his opponents, but that actually isn't a bad idea—as long as there's government spending on early childhood education programs to help once parents have turned off the tube.
In other words, liberal—or conservative—programs aren't so bad. It's all in how they're presented. Up to now, Democrats have done a lousy job presenting their side of the argument. There's a reason Obama's team is reading up on FDR, the last president who managed to sell a liberal agenda to a grateful nation. (It could also be argued that Obama's agenda is hardly liberal, in the FDR sense of the word—top tax rates equal to the Clinton 39% rates are hardly the FDR—or even the Eisenhower—soak-the-rich 90% top rates.)
The whole article's worth a read, especially for political junkies who are really wondering what sort of course Obama may steer through his potential first four years, during what looks to be a political realignment. It gives, pardon the expression, some meat to the idea of realignment, that I found easy to swallow.