The Audacity of Political Calculation

I was in some conversations several weeks ago where this possibility was discussed. I was told that one should never listen to Obama’s words, that there is no reason to believe his pledges, and that Obama would find a lawyer-like reason for getting out of any statement that was inconvenient. (These claims were made by an Obama supporter.) As someone who initially had sympathy of Obama based on hope of an honest national debate, I was skeptical.

But it turns out I was wrong. Obama’s words may well be worthless after all. From the Washington Post staff editorial:

The Politics of Spare Change – washingtonpost.com
BARACK OBAMA isn’t abandoning his pledge to take public financing for the general election campaign because it’s in his political interest. Certainly not. He isn’t about to become the first candidate since Watergate to run an election fueled entirely with private money because he will be able to raise far more that way than the mere $85 million he’d get if he stuck to his promise — and with which his Republican opponent, John McCain, will have to make do. No, Mr. Obama, or so he would have you believe, is forgoing the money because he is so committed to public financing. Really, it hurts him more than it hurts Fred Wertheimer.

Pardon the sarcasm. But given Mr. Obama’s earlier pledge to “aggressively pursue” an agreement with the Republican nominee to accept public financing, his effort to cloak his broken promise in the smug mantle of selfless dedication to the public good is a little hard to take. “It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections,” Mr. Obama said in a video message to supporters.

Mr. Obama had an opportunity here to demonstrate that he really is a different kind of politician, willing to put principles and the promises he has made above political calculation. He made a different choice, and anyone can understand why: He’s going to raise a ton of money. Mr. McCain played games with taking federal matching funds for the primaries until it turned out he didn’t need them, and he had a four-month head start in the general election while Mr. Obama was still battling for the nomination. Outside groups are going to come after him. He has thousands of small donors along with his big bundlers. And so on.

Fine. Politicians do what politicians need to do. But they ought to spare us the self-congratulatory back-patting while they’re doing it.

Now we know that Obama’s words, if they are said honestly at all, can be parsed so that they mean whatever Obama wants at any time. Can we now discount the value of his words to zero? If so, what other actions can be assume are worthless? (His appointments? His associates? His profession of Christianity? What else?)

8 thoughts on “The Audacity of Political Calculation”

  1. *sigh*

    Should this surprise anyone? Already Obama supporters are spinning this to their fellow colleagues like myself. I’m thinking of writing in Donal Duck or Tyler Durden. All wishing aside for our politicians to stay true to their word, it was a strategic mistake for Obama to commit to this. The McCain machine should harp him on this issue till November.

  2. I’m with Glenn. I cannot fathom why otherwise intelligent people I know are caught up in the ‘mania. _Every_ politician talks about the change they’ll bring; every aspiring President talks about what they’ll do . . . like people don’t know there are ~500 odd folks who have an arguably bigger say in what does and does not get done in national politics . . . Still, every 4 years the same song and dance.

  3. David Brooks had a great column on this today [1]. Here is the money quote:

    “But as recent weeks have made clear, Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there’s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who’d throw you under the truck for votes.”

    On the plus side, this probably means his promise to “renegotiate” NAFTA and his promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq within 16 months will join his preacher, his church and his grandmother under the wheels of the Obama Express.

    [1]http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/opinion/20brooks.html?hp

  4. Who was it who said sincerity is the main thing — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made?

    Someone from Chicago, I bet.

    Obama is a “community organizer”. What a CO does is organize a howling mob to try to get the city, or a business, to cough up some money. Once the howling mob is in place, you need some reasonable-sounding guy to come in and be the good cop. Probably, that was Barack’s role.

    He is a smooth-talking b*llshit artist. Nothing more. Period.

    And he is going to be President.

  5. Glenn & Michael,

    Well said.

    Brent Grace,

    On the plus side, this probably means his promise to “renegotiate” NAFTA and his promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq within 16 months will join his preacher, his church and his grandmother under the wheels of the Obama Express.

    I think so.

    Though know we are told we should ignore his words and his appointments [1], it’s getting harder and harder to know what signals of his are intended to be predictive of the future! As I told Eddie:

    We are told not to mind Obama’s economic statements, because he has Robert Rubin on staff. But now we are told not to mind his staff, because he may make good statements in the future!

    Lexington,

    Obama is a “community organizer”. What a CO does is organize a howling mob to try to get the city, or a business, to cough up some money. Once the howling mob is in place, you need some reasonable-sounding guy to come in and be the good cop.

    Interesting! Is this just common wisdom in Chicago, or has it been documented?

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/06/20/the-economist-and-barack-obama-attack-jim-webb.html#comment-88922

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