Apparently some Obama supporters are shocked and appalled to discover that now that he’s out of the primaries, their man is running to be the President of all the people in the United States, not just the people in the United States who have the “Yes We Can” YouTube video bookmarked on their Web browser. Well, you know: Surprise, people. For example, Obama’s supporting an extension, with significant caveats, of some of the faith-oriented policies started by Bush, has gotten a lot of folks spun up. But from where I stand it makes perfect sense.
1. Many evangelicals are disenchanted with the GOP, and young evangelicals in particular seem to be coloring outside the lines, politically speaking, more and more these days. Splintering off young evangelicals, perhaps on a permanent basis, would be like cutting off the GOP’s fuel supply for future elections, given that the evangelicals have been in the tank for the GOP for at least three decades. Even just putting them into play on a regular basis means the GOP has to fight (and use money to fight) for a demographic it took for granted just a single presidential election cycle ago.
2. It’s an act of political ball-cutting. There’s nowhere on Obama’s political agenda that McCain wants to go, because the GOP base is already horrified that the man is not conservative enough for them. But Obama has some room to snack on elements of McCain’s potential agenda, and in doing so make an appeal to voters (and not just those noted in the first point) that McCain’s people probably thought they wouldn’t have to fight for. Whether Obama gets those voters is immaterial to the fact that for the relatively low cost of giving a speech on the subject of faith-based programs, he’s just committed McCain to spending a lot of time and money to keep them in his camp.
3. There are still places in the United States — some which I can see right out my window, thank you very much — where there lives a significant number of people who are under the impression Barack Obama is a Islamicist mole whose first act as president will be to suicide bomb himself in the Oval Office. Obama is many things, but “dumb” isn’t one of them. If he simply denies or tries to ignore the “Obama will fly a plane into a building” meme, it’ll fester. If he offers a substantive example of an actual policy that counteracts that meme, he’s got a tool he can use to beat it, or at least beat it down.
4. The is the part where I’m confused that people haven’t figured this out yet: Obama clearly doesn’t just want to win, folks. He wants to win big. We’re talking about Super Bowl blowout big. Spanish-American War big. Friends vs. whatever the hell was on TV against Friends big. 400+ electoral votes big. He wants a generational vote, like Reagan had in 1980 — and given the abysmal standing of the GOP and the sitting president at the moment, it’s entirely possible he can get it with a little outreach and some strategic tacking to the center.
The folks who are currently braying about how Obama is where is he is right now because he didn’t swing toward the center are somewhat disingenuously forgetting how well Clinton did in the last few Democratic primaries, appealing to more conservative Democratic voters. Remember how the primaries went all the way to the end? Yes, good times, good times. Anyway, those folks can conveniently forget the lessons of the last few Democratic primaries; Obama really can’t, and apparently hasn’t.
5. Obama’s probably also aware that he’s got the left in the tank. Some folks on the left were goofy enough in 2000 to think that voting for, say, Nader, wouldn’t make a huge difference in the end, so why not make a cute little protest vote. Here in 2008, anyone on the left who isn’t planning to pull a lever for Obama probably has congenital brain damage. Seriously, there is unlikely to be another chance for the left to so definitively remake the political map as it has this year, if the folks on the left simply don’t lose their shit at the idea of Obama trying to widen his margin of victory, the better to make the case that his election represents a major shift in US politics.
Now, I’m a firm believer in never discounting the Democratic party’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; I’m still appalled at the incompetence of the Kerry campaign in 2004 and for that matter, the bad strategy of the Gore campaign in 2000, which involved separating their man from the most popular president in recent history. In this case I think the people involved in the presidential campaign are doing pretty smart things, and it might be the other folks who blow it.
To them I would suggest that they consider that the Obama campaign is paying them a compliment, in that they are making the (not necessarily self-evident) assumption that they’re all smart enough to realize that tacking toward the center in the campaign is going to pay huge dividends for the left when at the end of the 2008 election it finds itself in charge of the executive and legislative branches, and finds itself in a position to fill two or possibly even three seats on the Supreme Court in the next four years, and possibly in the bargain create a sturdy new left-leaning political base that lasts as long as the GOP base that Reagan used as a foundation three decades ago. I guess we’ll see if that compliment pays off.
Personally speaking I’m not hugely thrilled with every move Obama has made recently; I don’t like the continuation of the faith-based office that much (which should not be a huge surprise), although my real ire is for his position on the FISA “compromise” bill which will hopefully die in the Senate sometime next week. On the other hand, I have strong suspicions that President Obama would nominate to the high court the sort of judges that would see the FISA “compromise” bill as fundamentally unconstitutional, and in the meantime his positioning deprives the right-wing shouty chorus of some oxygen during his presidential campaign.
Which is to say that I’m fundamentally unsurprised to discover that Barack Obama, who has been in politics for a number of years, is a politician. And a politician who wants to win as big as he can.