What an interesting week: I came back from vacation to find the two presumptive presidential nominees running away from their bases. Suddenly John McCain is evading, not embracing, the media, limiting access and getting testy with the very people whose formerly friendly coverage made him a popular “maverick.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama is complaining that his “friends on the left” just don’t understand him — he’s not moving to the center, he is “no doubt” a progressive, just one who now supports the scandalous FISA “compromise” and Antonin Scalia’s views on gun rights and the death penalty, no longer plans to accept public campaign funding, and wants to make sure women aren’t feigning mental distress to get a “partial-birth” abortion (the right’s despicable term of choice; the correct phrase is either late-term or third-trimester abortion).
I actually have some sympathy for Obama. He was never the great progressive savior that his fans either thought he was, or peddled to their readers. While Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas and Tom Hayden were hyping him as the progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, Obama was getting away with backing a healthcare bill less progressive than Clinton’s, adopting GOP talking points on the Social Security “crisis” and double-talking on NAFTA. So why shouldn’t he think his “friends on the left” will put up with his abandoning other progressive causes?
I’ve admired Obama, but I never confused him with a genuine progressive leader. Today I don’t admire him at all. His collapse on FISA is unforgivable. The only thing Obama has going for him this week is that McCain is matching him misstep for misstep. While we’re railing about Obama’s craven vote on FISA — rightfully; Glenn Greenwald is a hero for his work on this topic — McCain was outdoing Dick Cheney with neocon crazy talk, warning that Iran’s test of nine old missiles we already knew they had increases the chances of a “second Holocaust.” Every time I wonder whether I can ultimately vote for Obama in November, given all of his political cave-ins, McCain does something new to make sure I have to.
But Obama needs to watch himself. Telling voters they have no place else to go, before he officially has the nomination, is not a winning strategy. That’s what his people told Clinton voters. That’s what they’re saying about opponents of the FISA sellout. That’s the line on those concerned about his “partial-birth” abortion remarks. It’s arrogant — up against the backdrop of Obama’s big plans for an Invesco Field acceptance speech in Denver and a Brandenberg Gate extravaganza in Berlin, I’m starting to worry about grandiosity — and it could backfire.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, voted against the FISA bill, but I think “what ifs” are unproductive. Matthew Yglesias’ self-justifying fiction that, if she was the nominee, she’d have done what Obama did, is silly. But none of us can really know she’d have done the right thing in Obama’s shoes. Since I believe Clinton’s craven vote to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 cost her the Democratic nomination, I do find myself wondering whether she learned her lesson about caving in to GOP threats. It’s funny how so many defeated Democrats — Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and now Clinton — seem to become more progressive after they learn that pandering can’t protect them from the attacks of the GOP and its friends in the media. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t have to learn that lesson the same way.
Of course, the only thing more offensive than Obama’s yes vote on FISA was McCain’s decision to skip the vote entirely — and then trash Obama for “flip-flopping” on FISA. Unfortunately, Obama did flip-flop on FISA, but McCain didn’t bother to show up. So far, this has been a really dispiriting campaign. Part of the problem, I think, is that the two finalists are guys beloved by the media, who’ve had a fairly free ride to here. With their rivals out of the way, they’re getting more scrutiny, and it’s not all adoring. Having won impressive underdog victories, neither campaign seems ready for prime time. I know one thing, I’d really like to vote for the guy who said this:
“This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.”
Too bad Obama doesn’t believe that anymore.