Considering many conservatives have been dissatisfied (to put it lightly) with the prospect of John McCain being the GOP nominee for president, I wonder how they’ll respond to this story by Michael Abramowitz in today’s Washington Post: On Signing Statements, McCain Says ‘Never,’ Obama and Clinton ‘Sometimes.’
Sen. Hillary Clinton on Wednesday cast herself as a candidate who “relies not just on words but on work” as she eyed the upcoming Ohio and Texas primaries in hopes of stopping Sen. Barack Obama….
“We need to make a choice between speeches and solutions, because while words matter greatly, the best words in the world aren’t enough unless you match them with action.”
From the Washington Post:
In his victory speech, McCain appeared to set his sights on silver-tongued Barack Obama as his competitor in the general election, ignoring the fact that Sen. Hillary Clinton is still running neck and neck with the Illinois senator.
“I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change” that “promises no more than a holiday from history,” McCain said.
I voted for Obama in California’s primary, though I have not cemented my support for him or any of the remaining candidates—I would like to see more of the eventual nominees when they debate and as they release their choices for Vice President and cabinet spots. What stands out to me about both Senators Clinton’s and McCain’s remarks about Obama is how they engage in the political strategy of the past fifteen or twenty years. Namely, they both take some of Obama’s greatest strengths—his rhetorical skills and ability to engender hope and vision among many—and attempt to recast those strengths as weaknesses.
It is a fascinating and apparently successful strategy (Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, anyone?). The remaining candidates know that they’re in a very public battle trying to garner as much attention as possible. Obama has proven to be a prolific sound bite creator and McCain and Clinton have to battle for getting equally memorable sound bites into the public consciousness. What to do but recast Obama’s discussion of hope and change and call it false hope, empty change, and cast him as merely an eloquent speaker who has no experience or concrete ideas? Though Obama’s positions are similar to Clinton’s, as has been recognized by many pundits and reporters, she works hard at saying he has virtually no proposals or no means of implementing them. Obama seems to have heard the call from the public to answer the question of what does the change for which he calls looks like? He has been much more specific in his speeches as of late, but that doesn’t change Clinton’s and McCain’s criticisms. It seems that no matter how much detail Obama puts in his speeches, this image of him as an eloquent but empty speaker has stuck, or at least his opponents will work at making it stick.
What I find distasteful about this shrewd strategy of recasting someone’s strengths as weaknesses is that it paints an unrealistic picture. This strategy makes it out that nothing about this person would be helpful because we all know that every person has weaknesses, but even his or her strengths are weaknesses. I think there is room for real disagreement between the candidates, but painting someone with one brush is a quick, easy, and cheap way of argument. I think that real debates can emerge from this year’s election such as Obama’s and Clinton’s visions of the role of the President, or Obama’s and McCain’s understandings of international diplomacy. I don’t mind if McCain and Clinton want to attack Obama as having vaporous messages as long as they themselves can point out what is missing from his messages as well as showing how they would be different. As it stands, the “choice between speeches and solutions,” and “eloquent but empty,” are just as meatless rhetorical flourishes as anything Obama has spoken.
In a cheap ploy to get more comments on my blog, I’ve decided to make a controversial post in the controversial realm of politics.
The candidate that you like for President sucks.
He/She would be bad for the country, sending us into the dark ages.
Go ahead, defend your views against that onslaught of impervious reason.
I’ve had a hard time quantifying what each presidential primary victory means and think that web sites tracking delegate counts might be the most important resources during the primaries. See, for example, CNN’s Election Center 2008: Delegate Count.
Recently Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both offered their vision of the role of the President. In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal Obama said that he isn’t running to be the “operating officer” of the U. S. Rather, his vision of the President’s role is “to set a vision of ‘here’s where the bureaucracy needs to go.’” Clinton, for her part, has criticized Obama’s understanding of the role of the chief executive. A Bloomberg story reported her as responding, “’It’s important that we have a president who understands that you have to run the government,’ Clinton, a senator from New York, said. Americans want a president ‘who is hands-on’ and does more than set goals.”
I think this is a fascinating debate. Sadly, due to the rapid pace of the primary season, it won’t receive that much discussion beyond some back and forth between the candidates. I believe positions on specific issues matter, but I’m beginning to think that a candidate’s philosophy and style of governing are even more important, especially within the Executive Branch. One of the most interesting and frustrating things about the government of the United States is its fluidity—both between the branches and within the branches themselves. Some of the matters are set in stone: the legislature writes laws, the executive executes and enforces those laws, and the judicial branch offers interpretation when the constitutionality of laws are in question. Because of the balance of powers, however, all the branches veer into each other’s territory from time to time, for better or for worse. Beyond that, because the Constitution does not explicitly determine every action each branch should or will take, each branch’s role is also open to interpretation.
Take for example, the interpretations of the Executive Branch offered by two of the largest figures of 19th century American politics, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Jackson believed deeply in a powerful Executive Branch. Because he was the only official elected by the whole nation (within the suffrage parameters of the time), he saw himself as something as America’s representative. Jackson nearly dictated from his desk, wielding veto power without hesitancy whenever Congress did something that went against his vision for the country. Lincoln, on the other hand, believed that the president ought to submit to the will of Congress more often than not given that the legislators were to represent their districts and states. Lincoln rarely used the veto. He bristled at what he saw as Jackson’s hubris as President. The debate concern whose interpretation of the role of the Executive Branch is correct—Jackson’s strong Executive, or Lincoln’s Whiggish interpretation that Congress writes laws and the President signs them—still continues.
Bringing it back home, I wonder what people think about the current Clinton-Obama debate. Or rather, I would like to take the candidates out of the picture for the moment. My question is, without regard to what candidate holds what position, do you think that the role of the U. S. President is to set a vision for the bureaucracy or to run the government? Perhaps you may think this is a false dichotomy, but offer your opinions why.
(By the way, Frontline made an interesting piece on Vice President Dick Cheney’s interpretation of a strong Executive Branch that I think is worth watching.)
Given that we’re in full swing of the election season (I think Bill is just two inches from falling over the edge), I thought I’d stir the waters with a post on a study released today regarding health care. Since my wife is a doctor whose patient population is generally underserved, stories about national health care catch our household’s attention rather easily. Will Dunham of Reuters reports on a study by Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that found,
France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.
If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs….
“I wouldn’t say it (the last-place ranking) is a condemnation, because I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access. But if you don’t, I think that’s the main problem, isn’t it?” Nolte said in a telephone interview.
Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen of the Commonwealth Fund (who backed the study) said in a statement,
“The fact that other countries are reducing these preventable deaths more rapidly, yet spending far less, indicates that policy, goals and efforts to improve health systems make a difference.”
WebMD has the countries’ rankings.
I don’t think I’m alone in my view that our health care system is not the best it could be. While I value and would not want to lose the innovation that the competition our system encourages, I am concerned that we are paying more per capita on health care than any other nation and yet we are lagging behind in stopping preventable deaths, due at least partly to the growing inability to have adequate access to health care given that our insurance system is becoming more expensive. I’m not one to back single payer medicine outright, but I wonder if there is something that we can learn from those systems as they appear to be doing better than we are in preventing unnecessary deaths.
David D. Kirkpatrick recently wrote an article in The New York Times Magazine declaring that the once-solid and powerful evangelical voting bloc in the US is showing signs of splitting with the GOP for numerous reasons and splintering amongst itself for still other reasons. Kirkpatrick’s story, “The Evangelical Crackup,” is a fascinating read, and at 10 pages, can address the subject in a depth usually not found in most print stories.
I had several reactions to the story. Because I am an evangelical who never voted for George W. Bush and has opposed much of his positions and know many other evangelicals who share my disagreement with his policies, I find it refreshing that the media has finally heard Jim Wallis’ declaration that he’s made for the past few years that, “The monologue of the Religious Right is over.” Though I’m not one to make the mainstream media into the bogeyman, I do recognize that it has largely portrayed evangelicals as a monolithic group in terms of its party loyalties and social priorities. Many leaders of the Religious Right, such as James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, have made grandiose claims in which they assume to speak for evangelicals and the media let them. Kirkpatrick claims that the Southern Baptist Convention has been, “the core of the evangelical movement.” Southern Baptists are many and powerful, but I do not think they make up the core of evangelicalism theologically or socially, but perhaps I’m naive in looking through my Fuller and California evangelical lenses. Kirkpatrick discusses the influence of pastors such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren as if these are new kids on the block despite the fact that these men have pastored two of the largest and most influential churches (at least in ecclesial terms) in the US for many years.
Kirkpatrick shows much dissatisfaction with the president and GOP amongst evangelicals. Some like Dobson find dissatisfaction in Bush and his possible successors for not having followed their wishes enough in social reform—Dobson has publicly vowed to vote for a third-party candidate if the GOP nominates a pro-choice candidate like Rudy Guliani. Other evangelicals, like many other citizens in the US, suffer from war fatigue. Still other evangelicals have decided that the issues of abortion and protecting marriage are far too narrow a platform. They are beginning to embrace environmental, economic, and foreign policy matters as moral issues as well and they are dissatisfied with the GOP’s answers to these issues. It seems some evangelical leaders are worrying that as younger evangelicals begin addressing other social matters, that we are in for another mainline-evangelical split in which some embrace the Social Gospel and others embrace a gospel focused on salvation. I’m not so worried about a new split. Many of the evangelicals I know and read speak of a full gospel, one in which salvation is more than a decision that gets one into Heaven when they die—it is about discipleship and loving God and neighbor and participating with God is doing in the world here and now.READ more
Sojourners co-sponsored a candidates forum with the top-three Democratic presidential candidates (Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John Edwards) on “Faith, Values, and Poverty.” I didn’t get to see it since I don’t have cable—it was on CNN —but the folks at Sojourners have put up some highlights here. I appreciated what I saw because the emphasis is in making a lot of political topics areas of moral and spiritual conversation, especially the topic of poverty, about which the Bible has a ton to say. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners said that they have issued an invitation to the Republican front-runners as well for a similar event. I hope that happens. I wish Bill Richardson was at this forum as he has become more interesting to me.
I was a bit cynical since many of the questions were published beforehand, giving the candidates a ton of time to prepare. All three of the candidates are polished speakers and have proven to be adept at using language that fits their audience. (Which, honestly, we all do. A Nobel laureate in physics will likely speak to a symposium of peers differently than she would to a classroom of second-graders. I try not to cuss in front of children or when preaching, though I am not entirely successful in the latter arena.) Still, whenever I hear a politician use faith language, I get my guard up more often than not.