Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jaw Flapping

Obama said that the Republicans had been the party of ideas.

Did he praise Republicans?

Hillary says he did. Obama says he didn't.

I understand the dilemma. I, too, have said that the Republicans have out-thought us and, if the simple fact of new ideas were sufficient to earn a win, then the Republicans deserved to win the White House in 2000. This is not the same thing as saying I like their ideas, approve of that party, or am glad Bush got into the Oval Office.

It simply says that they rubbed their brain cells far more energetically than we did. We sat on our laurels of the last 40 years, and didn't pay attention to things like the Republicans' superior use of language to frame issues and box in their opponents. I give you "Pro-Life" as an example.

I made my comments in emails to friends. I wasn't running for office. And that makes a huge difference. Obama said much the same thing, but in the context of the campaign, his comment was a chameleon. In other words, it can be heard as a values-neutral statement, or as praise, and it was heard as praise by a lot of people.

Where Obama, the Democratic candidate for President, dropped that ball and did a disservice to his party was not following that sentence with, "Too bad their ideas were uniformly disastrous."

I think it's very likely that he did not do that because he wants to walk the fence.
Obama wants Republicans and independents to hear that statement--and the statement about Reagan as a transformative president, as well--as compliments. But, but, but: At the same time, if he should be called out for that, as Hillary called him out, his phrasing gives him plenty of wiggle room, and he took it. He said, with technical accuracy, "But oh, I didn't praise the ideas or agree with them!" "I didn't say Reagan was a good president!"

This is disingenuous in the context of the campaign, especially since Obama sees himself as the bridge candidate, the unifer. What would anyone expect from a bridge candidate but a compliment? Obama has been noticeably loathe to attack Republicans. Why would anyone hear his comments as values-free? I don't buy it.

I think Hillary is right to call him on this, and I think that this exactly illustrates what she means when she said he won't take responsibility for his votes. He won't take responsibility for his statements, either--and in the same slippery way. He should have said this: "I stand by saying that the Republicans out-thought us, in the sense of quantity of big ideas. But I should have added that I thought those big ideas are a disaster for the country. Let me make that clear: Just because I say you have more cattle on your ranch, it doesn't mean that you're a better rancher or that your cattle are first rate."