Day Sixty

At tonight’s Clinton-Obama debate, one of the hosts asked an almost inevitable question about Clinton’s “day one” rhetoric: “What would you do differently on day one than a President Obama would when it comes to managing the nation’s economy?” After both candidates answered, it was hard to avoid the impression that the real answer is “not much;” they both had fairly similar plans. And this was the case with a lot of what they said tonight; the policy differences between the two candidates seem relatively minimal, and I suspect that a lot of the places where they do differ are the sorts of things that would change after the election. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama’s health plan ended up taking on more aspects of Edwards’ as it got prepared; and I would be surprised if Clinton would really freeze the prime interest rate for five years, as she promised to do tonight.1)

But this made me realize where I think the biggest difference between the two candidates is: Not on day one of a presidency, but on day sixty.

If a new president were to start to push the sorts of policies that both candidates have endorsed, about health care, the economy, or Iraq, they would start to run into serious resistance. Within two months, some very powerful interests would have marshalled considerable forces to oppose those changes. And on that day, what really matters is whether the president has the ideological leadership of the country; can he or she go out in public, make the case that This Is What We Need To Do, and cause people to form up behind the idea?

Simply having a sheaf of policy proposals, no matter how well-designed, is not enough. The power of the president isn’t in the passing of laws; it’s in the bully pulpit, in the power to set the policy direction of the country and rally the citizenry to do what needs to be done. Bill Clinton knew how to do that. Ronald Reagan did, too. Obama has often been compared to JFK, and I think the comparison is somewhat apt; he may lack experience, but experience has been a poor predictor of presidential success. But Hillary Clinton? After half a year of campaigning, I still don’t know what her grand vision is. From hearing her response and Obama’s to the question of meeting with Raúl Castro, I would almost think it was “cautiousness.” As she’s fond of saying, she has been tested before against strong Republican opposition — but she failed. Her health care plan went down in flames because she didn’t unify anyone behind it, and I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s gotten better at that. Plus, of course, there is a significant field of Republicans who would consider it their first responsibility to stymie anything Hillary Clinton does as a matter of principle; AFAIK, few feel similarly strongly against Obama.

So what I would foresee from a Clinton presidency is a mess. A lot of exciting proposals coming out on the first day, lots of big, thick bills going into the legislature, lots of lobbyists showing up, lots of sneaky ads and negative campaigns running around in the media, and ultimately her being forced to back down. Followed by four years of not being very effective, because the Democrats in Congress can’t get their act together enough to pass things even when they are in the majority unless they have a strong leader, and very likely a Republican president in 2012.

I don’t know what would happen from an Obama presidency, but it’s less likely to be that. Faced with a Day Sixty challenge, I expect that he would have been out there in front of the country for the entire time prior to that, forcefully making his case for reforms; the negative campaign is far less likely to even start, much less gain serious traction, if the people making it realize that public opinion is strongly against them to begin with. I don’t know if his policies would be as good in their details, but they would have a chance to pass.

So this past primary, I voted for Obama. I support his campaign and think he would make a genuinely better leader for this country than Hillary Clinton, a better leader than John McCain.

I don’t want a president with nothing more than policy papers; I want one who can help restore our vision of America as a country worthy of emulation.


And on that question of talking to Castro — this is one of the few times that the candidates really differed. Clinton said she would require him to show evidence of good faith towards democracy before meeting with him. Obama said that he would meet with him without preconditions, but would demand that democracy and human rights be on the agenda. And on this matter of foreign policy, Obama is right. American influence in the world is in its shakiest state in a century; holing up and demanding that people meet our conditions before we deign to meet with them is exactly the sort of thing that would weaken us further. The next president has to step outside of our borders and talk with the outside world, not as their natural superior, but as first among equals by virtue of his conduct.

People often quote JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But there was more to that quote:

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

That’s how you make the world follow you. Not by ordering them around, and not by acting like someone appointed you king.

(And if you’ve never actually listened to a recording of that address — go do it. Trust me, it’s worth it.)

1 At least, I sincerely hope she wouldn’t.

Advertisements
Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 19:14  Comments (66)  
Tags:

66 Comments

  1. Not even Obama’s been pulling off that kind of inspiring idealism.
    He’s come the closest, though.

  2. Not even Obama’s been pulling off that kind of inspiring idealism.
    He’s come the closest, though.

  3. Agreed on both counts. He definitely seems to be of the same genus, though.

  4. Agreed on both counts. He definitely seems to be of the same genus, though.

  5. You’ve pretty much hit half the nail on the head as to why I’ve been supporting Obama.
    I’m really hoping he wins both the nomination and the presidency. The US has been fighting the same internal political battle for far too long now.

  6. You’ve pretty much hit half the nail on the head as to why I’ve been supporting Obama.
    I’m really hoping he wins both the nomination and the presidency. The US has been fighting the same internal political battle for far too long now.

  7. That is very succinctly why I would vastly prefer Obama receive the nomination than Clinton.
    I am also fairly convinced that Clinton v McCain is a near-certain lose for Clinton, and Obama v McCain is a probable lose for McCain, and I’m quite comfortable with the prospect of the next administration not being beholden to the Republican party.
    Clinton deeply and spectacularly does not comprehend that it is more important for a leader to be liked than it is to be believed to be smart. And you nailed it wrt her going up against opposition before – she’s gone up and lost, and does not seem to have learned from the mistake. Getting the policy right and failing to pass it is not to be admired.

  8. That is very succinctly why I would vastly prefer Obama receive the nomination than Clinton.
    I am also fairly convinced that Clinton v McCain is a near-certain lose for Clinton, and Obama v McCain is a probable lose for McCain, and I’m quite comfortable with the prospect of the next administration not being beholden to the Republican party.
    Clinton deeply and spectacularly does not comprehend that it is more important for a leader to be liked than it is to be believed to be smart. And you nailed it wrt her going up against opposition before – she’s gone up and lost, and does not seem to have learned from the mistake. Getting the policy right and failing to pass it is not to be admired.

  9. Obama (or perhaps his aides) came up with a great sound-bite recently about Washington D.C. currently being “a place where good ideas go to die”. Clearly the implication is that he wants to go there and help them live.
    Sounds like a good idea to me.

  10. Obama (or perhaps his aides) came up with a great sound-bite recently about Washington D.C. currently being “a place where good ideas go to die”. Clearly the implication is that he wants to go there and help them live.
    Sounds like a good idea to me.

  11. hillary is not only cautious, but she is extremely kind to the industries that support her:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/2/20/201332/807/36/458633

  12. hillary is not only cautious, but she is extremely kind to the industries that support her:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/2/20/201332/807/36/458633

  13. Interesting and well-thought post. I do have one quibbling point: America’s influence was minimal worldwide until approximately 1941, so not quite a century there. 🙂 Other than a year of WWI, we hadn’t done much major since 1898 – we were isolationist and militarily backwater.
    And one less quibbling point. It’s true that Cuba poses no real threat to us, but Obama’s policy appears to be that he’ll meet with just about any world leader, any time. This is naive, and not good statecraft. In the case of Cuba, I don’t have too much trouble with it – they’re just not that important. Meeting with Iran’s president, on the other hand, demands substantial preconditions, otherwise it is simply going to be a waste of time, and a major win on Ahmadinejad’s part, politically, for no likely gain for America’s interests.

  14. Interesting and well-thought post. I do have one quibbling point: America’s influence was minimal worldwide until approximately 1941, so not quite a century there. 🙂 Other than a year of WWI, we hadn’t done much major since 1898 – we were isolationist and militarily backwater.
    And one less quibbling point. It’s true that Cuba poses no real threat to us, but Obama’s policy appears to be that he’ll meet with just about any world leader, any time. This is naive, and not good statecraft. In the case of Cuba, I don’t have too much trouble with it – they’re just not that important. Meeting with Iran’s president, on the other hand, demands substantial preconditions, otherwise it is simply going to be a waste of time, and a major win on Ahmadinejad’s part, politically, for no likely gain for America’s interests.

  15. Interesting assessment.

  16. Interesting assessment.

  17. Depending on which part of the world you’re talking about, this is not entirely true either. A student of East Asian history learns that the US actually became a major player in that part of the world in the mid-19th century with Admiral Perry’s opening of Japan’s ports by gunpoint and the ushering in of the Meiji Restoration and the modernization of Japan.
    This is particularly important to be aware of today as people try to draw parallels between the post-WWII relationship between Japan and the US and the post-war relationship between the US and Iraq. Among the many, many differences, we had a very positive historical relationship with the Japanese before their imperialist proclivities went haywire–something we could use as a foundation to repair relations during the postwar reconstruction.
    As to your second point, well, that’s a fundamental philosophical difference between doves and hawks, with historical opportunities to defend either position. There are many tools in the toolbox available for turning rogue states to more mutually beneficial policies, though most of the time it seems none of them are particularly effective until the leadership of the rogue state itself decides the change is in its own best interest. Given the internal stresses and Western-leaning inclinations of the Iranian population, I would argue that the hawk position (and Obama’s in this particular case, IIRC) of bombing Iran would be even more counter-productive than meeting with their leadership right now. I haven’t researched the pros and cons of a diplomatic meeting of the heads of state, so I’m open to the possibility that either meeting with Ahmadinejad or doing nothing at all are the best options on that front. Certainly his openly jingoistic rhetoric combined with the fact the previous Iranian president’s attempt at reforms were stifled by the religious leadership doesn’t make me optimistic that there’s much to be gained by opening diplomatic channels.

  18. Depending on which part of the world you’re talking about, this is not entirely true either. A student of East Asian history learns that the US actually became a major player in that part of the world in the mid-19th century with Admiral Perry’s opening of Japan’s ports by gunpoint and the ushering in of the Meiji Restoration and the modernization of Japan.
    This is particularly important to be aware of today as people try to draw parallels between the post-WWII relationship between Japan and the US and the post-war relationship between the US and Iraq. Among the many, many differences, we had a very positive historical relationship with the Japanese before their imperialist proclivities went haywire–something we could use as a foundation to repair relations during the postwar reconstruction.
    As to your second point, well, that’s a fundamental philosophical difference between doves and hawks, with historical opportunities to defend either position. There are many tools in the toolbox available for turning rogue states to more mutually beneficial policies, though most of the time it seems none of them are particularly effective until the leadership of the rogue state itself decides the change is in its own best interest. Given the internal stresses and Western-leaning inclinations of the Iranian population, I would argue that the hawk position (and Obama’s in this particular case, IIRC) of bombing Iran would be even more counter-productive than meeting with their leadership right now. I haven’t researched the pros and cons of a diplomatic meeting of the heads of state, so I’m open to the possibility that either meeting with Ahmadinejad or doing nothing at all are the best options on that front. Certainly his openly jingoistic rhetoric combined with the fact the previous Iranian president’s attempt at reforms were stifled by the religious leadership doesn’t make me optimistic that there’s much to be gained by opening diplomatic channels.

  19. Agreed on the history – but I was talking about the past 100 years. By 1908, most of that sort of American activity in East Asia was over.
    As to the second point, I disagree. It’s not got much to do with doves vs. hawks – it has to do with idealism vs. statecraft, dove or hawk. When Obama said he’d meet with Ahmadinejad *without preconditions*, he was showing his naivete. It’s just a point that Clinton hasn’t made as much use of as I might have expected.

  20. Agreed on the history – but I was talking about the past 100 years. By 1908, most of that sort of American activity in East Asia was over.
    As to the second point, I disagree. It’s not got much to do with doves vs. hawks – it has to do with idealism vs. statecraft, dove or hawk. When Obama said he’d meet with Ahmadinejad *without preconditions*, he was showing his naivete. It’s just a point that Clinton hasn’t made as much use of as I might have expected.

  21. Noted that I wasn’t quite clear about referring to the 100 years. It was in direct response to the OP’s “American influence in the world is in its shakiest state in a century”. I should have clarified.

  22. Noted that I wasn’t quite clear about referring to the 100 years. It was in direct response to the OP’s “American influence in the world is in its shakiest state in a century”. I should have clarified.

  23. I’m glad to have sparked so much historical discussion. 🙂 I picked the 100 year window to go with the word “shaky” in particular. Our position pre-1941 was definitely very weak internationally, but it strikes me as having been in a state of gradual and continuous ascendance starting at least with 1898. Today it’s still very strong, but it’s teetering and unstable. The fact that it’s simultaneously strong but in need of urgent care is what makes me suspect that Obama’s approach is the appropriate one right now; we still have the strength that meeting with someone is a Big Deal for them, and to do so can therefore shore up their respect for us and induce them to negotiate in ways they wouldn’t otherwise consider.

  24. I’m glad to have sparked so much historical discussion. 🙂 I picked the 100 year window to go with the word “shaky” in particular. Our position pre-1941 was definitely very weak internationally, but it strikes me as having been in a state of gradual and continuous ascendance starting at least with 1898. Today it’s still very strong, but it’s teetering and unstable. The fact that it’s simultaneously strong but in need of urgent care is what makes me suspect that Obama’s approach is the appropriate one right now; we still have the strength that meeting with someone is a Big Deal for them, and to do so can therefore shore up their respect for us and induce them to negotiate in ways they wouldn’t otherwise consider.

  25. I don’t know about ascendance… after Wilson, we drew back pretty strongly, and had several deeply subpar, isolationist presidents… not to mention that between 1929 and 1941, we didn’t really have the means to deal with anything beyond our own borders.
    Yes, very strong today. Stron enough that we still intimidate everyone, and have the means to continue leading economically and militarily. I agree that there has to be some level of engagement, but I still contend that Obama’s view of things has substantial room to mature.
    I don’t believe that Iran, if they were to meet with us, would feel at all compelled to negotiate, nor would they likely respect us any more (and I think the possibility exists that they would respect us much less.) Meeting with us and being able to spin it into a meeting where they didn’t bend at all to the Great Eeebil is a huge PR victory for them, and an embarrassment to us, and that would be very, very easy for them to achieve.

  26. I don’t know about ascendance… after Wilson, we drew back pretty strongly, and had several deeply subpar, isolationist presidents… not to mention that between 1929 and 1941, we didn’t really have the means to deal with anything beyond our own borders.
    Yes, very strong today. Stron enough that we still intimidate everyone, and have the means to continue leading economically and militarily. I agree that there has to be some level of engagement, but I still contend that Obama’s view of things has substantial room to mature.
    I don’t believe that Iran, if they were to meet with us, would feel at all compelled to negotiate, nor would they likely respect us any more (and I think the possibility exists that they would respect us much less.) Meeting with us and being able to spin it into a meeting where they didn’t bend at all to the Great Eeebil is a huge PR victory for them, and an embarrassment to us, and that would be very, very easy for them to achieve.

  27. completely agree. The prospect of Clinton-McCain seems like such a meek contest. McCain seems to have the magic to enthuse people, which is more than sufficient to get votes. The policy people are there to do the groundwork for him.

  28. completely agree. The prospect of Clinton-McCain seems like such a meek contest. McCain seems to have the magic to enthuse people, which is more than sufficient to get votes. The policy people are there to do the groundwork for him.

  29. *blink* Wait, are you saying that Obama’s position is “to bomb Iran”????
    (he’s been working to prevent the Bush administration from being able to do so)

  30. *blink* Wait, are you saying that Obama’s position is “to bomb Iran”????
    (he’s been working to prevent the Bush administration from being able to do so)

  31. There was a bizarre news item a month or two ago where Obama was clearly trying to demonstrate that he could be a strong commander in chief, and he came off as significantly more hawkish towards Iran than Clinton–counter to both candidates’ trends. I forget the details, unfortunately.

  32. There was a bizarre news item a month or two ago where Obama was clearly trying to demonstrate that he could be a strong commander in chief, and he came off as significantly more hawkish towards Iran than Clinton–counter to both candidates’ trends. I forget the details, unfortunately.

  33. Occasionally at a debate someone asks a “gotcha” question about whether the candidate would (under any circumstances) attack Iran if the US were threatened. You can’t answer “no” to a question like that, it’s clearly an opportunity for someone to make a TV ad out of. Candidates answer such questions in a sort of alternation based on what the news has been saying about the last time they answered. If there’ve been reports questioning your willingess to defend the US if necessary, then you lead with a strong yes the next time it comes up to defuse that. Both Clinton and Obama have done so, although not always at the same debate.

  34. Occasionally at a debate someone asks a “gotcha” question about whether the candidate would (under any circumstances) attack Iran if the US were threatened. You can’t answer “no” to a question like that, it’s clearly an opportunity for someone to make a TV ad out of. Candidates answer such questions in a sort of alternation based on what the news has been saying about the last time they answered. If there’ve been reports questioning your willingess to defend the US if necessary, then you lead with a strong yes the next time it comes up to defuse that. Both Clinton and Obama have done so, although not always at the same debate.

  35. I think the “Yes We Can” speech might be quoted the way that speech is quoted one day.
    (Also, excellent article. I was linked here, hence the late as hell comment.)

  36. I think the “Yes We Can” speech might be quoted the way that speech is quoted one day.
    (Also, excellent article. I was linked here, hence the late as hell comment.)

  37. This is very well written. May I link to in my Journal?

  38. This is very well written. May I link to in my Journal?

  39. IIRC it was Pakistan he was being hawkish towards, saying that he would attack al-Qaeda installations in Waziristan with or without the Pakistani government’s approval.

  40. IIRC it was Pakistan he was being hawkish towards, saying that he would attack al-Qaeda installations in Waziristan with or without the Pakistani government’s approval.

  41. Thanks! (And glad you showed up… and do we know one another? We seem to have an enormous number of mutual friends, but I don’t recognize your username)

  42. Thanks! (And glad you showed up… and do we know one another? We seem to have an enormous number of mutual friends, but I don’t recognize your username)

  43. Yeah, we do, or at least, we’re acquainted. I doubt we’ve actually been in the same room in like… five or six years though. 🙂

  44. Yeah, we do, or at least, we’re acquainted. I doubt we’ve actually been in the same room in like… five or six years though. 🙂

  45. Of course. Never a need to ask permission from me for that. 🙂

  46. Of course. Never a need to ask permission from me for that. 🙂

  47. That, combined with our set of mutual friends and the set of groups to which you belong, makes me fairly certain who you are! Let’s hear it for deductive reasoning. 🙂

  48. That, combined with our set of mutual friends and the set of groups to which you belong, makes me fairly certain who you are! Let’s hear it for deductive reasoning. 🙂

  49. So what’s the other half of the nail?

  50. So what’s the other half of the nail?

  51. Woo! I feel logically deduced and typed!

  52. Woo! I feel logically deduced and typed!

  53. I look forward to discovering that I’m totally wrong. 🙂

  54. I look forward to discovering that I’m totally wrong. 🙂

  55. That’d be pretty funny.
    There are some pictures of me in my scrapbook account, which might help to settle it one way or the other.

  56. That’d be pretty funny.
    There are some pictures of me in my scrapbook account, which might help to settle it one way or the other.

  57. Hah! I was right! I feel vindicated about the powers of pure reason.

  58. Hah! I was right! I feel vindicated about the powers of pure reason.

  59. I cleverly deduced who you were from your name.
    Shut up, it was clever.

  60. I cleverly deduced who you were from your name.
    Shut up, it was clever.

  61. Sneaky!

  62. Sneaky!

  63. Hilary is unelectable because the campaign against her started 15 years ago. (Back around 1993-1994, Newt Gingrich was asked when he knew he would have to be ready to defeat the Clinton health plan. His answer was “1991.”)
    They’ve only had four years to prepare to take down Obama, and it seems all they’ve come across so far are cheap shots.
    It may sound cynical, but between McCain the Apologist and anyone else, I want someone who has a chance of winning.

  64. Hilary is unelectable because the campaign against her started 15 years ago. (Back around 1993-1994, Newt Gingrich was asked when he knew he would have to be ready to defeat the Clinton health plan. His answer was “1991.”)
    They’ve only had four years to prepare to take down Obama, and it seems all they’ve come across so far are cheap shots.
    It may sound cynical, but between McCain the Apologist and anyone else, I want someone who has a chance of winning.

  65. Take a look at ‘s recent post. He addresses many of the issues you raise very nicely.

  66. Take a look at ‘s recent post. He addresses many of the issues you raise very nicely.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: