4.27.2008

Prepare for the general: DNC blasts McCain while Obama clings to his postpolitics

The talk of this Sunday was undoubtedly Barack Obama's appearance on Fox News for an interview with Chris Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday." Obama had been boycotting Fox ever since the conservative network ran the "madrassa" story. Murdoch's channel had since been trumpeting this interview, with a triumphant Wallace celebrating the fact that his network is back in the Democrats' good grace. Indeed, the conversation was very civil -- which has provoked controversy due to TPM's criticism of Obama's friendliness. TPM explains that the Obama campaign had responded to criticism that it was going on the program in the first place by pledging to "take Fox on," which Obama certainly did not do today.

There is little doubt that Fox News' coverage of Obama's interview was biased against the Democrat. On Saturday, the day on which the interview was actually tapped, Chris Wallace described his conversation with the Illinois Senator by noting that, "He very much clearly wants to reach out to the kind of moderate conservative Democrats and Republicans who watch Fox and I think, as I say, very much wants to get away from any sense that he's a creature or a captive of the left." Naturally, only a conservative outlet like Fox could phrase things like Wallace does at the end of that quote. Asking Obama to prove that he is no "creature of the left" is an inherently rightist exercise.

Yet, what was stunning in the actual interview was that Chris Wallace was not exaggerating; Obama was indeed doing his best to prove that he was no "creature of the left" by using his traditional antipolitical discourse but also going much further than usual to display his moderate credentials. Reviewing a list of issues on which Obama supposedly espouses too liberal a positioning, Wallace asked him the following question: "I think one of the concerns that some people have is that you talk a good game about, let’s be post-partisan, let’s all come together... Do you really want a partnership with Republicans or do you really want unconditional surrender from them?" Obama offered a truly remarkable answer in response:

I would point out, though, for example, that when I voted for a tort reform measure that was fiercely opposed by the trial lawyers, I got attacked pretty hard from the left. During the Roberts (...) nomination, although I voted against him, I strongly defended some of my colleagues who had voted for him on the Daily Kos, and was fiercely attacked as somebody who is, you know, caving in to Republicans on these fights.

In fact, there are a lot of liberal commentators who think I’m too accommodating. So here is my philosophy. I want to do what works for the American people. And both at the state legislative level and at the federal legislative level, I have always been able to work together with Republicans to find compromise and to find common ground (...)

It is true that when you look at some of the votes that I’ve taken in the Senate that I’m on the Democratic side of these votes, but part of the reason is because the way these issues are designed are to polarize. They are intentionally designed to polarize. (...)

As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them. And I don’t think there is any Republican out there who I’ve worked with who would say that I don’t listen to them, I don’t respect their ideas, I don’t understand their perspective. And I do not consider Democrats to have a monopoly on wisdom. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we are always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.

It is one thing to distance yourself so dramatically from "the Daily Kos" and prove you are not beholden to the left; it is quite another, of course, to go on Fox News to make such statements. But the most remarkable of Obama's comments is the paragraph that I have bolded, for I confess to be confused as to what Obama means by trying to justify himself for being on the "Democratic side of these votes." The point he is making is fairly typical of Third Way rhetoric; Obama is arguing that ideally issues should not be polarized so that we would be able to approach them from a rational perspective rather than from a partisan one. But this particular phrasing of the argument is particularly blunt. Is Obama taking postpolitical discourse as far as rejecting a party system entirely, and would he reject the Democratic label altogether?

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee, apparently unaware that such partisan battles are a hindrance to the democratic process, is getting ready to take on John McCain. They had released an ad attacking McCain's optimistic statements on the economy; today, they unveiled an ad that makes use of McCain's "100 years" comment to discredit the Republican on the issue of Iraq and portray him as "more of the same."

Democrats have long long been looking to transform these remarks into the 2008 version of Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it." The GOP is concerned enough about this risk that McCain has been addressing it on the campaign trail and trying to get Obama to admit that those comments are being taken out of context. For Democrats to succeed in using "100 years" and "Bomb Iran" as evidence that McCain is just another war-mongerer, Democrats need to hit him on the head with advertisements and force him on the defensive. The DNC's ad is one of the first attempts to do that despite the fact that more than two months have passed since McCain became the presumptive nominee; it still remains to be seen how much the DNC is willing to spend to air this ad. The previous spot focused on the economy is running on cable TV.

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