Saturday, January 05, 2008

Message to New Hampshire: don't blow it like Iowa did.

Don't hand the primary to a candidate who is not fit to be president. Don't pick him just because he won the first caucus state. Jumping on the bandwagon of the first candidate to win isn't going to get a Democrat elected president. That's the lesson Iowans failed to learn from 2004. You can be different. You have a chance to help us pick a winning candidate. Do not hand Barack Obama the nomination.

And here are the big reasons why:

#1 - His faulty intelligence on Iran. As I pointed out in my blog last April, during the second Democratic presidential debate in 2007 Obama stood up on stage and declared that there was "no dispute" that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and that Iran had admitted to doing so. Both statements were false. As Reuters reported as early as November 2006, the CIA -- and, we have since come to learn, the entire U.S. intelligence community -- issued a report stating quite clearly that there was no conclusive evidence of a weapons program. Tehran has also consistently denied making weapons, so it has never made such an admission. Stating one's intent to build power plants for conventional energy purposes is not the same as admitting to making weapons, no matter how much you might wish it to be. This kind of dangerous ignorance and refusal to be corrected indicates someone not only unwilling to do his homework prior to making a statement, but unwilling to learn from his mistakes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we already saddled with an executive who doesn't bother getting his facts straight or learn from errors he's made?

#2 - His faulty thinking about solving the health care crisis. As Paul Krugman writes,

Look, the point of a mandate isn’t to dictate how people should live their lives — it’s to prevent some people from gaming the system. Under the Obama plan, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance, then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. This would lead to higher premiums for everyone else. It would reward the irresponsible, while punishing those who did the right thing and bought insurance while they were healthy.

Krugman also writes,

The argument began during the Democratic debate, when the moderator — Carolyn Washburn, the editor of The Des Moines Register — suggested that Mr. Edwards shouldn’t be so harsh on the wealthy and special interests, because "the same groups are often responsible for getting things done in Washington."

Mr. Edwards replied, "Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with these people and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen."

This was pretty clearly a swipe at Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly said that health reform should be negotiated at a "big table" that would include insurance companies and drug companies.

On Saturday Mr. Obama responded, this time criticizing Mr. Edwards by name. He declared that "We want to reduce the power of drug companies and insurance companies and so forth, but the notion that they will have no say-so at all in anything is just not realistic."

Hmm. Do Obama supporters who celebrate his hoped-for ability to bring us together realize that "us" includes the insurance and drug lobbies?

O.K., more seriously, it’s actually Mr. Obama who’s being unrealistic here, believing that the insurance and drug industries — which are, in large part, the cause of our health care problems — will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform. The fact is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste.

As a result, drug and insurance companies — backed by the conservative movement as a whole — will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms. And what would Mr. Obama do then? "I’ll get on television and say Harry and Louise are lying," he says. I’m sure the lobbyists are terrified.

As health care goes, so goes the rest of the progressive agenda. Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.

Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.

There’s a strong populist tide running in America right now. For example, a recent Democracy Corps survey of voter discontent found that the most commonly chosen phrase explaining what’s wrong with the country was "Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington."

And there’s every reason to believe that the Democrats can win big next year if they run with that populist tide. The latest evidence came from focus groups run by both Fox News and CNN during last week’s Democratic debate: both declared Mr. Edwards the clear winner.

But the news media recoil from populist appeals. The Des Moines Register, which endorsed Mr. Edwards in 2004, rejected him this time on the grounds that his "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change."

And while The Register endorsed Hillary Clinton, the prime beneficiary of media distaste for populism has clearly been Mr. Obama, with his message of reconciliation. According to a recent survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Mr. Obama’s coverage has been far more favorable than that of any other candidate.

So what happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?

He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform. Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.

And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done.

It's a solid set of points that Krugman makes, and worth heeding. But it's not just Krugman who sees something fishy about Obama's health care plan. Michael Moore pointed out that Obama is now the second biggest recipient of payoff money from the health insurance industry, behind Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans won't go down without a fight. Look what happened when Kerry tried to play nice. So Barack, you can talk all you want about "let's put the partisanship aside, let's all get along," but the other side has no intention of being anything but the bullies they are. Get your game face on now. And, if you can, tell me why you are now the second largest recipient of health industry payola after Hillary. You now take more money from the people committed to stopping universal health care than any of the Republican candidates.

Why should you trust Barack Obama, New Hampshire, to deliver on health care reform when he is in the back pocket of the very same industries that created the mess we're in right now? For that matter, why trust Hillary Clinton? The answer, of course, is that you shouldn't. And neither should the rest of the nation.

#3 - His lack of concern for the environment. There is no longer any real or significant doubt about the realities of Global Warming. It's happening, and a lot faster than we all would like to think. We shall probably see drastic alterations to our coastlines before the end of the next decade. And while we're experiencing increased superstorms, floods, droughts, mass extinctions, plagues, and a host of other Global Warming-related ills, we're running out of oil. Fast. But what does Obama plan to do, as president, about this crisis? When asked about this at a debate, his answer did not evoke so much as a smidgen of confidence as to his understanding of the problem. In April 2007,

In the Democratic presidential candidates' debate, Sen. Barack Obama was asked what he personally was doing to save the environment, and replied that his family was "working on" changing their light bulbs.

I saw that debate myself. When the question about what he would do as president to combat Global Warming was asked, he got this deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, shifted uncomfortably, as though trying to come up with an answer, and then gave his answer: " family is using energy efficient light bulbs...?" How can we trust a candidate who freezes up when asked about a policy decision and can't give a satisfactory answer? We can't. It was a crucial test of leadership, one of many to be faced by Obama throughout 2007. And, like his chief rival at the time, Hillary Clinton, he failed. The presidency is not a learn-on-the-job office. You have to know what you're going to do about any given problem, have some inkling, before even declaring your candidacy. Otherwise, when it comes to crunch time and voters get a chance to see you in action against your opponents, you're going to lose. Big time. And so shall the rest of us.

#4 - Even if he manages to win, the GOP-controlled Legislature will eat him alive. The Democratic "leadership" in the House and Senate have blown it. They've already ceded control of Congress to the Republicans, even though they had official control in 2007. But voters are not going to forgive them this betrayal. 2006 was a mandate for change, but Pelosi, Hoyer, Emanuel and Reid decided they like being in the minority party -- and they've done everything in their power to ensure that there will be no change from the status quo. So voters across the nation are going to punish them by re-electing the GOP to majority status. I guarantee you, if you thought the GOP was vicious in handling Bill Clinton, wait until they return to power in Congress and go to town on Obama. It'll make the worst days of the DeLay-Hastert-Frist Congress and the Monica Lewinsky scandal look like a walk in the park by comparison.

#5 - His trashing of unions, fellow Democrats, and universal health care. See TomP's entry explaining it in more depth. Obama has spent more time dissing Democrats and, by extension, the party's much-needed base, than any presidential candidate should be doing. It's one thing to point out the flaws in a rival's platform, policy positions, and rhetoric. But when you consistently spend time dissing unions, universal health care, and the base itself, you're showing your true DLC colors. Guy almost sounds like Joe LIEberman.

#6 - His failure to lead. As I've pointed out in other diaries, none of the candidates are perfect. Some are better than others, and most of them have spotty records on one particular issue or another. Kucinich was anti-abortion rights until 2003 or 2004. Dodd, Biden, Obama and Clinton didn't even bother to show up to vote in the Senate against Mukasey. And Edwards, Biden, Clinton and Dodd all voted for what became the Iraq war resolution in 2002. But Obama's failure to show leadership goes a bit beyond that of the others, except perhaps for Hillary Clinton's (and even there, that's debatable for a reason I'll explain in a bit). I've already mentioned that Obama has with one exception voted to continue funding for the Iraq war. I've also point out that the one time he did, it was because he was shamed into doing it by Christopher Dodd, and then only cast his nay vote when the supplemental was assured passage and without fanfare. Obama and Clinton presume to be their political party's leaders, running for president as people who can take the initiative to do what's right for America. Clinton is a hawk, always has been despite her inconsistent rhetoric, and so it is understandable that she would not have the courage to vote against funding the Iraq war. But Obama ran for senator on the strength of his self-proclaimed anti-war position. Why did he not lead the fight against war funding once the Senate was back under Democratic control? Why did he let someone else shame him into doing what he was supposed to do? Never mind for a moment that it was the right thing to do; voting against war funding is the least he could have done, and should be doing at any time. Why is it Dodd, and not Obama or Clinton or Biden, leading the fight against retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that have illegally spied on us for the Bush-Cheney regime? Why wasn't Obama (or any of the other senators running for president) rushing back to the Senate to lead a filibuster of Mukasey, a pro-torture appointee to replace a pro-torture attorney general? And yet this is the man we're supposed to believe will show leadership as president? A man who has to be shamed into doing what his job and oath of office require of him, who won't even show up consistently to do even that?

Citizens of New Hampshire -- and citizens of all the United States -- Barack Obama is not the Change Candidate. He is Bill Clinton recycled. He, like Clinton and his wife, represents more of the same bullshit we've had to put up with from DLC Democrats for nearly twenty years. You have a chance to correct a mistake Iowans made this week. Only you needn't -- and most certainly shouldn't -- take this as a message that you ought to hand your state's primary to Hillary Clinton. No, she is even worse than Obama. There are only two candidates who represent real change in this race who now have any chance of bringing it about: John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Granted, Edwards did as a U.S. Senator vote for the Iraq war resolution. But he, like Obama, has done a 180 since his initial position. Whereas Obama initially opposed the war and has since used his time in the Senate to help keep it going, Edwards has seen the error of his ways and now advocates withdrawal. Edwards, unlike Obama, has demonstrated that he is capable of learning from mistakes. His health care plan, while not as sweeping or as progressive as Kucinich's (introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as HR 676), is nevertheless a lot closer to what we need than Obama's. Given the awful cost of health care in this country, it is worth considering that Edwards' plan is simply better and more well thought out.

You have a chance, New Hampshire, to do what Iowa wouldn't: give us a candidate who represents real change. Don't blow it like Iowans did.

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