Reach (-around) Across the Aisle

In evaluating the relative electability of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we voters are offered this narrative: Clinton will fight hard, but will energize the Republican opposition to unite against her; Obama will attempt to rise above partisanship, potentially weakening his fight, yet also potentially attracting independents and disaffected Republicans. This is the main argument from establishment liberals supporting Obama: he’ll fight, but appeal to the Right. Here’s a sampling from Sunday’s NY Times.

Frank Rich analyzes the hard-to-hide-from comparisons between John F. Kennedy and Obama:

A poetically gifted president might be able to bring about change without relying on fistfighting as his primary modus operandi. Mr. Obama argues that if he can bring some Republicans along, he can achieve changes larger than the microinitiatives that have been a hallmark of Clintonism.

In a column pleading for liberal tolerance of evangelicals, Nicholas Kristof makes an appeal for common ground (note the parenthetical):

Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives. And the Democratic presidential candidate (particularly if it’s Mr. Obama, to whom evangelicals have been startlingly receptive) has a real chance this year of winning large numbers of evangelical voters.

So how does this post-partisan kumbaya work in practice? Well, let’s take a look at how Obama handled legislation meant to curb leaks from nuclear power plants in his home state of Illinois – also found in Sunday’s NY Times:

A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story [from one told by Obama on the stump]. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.

“Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, and we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Ill., where low-level radioactive runoff had turned up in groundwater. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”

The history of the bill shows Mr. Obama navigating a home-state controversy that pitted two important constituencies against each other and tested his skills as a legislative infighter. On one side were neighbors of several nuclear plants upset that low-level radioactive leaks had gone unreported for years; on the other was Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear plant operator and one of Mr. Obama’s largest sources of campaign money.

The article goes on to establish even closer links between Obama and his campaign. As someone who favors Obama over Clinton – and also a critic of his glib attempts to get warm and fuzzy with the Right – I think it’s important to keep a clear eye as his campaign and liberal pundits’ attempt to mystify the present and the past with invocations of the Kennedy mythos, the nebulous rhapsodies on “change” and “hope,” and promises of a post-partisan future. As Kristof argues, there are good reasons for liberals and conservatives to work together on addressing issues of poverty, health care and other manifestations of social inequity. We should not let this cooperation mask the back room dealings among politicians and corporations that undermine the gains we make.

If it makes you feel more “counter-cultural”, the Grateful Dead (the living ones, that is) are holding an Obama fundraiser concert. Cuz nothing motivates voters like a 30-minute performance of “Dark Star.”

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