Keeping It Lofty.

February 17, 2008

Keeping It Lofty.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, February 17, 2008 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: One way of describing the situation in the Democratic primaries is that a partnership between the voters and the Obama campaign team – an A team – has evolved to blow out all expectations, to throw Hillary Clinton and the Clinton “inevitability” campaign entirely off their game, to create the situation that we now have. So, the Clinton campaign is trying to get back control of the game. She’s going into what are considered to be strong core constituencies for her – blue collar Americans in the upcoming primary states – Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania – and her message this week is ‘Some people think that words are change, but words are cheap. It takes work.’ So what’s she saying? She’s saying ‘Don’t get carried away with all this inspiration when I know better. We know how hard it is to’ – you fill in the blanks – ‘raise a family, run a country, etc.’ Is that a viable message for her?

Newman: Who knows? She’s out there talking to millions of people. Are there any people who are gonna say, Oh yeah, I feel the same way! Of course, there are. And there are some people who are going to say That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Don’t forget, if what’s she’s saying is the case, then those words don’t make a difference, right?

Salit: Yes. Because, they’re also words.

Newman: True. What makes a difference is what you do on the ground.

Salit: Yes. And so far, the Obama people have beaten the Clintons on the ground.

Newman: And, if that continues, the Clintons are likely to lose. And that’s the story, right?

Salit: Maybe this question is meaningless because of what you just said. But, if you were Obama, how do you respond to that in words? I know how he’s responding to it on the ground.

Newman: Well, he actually is responding to it. He’s been saying that ‘Of course one has to have programs and positions, and I do. So does Senator Clinton. The real issue is whether or not you can effect the kind of coalition, not simply in Washington, but across the country, that brings together different forces and different people, which can make the demand that these kinds of positive things be enacted. That’s the issue.

Salit: And he’s shown that he’s more likely to accomplish that than Mrs. Clinton.

Newman: He can put together a coalition that can force the issue of these things being enacted.

Salit: That’s important because that’s as practical or hardball a political claim as anything she has said.

Newman: That coalition is what’s making his campaign the dominant leadership campaign in the country.

Salit: There was another round of discussions about the superdelegates and the Democratic convention process. I think the consensus of most of the commentators was that if there’s a clear winner without the superdelegate count, then the superdelegates will fall in line behind where the majority vote. That they won’t go against that.

Newman: I would assume so. Of course, there can be a disagreement about what it means to say that there’s a clear lead or not. If it’s clear, though, they’re not going to block it.

Salit: So, let me get your thoughts on one of the other questions discussed – I think this is how Chris Matthews framed it: ‘Can you keep things lofty?’ He’s now talking of a scenario where Obama is the nominee. Can Obama keep things lofty and beat John McCain?

Newman: Thomas Jefferson was lofty. George Washington was lofty.

Salit: Yes, they were.

Newman: Is something wrong with lofty? Of course, he can keep it lofty. The American people are, it’s seems apparent, responsive to trying to elevate the level of politics in this country. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be talking about Obama today.

Salit: Matthews supposes that the American people might suddenly turn pragmatic and anti-lofty come September.

Newman: That’s preposterous. What do you think McCain is going to appeal to? If he’s appealing to 100 years of war and the U.S. mission of saving the world from Islamo-Fascism – that’s pretty damn lofty.

Salit: So, when Matthews asks that question he’s saying Is this going to continue to be an atypical election? You know, the voters are making a statement about wanting change, wanting a change in how politics is done, and so forth. Is that going to hold all the way through November, or at some point is this going to become more like a regular election?

Newman: Look, all presidential elections are lofty. That’s what they are. You don’t choose a president based on whether she or he thinks we should have ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch in the Illinois public school system vs. ham and tuna. That’s not what you elect a president to do. You elect someone on the basis of presidential-type appeals, lofty appeals. We’re electing the President of the United States, not the local dog catcher.

Salit: Okay, so that’s true and Matthews, I think, would agree with that. Maybe this discussion is about nothing more than the match-up between Obama and McCain, and whether McCain has a shot at being able to project his experience and the relevance of his experience to the challenges that the country faces.

Newman: He’s gotta sell war. If he can’t sell war, he’s going to have a colossal defeat.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: He’s gotta sell war: War is what our future is about for the next X number of years, whether the X is 10 or the X is 100, but It’s war, war, war, war. And I’m your commander-in-chief.

Salit: Right.

Newman: He’s selling a war. Now, are the American people gonna buy that? The evidence so far suggests that the American people don’t want to buy that. Bush has had nobody running against him in his last batch of years in office and he couldn’t sell war.

Salit: What do you find most interesting in the campaign at the moment?

Newman: I think that what’s interesting is the Obama phenomenon. And that’s so interesting that everything else pales into utter and complete insignificance. Will that continue? Will that grow? Will that carry into some states where it seems less likely? That’s what’s interesting.

Salit: There’s a bunch of primaries coming up now and we’ll get the answer to those very questions. We’ve got Wisconsin coming up on Tuesday. And then a two-week run into states with very, very big delegate blocs – Texas and Ohio. Pennsylvania comes up a little bit later. And there are big changes going on everywhere. How would you characterize the impact of the Obama phenomenon on black politics in America today?

Newman: It’s big, it’s gigantic. It’s bringing forth a new leadership.*

Salit: How would you characterize the impact of Obama and the Obama movement on the independent movement?

Newman: Big. The independent movement has impacted dramatically on Obama, obviously. It’s impacted on everyone since it’s a big portion of the electorate. And Obama has become, I think, the favorite to support for many independents, so there’s been an intermingling there. But it’s impossible to use ordinary language to describe this. There’s a monumental phenomenon going on in the country. And it’s impacting everything, everybody. All groups, all individuals. I don’t know where it’s going to go – we’re in the middle of it. We don’t know where it’s headed. We’ll see.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.