Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Obama Bargain - WSJ.com

The Obama Bargain

Most of the focus in the atheist blogosphere on the issue of Obama's preacher's "hate speech" has been to point out the hypocrisy involved. After all, other preachers have spewed hate for a long time, but nobody calls on candidates that they support to disavow all of those comments.

This may be true, but to me rather than implying that Obama should get a pass here it begs the question, "Why shouldn't any candidate be held responsible for the beliefs/statements of their respective clergymen or women?" If you are going to hear them speak weekly, for decades, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that you agree with most of what they have to say? Let's have all the candidates answer the questions: If you disagree, where have you spoken out against it? What discussions have you had with your clergyperson to inform them of your disagreement(s) with their position? Do you believe that when they speak from the pulpit, they are inspired by god?

All of this can give us some more insight into the kind of person the candidate is. I like Obama. I was blown away by his speech about race. He's a very talented politician. But here's what I don't like about him: he doesn't say anything. He's the candidate of "hope" and "change". What does that mean, specifically, for policies that his administration will pursue? How, specifically, is he different from Hillary? The proof that he's an amazing politician is that he has made it his far in the process without any specifics whatsoever.

I was a Political Science major in college, which is where I learned about "valence issues". Valence issues are issues in which near universal support is on one side of the issue. For example, look at Barack Obama's website, under "Issues":

  • Civil Rights
  • Education
  • Ethics
  • Family
  • Healthcare
These are valence issues. As a candidate, if you are able to say that you are "FOR FAMILY" or "PRO-CIVIL RIGHTS" and are able to avoid any specific proposals, then it's very hard for your opponent to campaign against you.

But this is a double-edged sword. If you campaign as the candidate of "CHANGE" and "HOPE" then you better be able to live up to your own hype. Which is why it was so disheartening to find out that Obama's not any different from the other candidates. He's human, and like everyone, has got some skeletons that he probably wishes he would have gotten rid of a long time ago. He's not some anointed savior from a new generation sent to lead us from ignorance and hate. He's pretty much the same as the others.

But now that we know this, that puts a new spin on Geraldine Ferraro's comments. Racial issues have been firmly placed as one of the top issues facing the Obama campaign. Every time someone mentions something about race, does not automatically make it "racist". And I think what Ferraro was saying was that it is surprising how far the Obama campaign has come, and in such a short time. I don't think anyone can fairly deny that part of the reason for his meteoric rise is the racial component. Really, if someone can explain an alternative to me, I'm all ears. He has comparable experience, his issue positions are very similar to Hillary's, Illinois is not staggeringly more popular than New York. So what's left? Age, race, and rhetoric.

All of this is not to say that he doesn't deserve to be the nominee, if that's what the delegates or the party decides. I just think the whole presidential campaign system would benefit from a little bit more clear thinking. And not just this year!

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