Technology with attitude

Barack Obama's Achilles Heel: Liberals


[Republished from]

The first time Barack Obama made major news was in early 1990, when he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Most of the write-ups on him were very complimentary. The apex of such articles may have been the Boston Globe profile of him on February 15, 1990:

It is not that Obama is self-deprecating. On the contrary, he is so exceptionally self-assured and directed – as when he notes that he sought the presidency because “I felt I’d enjoy having an influence on the course of legal debate in the country” – that one friend recalls being completely overwhelmed when they met four years ago.

“I thought, ‘This guy sounds like he’s president of the country already,’ ” said John Owens, a former co-worker from Chicago, during a telephone interview. “I’ve never met anyone who could leave that impression after only five minutes.”

What seems to motivate Barack Obama is a strong identification with what he calls “the typical black experience,” paired with a mission to help the black community and promote social justice.

This is what fueled his unusual path, from childhood in Indonesia, where he grew up, he says, “as a street kid,” to adolescence in Hawaii, where he was raised by his grandparents; to college in California and New York, where after graduating he wrote articles for Fortune 500 companies so he could see how the economic system works. He then had a job directing a community organization to advocate for poor blacks in Chicago, then moved on to Harvard Law School, where he hopes to learn more about “the nuts and bolts of how the system works” so he can return to public interest work or electoral politics.

Yet it was not all roses. The March 12, 1990 article in the Chicago Tribune noted also some controversy regarding Obama:

Yet some of Obama’s peers question the motives of this second-year law student. They find it puzzling that despite Obama’s openly progressive views on social issues, he has also won support from staunch conservatives. Ironically, he has come under the most criticism from fellow black students for being too conciliatory toward conservatives and not choosing more blacks to other top positions on the law review.

He Does Get Along With Some Liberals, and Brownback Too

“He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,” said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. “His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).”

A decade and a half later, the divide is not racially based, but the antagonism still comes from many liberals, though by no means all. The Nation yesterday summed up the divide over Obama on the left thusly:

How you view Obama’s appeal to Republicans and Independents in large part determines what you think of his unity message. Some people think Obama, through the sheer force of his empathy and skills as a communicator, would broaden the political landscape and convince moderate Republicans and Independents to back progressive policies they ordinarily wouldn’t go for.

Matt Yglesias of The Atlantic summed up the appeal thusly, “He says he’s not one of those liberals, he doesn’t call people ‘wingnuts,’ he understands the conservative point of view, blah blah blah, and then here comes his agenda of tax hikes, tons of new spending, ambitious carbon emissions curbs, less invading of other countries for no reason, gay equality, etc. And, remarkably, you keep seeing conservatives eat it up, discerning something incredibly ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ in a combination of conventional liberal policy views with vaguely conciliatory rhetoric.” Those in this camp believe Obama could be a Democratic version of Ronald Reagan. Think: Obama Republicans.

Other liberals, like Krugman, are suspicious of Obama’s inclusionary rhetoric. “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.” Those like Krugman tend to agree with John Edwards, who says the only way to reduce corporate power in Washington is to “give ’em hell.”

The argument between the Obama camp and Krugman over mandates and tactics is consuming a lot of people on the left. Clinton has run fliers touting what Krugman has said, and Obama has responded by citing a change in tone on Krugman. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek weighed in on Krugman calling for a modern day FDR by taking a historical look at FDR.

In order to beat Hillary Clinton [continued at]