Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Daniel Larison criticizes Obama on diplomacy:
Nonetheless, his sane willingness to ease travel restrictions to Cuba and his willingness to meet with leaders of Syria and Iran have been evidence that some small good might come from an Obama foreign policy, deeply flawed as it otherwise is. However, this symbolic blunder at his Houston campaign office feeds into a narrative that Obama is not just taking different, defensible views on how the United States should conduct its foreign policy, but that he is, or at least members of his campaign are, somehow sympathetic to some of these regimes.
The "blunder" is some Texas Obama staffer having a Che flag in her office. Srsly. Larison frequently assails Obama for his lack of substance, but here he holds out hope that a minor screw-up will "feed into a narrative," all policy considerations notwithstanding, and help take the big blowhard down.

Well, like the man says, there has never been anything false about hope. But you have to wonder why Larison doesn't think someone can beat Obama with better policies.

And Larison's one of the brighter bulbs. I notice that most of the Obama's-all-talk accusations going around are themselves pathetically slight. Here's a typical one from Megan McArdle at The Atlantic: "I don't believe that Obama is going to change Washington, eliminate lobbying, etc. I wish he wouldn't tell me things that I can't possibly believe--and moreover that I can't really understand anyone believing."

(Humorously, this moves McArdle's colleague Matthew Yglesias to applaud her deep thinking: "She's not snorting with derision. She's listening. She thinks it's inspiring. Meanwhile, like anyone who writes about political and economic issues for a living, her opinions on these things are much more fixed and coherent than are the average American's." Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing: I couldn't have typed out that last bit without thinking I had somehow hallucinated it.)

The Obama site has a section on issues. Voters may easily compare it to John McCain's or anyone else's. It's just not true that in Obama's case there's nothing to discuss.

The question is: how much attention will voters give to these issues, and how much will they give to what Larison calls narrative?

There's a tendency among poli-sci wiseguys to assume that if a candidate is rhetorically effective, he must be putting one over on the rubes. Of course Americans are susceptible to stirring words, which under the right circumstances may lead them to attend the big picture more keenly than the fine print. I recall that the soaring speeches of Reagan helped convince people that government power should be ceded to private interests. Three Republican Presidents (and one quasi-Republican President) and innumerable scandals and botches later, the zeitgeist may be flowing the other way.

The folks who find Obama's rhetoric insubstantial haven't yet come up with a convincing explanation for its power. If it's nothing, shouldn't you be able to beat it with something? Like a thousand more years in Iraq, or permanent tax cuts?

You might have a hard time seeing it amidst all the jabber, but maybe there's something going on here besides talk.

UPDATE. Commenter Righteous Bubba points out that Larison doesn't mind when citizens hoist the flag of a more overt enemy of the Republic.

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