October 1, 2005

The Amba-Althouse dialogue about Barack Obama.

Yesterday, Ambivablog gushed over Barack Obama's written justification for voting against John Roberts. You know what I think about the Senators who voted no:
[In my front page persona] As to those 22 Democrats who voted no, they have openly embraced an ideological view of the Court from which they can never credibly step back. For them, appointing Supreme Court Justices is a processes of trying to lock outcomes in place, and we shouldn't believe them if in the future they try to say otherwise.

[In my comments persona] Roberts is ... stunningly, brilliantly qualified. You can't vote against what he is without permanently branding yourself an ideologue who does not respect judicial independence. I'm disgusted with all 22 of those characters. They have abused their constitutional power, and I won't forget it when they run for President.
Well, Amba had read all that too, yet somehow thought she could convince me to view Obama as distinctly different from those other no voters. She emailed me, and we had an exchange, which she's now rendered in dialogue form and set out in an update. It goes like this:
AG: Have you seen Sen. Obama's statement on why he voted against Roberts? Like you, I tarred him with the same brush the Democrat pack deserved, but after reading this statement I regret it.

AA: Nothing stood out to me in that other than that it was incredibly verbose. I can't tell from your post what exactly impressed you, and you cut and pasted so much of his windy prose.

AG: Chacun a son gout, I guess. . . . which is to say, I didn't find it so verbose. I might have edited it a little, maybe. His writing, and speechwriting, has always seemed to me to achieve clarity without sacrificing complexity. So that's just my taste in style -- I'm more verbose than you myself, right?

What impressed me about it was his civility and collegiality towards those with opposing views (rare enough among Dems). And though the concerns he expressed were the conventionally liberal ones, he's got a point about the company Roberts has kept and he's got a point about the minority of cases where there's inevitably more involved than judiciousness, and even more than ideology.

AA: To me, it doesn't matter what the written justifications his lawyers wrote out are. Those are not the actual reasons. As writing, it amounts to the same blather I heard throughout the hearings. In no way does he stand out in a special way. And the chances those are his words are close to zero.

It's written the way judicial decisions are written, saying what is appropriate, revealing nothing of what is inappropriate. I have to spend my life reading things like that. It comes across as entirely generic to me. I'm sure he has excellent lawyers and speechwriters working with him, setting up his career. They take the tone that it is advantageous to take. The bottom line for me is what it is for all of the no-voting Senators. There was no decent reason to oppose him.

AG: I'm surprised at the intensity of your venom. And from what I have heard of Obama from fellow Chicagoans who know him, he writes his own stuff.

AA: I'm supposed to believe political speeches at face value? I'm not venomous, just realistic.

AG: The "they" who are "setting up his career," then, are a lot smarter than the average Democrat's handlers, as they seek to put a moderate spin even on his liberalism, if you insist on seeing it all as spin. If that's the tone it's now advantageous to take, that's good news.

Maybe I'm terribly naïve in wanting at least a few politicians to be genuine and sincere. Lindsey Graham is the other one who gives me that, possibly false, impression. or do you think only Democrats are phonies?

AA: I think they all present a false surface, just like judicial opinions. It's my job to look through that and I've been practicing for a quarter of a century.

AG: [being more verbose, true to form] That may be true, but some ring falser than others. I don't know what the cues are, and it would be interesting to hear what an analyst of body language, vocal tone, and facial cues has to say, but a few politicians give an impression of being present and being themselves when they talk, which in turn suggests sincerity and integrity. Are they just the slickest, the best performers of the bunch? (Do they say "That ought to hold the little bastards" when they think the mike has been turned off?) Or is our innate ear for this too keen to fool? I don't know.

AA: Are you sure you're not a fan of the guy? I'm a fan of no politician. I'm sure plenty of them are decent enough as they ply their trade, and I'm willing to believe Obama is decent enough, but he's an ambitious man with a highly skilled staff.

AG: [red-faced] "Fan"? The word wouldn't have occurred to me in connection with politicians. I am guilty of getting my hopes up when somebody plays the game with a little more class and independence than usual. Both Graham and Obama have impressed me that way, so it's not about party or ideology, in fact it's about independence from slavish adherence to party or ideology (which can coexist with loyalty).
I'm sure all the politicians have some measure of individual character mixed in with their ideology and party loyalty and that the proportions vary from politician to politician. And I'm interested, to some extent, in trying to discern the proportions. I just find a press release or a speech written by someone on the staff to be very weak evidence. Even if the Senator wrote the material himself, on this occasion he's got a job to do, justifying what I regard as an unjustifiable vote. That can at most demonstrate lawyerly writing skills. Suffice it to say, there's a limit to how much that sort of thing can impress me.


Sloanasaurus said...

I think Obama and others voted no because certain constituencies demanded it in terms of funding. It is clear that the big money on the democratic side comes from the left (i.e. George Soros/unions..) and the distribution of the money is controlled by fewer decision makers. In contrast, money on the right comes from all over the place in the large republican tent (i.e. corporations and many more medium sized donations). Consequently, those on the right may have less money pressure to tow the party line (they obviously still have political pressure).

Karl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
amba said...

One of my commenters said "If a person cannot find something deeply worthy of admiration on both sides of the political spectrum, that person is not a centrist." I thought that was a pretty good definition of a centrist, but to an ideologue of either stripe that would indeed look like a "noncomittal, middle of the road fence sitter."

Karl said...

[Repost for spelling/grammar]

As a resident of Hyde Park and a student at the UofC, I had many occasions to meet Mr. Obama. His statement regarding his vote stands out only in that it might hint that he actually has an opinion on a subject where people disagree. He is the most non-committal, middle of the road, fence sitter I've ever met. His lifelong goal (besides 1600 Penn) is to never express an opinion that someone in his constituency might dislike.

Your interlocutor reminds me of someone who gushed over Clintonian faux-dialectic. Obama will be the next great hope of the Democratic party, let's just hope we still remember the mirad ways Clinton was a failure when Obama pours himself into that mold.

Frank from Delavan said...

"Maybe I'm terribly naïve in wanting at least a few politicians to be genuine and sincere. Lindsey Graham is the other one who gives me that, possibly false, impression. or do you think only Democrats are phonies?"

Hey, I grew up during Daly the Elder's reign in Chicago. For some reason the pols thought I was possible material and sent me to Boy's state one summer, where we learned how Politics is really made.

I know where an ex oil man is coming from and am happy with that. It's a lot less phony than the "I care about the downtrodden" approach of the Kerrys and Kennedys.

vbspurs said...

He is the most non-committal, middle of the road, fence sitter I've ever met.

After having read his autobiography, Dreams from my Father, I considered that one of the best autobios I've ever read -- and in my life, I've read hundreds, possibly thousands.

I'm not sure what he has to offer, but eloquence, and clarity in speech-making he has in abundance.

His lifelong goal (besides 1600 Penn) is to never express an opinion that someone in his constituency might dislike.

This issues website, which I have used in the past to help me orient myself on politicians' stances, would seem to negate that.

He's rabidly pro-Affirmative Action, he's anti the war on Iraq, and has a thing about big business and corporations.

The website says he's a Populist-leaning Liberal.

In a nutshell, he's not someone I would consider voting for as President of the US one day.


Tom Strong said...

I'm a fan of no politician.

Consider this post to be a Russ-Feingold-shaped raised-eyebrow.

amba said...

Karl, don't remove the post again, but let's remember the myriad ways Clinton was a failure -- this from someone with the idiot-savant spelling gene.

amba said...

And, Sloanasaurus, while I'm being a schoolmarmish pain in the ass, I really wish people would write "toe the line."

Here's a fantastic list of most of those common errors ("I poured [pored] over the manuscript" -- don't get it wet! -- "the Mongol hoards [hordes]"). This one isn't on it, though! It will be soon.

Robert Holmgren said...

ON Friday I listened to speeches by two Chicago politicians to a group entering a youth service corps. Senator Dick Durban lead off with a message that used flooding in New Orleans to make some sort of dry and forgettable point. In sharp contrast, Mayor Richard Daly used his time to alert the assembled media to this fine generation of volunteers about to provide service to Chicago schools. It was memorable, to the point and impassioned. And served as a reminder of what some politicans are capable of doing in their finest moments.

John said...

I hate to be a fence sitter, but I think both views of Obama have their truths.

First, Obama is a highly intelligent, very articulate man, and I personally think that he believes much, perhaps not all of what he says. He also seems to be a very likeable guy.

HOWEVER, as a health-care attorney in Illinois, I cannot but help that remember that he was the sponsor of one of the most ill-advised hospital bills in history: "The Hospital Discriminatory Pricing Reform Act." Look up SB 1579 in the last Illinois Legislative session if you want to read it for yourself. The SEIU (Service Employees' International Union, which just split from the AFL since it wasn't activist enough) dictated the text of the law to then State-Senator Obama. (For those unfamiliar with the SEIU, it is, and has been for several years, engaged in an effort to unionize the hospitals of Illinois and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal).

While I understand, and even to some extent agree with the healthcare pricing issues, it most certainly cannot be all laid at the hospitals' feet.

What I find reprehensible (and has severely reduced my respect for Obama) is his blatant kowtowing to the special interests of the SEIU. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that's his modus operandus as a politician. I voted for him, but a part of that was because his opponent was simply unpalatable to me both personally and politically.

And, interesting note, this bill, and the edited version negotiated by the Illinois Hospital Association has died now that it's not an election year and Obama is not in the Illinois Senate anymore.