Selling Out a Movement to Get Elected?

Posted: Jul 08, 2008 9:22 AM

Bob Herbert's NY Times column today proves some liberals are upset with Obama's shifting positions:

"Only an idiot would think or hope that a politician going through the crucible of a presidential campaign could hold fast to every position, steer clear of the stumbling blocks of nuance and never make a mistake. But Barack Obama went out of his way to create the impression that he was a new kind of political leader — more honest, less cynical and less relentlessly calculating than most.


This is why so many of Senator Obama’s strongest supporters are uneasy, upset, dismayed and even angry at the candidate who is now emerging in the bright light of summer.

One issue or another might not have made much difference. Tacking toward the center in a general election is as common as kissing babies in a campaign, and lord knows the Democrats need to expand their coalition.

But Senator Obama is not just tacking gently toward the center. He’s lurching right when it suits him, and he’s zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that’s guaranteed to cause disillusion, if not whiplash."

Clearly, Barack Obama is upsetting some members of his base by changing positions.  Perhaps the most damaging aspect of this is how it will likely demoralize some of his idealistic young supporters, who actually believed he was a "new brand" of politician.  But my guess is that after eight years of Bush, most Democrats want victory so bad that most of them will overlook Obama's shifting positions -- even though it goes to the heart of his very raison d'etre.

And clearly, moderates and independents will be more comfortable with Obama the further to the center he comes.

As such, it is reasonable to conclude that Obama's shifting positions (when it results in his becoming more conservative) will make him more electable -- not less

I would argue that this is true.  But the question is; does Obama merely want to get elected -- or does he want to lead a movement?  Because in becoming more electable, he also risks becoming less transformative.

Ronald Reagan's communications skills helped get him elected, but it was the fact that he truly believed in things that gave him an enduring appeal.  Bill Clinton's triangulation helped him get elected twice, but left him without much of a positive legacy.  The interesting thing is that Obama clearly knows this, based on his "controversial" acknowledgement that: "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America ... in a way that Bill Clinton did not."

Barack Obama may get elected by shifting his positions, but it will be a temporal sort of success...