Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama and the Inability to Change

Some of Obama's remarks at a closed fundraiser in San Francisco have created a huge controversy. To be frank, I'm not in a position to judge what he said was true or not, as I know next to nothing about small-town America. But what's clear is this:

You cannot simply speak your mind in campaigns. You cannot pose competing aspects of an issue and hope the audience would appreciate their complexity. The only thing you can do is to follow party lines and talk in black and white terms.

Take trade for example. On the campaign trail, Obama is an out and out fighter against free trade. He has attacked Clinton hard on her and her husband's role in having ratified NAFTA. Yet in his book Audacity for Hope, he expressed conflicted feeling towards NAFTA and appreciated the complexity in the issues.

In the same book, he described the need to raise money from rich liberals, whose ideals are not quite aligned with working class Americans. Yet he expressed his commitment to the cause of the underprivileged nonetheless. In reality, it has proven to be not that easy to quiet that conflict.

Then there were the incidents of his aids talking about his real feelings on NAFTA to the Canadians and schedule to withdraw from Iraq to the British.

You see, Obama is trying to do the honest thing: to acknowledge the complexity of policies, to avoid the politics of misleading simplicity, to change. But time and again, he could not help but join the same game with the same tactics. Just today he mocked Clinton for things as trivial as a shot of whiskey followed by a beer at an Indiana bar. He begins to learn that only simple black and white slogans can survive election season, and people have no patience for nuance.

Why? The reason may be that it is not entirely up to the candidate; it may very well be the people. Many of Obama's supporters are out to tear Clinton down -- means of old politics -- in name of supporting Obama's new ones.

Now Clinton is not above the fray by any means, and that's exactly the point: Obama is not any different from Clinton, and is not a new messiah as has been portrayed so far. He is yet another politician.

I agree with Obama's view that issues are complex yet politics are made dishonestly simple. But I disagree that simply promising change should be enough for him to become the next nominee, because that promise may just be empty, as the candidate himself starts to find out.

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