Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Why are Matt Stoller and the Netroots Wrong about Obama?"

The State We're In (PA):
Matt Stoller’s recent post on Obama crystallized some thoughts which I’ve been forming over the last few months. Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece today provided further insights.
I have always been something of a hands-on intellectual adventurer. I love to learn about new subjects and new areas of human interest. Each time I have approached a new field I find the same phenomenon. Those who have been inside an industry or field – even the very best of the experts – are often blinded in some respects by their proximity to the problem and by their sense of history.

So I have approached my recent involvement in politics – which was inspired by Barack Obama’s run for President – the same way I approach all new fields of study. I jumped right in with both feet and started learning from those with greater experience. I have read pretty much every post on any blog that has an “obama” keyword. I came across Open Left just after it started and have read everything that has been posted there since that time.

As anyone who reads him regularly knows, Matt has only fairly recently and begrudgingly come around to the idea of Barack Obama as even potentially best Democratic candidate. I’m not sure where he currently stands but I believe it most likely that he, like kos, feels Obama may be the better candidate only because John Edwards does not have enough money to make a serious run against Hillary. So they offer only their tepid support.

So here’s what has been puzzling me as an outsider: it is clear that the leading progressive bloggers – and one must certainly view kos and Matt Stoller as among the smartest among them – are not happy with Obama. Yet, I am certain that Obama represents the vehicle for the dreams of the progressive bloggers who don’t like him too much. Why the disconnect? Why do some of the smartest people in politics not recognize what seems to me to be so obvious?

It dawned on me today that they are making two common strategic errors.

First, the strategic error of fighting the last war. If politics is a battle between two sides, then one should concentrate on maximizing advantage for one’s own side and damage to the other’s side. In the context of partisan politics this makes sense. I am sure that kos and Matt Stoller are keenly aware of all the blunders that caused their candidate to lose in the 2004 primaries and then their nominee to lose in the general election. Further, it doesn’t take much scrutiny of the current Congress’s Democratic leadership to find many serious flaws in both strategy and tactics.

So believing that Obama is merely the latest in a line of would-be generals for the current war, the Netroots see him as weak and his message of unity as one that will ultimately prove ineffectual. They bear the scars from warring against a ruthless Republican machine that has repeatedly beaten their best generals – both Gore and Kerry, not to mention Pelosi and Reid – and they fear that Obama is simply not up to the fight ahead of him. The Netroots are too concerned with tactics and battle strategy but they are missing the larger picture.

The Netroots has made the second strategic error by not sufficiently considering Grand Strategy. It is often much harder to fight an enemy in battle than it is to cut their supply lines. An enemy that has lost the will to fight can be beaten easily. Sometimes the strongest strategy is to fight on another battlefield altogether.

Consider Alexander the Great. Casual study might seem to indicate that it was superior fighting capabilities in battle that gave the Macedonian warriors their edge and that ultimately led to Alexander’s great conquest. This perspective misses Alexander’s true genius entirely.

Alexander’s genius was not in winning battles – though in this he certainly was without equal in his day – his true genius was in his mastery of Grand Strategy. As he set forth to beat his enemy Darius of Persia, Alexander realized two important facts: first, that his Persian enemies controlled the Mediterranean seas and that his land-based Macedonian army was not a match for them on the open seas; and second, that he could not afford to leave enemies to his rear so he needed to subdue the entire Persian fleet to be successful. If he did not do so, then he risked having Darius land troops to his rear thereby cutting off his supply lines.

In order to subdue the Persian fleet he devised a strategy of capturing every single port in the eastern Mediterranean. He recognized that the superior Persian navy manned by skilled Phoenician sailors was dependent on port cities. He knew that the Persian fleet would surrender if they were left without any ports to obtain supplies. So starting with his crossing of the Hellesponte in 334 B.C.E. he captured Granicus, Miletus, Halicarnassus, Termessus, Tarsus, Antioch, Byblos, and Sidon. When he was unable to capture the island city of Tyre because he lacked the ships for a naval blockade, he spent many months building a causeway to cover the 1/2 mile distance out to the city. He did this because he knew that leaving the largest Phoenician port to his rear would only invite trouble in the future. Finally, after much hardship he captured Tyre and then proceeded to capture the Egyptian ports in the souther Mediterranean. Only after he had finally subdued all the ports in the eastern Mediterranean did he finally turn away from the sea towards Persia.

Finally, Alexander recognized that he would have a much easier time if he merely supplanted the rule of Persia so he allowed the Kings of the cities he conquered to remain in their positions as long as they swore loyalty to him. He did not attempt to replace their religion and gods as earlier conquerors had done. He recognized that his quarrel was with the leadership at the top and not with the people or with the vassals of Persia.

So Alexander built his great empire by acknowledging where he was strong and where he was weak and then setting out to neutralize his enemy’s strength.

Enter Barack Obama. If one were to start with the goal of dramatically changing our politics, of finally after 40 years of promises and little progress, finally attacking poverty, healthcare, and education; what would one do? First, you would need to neutralize the power of the entrenched interests. Then you need to establish clear superiority when you do fight.

Obama recognizes that power ultimately resides in the people themselves. No Senator or Representative who wishes to remain in office will knowingly buck the will of the people when that will is resolute and firm. Obama knows that any legislation that results from a clear mandate from the people will not be easily thwarted. He knows that you don’t get a clear mandate by fighting against a near majority of your “opponents.” You get a clear mandate by proposing ideas that make sense to the overwhelming majority of the people and by taking the time to explain why they are needed in clear terms that everyone can understand. This is a task for which Obama is uniquely qualified.

So Obama is not trying to win over the politicians of the far right so much as the people of left, right and middle who care about social issues like poverty, healthcare, and education. He is not triangulating for compromise’s sake when he talks about the need for all sides to pitch in to fight complex issues like urban poverty. He’s not trying to win conservative votes by telling inner-city leaders that part of the problem is teenage pregnancy and fathers who don’t support their children. He is not trying to win environmentalists by telling Detroit that they need to dramatically improve fuel efficiency. He is simply telling the truth.

Obama knows that the American people are ready for the truth, they are ready to pitch in and help, they are only looking for leaders who can show a way. After decades of stalemate and ever more sophisticated lies and bullshit, Obama knows that the simple truth will stand out and be recognized.

Telling the truth may not be as easy as delivering the latest poll-tested cheap shot, but it works much better in the long run. The hard work of solving a complex problem may not be as much fun as a quick fix, but the satisfaction of a tough job well accomplished tastes much sweeter.

Obama will win this election because he is the only candidate who respects and trusts the American people enough to tell them the truth. It is as simple as that.
Howie P.S.: Obama Defense Department, Part 2 from Robert Reich's "Krugman, the Times Oped Page, and Obama."

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Blogger Curtis Faith said...

I just added some more on Krugman specificaly at:

1:13 AM  

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