Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama's position shifting?

I see Obama's changing (or "fine-tuning" if you prefer) of some of his positions constantly getting described as an example of him "swinging to the centre" and pivoting away from positions supposedly held only by his "left-wing base". Longtime blogger Glenn Greenwald has ably demonstratedhow inaccurate this framing is, on the specific question of withdrawing from Iraq: the supposedly "leftist fringe" position of setting a timetable for withdrawal within 1 to 2 years is actually preferred by nearly 60% of the American population.

I do believe that Barack Obama's position has...finessed on several issues. On the recently passed FISA legislation, it has definitely actually changed, from opposition to support. I do believe that this has been a calculated move intended to shore up support, but I don't think it's intended to shore up support amongst "centrist" voters, or any voters at all, for that matter. I think it's an attempt to shore up support among what some American bloggers call "the Beltway Elite": Washington insiders.

It may seem like blasphemy to an American to point out that their political system isn't a perfect democracy, and that prospective candidates need to accomodate power-centres that exist independently of, even in opposition to, the power wielded by the voting public. But given that their Congress now has an approval rating of just 9%, the lowest ever, and that the same poll shows that 72% of Americans believe members of Congress are more interested in furthering their own careers than in helping people, it may be more believable than it used to be.

To the extent that Obama's redefining himself, I suspect it's not a case of swinging away from the "left wing base" to the "centre", but away from the voting public to the Beltway Elite. This is probably necessary - I recall reading a blog claiming that George McGovern lost against that crook Richard Nixon because McGovern's own party hated him and worked against getting him elected - but it's still frustrating. And I do wish more people would call it what it is - placating the powerful - rather than constantly mischaracterising it as being based on what actual voters want.

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