Barack Obama: The Great Vague Hope

The season of predictability is once again upon us. Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois and current liberal hope in 2008, has come out in favor of universal healthcare. In a speech at the Families USA Conference on January 24th Obama proclaimed:


Plans that tinker and halfway measures now belong to yesterday…There will be many others offered in the coming campaign, and I am working with experts to develop my own plan as we speak, but let’s make one thing clear right here, right now: In the 2008 campaign, affordable, universal healthcare for every American must not be a question of whether, it must be a question how.


Obama, while freely admitting a righteous public cynicism on the health care issue, says that the time is imminent to pass a plan to be in place by the end of the next president’s first term. While it may be understandable for the public to react with further cynicism to am unstated plan to in place six years from now, Obama’s speech should be seen as the latest attempt by Democrats to entice a frustrated public while not offering a coherent strategy and avoiding at all costs the phrase “national health care” (Rep. Dennis Kucinich is an honorable exception). 


It should be remembered that only a very short time before Obama’s breakout speech at the Democratic Convention of 2004, Howard Dean, formerly something of a conservative Democrat, was the preferred choice of liberals while running a thin campaign based almost entirely on tone rather than policy. He too promised universal health care without details or going national. And of course who could forget Hillary Clinton’s mangled HMO dominated plan of the mid 1990s.


However healthcare isn’t the only are where Obama is choosing his words carefully. In the Middle East, particularly Palestine, it is not at all clear where Obama stands, or worse yet, perhaps it’s all too clear. While some give Obama belated credit for opposing the President’s “surge” in Iraq- on January 30th Obama introduced legislation in the Senate that targets the potential withdrawal of all American combat brigades from Iraq by March 8th 2008, it should be noted that this coincides with poll numbers, as well as a midterm election, that show the public’s disgust with the war. The only other press release on Obama’s webpage regarding Iraq dates from June 2005 that far from being anti-war reads:


I believe the President must take a realistic look At our current strategy and reshape it into an aggressive And workable plan that will ensure success in Iraq…More than 1700 have already paid the ultimate price for our country.  What we owe them in return is a clear, viable plan for success  that will bring our soldiers home to their families as soon as possible.


Based on the above, the Obama of less than two years ago may not be Dick Chaney, however nor is he George McGovern. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Obama did not have a vote in the Senate at the time of the invasion making any claims of current dissent easier.    


 Still Obama’s view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict truly leaves a lot to be desired. A recent trip to the region yielded nothing more than a short statement about the need for mutual humility on both sides (asking an occupied people for humility is surely a modern idea).  One searches in vain through Obama’s runaway bestseller The Audacity of Hope to find some analysis on the conflict. It’s not until the nearly the end of the book when there is a single page of more of the same tripe about America’s obligation to become more “involved” and for a moment Obama absurdly ponders “the possible futility of believing that this conflict might somehow end in our time or that America, for all its power, might have any lasting say of the course of the world”. Obama writes as if anyone with half an education doesn’t know that American policy in the region enforces and funds the awful status quo in Palestine he claims to lament or the oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.     


Another interesting oversight on Obama’s webpage is any statement or press release during (or after) the Israeli war with Lebanon the past summer; and this from a man considered quite loquacious. However the Haartz webpage quotes Obama as saying one-sidedly, “I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.” It seems Obama, perhaps observing the hysteria surrounding Jimmy Carter, is at the very least careful not to offend the wrong crowds.    


Pragmatics may argue that it’s too harsh to point to Obama’s support for unjust tort reform, and at least his qualified support for “free” trade or to recognize that Joe Lieberman is proudly considered his political mentor; indeed Obama even supported Lieberman against Democratic primary winner and anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in Connecticut’s Senate race. After all Obama has come out in favor of stem-cell research and can work a political room as well as Bill Clinton (Obama largely praises Clinton in The Audacity of Hope). Perhaps there is a tiny chance for Obama to become a truly progressive candidate; however it would be a fine thing if liberals and progressives would at least demand nothing less and not surrender without a fight to the phony charms of resurgent Clintonism.   



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