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Monday, February 25, 2008

Not the Best Argument

The war of words in the Democratic nomination contest has taken a turn for the absurd. In an ongoing debate, Hillary Clinton is accusing her opponent of using words. Oddly, she hasn't done this in pantomime. "There's a big difference between us -- speeches versus solutions," Clinton told supporters in Ohio earlier this month. "Talk versus action. You know, some people may think words are change. But you and I know better. Words are cheap." Do I really need to point out that these are all words themselves?

Clinton seems to be using (or, rather, trying to use) a page from Karl Rove's slash-and-burn campaign field manual. The Bush/Rove strategy had always been to attack opponents on their strengths, so Clinton is taking the fight to Obama's rhetorical skills. The problem is that, while Bush was able to cast doubt on John Kerry's war hero bona fides, you really can't make people doubt Obama's skills as an orator. All he has to do is open his mouth and it's right there -- the argument dies a painful death.

Besides, the idea that Barack Obama's just a font of empty rhetoric is easily shot down. All you have to do is look at his record and his bio.

Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post:

During the course of our endless presidential campaigns, lots of silly things are said by the candidates and the press. But few are more ridiculous than the idea that Barack Obama is just an empty suit.

We're talking here about a former president of the Harvard Law Review. Have you ever met the people who get into Harvard Law School? You might not choose them as friends or lovers or godparents to your children, but -- trust me on this -- there aren't many lightweights there. And Obama was chosen by all the other overachievers as top dog. Compared with the current leader of the free world, this guy is Albert Einstein.

Given his youth and relatively short time in government, it's fair to ask if Obama has the wisdom and experience to be president. But it's quite another to suggest that he has no vision, no program, no specifics.

In fact, that line of criticism invites a comparison in which Hillary Clinton doesn't fair all that well. In two years as a Senator, Obama has authored 152 bills which have passed. Meanwhile, in the six years Clinton has been in office, she's authored and passed 20 (research doublechecked here). For someone who's making noise about results, this is a pretty poor showing.

And Obama fares better not only on what he works on, but in who he does that work for. In this congressional session, Hillary Clinton was responsible for $110,520,000 in defense earmarks, while receiving $378,660 from earmark recipients.

Obama, meanwhile, created $3,300,000 in earmarks and accepted $97,250 from earmark recipients. And, when you look at who benefitted from those earmarks, it's hard to fault him for them -- $1,300,000 to Gas Technology Institute for research into hydrogen fuel cells, $1,000,000 to Illinois Institute of Technology for Hybrid Technology Conversion Kits for military Humvees, and $1,000,000 to Chicago State University for "Fuel Cells for Mobile Robotic Systems Project." Earmarks for green tech?

I'll take it.

On the argument that Obama's presidential campaign is nothing but words, without specifics, I'd argue that it's absurd to believe that a major presidential candidate could get away with not having any plans. Barack Obama has a 64 page Blueprint for Change (PDF). This spells out his positions and plans on issues ranging from healthcare to defense to Iraq to poverty to veterans. The argument that Obama offers nothing but empty rhetoric is false.

The fact is that words matter. Every action begins with words; it is planned with words, it is conveyed with words -- in a nation of laws, the result is words. And those words matter.

Leonard Pitts, Jr., Miami Herald:

The chief executive's power does not derive solely from the authority vested in him by the Constitution. To the contrary, it derives also, and in some ways, more so, from his ability to rally the people, to inspire them in some great challenge or crusade. We do not live - yet - in a dictatorship. Americans do not move because they are told to move. They move because they are inspired to. It is no accident that history's most successful presidents are the ones who were able to frame, with concision and grace, America's challenges and hopes, the ones who had greatest command over what Theodore Roosevelt famously called "the bully pulpit."

Think Ronald Reagan saying government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem. Think Franklin Roosevelt declaring that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Think Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg vowing a new birth of freedom.

Now, try to remember anything Millard Fillmore ever uttered. A hundred years from now, will anyone still be saying, "I'm the decider"?

In politics, words are actions. And the argument that someone can get anything done without being good with them is not a good one.


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1 comment:

Victoria Marinelli said...

On point, and very helpfully concrete. (And the pantomime bit = hilarious!) Thanks.