Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama the Politician a pretty good politician. Ryan Lizza's New Yorker article is a must-read, and an excellent piece of reportage:
Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. “You have the power to make a United States senator,” he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war.

Like many politicians, Obama is paradoxical. He is by nature an incrementalist, yet he has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda (energy independence, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq). He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game. He is ideologically a man of the left, but at times he has been genuinely deferential to core philosophical insights of the right.
One quibble: it appears that Lizza has given short shrift to the power of Emil Jones:
In the State Senate, Jones did something even more important for Obama. He pushed him forward as the key sponsor of some of the Party’s most important legislation, even though the move did not sit well with some colleagues who had plugged away in the minority on bills that Obama now championed as part of the majority. “Because he had been in the minority, Barack didn’t have a legislative record to run on, and there was a buildup of all these great ideas that the Republicans kept in the rules committee when they were in the majority,” Burns said. “Jones basically gave Obama the space to do what Obama wanted to do. Emil made it clear to people that it would be good for them.” Burns, who at that point was working for Jones, was assigned to keep an eye on Obama’s floor votes, which, because he was a Senate candidate, would be under closer scrutiny. The Obama-Jones alliance worked. In one year, 2003, Obama passed much of the legislation, including bills on racial profiling, death-penalty reform, and expanded health insurance for children, that he highlighted in his Senate campaign.
Compare this with the earler Todd Spivak article for the Houston Press:
Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama's. He became Obama's ­kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio ­program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

"He said, 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"

"Oh, you are? Who might that be?"

"Barack Obama."

Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
There's a certain difference in emphasis, isn't there?

All things considered, I have to say that I have come away from Obama's lurch right on almost all issues enormously reassured. This is a man with a lot to learn, but the rate at which he learns it and applies it is simply uncanny. More than just a gifted politician, he appears to be a genuinely gifted manager as well. I'm not wild about his politics but the good news is that Obama himself isn't particularly wild about his politics. He knows what he'd like to do but he also is emminently practical. His election will certainly usher in an era of much more liberal legislation than we've been used to. But the man listens to reason. That will be refreshing.

Note that I'm talking as if Obama's election is a foregone conclusion. It's not, quite, but McCain's showing so far has been abysmal. If his management of his campaign is a proxy for his management skills in general, we should worry about a McCain Presidency.

I added a "management skills" row to my little spreadsheet. That, plus revision of Obama up in several categories while revising McCain down, now puts Obama ahead for the first time in the Race For the Radically Moderate Vote:

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