Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be battling for survival when Ohio and Texas went to the polls? How on earth did Barack Obama get so far. To me, the excerpt below holds part of the answer:
My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable,” and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone’s greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives. [My emphasis.]
This is from a post Obama wrote on Daily Kos in September 2005. I find it remarkable both for the fact that he chooses to engage with bloggers and blog readers on their own turf, and for the content of the post. Here he is, in these polarized times, insisting that the other guy is not a bad guy, and that there are shades of gray everywhere. Is it any surprise that, as EJ Dionne writes, Obama has “changed the composition of the Democratic electorate by drawing in hundreds of thousands of voters under the age of 30”?
David Brooks has more on the subject in his piece, A Defining Moment. He looks back to November 10, 2007, when Clinton and Obama spoke at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in De Moines, Iowa. “Hillary Clinton gave a rousing partisan speech,” Brooks writes, while “Obama created a vision of New Politics” by describing how “change bubbles from the bottom-up.” In other words, spontaneous order.
While Obama’s tone may be just right, what about his policies? Jagdish Bhagwati writes that “Obama’s free-trade credentials top Clinton’s”, but that isn’t saying much, and the rest of the world is worried, as Fareed Zakaria informs us. NAFTA remains a weak spot—here’s more on that from Mary Anastasia O’Grady.
And then there’s NAFTAgate. Obama’s senior economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, allegedly told some Canadian officials that Obama’s anti-NAFTA talk was just part of his pandering to Midwestern voters, and that he didn’t really believe in his own protectionist rhetoric. Obama’s campaign has been unconvincing in its denials—Byron York sums it up. Daniel Ikenson has more.
Clinton is, of course, milking NAFTAgate and the Tony Rezko affair as much as she can, fighting to the end. Roger Simon explains how “[s]he not only is vigorously attacking Barack Obama but simultaneously portraying herself as a victim.” And Jay Cost outlines how Clinton can still argue that she is the Democratic Party’s legitimate candidate.
Who do you think John McCain is supporting in today’s primaries? Stanley Fish says Obama; Chuck Todd says Clinton. If Obama and Clinton keep fighting like this for another few weeks, it won’t matter who McCain faces: Both Obama and Clinton will find it hard to mobilise the base, much of which opposed them bitterly while the primaries were on.
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