July 7, 2008  ·  Lessig

[breaking my "focus" injunction]:

All signs point to an Obama victory this fall. If the signs are wrong, it will be because of events last month. These events constitute a so-far-unnamed phenomenon in Presidential campaigning — what we could call “self-Swiftboating.” To understand “self-Swiftboating,” you’ve got to first understand “Swiftboating.”

Some use the term “Swiftboating” to refer to harsh, even vicious attacks on an opponent. I use the term in a more restrictive sense: “Swiftboating” is (1) attacking the strongest bits of a candidate’s character, with (2) false or misleading allegations. That was what Kerry suffered — attacking his courage as a soldier, the characteristic that distinguished him most from Bush, with misleading (at least) allegations by some who knew him when he served.

Self-Swiftboating is to Swiftboat yourself: For a campaign to do something that has the effect of undermining its own candidate’s strongest characteristic, with actions that are (at best) misleading. The Obama campaign has now self-Swiftboated candidate Obama.

(1) An attack on a core characteristic: There are at least two views about what makes Obama so compelling. One that he happens to have the mix of positions on policy questions that best matches the public’s. The other that he is perceived by the public as “different,” and hence (given the public hates politicians so) someone the public can like, or more significantly, get enthusiastic about.

I’m strongly in the second camp. It seems to me nothing more than consultant-think to imagine people choosing a President with a checklist of issues, finding the one to vote for the way they pick a place to vacation. It seems to me nothing less than obvious that people are passionate about Obama because he strikes them as a different kind of candidate — one that stands for his beliefs, that speaks clearly and directly, that can be trusted to stick by his beliefs, that says what he believes regardless. Such a creature, in most people’s minds, is “not a politician.” Such a creature (i.e., “not a politician”) is what people want in a President.

Democrats never seem to get this. The last two campaigns were lost (in my view) because the campaign was working overtime to bob and weave to match the program of the candidate to the pollsters’ latest work. That the shifts would signal that the candidate was nothing different just didn’t seem to compute. Better, for example, to have people believe the candidate (Kerry) was against gay marriage than to worry that most would see the position as a political ploy.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem obsessed with this. It was the defining feature of the success of Reagan that he made it appear as if he did what he believed, not what the polls said. It was the part Bush v2 mimicked best. It is the clear dream of the McCain campaign to do the same. “You may not like what I say, but at least you know where I stand” is the signal virtue in a GOP campaign. It is the signal blindness of a Democratic campaign.

I am not saying that Republicans are consistent and Democrats not. I am saying something very different: that Republicans believe appearing consistent/principled/different is the key to victory, where as Democrats (apparently) do not.

The Obama self-Swiftboating comes from a month of decisions that, while perhaps better tuning the policy positions of the campaign to what is good, or true, or right, or even expedient, completely undermine Obama’s signal virtue — that he’s different. We’ve handed the other side a string of examples that they will now use to argue (as Senator Graham did most effectively on Meet the Press) that Obama is nothing different, he’s just another politician, and that even if you believe that McCain too is just another politician, between these two ordinary politicians, pick the one with the most experience.

The Obama campaign seems just blind to the fact that these flips eat away at the most important asset Obama has. It seems oblivious to the consequence of another election in which (many) Democrats aren’t deeply motivated to vote (consequence: the GOP wins).

Instead, and weirdly, the campaign seems focused on the very last thing a campaign should be doing during a campaign — governing. This is not a try-out. A campaign is not a dry run for running government. Yet policy wonks inside the campaign sputter policy that Obama listens to and follows, again, apparently oblivious to how following that advice, when inconsistent with the positions taken in the past, just reinforces the other side’s campaign claim that Obama is just another calculating, unprincipled politician.

The best evidence that they don’t get this is Telco Immunity. Obama said he would filibuster a FISA bill with Telco Immunity in it. He has now signaled he won’t. When you talk to people close to the campaign about this, they say stuff like: “Come on, who really cares about that issue? Does anyone think the left is going to vote for McCain rather than Obama? This was a hard question. We tried to get it right. And anyway, the FISA compromise in the bill was a good one.”

But the point is that the point is not the substance of the issue. I’d argue until the cows come home that in a world where soldiers go to prison for breaking the law, the government shouldn’t be giving immunity to (generous campaign contributing) companies who break the law. But a mistake about substance is not why this flip is a mistake. I agree that a tiny proportion of the world thinks defeating Telco Immunity is important. The vast majority don’t even understand the issue. But what this perspective misses is just how easy it will be to use this (clear) flip in policy positions to support the argument “Obama is no different.” Here, and in other places, the campaign hands the other side kryptonite.

The issue cannot just be the substance alone. It has got to also be how a change on that substance will be perceived: And here (as with the other flips), it will be perceived in a manner that can’t help but erode the most important core of the Obama machine. It is behavior that attacks Obama’s strongest feature — that he is different. It is, therefore, Swiftboating.

Or at least, it is Swiftboating if it is false. So is it? Is the impression that this bobbing and weaving gives a misimpression? Or are we seeing, as the pundits are now beginning to chant, the true face of Obama?

(2) That is false or misleading: It is false. I know it is false because I believe I know the man, and because I know some inside the campaign struggling with these issues. I see them struggling to get it right. They are struggling, in short, to govern. The ones I know at least are not bobbing and weaving for political gain. They’re tuning the campaign as governing best requires. The flip on Telco Immunity gave Obama nothing, except the opportunity to do what he believes is right, in light of the compromises in the new bill. He acted to do what he believed was right. So the impression it gives — of a triangulator, tuning the campaign to the song of the polls — is misimpression. But that means it fits the definition of self-Swiftboating: The campaign sabotages its strongest characteristic, through steps that are misleading at best.

The campaign needs to stop this. This is not the time for governing. It is the time for making clear precisely what kind of President Obama will be. But in making that clear, it is critical to keep a focus on how actions are perceived. Will they signal a triangulator? Or will they signal a strong, principled man who stands for what he believes.

No doubt, compromise is the duty of anyone within government. But in the ADD culture we live in, compromise is poison to anyone trying to do what every politician now tries to do — appear not to be “a politician.” And thus if the oath to represent Illinois is getting in the way of signaling who Obama is, then maybe it is time to step away from being a Senator from Illinois. This is the time to keep the message focused on who (I know) this man is: someone different.

Hey HQ: You’ve got a guy who really stands for something (the tall thin guy, the one from Illinois). A man whose word really does matter. You’ve got to be extraordinarily careful not to give the other side the power to neutralize that.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    This analysis is a bit hyper-intellectual.

    On my view, a leader is a person with a vision. A visionary listens to everybody in order to figure out the best way to accommodate all interests (which sometimes means steamrollering some), but then makes a decision and sticks with it, at least until there’s new information to suggest that the vision or execution is wrong. Visionaries don’t need to be afraid of apparent contradiction so long as they remain true to their vision — or at least to their public description of it.

    A follower has no vision. A follower listens to everybody in order to figure out what to do. A follower will contradict himself or herself all the time because people conflict and self-contradict all the time.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Sigh … I guess in this comment, I will indulge my bitterness and cynicism.

    This is what I mean by being out of one’s area of expertise – how do you know the model you propose is TRUE, rather than just a story you would like to believe? I mean, pundits are in the business of making up appealing stories, that’s what they do for a living. It can all be the most arrant nonsense.

    Here’s the problem – when you say “But what this perspective misses is just how easy it will be to use this (clear) flip in policy positions to support the argument “Obama is no different.”". The problem is that if he DOESN’T “flip”, the Republicans will crucify him as pro-terrorist. So which is worse? Taking the “flip” hit, or the “pro-terrorist” hit? That’s a very hard calculation to make.

    Sure, you have a theory about it. But maybe that theory is wrong. Lots of people have theories, and they come out with different answers.

    Obama is not “different”, in the sense that he cannot by sheer force of personal will, escape the very narrow constraints imposed on him by the overall political system.

  • Sneeje

    No more hyper-intellectual than the use of the phrase “hyper-intellectual”. :)

    And, you can retain your vision and opinion while still compromising on an issue. That doesn’t make you a follower, it makes you an open-minded leader that understands the longer view–that achieving a vision is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I believe that Larry is simply pointing out that Obama’s campaign should pick their policy stands carefully so as not to compromise the longer view.

  • Sneeje

    No more hyper-intellectual than the use of the phrase “hyper-intellectual”. :)

    And, you can retain your vision and opinion while still compromising on an issue. That doesn’t make you a follower, it makes you an open-minded leader that understands the longer view–that achieving a vision is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I believe that Larry is simply pointing out that Obama’s campaign should pick their policy stands carefully so as not to compromise the longer view.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    @ Sneeje

    No more hyper-intellectual than the use of the phrase “hyper-intellectual”. :)

    Guilty as charged!

    And, you can retain your vision and opinion while still compromising on an issue.

    Respectfull, I disagree. A big enough vision will encompass enough people to avoid many compromises. For a truly visionary leader, the appropriate role for “open-mindedness” will rarely be in making revisions (see where the word came from?) to the vision; it will most often be in making adjustments to the execution of the vision.

    Here’s an analogy to manufacturing that product liability lawyers should enjoy. A good vision is like a good design. If executed well, then customers will love the product. (Look at Apple.) Making the product is hard enough. But without a good design, it’s hopeless.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Rather than be mysterious about it I’ll just come out and say that I think Obama’s vision encompasses classical liberalim in the tradition of John Stuart Mills. At some level, if Republicans have succeeded better than Democrats over the past few decades, it is because they have taken better advantage of the state-of-the-art theories of political economy than have Democrats.

    And to preempt some objections, I’ll just stipulate that most voters don’t know or care about theory. They also don’t have to. All they have to know is whether the person they’re voting for is going to help or hurt them. I’m arguing that the leader with the bigger vision wins because their vision — by definition — encompasses the self-interests of more people.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    In fact, thinking about it, I can come up with a pretty good argument that the above analysis is not correct.

    1) The “different” ship already sailed over his flip on public financing.

    2) He’d have to adhere to every one of his primary-battle positions otherwise any change at all would let the Republicans say he’s-not-different.

    Now, I know, the counter-argument would be that taking some costly hits would so impress the public with his “differentness” that they’d rush to vote for him. Nothing can be proven absolutely. But points #1 and #2 seem very strong to me.

  • http://aciel.livejournal.com John Woods

    It was in AP government in high school that I was taught that politicians always chart the far-left or far-right course during primaries and then journey to the center during the actual election. I think this teaching was both a poor model for reality and a useless thing for which to strive.

    Neoliberals seem to think that if they just show people the wisdom of the position people will vote for them, and that seems just wrong. It’s based on a hasty generalization–specifically from Bill Clinton’s pretty successful election campaign–which doesn’t seem to apply to most other politicians. In fact, as you say, the reverse seems to apply: people don’t vote for what they want, they vote for a person they think will not surprise them (i.e., will be consistent).

    Obama’s strength has been his consistency–until last month. I think he’s got a great deal of momentum from that and it might carry him through, but I kind of hope he figures out about the consistency thing before the election ends. I think it’s critical to his advocacy of a “new” politics.

  • http://afinerworld.blogspot.com B.Dewhirst

    Many thanks for this, Doctor.

  • http://dcdl.org KCinDC

    I mostly agree, but I think it’s a mistake for those who would prefer Obama to McCain as president to reinforce the McCain campaign’s “flip-flop” charge by exaggerating the amount of contradiction that has occurred. FISA is clearly a major reversal, but most of the other examples being bandied about (Iraq, for example) are questionable or entirely invented.

    Seth, if Obama’s unprecedented broadening of the donor base, involving far more voters than ever before in the funding and moving that funding much farther in the direction of small donors and away from fat cats, is not different, then what would be? Sabotaging his chances by embracing a severely flawed public financing system that would make it impossible for him to run the 50-state campaign necessary to bring real change?

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I am not overly impressed by the amount of difference of having not taken quite as much fat-cat money as others (though I realize it is important to those who do fundraising). The rest of your argument is just saying that the flip was the right thing to do. Same thing could be said for FISA – why waste political capital on a losing argument?

  • http://notauthoritative.wordpress.com NotAuthoritative

    Professor Lessig asks the Obama campaign to avoid “flips” by resisting the impulse to make governing decisions; to instead, speak in generalities (much as Supreme Court nominees do – look at the gap between their Congressional testimony and their subsequent actions) and be essentially a no-show Senator for the rest of the campaign. Of course the other advice could be to avoid “flips” by evaluating each potential decision in light of the candidate’s professed core values, and acting accordingly. By showing such a divide between principles and action, Obama reminds us too much of Bill Clinton, and our voting for Clinton for a second term simply because Bob Dole would have been such a disaster. How depressing it is to have to make that choice again – voting for Obama simply because McCain would be immeasurably worse.

    Candidate Obama can and should use every opportunity during the rest of the campaign to show us he’s on our side, in ways platitudes and generalities can’t. It’s hard to keep the message focused on “being different” – that’s just too vague to be of any value to anyone. Instead, the message should be “here’s how I’m different – in this way, this one, and this”. I think that people have rightly discounted heavily the assertions of candidates and campaigns when they describe in broad terms how they’d govern. We’ve heard that song too many times now from too many candidates, and prefer to draw our own conclusions based on the documented actions and decisions the candidates make and have made.That’s not consultant-think – that’s treating voters like grown-ups.

  • http://notauthoritative.wordpress.com Not Authoritative

    And lest I be misunderstood: I am not discounting the good intentions of the candidate and the campaign. Nor am I unimpressed with the care and effort they put into their deliberations. I simply find it depressing that despite the good intentions and the effort expended, we wind up with exactly the kind of decisions we disagree with. I think this June has been very instructive – it’s clear that if Obama really is “different” then he needs to surround himself with truly different advisors than the so-called “centrist” crowd (recycled Clinton Administration and DLC members) he’s currently relying upon.

  • Otto

    I am beginning to believe that the great popularity contest that is American democracy is largely to blame for the state of the country. As long as candidates are forced to cater their message to the vast majority of people who are unwilling, or unable, to study the real issues that face humanity, our elected officials will continue to make decisions that actively harm us.

    So, given that the world appears to have largely discounted dictatorial rule and that elected governments appear to trend towards corruption and self-perpetuation, how are we to deal with the “real” issues, such as the problems caused by unrestrained population growth on a planet with finite resources, the divisiveness of religion and nationalism, or the impossibility of predicating the economy on infinite growth, just to name a few?

    Obama appeared early on to be a candidate that I’d consider voting for, but since I’m one of those blighted few who actually cares about the constitutionality of warrantless wiretaps, he’ll likely lose my support as a result of this. I won’t vote for McCain, but voting for a 3rd party candidate or simply staying home in disgust are both strong possibilities at this point.

  • http://40yrs.blogspot.com Matthew G. Saroff

    So, you write, “I know it is false because I believe I know the man“, and George W. Bush believed that he saw Putin’s soul, and that he had a good one.

    I would argue that your intellectual contortions are difficult because you are attempting to convince yourself of the above.

    One of the most basic qualities required of a politician is to be able to impress people viscerally and quickly, and Barack Obama has that skill.

    As to whether he stands for anything, I voted present on abortion votes as a state senator when it was not necessary (solid Dem district), popped into the senate to vote for Boxer’s safe amendment on the “Moveon.org resolution”, but was out later that day when the full measure came up for a vote, etc.

    Let’s be clear. There are myriad ways in which the campaign can screw up, but in terms of backing away from abortion rights (saying in interviews that “Mental distress” is not enough for a late term abortion), endorsing the Supreme Court’s radical decision on the 2nd amendment, and flipping on FISA are not decisions of his campaign. They are his decision.

    Obama positions himself as post-partisan, but when one reviews what he says and does, I think that a more accurate definition is post ideological.

    His personality strikes a chord, and thus you go through contortions to explain away actions that run counter to yoursbut that is the essence of a post ideological candidate.

    I’ll still vote for him, but I expect to be disappointed, and you should expect the same.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Obama positions himself as post-partisan, but when one reviews what he says and does, I think that a more accurate definition is post ideological.

    This is the best counterargument to the Obama as classical liberal theory. But classical liberalism permits for the emergence of post-ideological leaders, so the theory is saved.

    On the other hand, classical liberalism also acknowledges that “post-partisan” people will inevitably become more partisan the longer they’re in positions of power that depend upon bundling together various factions of partisan support. Fortunately, since Roosevelt we’ve had term limits.

  • bnb

    I am firmly in the Nobama camp and I think he is nothing more than an opportunist, as evidenced by his flip flopping in the past weeks. He doesn’t care what he has to say or do, as long as he gets elected. There are numerous articles on the web that discuss Democrats in the Illinois Senate who say he received credit for their work in order to win election to the U.S. Senate.

    I personally think Obama is totally unprepared to be President, has no experience to justify being President, has no record to prove he will lead as he says he will, and is getting a free pass because he is black, good looking, and an eloquent speaker. The American Idol Presidency. To paraphrase Geraldine Ferraro said, a white candidate with his experience and credentials wouldn’t stand a chance of winning the nomination.

    I have nothing against a black candidate, having voted for one for President in the past, and I think the country is ready for a black President, just not THIS candidate.

    That being said, I think Obama could pretty much do or say whatever he wants and he will win. The economy is horrible, and the mood in this country is horrible, and Obama gets the benefit from that, even though both Democrats and Republicans are to blame, and his economic policies will make it worse. Obama also benefits from the Republicans nominating an honorable man, who is a horrible candidate as well. McCain being the nominee reminds me of Dole in 1996. An elder statesman who shouldn’t have been nominated and stands little chance of winning. McCain doesn’t energize and he can’t eloquently state his policies and why they would be better than Obama’s.

    Both major party candidates are horrible. This is what you get with big money politics (the system Barack will ‘fix’ after throwing it under the bus). So I think Obama will win, if you can call having to run the country for the next 4 years a “win.” Gas prices will go up, the war will go on, the economy will sludge on. The only benefit I can see for the next President is picking up to 3 Supreme Court justices.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    By the way, if you’re reacting so strongly to this relatively minor flip-flop – imagine how it’ll be after years and years of political sausage-making.

    The main reason Obama has looked so good is because he hasn’t had the necessity of disappointing many people yet.

  • http://johnsmentaldetritus.blogspot.com/ John J.

    Professor, I believe you, like the media and many on the progressive left, have fallen into the trap left by the right. You heard and saw what you wanted to see, and what the right acted like they saw, and ignored the words of Obama. This is most exemplified in the Iraq issue where he has always said it will be a measured draw down and that “We must be more careful getting out than we were careless going in.” Instead, many in the media and on the left heard what the right was saying — that he wants to pull troops out immediately. Those weren’t his words or his intentions, but the left let itself believe that.

    The same has happened with FISA to an extent (I haven’t read the compromise, so I can’t speak directly to anything in it other than the telcom immunity clause). He has shifted the balance of the issues here – the importance of removing the immunity vs. the general wiretapping reforms that the bill encompasses. Again, not knowing what those compromises and reforms entail, I can’t judge the rightness or wrongness of the support of those, but as you said in your post “The flip on Telco Immunity gave Obama nothing, except the opportunity to do what he believes is right, in light of the compromises in the new bill.”

    Do you really believe that he should do what is wrong, or at the very least what is less right (in his mind), just so he can say “I’ve been consistent”? This sort of mentality, of doing the wrong thing because that is what you said you would do, is why we are stuck in Iraq with no exit strategy. This mentality is why we have $4-$5/gal. gasoline while green energy has been all but starved for funding. This is the mentality that by moving away from it, being willing to see both sides and listen fairly, has earned my vote. Because Obama will do what is right, which on most issues I agree, even if it may hurt him, I am willing to trust my country and future to his presidency.

  • Mr. Bill

    1. If we apply Occam’s Razor to this situation, the conclusion is that Obama seems like a flipper because he is a flipper. Whether he does so strategically, or because he is inexperienced, does not matter. The fact is, he does not really know where he stands with sufficient clarity to present an integrated, and predictable, character.

    Predictability is key to peace. More wars and conflicts have started because our opponents misinterpreted the position our President took. Saddam misinterpretted the US response to invading Kuwait. Krushchev misinterpretted Kennedy’s character, and we got the missile crisis and its response from Kennedy, Vietnam.

    2. You are selling both Reagan and Bush short. When you say of Reagan he “made it appear as if he did what he believed”, you are illuminating how your own prejudice limits your perception. Unless you claim to be a mindreader.

    And Bush has been so true to his core beliefs that he has been labeled stubborn. But everybody knows where he stands, and consequently, there haven’t been any major surprises or oversteps by our opponents. That is far more valuable than being “popular.”

  • bnb

    Do you really believe that he should do what is wrong, or at the very least what is less right (in his mind), just so he can say “I’ve been consistent”?

    Everyone changes their view on some issue over time and no you shouldn’t put your head in the sand so you can say you’ve been consistent.

    But we aren’t talking about over time. We are talking about the course of 2 weeks. You don’t say you will filibuster FISA with telecom immunity one week, and then the next week say you support a bill that gives telecom immunity. That isn’t a change of heart. It is political expedience and flip flopping. Something Obama is doing at an alarming rate.

    Obama said he would have a 16 month withdrawl of troops. 16 months, an arbitrary number he came up with no discussions with military leaders or visits to Iraq to check on status. Now he says he may change his timetable. That isn’t consistent.

    You are drinking the kool aid to give Obama a free pass.

  • Dan

    Larry’s position here is straight out of Lakoff, and for that I applaud the sentiment. Also, Larry taught with Obama at U. of Chicago, so he knows him as a colleague, not simply as a pundit or even as a professional advisor.

    In fact, I do believe Obama is a different sort of politician, and I trust him to do the right thing when in office, to the extent that external events allow, and I trust him to adapt to changing circumstances. I don’t believe he is triangulating on the religion stuff, for example. He’s addressing the progressive sentiments that in fact do exist in some factions of religious communities, as Jimmy Carter wrote about two years ago. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing, by finding the common ground with those communities that he already agrees with. There’s no “flip” there, only the choice of time and place to talk about something that needs to be said in order for some of the swing vote to understand that he speaks their language.

    As for FISA, yeah, it would have been better if he were to stick to his guns on that. You’re right Larry, he needs to start acting like a presidential candidate and stop being a senator. He made what is probably a defensible move as a senator, given that just one senator may not have enough clout to do anything other than impale himself on his own sword. But a presidential candidate (one who is for all intents as purposes the nominee of his party by now) already has some bully pulpit to work with, and he needs to start acting presidential, rather than senatorial.

    None of this changes my vote, of course, but I’d definitely like to see him avoid the triangulation trap. The key to winning is to stay true to your values while finding the points of common ground that communicate to the audiences you are aiming for.

    There’s a fine line between common ground and triangulation, and the Republicans will try to make the case that even getting close to the line is evidence of crossing it.

    The other thing that crosses my mind is whether Obama might have been getting any messages through the ether or grapevine that telcos could fund a strong anti-Obama push if he crosses them during the campaign. Could this ultimately be about the money game?

  • http://dwaynephillips.net Dwayne Phillips

    But Obama IS just another politician from Chicago. He changes his speech to fit the audience and the situation. He has crooked real estate deals in his past. So does McCain (maybe no real estate, but I’m sure someone will find some crooked deals in his past).

    The difference (other than trivial things like date of birth)? Obama is (by his voting record) more liberal than McCain. So do you vote liberal or very liberal?

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    The phrase you want for McCain may be “Keating Five” scandal. Oh, McCain is not “liberal”, except if you define the term to mean “Not stark raving insane frothing rabid reactionary right-wing partisan”. Though some people do define it that way – and it’s sort of scary to realize. That’s what Obama has to deal with, why he might think it’s a good idea not to fight over FISA.

  • bnb

    In fact, I do believe Obama is a different sort of politician, and I trust him to do the right thing when in office, to the extent that external events allow, and I trust him to adapt to changing circumstances.

    Which you have every right to believe and you have every right to decide you trust him.

    But can you elaborate on what makes you trust him? What makes you think he is a different sort of politician?

    From my perspective, he has no prior history being a different sort of politician and he has a shady past. So it appears to be your feelings could be based on a good speech and a slick marketing/PR campaign.

    I have done a little test lately whenever a friend tells me how over the top they are about Obama. I ask a few questions. “What accomplishments from his pre-Presidential campaign career do you admire?” “Which of his presidential policy positions do you support?” 99% of the time, I get a blank stare as an answer for either question.

    So it appears many people are just basing their opinions of Obama on trendiness and “faith.” Treating Obama like he is the messiah.

  • http://www.wsu.edu/~cornish/index.html Al Cornish

    I question the first sentence:   “All signs point to an Obama victory this fall.” Most of the polls show Sen. Obama leading, but just outside of the margin of error. Plus, over the last forty years, Americans appear to prefer divided government and an Obama victory would go against that trend.

  • Dan

    Obama has an inspiring past, nothing “shady” about it, and I don’t accept that spin (which seems a little desperate to me). He’s different in that he started out in community service rather than being driven by sheer personal ambition. He went to law school to make a difference, not to make a lot of money. You can read all about it in two books, no secrets here, no mystery, all laid out in the sunshine.

    He has the core values of respecting the commonwealth that speak to me. He came from modest origins and had to tread the turbulent waters of “being different” which ultimately is the common American Story: we are all immigrants (or involuntary migrants…), and even the natives had to endure being marginalized by the European Wave.

    His patriotism is about service to the nation in ways that reach beyond simplistic military jingoism, and he honors the tradition of the squeaky wheel: it is our duty to criticize wrongs, even when our top leaders are the ones doing wrong. That is true patriotism, not some sort of knee-jerk clan identification of “us versus them” and “America right or wrong” based on dynamics of fear and pipe dreams of world domination.

    Obama realizes “we are all ‘us’ ” and that’s the long and short of it right there (and it comes really from the common experience of “we are all ‘them’ “… The policies that flow from that fundamental truth are fairly straightforward. His mother taught him well, and those are family values I can stand on.

  • bnb

    Great, more feel good gobbledy gook that isn’t based on any hard facts. “We are all us.” Ahhh group hug everyone. We are all us won’t pay your mortgage.

    nothing “shady” about it, and I don’t accept that spin (which seems a little desperate to me).

    Check out his former drug use, shady land/house deal with his fundraiser who is now a 16 count convicted felon, his relationship with a racist minister and a terrorist, and his taking credit for the work of other State Senators. His whole political career reaks of opportunism from “bill-jacking” to voting Present to taking credit for the work of others. A vain arrogant messiah who moved his convention speech to a 75,000 seat stadium because he is so self-absorbed he wants more people to cheer for him.

    Is he to blame for the past actions of his advisors? No, but he shows a serious lack of judgment in picking them (Dr. Lessig excluded) and uses them when it helps and then throws them under the bus for political expediency.

    Vote for whomever you want and this is my last comment on this thread since it isn’t my blog and I don’t want to take away from Dr. Lessig’s point that Obama isn’t moving to the center, he is abandoning positions for political gain (or what he expects to be political gain.)

    I just think people need to step back from the Obama messiah and look past the hype. There is nothing there. No experience, no policy specifics. Just feel good speeches.

    Like I said previous, I think he will win the election but I think in 4 years there will be a lot of disenfranchised Obama voters.

  • Dan

    “We are all us” might well lead to policies that help me pay my mortgage!!

    But it’ll be just a little bit indirect. People who discount indirect causation forget that modern economics is all about multiplier effects.

    I can see that you’re a little afraid of the “movement” aspects of this campaign, just as clear-thinking people were of the Reagan campaign in 1980. Even HW Bush called those economic theories “voodoo economics” in the primaries, and he was darn right about that.

    There’s an awful lot in those good speeches for me to hang onto. People don’t vote on “policy” in these elections, not today if they ever did in the past. They vote on values. Obama has my values, and McCain is diametrically opposed to them. It’s a simple choice.

    Obama is not perfect, and I never expected him to be, so I’m not too exceedingly disappointed at the end of the day. McCaim I know I can trust to do the wrong thing for America, Obama will at least try to do the right thing. And, we should continue to hold him to it. What a great thing it is that he is allowing dissent from supporters to flourish. It shows he will not stamp out opposition but will listen to it and hopefully factor it into his thinking and decisions.

    This is all about bottom-up versus top-down. We’ve seen the abject failure of top-down gone crazy, time to try the other. Let’s have our leaders be accountable to us instead of us being accountable to them.

  • Shane

    To my mind (and despite the flip flops) Obama continues to be the best of the two candidates. For a progressive like me this is what American politics has been about for a long time, not selecting based on ideals, but on a moderate version of the hippocratic oath (who will do the least harm). In this case, of course, it is Obama. And he will be good for the country and the world, I am sure, for reasons besides his race and his name, but he is not the Messiah, and he stands to disappoint a lot of people who think of him as such.

    By world standards Obama is a centrist, a moderate. This country is at its heart a conservative one, and so Obama and McCain are naturally pushed to the left (McCain is again by world standards not an “independent maverick” or moderate right wing, but a classical right wing candidate, period…one only needs to look at his voting track record to see that). Obama doesn’t have a truly progressive social agenda (for that look to Spain), nor is he really going to go after corporations, or after banks and subprime lenders in any way that truly challenges them, etc., etc. There will be changes in all of these areas, but they’ll be moderate, and they will not rock the boat too much for those on the top although I am sure they will be beneficial for many Americans who feel short-changed with the current government (which is, I think, the majority).

    So don’t vote for Obama because he is the Messiah, but because he is a decent candidate. And decent is, well, as good as it gets.

  • pikkumatti

    My goodness, what gyrations one must go through to comprehend and feel comfortable with an Obama campaign position.

  • Rick

    Enough lefty whining, Dr. Lessig. It’s time for the left to leave the blogosphere and hit the streets; not to abandon Obama, but to empower him. If he is the man that you believe he is he will respond. If not, oh crap, we’re in for a long hard road. Either way, the left must take a stand. Yesterday is not soon enough.

    FISA? Forget about it. As leader of the party he inherits the skeletons in the closet. Are we to believe that the Demo leadership was (like they allege with WMD) blindsided by the telecom wiretapping? Or are we to believe that it was known and tacitly allowed if not “approved?” Neither case is very becoming to the party but Obama is hung with it. The pragmatic decision is to move on. It’s a battle, not the war. If the left abandons him now because of this issue they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

    Martin Luther King had a similar skill set and he too was hardly squeaky clean. What made him a messiah was a following that empowered him and was willing to go the distance. Complimentary to that were peripheral groups who were willing to be, well, dangerous. In short; they did their part in sweat and, yes, in blood too. Does the current left expect to anoint Obama the new messiah and then be disappointed that he can’t walk on water all by himself? The left must support him now but be ready to both support him after inauguration day while serving notice that in four years the left will not be a “given” for the Democrats. Maybe that’s what he’s waiting for.

    How? The left must prepare the ground by addressing the issues that he cannot.

    Job one, the really difficult job, is to diffuse the “9/11 paranoia.” Yes, it was horrible, and yes, it’s the issue that no one wants to broach but we have to put it in perspective. For those of us who grew up with “duck and cover” drills and have actually been inside fall-out shelters the perspective is easy to grasp. The world has never been totally safe and likely never will be. The notion that our government will, or even can, protect us from all threats is simply absurd. The greatest threat to us is (yep, you guessed it) us.
    Point is, Barack and the Demos (hmmm, R&B band maybe? :) ) cannot go there politically and only the left can see the wisdom of relieving them of that ball-and-chain.

    Job two is to beat the drum for constitutional rights, especially privacy. Not just in the blogosphere; in the streets. This needs to be a vocal and aggressive effort. Not civil disobedience but clear and persistent demonstration. Give Obama something to which he must respond. Maybe that’s what he wants and needs. Maybe he wants to be something other than the current resident of the White House and subservient to the big money. Maybe he wants to forward a vision for us and not just be “Mr. Fixit.” Only the left can clarify that vision for him and justify him.

    Reactionary? Revolutionary? Not my intent. “Preemptive” is my intent. I think we’re all living in the collective funk of denial. Was it real? Could the events of the last eight years have been that ugly? Yes, they were. And after the denial fades the anger sets in. Then it will get really ugly unless we demand, in no uncertain terms, clear and strong action from the Democrats. The left, as it always has, must lead the way but now it must be done loudly with great firmness and conviction.

  • http://www.getfisaright.com Chip Pitts

    Sure, Larry . . . it’s style/perception, but substance as well. The disappointed members on http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/SenatorObama-PleaseVoteAgainstFISA
    rose from a handful of members to the largest group on the site in less than a week. Even the most casual observer of the wiki, twitter, social networking, email, and website activity (now centralized at http://www.getfisaright.com) knows now (if they didn’t before) that tens of thousands of his most ardent and passionate supporters are quite versed in both the perceptions and substance surrounding the immunity and FISA issues.

    You’re right that this was a significant misjudgment and comes with potentially huge costs in terms of perception, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the costs are potentially huge in terms of substance as well – affecting the future not just of this candidate but of the nation.

    Realistically, this decision was likely determined to a large extent by advisors who, I agree, got it badly wrong in this instance. This isn’t a shift toward the center; truly fundamental constitutional issues like this aren’t of the left or right (or middle), but provide the foundation for all sides of the structure. According to his history, biography, and writings, Sen. Obama understands this – the relationship of such core constitutional issues to good government, ethics, the rule of law, reforming a corrupt electoral system tainted by favors to special interests like telecom companies, and an environment favoring privacy and free thought and expression that will ensure much-needed better decisions. THAT Sen. Obama, reading the bill, never would have accepted the aspect of the FISA bill that has been least appreciated publicly but is most damning – its ratification of the basic Bush approach to warrantless surveillance. Advisors who missed such basics missed not only the boat, but the ocean itself.

    Sen. Obama has genuine potential to be post-partisan, post-ideological, and “pragmatic” in the best sense of the word (focused on principled solutions that work) and not the worst sense (compromising on principle). This – and not milquetoast, “centrist” positions — is why he has already appealed to so many Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents as well as Democrats. (Pause for a just a moment to consider whether this FISA bill’s overbroad surveillance infrastructure will actually help capture real terrorists, or whether it more closely resembles the inefficient, labyrinthine, and counterproductive Homeland Security Department; isn’t it much more likely that such a mammoth dragnet can be avoided by terrorists as easily as they might avoid the stupid but feel-good requirement that we all remove our shoes every time we board an airplane?)

    Seth, Sen. Obama is going to be accused of being “soft on terror” in any event. The new politics he promised points to the hope of transcending such ridiculous and misleading false dichotomies, which (at his best) is something he has proven himself to be singularly capable of doing (red state/blue state speech at the last Democratic convention, race speech in Philadelphia, etc). Our country urgently needs such a return to practical reason if there’s to be any “hope” of tackling the tremendous problems faced.

    Undoing the damage done will be difficult (though there’s still time to call Senator Obama and the other senators before tomorrow’s vote!). But perhaps the best strategy for the candidate at this point would be to recall his own words (quoted by Bob Herbert in today’s NYT) to be someone “who will listen to you and learn from you, even when we disagree.” In the Wiki Age, this need not be – cannot be — mere campaign rhetoric. And now may be the best time to acknowledge that.

    The reasonable suggestions and requests collectively drafted by his supporters in the FISA group – available at the wiki http://get-fisa-right.wetpaint.com/page/What+we%27d+like+to+hear+from+Senator+Obama
    call for further public education and leadership on these issues and a firmer commitment to correct them once he’s President Obama. That wouldn’t be a bad place to start reinvigorating and restoring those ardent supporters who have been disillusioned of late. In fact, it could just be the turning point back toward that core you reference. But some such clarification needs to happen quickly — and visibly.

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    Because I have this sneaking suspicion that not all Lessig blog readers are also David Friedman (son of Milton) readers:

    In any case, for the curious, I am not a fundraiser for Obama, I have no connection with his campaign beyond knowing one or two of the academics associated with it, I have not endorsed him–but I would rather see him win than McCain.

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/07/david-friedman-barack-obama-and-game-of.html

    This is what it looks like when one classical liberal decides to cooperate with another. Commitments are defined by a shared vision of a better society, not a partisan appeal to cram down on some minority.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    That’s funny. I really doubt David Friedman and Barack Obama have much in common in terms of “a shared vision of a better society”. Given Libertarians’ passionate, current, existing, opposition to civil-rights laws, I really doubt it. Friedman is merely intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that for Libertarians, in terms of expanding state power, McCain will be far worse than Obama.

  • http://www.seocai.com SEO

    Maybe he wants to be something other than the current resident of the White House and subservient to the big money?

  • Wes

    Hillary had problems with changing her position (e.g. support for the Iraq war). She gave the impression that she shifted in the winds of the latest opinion poll. That wouldn’t have been a problem if she was a “government by the people” type of politician. She could have said that she believes in doing what her constituents want and that the Iraq war was what they wanted at the time. The problem was that in just about all other respects Hillary was a “government by the elites” type of politician. As a result, she gave the impression on not being honest.

    With this FISA compromise, Obama can make the case that compromise (unity) is one of his core values. In this sense, Obama is not going to necessarily appear to be dishonest. The problem is that change is also one of his core values and it’s not clear how Obama is going to balance “change” against “compromise/unity”. In particular, his core supporters may feel that there some situations where compromise is not the right approach and where one has to stand one’s ground.

    With this in mind, it would be nice if Obama could have greater clarity on how he will balance his unity/compromise goals against his change goals.

  • http://www.natesblogwastaken.blogspot.com Nate

    I’m afraid i have to disagree with you as to the second part of the equation. Never having had any personal experience with obama, I can tell nonetheless that as a UC law professor he’s intelligent and well-versed enough to be familiar with the substance of FISA and to know that the “compromise” is not a compromise at all but rather a neocon’s wetdream. I wish I could see it another way-if the Republicans had to give up something to get this bill passed, maybe. If its passage were vital to allowing intelligence work to continue, as is the Dems’ party line. Instead, the existing FISA law would continue to cover wiretaps. What the Dems are doing is fast-tracking a bill that would allow them to avoid a confrontation with the Bush administration over telecom immunity-presumably because they’re scared shitless of allowing the Repubs claim they voted against national security.

    It is, as you say, putting micro-positioning on the issues ahead of any semblance of steadfastness, and I heartilly agree that it’s a cancer afflicting the party-the reason they’ve lost every recent election except for one. And I DID believe Obama was different. it was precisely this type of triangulation that drove me away from Clinton.

    And exactly as Mr. Graham said, the Republican party desperately wants this election to be a choice between two purveyors of the “old politics,” one of whom has vastly more experience and is a war hero.

  • LB

    I’m not enough of a wonk to keep up in this comments thread.

    And I apologize if someone else already made this point, and I skimmed past it.

    But Michael F. Martin’s 5:12 PM description of a “leader” perfectly fits President Unitard, aka War Criminal-in-Chief Bush.

    Trading in the Current Occupant for a kinder, gentler, more humane President Unitard seems problematic at best.

  • jayvee

    Lessig makes many cogent points here. I was a big Obama supporter. Based on his recent transparent triangulations–his cynical sympathies for those who wish to execute rapists, his defense of public funding for religious organizations, his defense of right-wing gun nuts, his utter and unforgivable sellout on FISA–I am a big supporter no more. If the election were today, I am not sure how I would vote.

    I definitely will NOT donate any more money to his campaign. Fund-raising is one aspect that’s been overlooked in his clumsy charge to the the center. How many deflated donors like me are out there? Or, has Barack decided he doesn’t need us “little guys” anymore? Perhaps so. If that’s true, then the pose he struck in the primaries was just that–a pose.

    I am thoroughly disgusted by his spineless pandering. I had vouched for Obama among fence-sitting friends, assuring them that he was unique among modern pols. Now, my friends are rubbing my nose in his vascillations–and I’ve got no option but to admit that they’re correct. If this is who Obama really is, I’m not interested. Alas.

  • frankly0

    I know it is false because I believe I know the man, and because I know some inside the campaign struggling with these issues. I see them struggling to get it right. They are struggling, in short, to govern.

    Do you have any concept how much self-delusion seems to be packed into those assertions?

    Really, if you can’t argue for the behavior traits you believe that a politician possesses in virtue of their public record, then what kind of argument do you have? Do you really imagine that you have some special faculty allowing you intuition into the “true” character of an individual, superseding all publicly available behavior of that individual?

    Your claim to “know” Obama with such depth that you can declare that he is incapable of masking his true beliefs–if any–on a subject like FISA, is testament only to your own inability to be self-reflective, and acknowledge your own limits.

    William Buckley once famously remarked that he would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the telephone book than by 100 members of the Harvard faculty.

    Your gullibility and self-deception on this point would explain exactly why this makes sense.

  • http://www.brendancalling.com brendancalling

    The campaign needs to stop this. This is not the time for governing. It is the time for making clear precisely what kind of President Obama will be. But in making that clear, it is critical to keep a focus on how actions are perceived. Will they signal a triangulator? Or will they signal a strong, principled man who stands for what he believes.

    I think we know the answer to THAT one. And it sure as hell isn’t the latter. I think FISA proves that, if the pandering on guns and capital punishment aren’t enough.

    Accountability Now.

  • Fingal

    Obama is not stupid enough to believe the current FISA bill is a “compromise.” There’s no need to argue the points of the bill in order to demonstrate this, because civil libertarians are apoplectic and Republicans are euphoric. That’s not what happens in a compromise. If the Republicans even cared about making it really *look* like a compromise, they’d find some way to whine and complain about some provision in it somewhere, but no, they’re just laughing as they strap on the sandpaper and have at the Fourth Amendment.

    According to Obama, retroactive immunity was filibuster-able a few months ago, but now it’s not worth compromising “national security” in order to eliminate it. Or even delay it and make Bush go on record vetoing it. Suddenly national security demands, not secret court-issued warrants, not retroactively-granted warrants, but no warrants at all, ever, for wiretapping, if the current occupant of the Presidency authorizes the wiretap. What changed, Barack? When you campaigned in WI as a staunch ally of Russ Feingold, were you lying? If not, what is it that has changed since then? You were able to treat voters like adults all through primary season, and people responded by supporting you in huge numbers. What changed?

    Barack Obama is not stupid enough to believe what he now says about the FISA bill, and if he wasn’t running a campaign that could show Dick Cheney a thing or two about dishonesty, what can be the explanation for his embrace of the nonsensical, the insult to intelligence?

    Maybe, a couple of weeks ago, he found himself alone on an elevator, unaccompanied, suddenly, by the Secret Service. Two large men got in after him and stood so that he couldn’t see their faces. The two exchanged remarks with each other about a couple of children, where they went to school, what they did afterwards, their ages, the friends they hung out with, etc. And Obama realized they were talking about *his* children. Then the elevator stopped, the door opened, and the two big guys got off and disappeared into the crowd. The Secret Service agents ran up, apologized for getting separated, and stared blankly when Obama asked them about those guys they’d just seen get off the elevator. And the next day, Obama spoke in support of the “compromise.”

    Melodramatic? Sure, but it makes more sense than the other explanations.

  • freemansfarm

    What a fool you are! You thought Obama wasn’t a politiician? What did you think he was, Jesus on a stick? All Obama is or ever was is a politician. Was he a great lawyer? What are the famous precedents his cases set? Where are the great legal victories he won? Was he a great “community organizer?” Name one lasting, important improvement he made for the people of the community he was allegedly “organizing” for 2 and a half years? Was he a great “constitutional scholar?” Name one legal theory that he propsed. Shoot, name even one scholarly article or book that he wrote. The answers to all of these questions, obviously, are “no” and “none” and “there aren’t any.” Obama is famous for being the Editor in Chief of the Harvard Law Review. How do you think he got that position? Do you think the EIC is selected on grades, or by the faculty based on overall merit as a student? No, Obama was ELECTED to that position.

    That’s what Obama does, he runs for office, and mostly, wins. He’s a frickin’ politician, moron! Ask Alice Palmer whether Obama is a politician or not. Ask those other Black State Senators whose bills Obama was given the credit for when they became laws whether he is a politician or not. Ask Hillary if he is a politician.

    Did you actually believe all that rhetoric about “hope” and “change” and “a different kind of politics?” Did you never hear of Deval Patrick? How about David Axelrod? You do know, don’t know, that all of those slogans, and most of Obama’s allegedly original turns of phrases, chants, and so forth, were all recycled from Axelrod’s campaign for Patrick?

    To me, it’s amazing that a celebrated professor at the Stanford Law School, a person revered for his knowledge and intelligence, can be as easily fooled as the 14 year old morons at Daily Kos. You bought a pig in a poke, Larry. You fell for a slick speech, and a pre-packaged, and, mostly false, “inspiring life story.” You are an idiot.

    And, don’t think for a minute its confined to FISA. Obama has backtracked, flip-flopped or otherwise “refined” his positions on Iraq on abortion on gun control on publc financing and on and on and on. And he will continue to do so. That’s because he’s a politician. And, far from being a “different kind” of one, he is the epitome of the stereotypical “say anything, do anything to win,” sleazy, slippery, use any tactic, thuggish Chicago politician.

    He has no core, no center. Everything about the man is false. His “religion,” even his race is a fake. Obama has calculated every move, every shift, every single thing he has said and done, since he hit Chicago 25 years ago as a college grad with a lot of political ambition, but no roots, no core, no family, no real ties to the community, race, city, state, or even country he wanted to lead. He is the classic con man and egomaniac. The guy wrote 2 autobiographies before he was even 45 years old. Didn’t that raise a red flag for you, Lar? Do you know what narcism is, Prof?

    And now, you are surprised that he put expediency ahead of principle? Forget for a minute whether Obama’s FISA, and all the other, sellouts are smart tactically or not. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on that question. No, the real issue is whether Obama ever had a shred of integrity to betray in the first place. You seem to think he did. Why? What evidence is there that Obama has ever been concerned about anything other than his own meteroic rise to power? His supposed acts of altruism (community organizer, “civil rights lawyer”. voter registration drive leader) were clearly calibrated to provide a base for the political campaigns he was already planning.

    Obama is, and always has been, concerned with one thing only: moving up the ladderof power to the top spot as quickly as possible. Everything else is pablum for the kiddies, and, apparently, Stanford Law professors.,

  • http://brokensymmetry.typepad.com Michael F. Martin

    @LB

    But Michael F. Martin’s 5:12 PM description of a “leader” perfectly fits President Unitard, aka War Criminal-in-Chief Bush.

    Have you considered that this might be why “President Unitard” was elected twice (okay at least once, and in the other instance, my theory is even more useful in explaining the result of the process)?

    Have you considered that cultivating norms in which it’s perfectly fine to criticize a sitting President in derogatory terms is not good for the country? If so, could you explain to me why you think it’s beneficial to substitute name calling for reasoned argument?

    All you’ve done is assert that if I’m correct, I’ve also explained why President Bush won both elections. But President Bush DID win both elections. So doesn’t that mean I’m more likely to be right?

    Please think a little before dismissing my arguments or calling me names.

  • freemansfarm

    What a fool you are! You thought Obama wasn’t a politiician? What did you think he was, Jesus on a stick? All Obama is or ever was is a politician. Was he a great lawyer? What are the famous precedents his cases set? Where are the great legal victories he won? Was he a great “community organizer?” Name one lasting, important improvement he made for the people of the community he was allegedly “organizing” for 2 and a half years? Was he a great “constitutional scholar?” Name one legal theory that he propsed. Shoot, name even one scholarly article or book that he wrote. The answers to all of these questions, obviously, are “no” and “none” and “there aren’t any.” Obama is famous for being the Editor in Chief of the Harvard Law Review. How do you think he got that position? Do you think the EIC is selected on grades, or by the faculty based on overall merit as a student? No, Obama was ELECTED to that position.

    That’s what Obama does, he runs for office, and mostly, wins. He’s a frickin’ politician, moron! Ask Alice Palmer whether Obama is a politician or not. Ask those other Black State Senators whose bills Obama was given the credit for when they became laws whether he is a politician or not. Ask Hillary if he is a politician.

    Did you actually believe all that rhetoric about “hope” and “change” and “a different kind of politics?” Did you never hear of Deval Patrick? How about David Axelrod? You do know, don’t know, that all of those slogans, and most of Obama’s allegedly original turns of phrases, chants, and so forth, were all recycled from Axelrod’s campaign for Patrick?

    To me, it’s amazing that a celebrated professor at the Stanford Law School, a person revered for his knowledge and intelligence, can be as easily fooled as the 14 year old morons at Daily Kos. You bought a pig in a poke, Larry. You fell for a slick speech, and a pre-packaged, and, mostly false, “inspiring life story.” You are an idiot.

    And, don’t think for a minute its confined to FISA. Obama has backtracked, flip-flopped or otherwise “refined” his positions on Iraq on abortion on gun control on publc financing and on and on and on. And he will continue to do so. That’s because he’s a politician. And, far from being a “different kind” of one, he is the epitome of the stereotypical “say anything, do anything to win,” sleazy, slippery, use any tactic, thuggish Chicago politician.

    He has no core, no center. Everything about the man is false. His “religion,” even his race is a fake. Obama has calculated every move, every shift, every single thing he has said and done, since he hit Chicago 25 years ago as a college grad with a lot of political ambition, but no roots, no core, no family, no real ties to the community, race, city, state, or even country he wanted to lead. He is the classic con man and egomaniac. The guy wrote 2 autobiographies before he was even 45 years old. Didn’t that raise a red flag for you, Lar? Do you know what narcism is, Prof?

    And now, you are surprised that he put expediency ahead of principle? Forget for a minute whether Obama’s FISA, and all the other, sellouts are smart tactically or not. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on that question. No, the real issue is whether Obama ever had a shred of integrity to betray in the first place. You seem to think he did. Why? What evidence is there that Obama has ever been concerned about anything other than his own meteroic rise to power? His supposed acts of altruism (community organizer, “civil rights lawyer”. voter registration drive leader) were clearly calibrated to provide a base for the political campaigns he was already planning.

    Obama is, and always has been, concerned with one thing only: moving up the ladderof power to the top spot as quickly as possible. Everything else is pablum for the kiddies, and, apparently, Stanford Law professors.,

  • freemansfarm

    What a fool you are! You thought Obama wasn’t a politiician? What did you think he was, Jesus on a stick? All Obama is or ever was is a politician. Was he a great lawyer? What are the famous precedents his cases set? Where are the great legal victories he won? Was he a great “community organizer?” Name one lasting, important improvement he made for the people of the community he was allegedly “organizing” for 2 and a half years? Was he a great “constitutional scholar?” Name one legal theory that he propsed. Shoot, name even one scholarly article or book that he wrote. The answers to all of these questions, obviously, are “no” and “none” and “there aren’t any.” Obama is famous for being the Editor in Chief of the Harvard Law Review. How do you think he got that position? Do you think the EIC is selected on grades, or by the faculty based on overall merit as a student? No, Obama was ELECTED to that position.

    That’s what Obama does, he runs for office, and mostly, wins. He’s a frickin’ politician, moron! Ask Alice Palmer whether Obama is a politician or not. Ask those other Black State Senators whose bills Obama was given the credit for when they became laws whether he is a politician or not. Ask Hillary if he is a politician.

    Did you actually believe all that rhetoric about “hope” and “change” and “a different kind of politics?” Did you never hear of Deval Patrick? How about David Axelrod? You do know, don’t know, that all of those slogans, and most of Obama’s allegedly original turns of phrases, chants, and so forth, were all recycled from Axelrod’s campaign for Patrick?

    To me, it’s amazing that a celebrated professor at the Stanford Law School, a person revered for his knowledge and intelligence, can be as easily fooled as the 14 year old morons at Daily Kos. You bought a pig in a poke, Larry. You fell for a slick speech, and a pre-packaged, and, mostly false, “inspiring life story.” You are an idiot.

    And, don’t think for a minute its confined to FISA. Obama has backtracked, flip-flopped or otherwise “refined” his positions on Iraq on abortion on gun control on publc financing and on and on and on. And he will continue to do so. That’s because he’s a politician. And, far from being a “different kind” of one, he is the epitome of the stereotypical “say anything, do anything to win,” sleazy, slippery, use any tactic, thuggish Chicago politician.

    He has no core, no center. Everything about the man is false. His “religion,” even his race is a fake. Obama has calculated every move, every shift, every single thing he has said and done, since he hit Chicago 25 years ago as a college grad with a lot of political ambition, but no roots, no core, no family, no real ties to the community, race, city, state, or even country he wanted to lead. He is the classic con man and egomaniac. The guy wrote 2 autobiographies before he was even 45 years old. Didn’t that raise a red flag for you, Lar? Do you know what narcism is, Prof?

    And now, you are surprised that he put expediency ahead of principle? Forget for a minute whether Obama’s FISA, and all the other, sellouts are smart tactically or not. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on that question. No, the real issue is whether Obama ever had a shred of integrity to betray in the first place. You seem to think he did. Why? What evidence is there that Obama has ever been concerned about anything other than his own meteroic rise to power? His supposed acts of altruism (community organizer, “civil rights lawyer”. voter registration drive leader) were clearly calibrated to provide a base for the political campaigns he was already planning.

    Obama is, and always has been, concerned with one thing only: moving up the ladderof power to the top spot as quickly as possible. Everything else is pablum for the kiddies, and, apparently, Stanford Law professors.,

  • Fingal

    @freemansfarm: even his race is a fake

    I recall hearing that, as a hostage taker, you have to put one really crazy demand in your list so they know you’re a lunatic who might do anything, and you need to be taken seriously. I submit that blog comments are a different context.

  • freemansfarm

    To Fingal:

    Whatever. Just explain to me why anyone of Professor Lessig’s intelligence ever had any reason to believe that Obama was anything other than a “politician.” Because Obama’s campaign CLAIMED to represent “a new kind of politics?” Was that all it took? A simple self-serving assertion? Again, examine Obama’s career. Hasn’t he acted the part of the politician from the get go? Again, ask Alice Palmer if you don’t believe me.

    Spare me your cutes-poo “submissions” and anwer those simple questions. Or shut up.

  • freemansfarm

    Oh, and as for Obama’s “race.” It is really quite simple. He presents himself as an African American, but he isn’t one. Neither of Obama’s parents were African Americans, and Obama was raised by his white mother and white grandparents. Obama does not share the history of enslavement, trans-oceanic transportation, Jim Crow segregation, discrimination, etc, nor the cultural, literary,artistic, religous, linguistic or other heritage of African Americans. Obama was not raised in an African American milleau, family or neighborhood. Nor did he attend African American churches or schools. Obama is half white American and half Kenyan-American, he is no part “African American,” as that term is normally used.

    In fact, if you knew anything about the topic, you would know that the term “African American” was coined specifically to differentiate between any people anywhere in the world who happened to have dark skin (Aficans, Aboriginal Australians, etc.) and the distinct sub-set of those peoples who shared the unique history of being the descendants of African slaves brought to the USA. Obama does not share that history. He is simply not an African American, not by birth, not by family history and not by upbringing.

    Obama has pretended to be an African American only since his arrival in Chjcago, when he was already a college graduate in his 20′s. He joined an Afro-centric church and married an African American woman. Obviously, he did this to cement his “identity politics” credentials because he was already planning to run for office from the South Side. His claims to the contrary, that his sudden embrace of an African American status was the result of some sort of “identity crises” is just too convenient to be believed. In additon, no one, not his friends, family or schoolmates, ever saw any evidence of this so-called “crises.”

    It might not “PC” to say so, but it hardly shows that I am insane that I dare to point this out.

  • Thucydides Junior

    I find this thread very interesting, but please do not call this FISA bill a compromise; it was a capitulation to all the White House wanted and more. Rep. Senator Kit Bond has said so publicly. Fingal’s first paragraph is pretty accurate to me.

    And it is a major issue, as it both excuses and allows warrantless surveillance of Americans by their government. Our government seems to still in in 9/11 mode, as Rick above points out. I think that he (poster Rick) has some very good and useful points.

    However, Obama, as the presumptive leader of our party, should vote for principle even if success is unlikely. Had he done that of this abominable bill, his coalition would be stronger now, rather than weaker. I am quite certain of that indeed.

    I would take a simultaneous behavioral approach to Rick’s activist one. Instead of yelling when politicians don’t do what we think they should, ignore them. Withhold money or volunteers for a certain period of time. Don’t pass on their news releases for a week. Don’t show up at their events. Delay an endorsement. Organize a group response, or work with other groups so that the silence and inaction is very noticeable.

    Politicians love attention, need money and like to be honored. Refuse those as a group. Conversely, praise them to high heaven when they do something right. Fill coffers. Volunteer. But, unlike our dear politicians, Be Consistent in your reactions to the candidate.

  • Fingal

    @FF: again, examine Obama’s career. Hasn’t he acted the part of the politician from the get go?

    That is, of course, your assertion, but the only support you provide for it is your evident strong belief.

    ask Alice Palmer if you don’t believe me.

    I don’t know Alice Palmer, and I have no reason to believe she’d even take my phone call, so I can’t exactly ask her. I’ve read about that election and it doesn’t surprise me that some Palmer supporters are pissed, but I don’t see what qualifies as outrageous. She asked him to run for her seat so she could run in another election, then she got clobbered, and wanted Obama to fold his campaign. In other words, she gave him something, then wanted it back, and he said no. He said that after having geared up a campaign. Had that “unless I lose” case been arranged beforehand, you might have a point, but is there any evidence of that?

    Spare me your cutes-poo “submissions” and anwer those simple questions. Or shut up.

    Whoa-ho!, hit a nerve there, huh?! Look, you want to get aggressive, why don’t you go out to a bar and pick a fight? Or take some hostages.

  • Fingal

    Obama is half white American and half Kenyan-American, he is no part “African American,” as that term is normally used.

    I don’t know about Hawaii or Chicago, but if Barack Obama were driving in Los Angeles, he’d be just as likely to be pulled over for DWB as anyone who “[shares] the unique history of being the descendants of African slaves brought to the USA.” Quacks like a duck, that one. Do you really think that just because someone’s ancestors weren’t slaves, they escape anti-African racism in the US? That if Obama had just gotten up and said, “Hey, white folks, I’m not really black, I’m half-Kenyan!” that his popularity in rural Indiana would have been any better?

    Are you offended by this usage because you are of African descent yourself? In my experience, I think it’s pretty loosely defined, and can mean a lot of things. An Italian-American is not supposed to be just off the boat from Italy, but I wouldn’t be very surprised to see the child of an Italian and an American referred to by that label. That kind of Italian-American might be very interested in the history of Italians in the US, without necessarily having an evil plan to enter politics and exploit the Italian vote.

    Do you know a lot of Obama’s “friends, family or schoolmates?” If I “knew anything about the topic,” what “evidence” would I expect to see, or expect the f, f, or s, to see, of an “identity cris[i]s?”

  • freemansfarm

    The point about Alice Palmer, Fingal, as if you didn’t know, was that Obama acted like a typical politician when he used a petition challenge to remove her, and, by the way, all the other candidates, from the ballot–not merely that he refused to “fold his campaign”. Was it legal? Of course. Was Palmer all sweetness and light in this affair? Of course not. But, Obama acted like a typical politician, and, a typical Chicago politician at that, when he relied on election law technecalities, rather than the will of the voters (who might very well have preferred Palmer), to ensure his first election. That’s what “politicians” do, Fingal, they do whatever it takes to win elections, short of out and out lawbreaking that can be pinned on them.

    This is all part of the public record, which, presumably, was available to Professor Lessig before he decided, for whatever reason, that Obama was, somehow, not a “politician.” Much the same could be said for the credit theft for the bills in the Illinois Senate. And for the mysterious “unsealing”: of the records of the divorce proceedings of not one, but two, of Obama’s opponents in the race for the US Senate seat. And, for all the sharp practices Obama engaged in during the nomination fight, including, but not limited to, the co-ordinated thuggish behavior of his supporters at the caucases and on the internet, and the whole Michigan-Florida affair.

    No Fingal, and Professor, there is simply no evidence whatsoever that Obama is or was anything but a “politician,” and plenty of uncontested and uncontestable evidence directly to the contrary.

    Finally Fingal, as for the “hostage taking” and all thebar room and the rest of, give it a rest, you are making yourself look stupid!

  • Fingal

    Oh, and FF, I submit that you are merely posing as a cutesy-poo idiot. Good job, though. And shut up while you’re at it.

  • Fingal

    FF, who said that Obama was “not a politician?” Sure he is, you don’t get elected if you don’t play the game. Nobody thought otherwise. What seemed to be the case until a couple weeks ago was that Obama was taking the approach of treating the voters like adults, rather than like morons. Apparently that’s out the window now, and it seems quite possible that he’ll go down in flames as a result.

  • freemansfarm

    “I don’t know about Hawaii or Chicago, but if Barack Obama were driving in Los Angeles, he’d be just as likely to be pulled over for DWB as anyone who “[shares] the unique history of being the descendants of African slaves brought to the USA.” Quacks like a duck, that one. Do you really think that just because someone’s ancestors weren’t slaves, they escape anti-African racism in the US? That if Obama had just gotten up and said, “Hey, white folks, I’m not really black, I’m half-Kenyan!” that his popularity in rural Indiana would have been any better?”

    This is the standard canard employed at this point in the argument. My point was not that Obama is not “black enough,” but that he isn’t “Black” (ie African American) at all. Lots of people might be subject to the racism of the LA police department (including Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and so forth), does that make them African American?. Why would you let white racists, who hate everyone who is not “100% white” according to their lights, define who is or isn’t an African American? In any event, I find these hypothetical and/or apocryphal storis about the “discriminaton” that Obama has supposedly endured in his life to be completely unpersuasive. Obama lived the life of a “little prince”: in Indonesia, he was the priveledged son of an American who worked for the US embassy and the step-son of an oil companay executive; he lived in a mansion with servants; and, for at least part of the time, went to a fancy, private Catholic school that catered exclusively to rich foereignors. In Hawaii, Obama lived with his white grandparents in a nice, single family house in a middle class neighborhood, and attended the most elite private school in the State. After that, he attended liberal Occidental College and Columbia University. You may not “know about Hawaii,” but it is the home of many, many mixed race people. There is not a shred of evidence that Obama ever encountered any racial discrimination there. Nor is there any evidence that he encountered any racial discrimination in college. In short, your claim about what would or wouldn’t happen to Obama in LA is completely irrelevant to his status as an African American. As for Obama’s lack of popularity in rural Indiana, did it ever occur to you that it might be based on his viewpoints, or his elitist attitude, or his association with Black racists? Would those same Indiana voters, who you have no problem smearing as “racists” without a hint of evidence, have been adverse to a Colin Powell candidacy? Or a Condoleeza Rice candidacy? Stop playing the race card! Especially here, where it’s not even germaine to the conversation.

    “Are you offended by this usage because you are of African descent yourself? In my experience, I think it’s pretty loosely defined, and can mean a lot of things. An Italian-American is not supposed to be just off the boat from Italy, but I wouldn’t be very surprised to see the child of an Italian and an American referred to by that label. That kind of Italian-American might be very interested in the history of Italians in the US, without necessarily having an evil plan to enter politics and exploit the Italian vote.”

    Again, if you actually knew anything about the matter, you would know that the issue of post-slavery immigrants from Africa was raised at the time the phrase “African American” was coined. Some people argued, as you are here, that the phrase would actually be more properly applied to these immigrants and their children, as is the phrase “Italian American.” But, this claim was rejected. For better or worse, the label “African American” was specifically limited to those Americans who could trace their ancestry to the slaves transported to the US from Africa. Again, the point was that this group of people, AND ONLY THIS GROUP OF PEOPLE, shared in the unique history of slavery, Jim Crow, persecution by the KKK, discrimination, segregation, and so on. And that this particular group of people had developed a unique and distinctive culture, complete with its own forms of speech, music, art, religious worship, family relationships, dance, etc., etc. None of this is to suggest that there is “anything wrong” with immigrants from Africa and their descendants; the point is merely that they do not share in this heritage, but, rather, have their own heritage and traditions. Typically, and contrary to what you say, these groups are usually known by their countries of origin, as in “Angolan American” or “Senegaleese American,” or “Kenyan American.” Unfortunately for Obama, he was abandoned by his father, and thus had little or no exposure to the Kenyan American side of his heritage. But, this misfortune does not justiy his wholesale apprporiation of another, completely distinct, culture, that, by birth, family history, and upbringing, he is simply not a part of.

    “Do you know a lot of Obama’s “friends, family or schoolmates?”. . . what “evidence” would I expect to see, or expect the f, f, or s, to see, of an “identity cris[i]s?”

    I do know that not one person has come forward to verify the “identity crises” that Obama claims he had, and, in high school, according to the AP:

    “. . .friends and teammates said he didn’t appear to be discontented and always seemed to fit in.

    “‘He never let that show, so maybe it was more of an internal struggle,’ said teammate Alan Lum, who now teaches at Punahou.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/06/AR2007020600075_2.html

    In any event, the simplist explanation for Obama’s sudden embrace of an African American identity is the one I presented: that it would be useful, not to say essential, for him to navigate the identity politics of the South Side, where he planned to begin his political career.

    This is a good example of the “Obama rules.” What other pol would be taken at his word in this kind of situation? A Clinton, a McCain, even a Bush, would be assumed to have done the expedient thing for reasons of. . .well, expediency. But because Obama merely asserts an alternate, face-saving explanation, one that, under your theory, can’t be falsified no matter what (absense of evidence is not evidence of absense, right?–how can I “prove” that Obama did not have an “identity crises”?), it must be the case. Give me a break!

  • freemansfarm

    Fingal:

    “. . .who said that Obama was ‘not a politician?’ Sure he is, you don’t get elected if you don’t play the game. Nobody thought otherwise “

    Duh, Lessig did.

    Lessig:

    “There are at least two views about what makes Obama so compelling. One that he happens to have the mix of positions on policy questions that best matches the public’s. The other that he is perceived by the public as “different,” and hence (given the public hates politicians so) someone the public can like, or more significantly, get enthusiastic about.

    “I’m strongly in the second camp. It seems to me nothing more than consultant-think to imagine people choosing a President with a checklist of issues, finding the one to vote for the way they pick a place to vacation. It seems to me nothing less than obvious that people are passionate about Obama because he strikes them as a different kind of candidate — one that stands for his beliefs, that speaks clearly and directly, that can be trusted to stick by his beliefs, that says what he believes regardless. Such a creature, in most people’s minds, is’ “not a politician.’ Such a creature (i.e. “not a politician’) is what people want in a President.”

    Get it now? “Not a politician.”

  • http://gollyg.blogspot.com Dr Zen

    Sorry, I can’t understand how voting for the new FISA Bill would actually be doing the “right thing”. Also, I don’t agree that his campaign is run by a bunch of decent guys who are just making mistakes while trying to be upright. They were pretty sharp in the campaign, not above smearing Clinton or beating up bullshit into outrage. Still, it’s too much to expect you fanatics to abandon your messiah just yet. After all, he’s only given up the Fourth, and he’s gungho for the Second.

  • Fingal

    FF: You might be right.

  • Raphael

    I believe you are completely right about Obama’s new dilemma: he has undermined his raison d’etre by supporting a cornerstone of Bush’s policies.Obama has consistently spoken in abstractions and sounds like an alternative thinker with a progressive character, but in reality, he is a pragmatist who is very much interested in compromise and upholds many core values. Those on the Left who imagine he is going to be an anti-war candidate are sorely mistaken because he will increase our military presence in other areas other than Iraq, such as Afghanistan. He may even embrace Bush’s doctrine of preemptive attack by going after terrorists havens in Pakistan. I think many people seized on Obama because of his criticism of Bush and his anti-war remarks. What they failed to realize was that Obama can say he is AGAINST the war while still saying that we need to stay in Iraq for at least two more years. McCain cannot keep the troops in Iraq for 100 years because he will be dead well before then. Obama and McCain can keep troops in Iraq for four more years–and I think they will after the oil companies made the deal with the Iraqi gov’t. In any case, Obama’s problem is his rhetoric will never match up with his actions. He speaks as an idealist, but he acts as a pragmatist. That is what disgusts me about him because he duped a lot of people. But his critics share some of the blame for believing his promises and for not examining his character.

  • Chiaroscuro

    Given Obama’s shameful vote this afternoon, it matters not what’s in Obama’s heart, head or gut regarding this FISA bill. I can believe that the candidate and his advisors have been “struggling” with this issue, but I don’t think it’s difficult at all. It’s a very bad bill. Obama knows this. His advisors know this. The only struggle they’ve had is with how to spin his cave-in.

    Obama has, with his FISA vote, managed to deal a potentially mortal blow not only to his claim to be a different sort of politician but also to his other big claim for deserving high office — his judgment.

    This vote calls into real question his judgment regarding the powers of the executive, the meaning of the Constitution, the consequences of one’s actions and his reading of the electorate. It calls into question his judgment on what’s politically possible for a real leader.

    It also begs the question: Is there any issue, any principle, on which Obama is not prepared to compromise? If the Constitution isn’t enough — especially to a teacher of Constitutional law — to finally convince him to make a fighting stand, then what is?

    Will Obama nominate Alito and Roberts clones because he’d rather not fight to get a progressive SCOTUS nominee through? Will his Iraq withdrawal timetable grind to a halt because he’s suddenly been persuaded that there are many “safety” reasons to linger near the oil wells or the Iranian border? After all, it should be relatively easier to play the bait and switch once he’s in the White House, especially since he’s already built a lot of wiggle room into his Iraq withdrawal statements.

    It seems that at Obama’s core, the only bedrock value is the importance of not standing for anything if it makes waves. Except, of course, if you’re standing against your own supporters in a vain attempt to get a few votes from the swing voters. And that’s another fundamental misreading of political reality. The swing voters, because they have no core beliefs, swing to the stronger partisan every time, like loose electrons to the stronger nucleus.

    I was never a fan of either Clinton or Obama, but right now I’d rather have Clinton as our nominee. Obama, like too many superstars, is starting to believe his own hype. These days it seems as if he’s posing for Mount Rushmore and arranging lotteries for a few of the little people to attend his coronation in Denver.

    If he continues like this, he will lose in November.

  • http://freedomfightersunited.wordpress.com Piper Davenport

    I had applied to be a Barack Obama Fellow and was denied. Instead of choosing me, they conveniently chose another fat black woman in my place. One that had the “right” opinion. Now, it may have been a blessing in disguise that I wasn’t chosen. Also, the way things are going from a political standpoint, I wouldn’t want to be any politician that sells out the people who elect them to buy their own future. As Pluto continues its transit through Capricorn, I guarantee you that these same politicians that have sold out will eventually see the errors of their ways because the price will have been too high. I also would pay attention to the years 2016-2017, especially if we don’t pull out of the Iraq War soon. That year, Pluto transits the U.S. 2nd house of finances.

    We live in scary times and I hope Barack Obama realizes the mess he’s about to inherit and doesn’t give up his core values because I’m afraid that he’s being built up to be used as a scapegoat.

  • anonymous

    “Obama is just another calculating, unprincipled politician.”

    That is a fact!

    Some of us who’ve had the tremendous misfortune of having Flip-Flop-Orama “representing” (loosest sense possible) us in the Senate tried warning all you gullible “believers” that you were drinking the kool-aid. Anyone who ever called Flip-Flop Orama’s senate office and was told they didn’t know how he was voting on bills that day such as Funding Iraq, Patriot Act, previous attempts at retroactive immunity, etc. because he had his finger sticking in the wind or planned to vote with the Rethuglicans know that he’s a smooth talking con-artist politico who’s been posing for the presidency since day one of his senate term.

    Sooner or later it’s not fun saying “I told you so.” This sudden realization by the “believers” that they were sold snake oil by Flip-Flop-Orama is too little too late.

  • TMack

    What do you mean by “swiftboating”?
    John Kerry promised twice to release ALL military records to Tim Russert on MTP, and twice broke that promise. Actually it is obvious he was lying to begin with.
    T. Boone Pickens offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove the swiftboaters lied.
    If they did, why does T. Boone still have the million?
    Kerry lied about being in Cambodia. He lied about throwing his medals over the fence at the Pentagon or the White House.
    So Larry why do you use the term “swiftboating” when its meaning is based on lies?

  • http://www.vectorpedia.com Vectorpedia (Rick)

    I think we will see selfswiftboating from both of the political parties…….its the sign of the times

  • robbep

    What the Obama people dont seem to get is that Obama’s brand has been damaged by his shifting positions. Once he starts to look like your typical politician he loses his advantage as a candidate of change. His vote on FISA was more than a change of position, it revealed a lack of character and principles. I will still vote for him over McCain but I have lost all enthusiasm for his candidacy. Obama seems to be a person who does what is in his political interest irregardless of how it affects those around him. He had no regard for the millions of supporters who asked him to honor his word and fillibuster FISA, the only thing he saw was how his vote on FISA gave him a perceived advantage. The people around him who convinced him to change his position on this and other issues have done him a great disservice but he is primarily responsible for it. As much as I disagreed with Bush you have to admire him for sticking up for what he and his supporters believed in. Obama does not appear to be this kind of man. Which makes me me wonder if Obama is elected (which i doubt) will he be able to get anything done on issues like health care, education and health care. These issues will take some compromise but it will need a leader with a firm committment to make change. So far I have not seen it in him.