Monday, September 1, 2008

Broder is Wrong: The Post Wherein I take on a Pulitzer Prize Winner

David Broder (the conservative Washington Post columnist), is supposed to be very smart. He's known alternatively as the "dean" of the Washington Press Corps, or "chairman of the board." He even won a Pulitzer Prize.

So what's up with this: Small Change From Obama

You can read it there if you like, it's not too long, but I'll go ahead and lay out his argument here.

He had two major points:

First, he didn't like Barack Obama's Speech:

The Democrats had themselves a successful convention -- at the price of appearing quite conventional.

No one is likely to argue that the speech here "changed politics in America." His jibes at John McCain and George Bush were standard-issue Democratic fare, and his recital of a long list of domestic promises could have been delivered by any Democratic nominee from Walter Mondale to John Kerry.

There was no theme music to the speech and really no phrase or sentence that is likely to linger in the memory of any listener. The thing I never expected did in fact occur: Al Gore, the famously wooden former vice president, gave a more lively and convincing speech than Obama did.

Second, he thought that Barack Obama overlooked good young politicians to highlight at at the convention, in favor of old pols.

Obama's disappointing speech also reflected what I had thought was the one conspicuous failure of the convention program -- the missed opportunity to introduce the country to others in the younger generation of Democrats than just Obama and his dazzling wife, Michelle.

The convention hall was full of bright, attractive men and women serving as governors or mayors or in other posts. Obama knows many of them from his campaign travels, and he gave the keynote spot to one of them, Virginia's Mark Warner.

But the prime-time spots on the convention program went to Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Clinton, former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Joe Biden, the vice presidential nominee. All are comfortably familiar figures to members of my generation, and all are part of a Washington that is hardly the favorite of most voters.

If you don't buy my synopsis, simply click on the above link where you can read all of the above in its original context.

Either way, I don't remember reading an article lately that I disagreed with more strongly (I don't read WSJ very much, and never read the Weekly Standard or Washington Times).

On the first point:

Broder is clearly suffering from short term and long term memory loss. He claims that Barack Obama's first speech changed politics in America. Maybe, but I don't think that was it's intent. The speech was ultimately about how John Kerry should be president and that this country wouldn't and shouldn't be divided by Bush/Rove tactics. Simple as that.

In this election, we offer that choice. Our Party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. And that man is John Kerry.

John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and service because they’ve defined his life. From his heroic service to Vietnam, to his years as a prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he's devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available.

His values and his record affirm what is best in us. John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded; so instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he offers them to companies creating jobs here at home.

John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves.

John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies, or the sabotage of foreign oil fields.

John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties, nor use faith as a wedge to divide us.

And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world war must be an option sometimes, but it should never be the first option.

Obama supporters flocked to him after he gave that speech, not because Obama was a messiah, or even because people thought that Obama was going to "change politics" to quote Broder. No, people flocked to him because he put forward a future in which people can find common ground, can disagree without being disagreeable, and he sounded like he would fight for that future. He would fight for the soldiers, for the poor, for those seeking education. That last point was in stark contrast to candidate Kerry, who could have fought harder against both swift-boaters, and the flip flop label. And that is exactly what Obama did in his speech from 2008, fight.

Broder completely ignores the last part of this speech, where after outlining his differences with McCain, he lays out exactly where he is willing to find middle ground.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

Two parting thoughts for Broder on this issue, first yes, any Democratic candidate could have given this address, but none of them did. Barack Obama is different because of the way he approaches politics, because he realizes that for most people politics is about the improvement of people's lives. He is still a member of the Democratic Party, he supports the tenets of the Democratic Party and celebrates the tradition of Democratic politics. Second, Barack Obama has been attacked, for "putting party first," for "being a celebrity," and for a whole variety of other made-up charges. If you, Mr. Broder were hoping that Obama wouldn't use his most viewed speech thus far in the campaign to respond to these accusations, then you do not understand Barack Obama. Obama understands the truth in the critique that words matter less than actions and no matter what he says, he will only be able to make change by getting into the White House. So, while helping McCain get elected would be easier for you if Obama ignored the can do.

On to the second point about Barack Obama embracing people from your generation instead of presenting politicians from a younger generation. A couple responses:

First, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are all important to the younger generations. These are the politicians who have fought for the past 20, 30, 40 years for the rights and privileges we enjoy today and they are the heritage of our party. In an election, when the party is leaping forward it is equally important that we look back and look at experience, success, bravery.

Second, had Barack Obama not given the Clintons prime-time speaking slots it would have been a slap in the face to the half of the party that supported Hillary Clinton in the election. By all accounts, both Clintons gave great speeches and helped assure that Barack Obama would enjoy a united Democratic Party.

Mr. Broder, you give away the weakness of your argument with the final paragraph in your column.

The only time a new president can really change Washington is when he makes it the central message of his campaign, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

Reagan's skill was his rhetoric; hence the label "The Great Communicator."

Ronald Reagan changed Washington? Really?

I know we're still paying off his debts...but other than that?

That's what I think

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