Arianna Huffington said it best, I think, in her recent blog piece titled, "Memo to Obama: Moving to the Middle Is for Losers". She wrote, "Fixating on--and pandering to--[undecided swing voters] is all about messaging tailored to avoid offending rather than to inspire and galvanize....In 2004, the Kerry campaign's obsession with undecided voters--voters so easily swayed that 46 percent of them found credible the Swift Boaters' charges that Kerry might have faked his war wounds to earn a Purple Heart--allowed the race to devolve from a referendum on the future of the country into a petty squabble over whether Kerry had bled enough to warrant his medals". [For more, see http://www.alternet.org/story/90465.]
Since I wrote the first installment of The Case against Moderation three weeks ago, it has become pretty plain that Sen. Barack Obama has been told by his oh-so-well-paid advisors that the way to win is to take a lesson from the New Democrats/Democratic Leadership Council/Blue Dog Democrats crowd and tack right until the left shore is out of sight. With his newly-minted positions on "Free Trade", FISA, gun control, the death penalty, and, now, "faith-based" social programs, Sen. Obama risks so compromising his political cache and audacity of hope that, like Gore and Kerry, he will find the McCain campaign defining him to the voters in their way, not his. He is beginning to look--unfairly or not--like any other Washington beltway politician. Perhaps that is because he spends too much time listening to Washington beltway pundits.
So-called "swing voters" are, by their very definition, the political equivalent of vanilla ice cream--they take on the flavor of whatever is poured, spooned, or dipped over them. This may also be true of many independents, though I'm sure not all. Swing voters are as likely to be swayed to vote for someone because of the color of their spouse's hair as any one issue. The fact is, for many of them, they couldn't care less about politics, history, science, or political genius. They like what they like, end of story. Moving to the right to appease these voters on the issues is a very risky gamble. Mostly importantly, it confuses and alienates the very base that gave Obama the nomination. Secondly, it confuses those voters who don't quite understand what Democrats stand for and validates those who say there's no difference between the two parties.
We all know what Republicans stand for--small [ineffective] government, low [skewed in favor of the rich] taxes, a strong [exorbitant] defense, cozy relationships with big business, and winning at all costs. But what does the Democratic side of the slate look like? Right now, it's blank because Democrats keep erasing what was written there yesterday and replacing it with something designed to offend as few voters as possible. They used to be for a strong social safety net for the poor and the elderly, civil rights for all, prudent budgets with a vital middle class, and a best-in-the-world military. That was the legacy of FDR and Truman. Now, the Democratic mantra seems to be, "we have to work with the Republicans to avoid the appearance of obstructionism (or elitism or lack of patriotism or whatever other pejorative the other side happens to be slinging at the moment". The Party of the People that used to stand against injustice like a mighty oak has turned out to be hollowed out, filled with worms...just when the country needs it to stand strong the most.
Here's what I would like to say to Senator Obama:
If our country is ripe for change, as you seem to believe it is and as your campaign's success in the primaries seems to prove, that change will not come from the middle. As Albert Einstein once said, "The same thinking that got us where we are is not going to get us where we should be (I'm liberally paraphrasing)." We need a president with a rare vision to see the future and the path that will steer this ship of state away from the shoals. The people see you as a leader with the vision to take their hands and lead them to a more gentle America. Not everyone has that same vision and like all great leaders--Abe Lincoln comes to mind--you can listen to them for what they might have to offer. But there comes a time when a leader must connect the dots where others may not even see dots and lead, not cajole, nor pander, nor equivocate, BUT LEAD US TO THE LIGHT AS GOD HAS GIVEN HIM OR HER TO SEE THE LIGHT.
So, keep your eye on the prize, be true to yourself, and take us there by the strength of your convictions. We will be there beside you, proud as you, and just as confident that our world will heal, not from making nice with tyrants, but from pursuing the hard, tough course that will lead us away from sure madness and destruction. Surely, the challenge you face is no less daunting than that of Lincoln. If you are not willing to risk division, as he did, you cannot bring a resolution to the existential issues that face us today.
FDR once said in a fireside chat that he "welcomed" the hatred of those of the well-healed elite who felt that he was a traitor to his class. If you pursue the course that I have recommended, you will be hated by some, Sen. Obama. But you will be loved by many others. This is the fate of those who have the courage of their convictions and the power of effect real change. It cannot be helped. Welcome it. Your legacy will save our children and their children and they will sing your praises unto the seventh generation. Godspeed to you, Sen. Obama. A proud nation awaits.