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The Economist: “But could he deliver?” [UPDATED]

From The Economist print edition, via Mark Halperin’s Time magazine The Page blog (essential daily reading for me):

It is time for America to evaluate Obama the potential president, not Obama the phenomenon

… Although Mr Obama’s slogan “Yes We Can” has been turned into a pop video, the theme of his campaign echoes the Clintons’ old tune—“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”.

Optimism is a powerful emotion, but as that song warned, “tomorrow will soon be here.” That is why the real questioning of Mr Obama should begin now. With the brief exception of those four heady days after the Iowa caucuses, he has never been a front-runner; now he will be more fully scrutinised.

[...]

But what policies exactly? Mr Obama’s voting record in the Senate is one of the most left-wing of any Democrat. Even if he never voted for the Iraq war, his policy for dealing with that country now seems to amount to little more than pulling out quickly, convening a peace conference, inviting the Iranians and the Syrians along and hoping for the best. On the economy, his plans are more thought out, but he often tells people only that they deserve more money and more opportunities. If one lesson from the wasted Bush years is that needless division is bad, another is that incompetence is perhaps even worse. A man who has never run any public body of any note is a risk, even if his campaign has been a model of discipline.

And the Obama phenomenon would not always be helpful, because it would raise expectations to undue heights. Budgets do not magically cut themselves, even if both parties are in awe of the president; the Middle East will not heal, just because a president’s second name is Hussein. Choices will have to be made—and foes created even when there is no intention to do so. Indeed, something like that has already happened in his campaign. The post-racial candidate has ended up relying heavily on black votes (and in some places even highlighting the divide between Latinos and blacks).

None of this is to take away from Mr Obama’s achievement. … For America’s sake (and the world’s), that bar should now be raised—or all kinds of brutal disappointment could follow.

The MSM in the U.S. must raise the bar. Frankly, the UK press as well as a few U.S. bloggers are asking the hard questions (and taking a lot of flak for it). But that’s not nearly enough because most busy Americans, reliant as they are on snatches of AM radio and TV news, are not learning nearly enough about the candidates.

THE ECONOMICS ISSUES:

[UPDATE] From yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times, one of the few newspapers doing its job (h/t to Taylor Marsh):

Obama takes hit on economic policy
Campaign’s a ripoff of Clinton’s, her supporters, McCain adviser maintains …

There’s my piece, “Professor Obama’s Political Plagiarism,” that discusses how Obama’s Wisconsin speech earlier this week on economic plans are largely lifted from plans and legislation that Hillary Clinton has already proposed. One example:

FOR STARTERS: His “new” proposal for a national infrastructure bank is one that Hillary proposed August 8, 2007. [”I’m proud to co-sponsor Senator Dodd and Senator Hagel’s National Infrastructure Bank Act that we just introduced to establish a federally-backed independent bank that will evaluate and finance large infrastructure projects by subsidies, loan guarantees, and bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.” Rebuilding America speech, 8/8/07; S. 1926, 8/1/07]

Worrisome, too, are his Republican-leaning economic advisers. Stephen Schlesinger — former Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University and the son of Arthur Schlesinger — wrote a Huffington Post article, “Obama’s Conservative Economists,” with details on these advisers. One brief excerpt:

[The Nation's Max Fraser] notes that Obama’s proposed solution to the mortgage mess is “short on aggressive government involvement and infused with conservative rhetoric about fiscal responsibility.” … Obama has not called for a moratorium on foreclosures or a freezing of interest rates or the use of federal subsidies to help homeowners keep up with payments and restructure loans or some regulation of the financial industry — Edwards and Clinton have offered variations on those themes. Instead Obama has proposed legislation against mortgage fraud, a tax credit for homeowners which amounts to about $500 on average and an additional fund that will help a certain limited number of homeowners. [NOT ENOUGH!]

Fraser attributes Obama’s constricted response to “the centrist politics of his three chief economic advisors and his campaign’s ties to Wall Street institutions opposed to increased financial regulations” and points out that Obama has received almost $10 million in contributions from the finance insurance and real estate sector …

For the candidate of change and bold ideas, Obama’s tepid response to the overwhelming mortgage crisis suggests a Republican-orientation. …

Then there was Paul Krugman’s comparisons of the plans of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama — devastating in its criticisms of Obama’s plans. Here’s but one brief example of many in Krugman’s NYT op-ed:

[T]he Obama plan appears to contain none of the alternative energy initiatives that are in both the Edwards and Clinton proposals, and emphasizes across-the-board tax cuts over both aid to the hardest-hit families and help for state and local governments. I know that Mr. Obama’s supporters hate to hear this, but he really is less progressive than his rivals on matters of domestic policy.

THE MSM’s FAILURE TO VET Sen. Obama, or for his supporters to adequately explain his “appeal”:

And — returning to The Economist‘s theme about the MSM’s lack of scrutiny of Sen. Obama — here’s a sample of what is to come from the right should Obama become the nominee — via Philadelphia’s The Bulletin:

Then there is his lack of experience, which is even more frightening, as it means we’d be having amateur night at the White House right in the middle of a war against Islamofascism along with all kinds of severe domestic and other foreign policy problems. The man has no experience and no record.

Dramatic proof of his record came home when Fox News pollster Frank Luntz asked a focus group on live television a simple question: You’re for Mr. Obama, so tell me about one of his accomplishments. Not one in the group had any to offer, not a single one. He has supporters who are obviously willing to buy the proverbial cat in the bag or pig in the poke. Sean Hannity saw this focus group in action. So the next time Mr. Luntz had assembled another focus group of Democrats with many Obama supporters, he asked Mr. Luntz to try the same question. Again, no one in the group could name a single accomplishment of Mr. Obama. He’s been in the U.S. Senate for about two years and in the Illinois Senate for eight, and he had a career before that, but his supporters can’t even hint at even one achievement, legislative or otherwise. (And note, he really has no U.S. Senate experience to speak of, as most of his time there has been spent running for the presidency.)

Then, I saw one of his supporters – a congressman from Virginia, Bobby Scott – being interviewed. The interviewer noted that the voters couldn’t name a single achievement of Mr. Obama, but surely someone in the political arena could. The congressman made a feeble effort to suggest accomplishments but finally fell back on the platitudes and slogans that are Mr. Obama’s stock and trade. The congressman said things like “he will bring us together,” and “he will get things done.” Unfortunately, neither Mr. Obama nor his supporters can tell us what happens after we’re all brought together, or how he’ll bring us together in the first place. By like token, they can tell us Mr. Obama means change but know little or nothing about what, if anything, will be changed. …

Can you believe that a Congressman didn’t have a clue how to express what Obama specifically has to offer? This is not just some ordinary Obama supporter rhapsodizing about Obama’s charisma — this is an elected official! And he’s not the only one. KCK, a fine diarist and longtime activist writes in “Hillary Rodham, Chair of the Legal Services Corporation” about Wisconsin’s governor:

I don’t care who you vote for, but you should know why. I just watched the Wisconsin Governor Doyle endorse Obama on Hardball yet when asked what Obama’s accomplishments are he stuttered and fell short surprised as if the question wasn’t fair. He answered with O’s ethics legislation and community org. & said that his kids and wife are for Obama and well he finally decided to join up…

WTF?

Back to Philadelphia’s The Bulletin:

As already noted, the mainstream media is virtually ignoring his record while heaping boundless praise on him with every edition. Only political columnist Joe Klein started making some sensible noise about Mr. Obama in a recent issue of Time (Feb. 18): “Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause – other than an amorphous desire for change – the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.”

Mr. Klein noted an element of the messiah and savior about Mr. Obama’s positioning: “And yet there was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism – ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for’ – of the Super Tuesday speech and the recent turn of the Obama campaign. ‘This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It’s different because of you.’ This is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: The campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire.” …

At least Klein is raising key questions. Of course, he’s been excoriated — just like Larry Johnson — at places like DailyObama (formerly known as DailyKos).

READ ALL to find out what’s in store for Sen. Obama — the deluge of attacks he will face from the right and Sen. McCain.

This should concern every voter who wishes to put behind them the days of George W. Bush, another wholly inexperienced president — as Larry Johnson has written about here many times.

We have so many enormous problems — from our low standing in the world, to ill-run wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to our dangerously floundering economy, to our returning veterans whose future medical costs will match the cost of the entire wars to date!, to our badly broken health care system, to our predatory credit card and finance companies, to our dependence on China as our banker, to China’s dangerous imports that go uninspected, to our failure to address the environmental crisis (and failure to create “green jobs”), and on and on.

We desperately need a president who has the experience to match the rhetoric.

An occasional fine speech just won’t cut it. Inspiration just won’t cut it. I don’t want change per se. I want a change-maker.

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  • CK

    Highways and schools are owned by states and localities. The states are already selling of their toll roads, ports and other assets to foreign countries without any federal help at all.
    To privatize social security, the congress has to do that. Given that the democrats are hell bent on electing more better democrats this time to both houses of congress, social security does not appear in danger of privatization. If your worry is that social security will go bankrupt 40 years down the road, the easiest and least painful solution is to raise the cap over which income is not taxed for social security.
    The mess in NOLA you can lay entirely at the feet of FEMA and DHS and the Bush administration. You might want to add a bit of congress bashing since the dems have had the power for two years now to do something about NOLA just as they have had the power to defund the war anytime they wanted.
    I have not seen a list of who Senator Obama has chosen for his economic advisors, they might be from the Chicago school of monetary economics, I am fairly sure they are not from the NYT editorial pages or failed Keynsians from Yale and Harvard and Princeton.

    • ellag

      They are electing Obamacrats not Democrats…big difference.

      If you want McCain to win you better defeat Obama now…

      Between those two I (long time dem) will vote for McCain. He will do far less damage to our country.

      • CK

        They who?
        The candidates running on the democratic ticket for the various house and senate seats are Obamacrats? The governors and local legislators running as democrats are really Obamacrats?
        Obama is not a democrat?

        I want McCain to lose. I want him to lose so badly that he retires in disgrace. I expect any other person and most domesticated animals would do less damage to the country than McCain in the presidency would. I would like to see the dems run the table 50-0 this time out. And you will vote for 4 more years of Bush why?

        • TeakwoodKite

          And you will vote for 4 more years of Bush why?

          I don’t get this way of thinking, I wish someone could make a rational arguement as to why this makes sense… I don’t get it.

          • CK

            Possible explanations:
            1) The perfect is the enemy of the good enough. ( each fan knows that their fave is perfect and the other guy is one rung below whale shit )
            2) If things don’t go exactly the way I want I will hold my breath until I turn blue or I will go outside and eat worms. ( When I am feeling optimistic this is my preferred explanation for it )
            3) I like war. I want your kids to be involved in a war. I want america to spend the next hundred years at war. But I want an efficient war not a bollox like Bush gave us. ( This one fits a lot of dems unfortunately)
            4) The boomer generation is marching off the stage, Obama’s generation is marching on. The boomers do not want to go softly into that good retirement. ( this is my preferred explanation )
            5) They actually believe that Bush and McCain are getter for America than Obama would be. ( this was the big think of the turncoat dems in 1960 … that Nixon would be better than that kennedy boy; 8 years later they voted for Nixon again and got their wishes)

            • RalphB

              Do you actually have anything to say that makes even one bit of sense? If so, you might try posting it instead of this crap.

        • Simon

          The candidates running on the democratic ticket for the various house and senate seats are Obamacrats? The governors and local legislators running as democrats are really Obamacrats?
          Obama is not a democrat

          They have the same financial interests, they aren’t interested in governing, they want power, and money, no matter who they have to blow to get it.

          Just because they call themselves democratic doesn’t mean they’re are, Pelosi, Reid and Obama have been a disaster.

          Why?

      • TeakwoodKite

        Surpreme Court? Re:Far less Damage?

  • ellag

    Krugman is correct:

    “I know that Mr. Obama’s supporters hate to hear this, but he really is less progressive than his rivals on matters of domestic policy.”
    Obama is the good-looking suit out front for the “Chicago Boys”. He will oversee the privatization, not only of social security, but also highways and schools.
    Take a look at New Orleans and see what a mess that turned out to be.
    Obama will pay down the national debt by selling off our national assets…most likely to foreigners.

    PS: The use of the word “boys” is not intended as a racial slur so dont get your undies in a knot over that.

  • CK

    The price the guy who owns my local bakery has to pay for a bag of flour has gone from $9 last year to $24 this morning. His butter costs have doubled likewise his milk costs. The gas to run his ovens is up about 30% over last year. He cannot hold the prices on his donuts but then neither can any of his competitors. So the price for a dozen donuts is raised by $1.00 which doesn’t cover all his cost increases but is what he thinks he can afford to raise them. Donut sales have fallen. Bread prices are up, so bread sales have also fallen.
    He and I were commiserating a few months ago about the 50% increase in health insurance premiums he faced. He dropped his health insurance. Lucky man that he is he paid off his mortgage last year after 15 years of scrimping. His property tax bill just got a nasty hike.
    It used to be a pleasure to stop into his bakery, drink a cuppa, schmooze a bit, enjoy the aromas and buy a dozen donuts. Today the aromas were still good, the cuppa was as good as ever, the schmooze was maybe less than happy, but I only purchased a half a dozen. Rinse lather and repeat a couple of million times every day.

  • Adam B.

    Herb Denenberg, Susan? That’s just shameful. Here’s what your source wrote about Clinton:

    Hillary is a phony, hypocritical, congenital liar who won’t accept responsibility; she’s so insecure she relies only on gurus, consultants and other advisers instead of thinking for herself, she’s unprincipled; she’s far-left liberal despite her pose for purposes of the election; and she’s likely to be a big spender and big taxer (she admitted to having a million ideas, which we certainly can’t afford).

    But there is a more fundamental issue. Ms. Buchanan proves that Hillary does not have the character to be president or, for that matter, to be trusted with any important office, such as dogcatcher. Ms. Buchanan offers this summary: “Hillary’s character is not a pretty sight. In stride she can lie, cheat, steal, commit perjury, obstruct justice, malign reputations and destroy the lives of innocent people. Driven by ambition, arrogance, greed, elitism, power and entitlement, Hillary’s road to the top has been a bloody one. Reputations and lives of real people have been left in the dirt along the way. But it has worked for Hillary. She made it to the top – and may do so again.”

    This is who you’re relying on?

    • CK

      Denenberg now, Glenn Beck soon. Eventually Bill Kristol will be the responsible voice; loved here almost as much as he is loved on The Daily Show.

  • Anne

    What’s interesting to me is that from the beginning, Obama never went after voters using policy or substance; after 8 years of an incompetent and power-hungry president, he cleverly tapped into the huge desire for change. He was the candidate who made them feel good after so many years of feeling bad – we were going to overcome and the only one who could make it happen was the one who made them feel so good. Once he had them hooked, he didn’t need to explain how it was going to happen, or exactly what he was going to do – his followers don’t care, and have decided to just trust that he will never let the good feelings end. They are truly “hooked on a feeling.”

    Hillary, on the other hand, reminds people of the reality – that no one who takes the oath of office is issued a magic wand in a back-room ceremony, or the secret codes that make all the wishes reality.

    Obama treats people like children. He reminds them of the magic of believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy – magical, mythical figures who made all their dreams come true as long as they believed. He hasn’t thought ahead to whether he can deliver or how much he can deliver or for how long. It’s all about the magic and the power of manipulating people into believing.

    Hillary treats people like adults, like partners in this great adventure called democracy and government. She knows there is no magic wand, that wishing doesn’t make things happen, that nothing happens without hard, hard work in the trenches.

    This is an instant gratification society, a something-for-nothing society, full of people who have been handed a lot without ever having to expend much effort – and I think these are the people who vote Obama.

    You know and I know that Hillary’s approach is the honest one, the real one, but Obama is tapping into people’s desires to escape reality and live in a land where everything is wonderful, the birds sing, and nothing goes wrong.

    If she could sprinkle a little fairy dust on her message, I think it would go a long way to grabbing the attention of those who may not have fully bought what Obama is selling.

    I shudder to think of the damage that cascades through the Democratic party and whatever majority we have in the Congress, when all these believers wake up on Christmas morning and discover that Santa didn’t bring them all the presents they wished so hard for, that there is no Easter Bunny, and that the Tooth Fairy is tapped out.

    • dragoneyes

      You nailed it, Anne…great archetypal analysis!

      I am reminded of my favorite quote from my favorite cranky libertarian science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein… from his Hugo winning book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

      There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

      Typically shortened to TANSTAAFL

  • CK

    You choose to use Herb Denenberg to assault Obama?
    and Denenberg chooses to use Human Events as his main source of disparagement. And what is diparaged is that Obama has a very liberal voting record in congress. You know those old 100% ratings from CORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONSTITUENCIES.
    If I point out that Denenberg and The Bulletin and Human Events mag all toe the AIPAC line and that Obama is not currently AIPAC’s preferred candidate, and that if Hillary is not the nominee then McCain will become the AIPAC preferred candidate, would that make any difference?
    If I point out to you that Obama has the lowest % of old dem hacks, neocons and CFR types among his backers of all of the remaining four candidates would that maybe make a dent?
    If I point out that we are now in a recession and by convention time there is better than a fifty % chance that we will be in a DEPRESSION and that none of the high flown gimme gimme pandering is going to amount to a small pile of crap underfoot?
    States and Local governments CANNOT sell bonds.
    Empty, overpriced houses do not contribute to property tax collections.
    Unemployed wall street bean counters and magic SIV promoters do no pay income taxes.
    Neither do 35,000 soon to be unemployed GM workers.
    Neither will Chrysler nor GMAC after Cerebus closes them.
    Foreign nations do not wish to hold the debt of a nation when that debt loses 10% a year in purchasing power and pays less than 6%.
    If the foreign nations, China, Russia, Japan and Saudi Arabia do not buy US debt, the only way to keep your damn Iraq fiasco going is to print more paper money and depreciate existing money and incomes even more than the current 10% the US is already doing?
    have you read anything about what it was like in Wiemar Germany in the early 30′s or in Zimbabwe today?
    None of the four clowns currently left in the race for president will be able to do a thing about the coming fiasco that will be the Bush Depression.
    Whichever person gets the brass ring will find his or her name added to that depression.
    And unlike the last grand depression, where there actually were factories and plants and firms sitting around unused but able to be restarted, there is no industrial base left in america; it is all in China and Malaysia and India and Vietnam.
    Atrios calls it the shitpile, well Atrios is understating what is coming down the pike.
    It is a convoy of 18wheel manure carries all without breaks and all headed for the same spot.
    The MSM, the dead tree media, the talking heads cannot report this without making it come true even sooner.
    http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/
    Just read the list of things that have gone tits up today.
    If I sound just the smallest bit alarmist, it is because I AM alarmed.
    And we have four lightweights to choose from to try to solve any of this.

    • Gloria

      The piece was posted to illustrate what the right wing is going to put out….This was clearly stated by Susan

      “READ ALL to find out what’s in store for Sen. Obama — the deluge of attacks he will face from the right and Sen. McCain. This should concern every voter who wishes to put behind them the days of George W. Bush, another wholly inexperienced president — as Larry Johnson has written about here many times.”

      It is not a “source” per se, but an example of RW thinking. You can ignore at your own peril…

      • CK

        I doubt many people here need more sources of right wing/neocon thinking to absorb and regurgitate.
        We know what is in store for whoever heads the ticket. This crap did not start with bush it will not end with the next president. It is old hat and holding it up as some fearsome bogeyman is just foolish.
        Denenberg is an old rightwing/AIPAC hack. He has polluted the PA newspapers and TV for decades.
        Every con artist and campaign manager has studied Rove and his techniques for the last 8 years. And most of them have also studied Rove’s abject failure in 2006.
        So I beg to differ, in this case it is a source.

  • Gloria

    Re: Obama and foreign policy…here’s an interesting piece by Palestinian-American journalist…

    http://www.worldpress.org/Americas/3067.cfm

    Can I Have My Change Back: Arab-Americans and Obama’s False Hope

    Remi Kanazi
    New York, N.Y.
    February 11, 2008

    If our community starts supporting candidates who do not recognize our plight …, our community at home and our families abroad will suffer.

    At what point does an individual stop supporting the lesser of two evils? The question has became particularly important of late, as one man ascended to political stardom ostensibly breaking free from the evils of mainstream politics and creating a platform based on hope and change. This transcendent figure is presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama.

    Searching for substantive policy, I began to chip away at Obama’s political posturing and came to a daunting conclusion: there is a multitude of reasons why one shouldn’t vote for Obama, especially if one is a member of the Arab-American community.

    MORE….

    Professional/Personal Overview

    Remi Kanazi is a Palestinian-American freelance writer living in NYC. His focus is Middle East politics – specifically Palestinian/Israeli politics. Mr. Kanazi’s work has been published in the Palestinian territories, Israel, and America as well as in online magazines around the world.

    Some Palestinian and Middle East media his work has been featured on includes: Electronic Intifada, Electronic Iraq, Palestine Monitor, Palestine Chronicle, Middle East Online, Palestine Media Center, MIFTAH, Alternative Information Center, Al Jazeera.com, The Jerusalem Times, and Al Bawaba.

    Mr. Kanazi’s work has also been featured on progressive media outlets which include: CounterPunch, ZNet, MR Zine, Alternative Press Review, Media Monitors and Scoops. His personal blog is Poetic Remi, and his Web site is at http://www.poeticinjustice.net.

  • Mr.Murder

    I disagree that Obama’s left wing.

    As for inviting Iran and Syria in to be a problem, keeping them out is a greater one, and we’ve created their refugee crisis on each side of Iraq.

    Statements of record and policy that can be addressed factually are more imprtant a criticism against him than a talking point.

    Keep it real, on the substanmsive side.

    […]

    But what policies exactly? Mr Obama’s voting record in the Senate is one of the most left-wing of any Democrat.

    Nothing I’ve seen supports that assertion. It takes away from other legit concerns that are in the thread.

    • http://noquarterusa.net/ SusanUnPC

      I was merely quoting what their opinion page said to give a flavor of where they are coming from.