Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Deliberator

My sister and I have been talking about the presidential campaign, and she had an interesting critique of McCain and Palin. It's something that I think I have not heard anyone else say. Here it is:

And here's the real thing for me -- she and McCain are both "gut" players. They govern with their guts and their instincts, and everything is right and wrong and there is no grey. And they're not afraid to tick people off to do what they think is right. And I'm tired of that technique. I think we need a more deliberative style in the presidency as well as a more bridge building, working together style. When I hear McCain say "vote for the team that's not afraid to break some china!" I think, the china is already broken. We've already had a china breaker, and that has been a real mess, IMHO.

And this was my reply:

I think you're right about [the personal style of] McCain and Palin, and Obama certainly seems more deliberative. And I'll admit, a little more thinking before acting would be a welcome change. But there are two ways to look at it. One is to say that he is more deliberative. The other is to say that he never does anything.

From what I can see, Obama has virtually no record. And I don't mean that he hasn't been in Washington for very long. I mean that there's very little that we can point out that he has accomplished. Look at this list of all the legislature he ever introduced in the Senate:

In four years in the Senate, he has managed to get five pieces of legislation passed-- all of which passed by unanimous consent, without the need for individual Senators to vote yea or nay. Two of these designate a particular day as National Summer Learning Day. One congratulates the White Sox on winning the World Series. One is an obituary for a minister from Memphis. And one recognizes "the historical significance of Juneteenth Independence Day and express[es] the sense of the Senate that history should be regarded as a means for understanding the past."

That's the entirety of what this man has accomplished in the Senate. In this he is like John Kerry, and a lot of other worthless politicians who sit around and enjoy the collegiality of the Senate club without doing much. John McCain gets things done. Even Joe Biden has done some important work in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Obama hasn't done anything, despite thinking a lot and talking a lot about how he's going to change the country, and the world.

It's the same if you look at his time in Illinois. What did he accomplish as a community organizer? Here's a pretty critical look at his years there:

But even if you read the most enthusiastic and supportive accounts of his years as a community organizer, you can't find much evidence of him having done anything. There's lots of talk about how it helped him to understand the plight of the urban poor, and understand himself better as well. But I can't find any evidence that these people were better off for his help.

Similarly, as a state legislator, he is most notable for the (surprisingly great) number of times he voted "present."

Deliberation can be good, but the point of it is to make a good decision and then act. I have heard it said of George Washington that he was not a quick thinker but that he always reached the correct conclusion in the end. Obama strikes me as a person who does plenty of thinking and plenty of talking, but just doesn't get much accomplished.

Consider the issue of government waste and corruption. I'm sure Obama is against it, but his record leads me to believe he will get outmaneuvered and steamrolled by Congress. On the other hand, I think McCain will spend days and nights poring over bills to find that pork. Then he'll expose the crooks, and try to kill the bills. Why do I think this? Because that's what he has done for decades in the Senate-- and as president, he will have a much larger audience when he exposes waste, and his veto will count for more than his single Senatorial vote did.

Or consider global warming. Barack Obama introduced the Climate Change Education Act, which never got a vote, even in committee. John McCain-- even if we only look at the time since 2004 when Obama was elected-- has introduced two substantive pieces of legislation, with Democratic co-sponsors, that were extensively debated before being defeated.

It's the same for social security, or illegal immigration, or any other important issue. McCain has written detailed and important legislation, pushed for it, and often got it passed into law. For his part, Obama has given widely-acclaimed speeches, and occasionally introduced a bill that usually doesn't make it out of committee.

Frankly, I'm not too worried about an Obama presidency, even though I disagree with him on policy quite a lot. I'm not worried because I don't think he'll get much done. And maybe that would be a nice change. You might want a quieter time, with a president who serves more as a figure for inspiration, one who uses the bully pulpit more and lets Congress do their work without much executive interference. I'm not sure that's the way it would really work out, but I can see the appeal.

This is not so original, though. I have noticed a lot of people making this critique of Obama, but it's still very convincing-- to me, anyway. And that's what matters in the end. Because my word is LAW.



Sam said...

Yo JD,

so this is my general criticism of congress. They don't do anything. If you hear all the news bits with politicians talking about the presidential election, I've noticed a large number of them are on the floors of congress. I wonder, what bill does this relate to? If this is what they talk about, then how does legislation get debated/passed.

the House of Payne said...

This is why they have a big staff, to keep track of all the things they are not personally keeping track of. Generally, their staff writes the legislation, tells them how to vote on other legislation, and lets them know when a vote is going down so they can run down to the floor.

SayitwithanH said...

I'm with your sister. I understand that while we need to be strong on the world stage, there also has to be a discussion and a dialog. I do not see putting two bulls in a world already filled with such volatile circumstances that we are facing. I'm all for something different. But Palin-McCain, sorry I mean McCain-Palin, leave me with an uncomfortable feeling. (Hockey Mom's scare me) I like the warm fuzzies that Obama leaves me with. ;) How about we just write in Romney. :D

the House of Payne said...

I can respect that.

Have we met?

SayitwithanH said...

Yes. This is Hola. You have a great blog by the way. It is very insightful.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoy reading your blog. I'm not a Republican, but I respect your opinion. On the subject of community organizing, I have to say there's something to the notion that the "organizer" (or volunteer, or whoever) gets as much or more out of the service than the target population. Obviously, this is not the point of such work, and it's not ideal, but as someone who worked as an Americorps VISTA for a year in the inner-city, I can say that I now have an infinitely greater appreciation for the culture of the truly poor and disenfranchised, and that I now have a much better understanding of the scope of the problem. I know that I didn't help people to the extent that I wanted to that year, but I now know that in order to really address this problem, help needs to come in more comprehensive ways, from above as well as from below. Working in the community has actually made me a lot more interested in government and a lot more committed to the political process. So in Obama's case, I do respect the work he did in Chicago, regardless of whether the results were spectacular or not, because I think that work does motivate him politically--and I don't think that McCain, regardless of his populist makeover, has any idea what kind of intervention it will take to help the poor in a permanent way.

the House of Payne said...

Hola! I thought that might be you. Thanks for stopping by.

Big Jay said...

I cast my absentee ballot for McCain weeks ago. I'm not all that jazzed about either candidate. The positives you mentioned about McCain I agree with wholeheartedly. He's a good guy, and he gets things done. I would add to that... this is the chance of a lifetime to get 3 more republican appointed supreme court justices, and McCain openly supports expansion of nuclear power.

I'm not all that afraid of an Obama presidency. I'm familiar with his lack of accomplishment in office. But the republicans basically abandoned the 'Anything you can do, I can do better' argument when Huckabee beat Romney in the Iowa caucus.