Friday, June 20, 2008

What kind of sentence is this...?

Just read a Washington Post editorial about Obama's "moderate" credentials, and I was struck by Obama's strange response to Michael Gerson's question, "Have you ever worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk for yourself?"
Here's the bizarre sentence he responded with:
  • "Well, look, when I was doing ethics reform legislation, for example, that wasn't popular with Democrats or Republicans. So any time that you actually try to get something done in Washington, it entails some political risks. But I think the basic principle which you pointed out is that I have consistently said, when it comes to solving problems, like nuclear proliferation or reducing the influence of lobbyists in Washington, that I don't approach this from a partisan or ideological perspective."

Gerson goes on to write about how this isn't a very good response in terms of content ("weak tea" are his exact words), but what strikes me most is the garbled nature of his reply. I have no idea what he's really saying. I think he's saying that he's reached across the aisle repeatedly, and that each time it was a political risk. If that's accurate, why didn't he just say that? (Ok, Gerson makes the argument that it's because it's just not true, an argument I think is pretty accurate.)

Another worthy sentence in the article - this time for its quality, rather than Bush-type garbling - is how Gerson says McCain isn't a moderate, but "a conservative with a habit of massive, eye-stretching heresy".

Anyway, this wasn't meant to turn into another Obama vs. McCain comparison. I just thought Obama's weird answering style was worth mentioning. That said, I think Gerson's questions about Obama's liberalism do warrant answering, too:

  • "[H]is lack of a strong, centrist ideological identity raises a concern about his governing approach. Obama has no moderate policy agenda that might tame or modify the extremes of his own party in power. Will every Cabinet department simply be handed over to the most extreme Democratic interest groups? Will Obama provide any centrist check on liberal congressional overreach?"

These are questions I asked in my participation in a recent panel about foreign policy after 2008 (and previously on this blog). A Democratic House and Senate will no doubt be able to pass a lot of legislation that I approve of (e.g. I'm hoping they'll get their butts into gear to move towards an end to the whole abortion question - "Pro-Choice" should be the law, people can still choose not to have an abortion, as is the case in reality). I worry about his trade protectionism and the spectre of massive spending increases that the US can't sustain, but ultimately a Democratic law-making system is far less scary than the nutty wing of the Republicans getting ("keeping"?) their hands on the levers of power.

Another thing: what's interesting about the GOP primaries is that of the three front-runners at the beginning, none of them were the new, favoured brand of "conservative": McCain, Romney and Guiliani were all moderates before they started running for president. (Romney could be accused of being a liberal, and Guiliani just slightly eccentric.)

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