We all know my position on the Democratic primary and I'm sure some of you are sick of it by now. Here's an interesting position coming out of the WSJ that I think is actually a reasonable criticism. First, the complementary set-up:
If you're willing to look, there's a substantial amount of substance behind that Obama style. For starters, explore the Obama campaign Web site, and you'll find the standard array of campaign-issue papers on the economy, health care, Iraq and foreign policy. And now, the Obama campaign managers are responding to Sen. Clinton's criticism by highlighting and, well, beefing up those position papers.Now, the interesting point:
Here's the rub: As anyone who has listened to Sen. Obama knows, the substance of policy positions takes a decided back seat to the more ephemeral ideas of hope and inspiration when he addresses voters. The basic Obama argument is that America can solve its problems, that the country can transcend partisan divides, that Washington can overcome gridlock and that he, as a new leader unbound by the debates of the past 20 years, is the one who can make all those things happen.I've tended to ignore most people's arguments that Obama is light on substance, given the complementary set-up and the "Obama is pretty much the same as Hillary on the positions" argument. But I do think the commentator is right - people are not necessarily voting for Obama's positions as much as they're voting for his brand of politics. If that's the case, I'd be curious to see what will happen once he gets into office and what will come of his efforts to actually get people behind his ideas.
The beauty of this Obama approach, aside from its presenter's impressive oratorical skills, is that it is so in tune with the mood of many Americans, who seem to want both to be inspired and to leap beyond partisanship.
The risk, though, is that rhetoric that is light on substance might fail to unite voters in either party or the country behind specific, often difficult, steps a new president would have to take. Campaigns are for winning -- and for building a consensus on what is to be done after the victory.
In this case, is Sen. Obama building a case for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, or for ending it? Is withdrawing troops from Iraq within 16 months a goal or a deadline? They are significant questions, and Sen. Obama's task is to be sure his campaign is shedding light on the answers.