23 August 2008

Biden represents strategic blunder for Obama

Barack Obama has chosen fellow senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice-presidential candidate in a misguided attempt to make his campaign appeal to a mythical vision of the voting public that does not exist.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama, who will formally receive the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination at its convention next week in Denver, has buttressed his foreign policy credentials by adding the six-term Senate veteran and the current chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Biden’s selection is also seen by the beltway seers as an attempt to move Obama’s campaign to the ideological middle ground. Obama’s campaign has been admittedly weak in the area of foreign policy, but it is the second article of conventional wisdom that needs to be scrutinized first.

This perspective claims that Democrats are decidedly more liberal than Republicans, so that while an ideological progressive can win the Democratic nomination, he (or she) must move to the middle to win the presidential nomination in which anyone registered can vote. That is nonsense for a number of reasons. First of all, the Democratic Party is not liberal and hasn’t been so for decades, for which we can thank (or blame) Bill Clinton. Being to the left of the current GOP does not make one liberal.

The network political pundits would have us believe that the opinions of the average Democrat and Republican mirror that of the national party leadership. Public disapproval of Bush administration, particularly the U.S. war on Iraq, is only the most obvious way in which to show that the general public is not allied with either of the two major parties. Anyone who has observed local politics outside the Washington Beltway knows that some Democrats are as conservative as Karl Rove. Similarly, they are many Republicans who don’t see eye to eye with the cabal of neo-conservatives and right-wing evangelicals who have captured the White House and set the agenda for major news networks. For that matter, evangelical Christians are anything but homogenous; some evangelicals espouse a social justice agenda that many a Democrat would label as “dangerously radical.” (For example, see Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith Along the Highways of America by Eric Elnes.)

Furthermore, many people who regularly vote, like me, perceive both parties as sharing the responsibility for the foreign policy and economic nightmares that threaten the near- and long-term term future of our nation. Voters without party affiliations, and an even greater number of voters who are registered with a party but are only weakly tied to it, don’t show up in those astonishingly stupid Red State vs. Blue State comparisons that still pass for analysis. Can anyone who talks with his neighbor seriously believe that most people who vote are either doctrinaire Republicans or Democrats? We see remarkable diversity everyday in America, yet when it comes to national election political experts think we can force fit every voter into one of two parties that virtually everyone agrees are looking more and more alike.

Obama has all but captured his party’s nomination because he appealed to Democratic voters who were disgusted with what passes for a two-party system and wanted something better, i.e., a political system that works for the benefit of the people it claims to represent. He appealed to many people who believed that both parties, in large measure, have failed the American public and are collectively choking the life from the American Dream. Yet now he wants to jettison that strategy because he thinks that the people who will vote in the national election are collectively so much more conservative than the people who voted in the Democratic parties. That reasoning is faulty on two counts: First, members of both parties are more ideologically diverse than what conventional wisdom dictates and, secondly, there are huge numbers of voters who don’t see either party as representing their interests.

But because Obama believes the conventional wisdom he picked Biden, who like virtually all foreign policy experts is a die-hard believer in American exceptionalism, that conviction that the United States is somehow blessed by God and is therefore divinely ordained to rule the world or set the example that every other nation can and should emulate. That kind of arrogant, holier than thou thinking, shared by most Republicans and Democrats alike, is one of the prime reasons why the Vietnam War and the War on Iraq are not only policy failures, but monumental acts of human cruelty that destroyed upwards of 3 million Vietnamese and 1 million Iraqis in addition to more than 60,000 American service men and women.

In picking Biden, Obama is embracing the failed policies of the past and abandoning the quest for a better America. For a more detailed analysis of Biden’s foreign policy, please see “Biden, Iraq, and Obama’s Betrayal” by Stephen Zunes.