Barack Obama's Transformational LeadershipThis commentary is cross-posted at www.RaisingKaine.com
Note: Where else but Raising Kaine, where only recently I took Obama to task, would it be appropriate to eat my crow? Herein, I reflect on my soul-searching decision to vote for Barack Obama. The tenor of this debate, and the increasing marginalization of John Edwards by both the political establishment and Big Media -- which I simultaneously decry, but haven’t the energy to fight against -- is a disgrace and further evidence of a flawed political system. But I can’t do enough to change it by Virginia Primary Day. I must accept the political realities as I see them. Some may see them differently.
Leadership is the interactive coalescing of a group of people toward a common goal. The leadership I want in my candidate is more than transactional. Transactional leadership involves an exchange of things I want and am willing to give my leadership. I give those things like my vote and perhaps my support, energy, time and money. In exchange, I expect honest representation, the candidate’s remembering whom the candidate really serves while in office, courage under pressure, and honest communication with me the voter. No, I do not think all politicians lie. That’s setting expectations too low. Transformational leadership transcends transactions and reaches a higher level. Its overarching trajectory is toward achieving things together beyond our imagination, beyond those synergy-less individual efforts. With transformational leaders we extend ourselves in vision, imagination, and the strategy and tactics to achieve more than we ever thought possible—together.
Two candidates are, in my opinion, capable of that kind of leadership: John Edwards and Barack Obama. I will vote for Barack Obama. It is not just a Stop Hillary vote; though, admittedly, it is that too. It is also my belief that Barack Obama is much more suited to lead this country than his primary opponent and fellow “front-runner,” Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is impossible to characterize my metamorphosis without explaining a little of how I got here.
The following are my thoughts and mine alone. I do not expect you, dear reader, to agree. I will not push you to agree with me. I will not take you to task. Similarly, I expect Hillary Clinton fans to respect my right to differ. I respect them, if not their candidate any longer. I intend to vote for the nominee of the party. I pray she is not the one. I will save up most of any latent negativity for the GOP, which has savaged the American people in its policies, legislation, and its war on fairness, constitutional governance, representation, the safety net, and more. But I must mention just a few things which have influenced me in the past two weeks.
Despite the Clintons' feigned air of superiority, the “thirty-five years” experience “making change” Hillary claims is actually no better than Barack Obama’s in overall quantity. Much of her adult life, she has been an attorney. Curiously, only John Edwards is criticized for that! In truth, no one should be. We are a nation of laws, and lawyers provide needed service. However, John Edwards and Barack Obama used their service differently from Hillary: Edwards in fighting for the little guy and Obama in fighting for civil rights. Both worked for the public interest to a greater extent unselfishly than did Hillary Rodham Clinton. Additionally, she’s even served on the board of WalMart, a dubious distinction in my view. Her work on the Watergate staff may explain why Nixonian Republicans still hate her and seek revenge. But it does not imbue her with any great advantage, except, perhaps to advise Bill as he faced his own impeachment. I also prefer Obama’s legal service considerably more than I do her corporate law work, or her service on the board of directors of WAL-MART. Sam Walton’s “little lady,” was not really looking out for us.
(It matters whom one thinks will look out for us, matters in the extent to which we believe our president will, when the chips are down, support us or the corporations who seek to destroy the New Deal. Barack Obama has made stronger statements about his opposition to privatizing Social Security than Hillary has.)
Obama sought to bring affordable housing to Chicago neighborhoods and for that, he gets the Clintons' manufactured complaints that Obama’s service was untoward. This scurrilous charge, which I won’t elaborate on, makes me cringe in disbelief that the Clintons would reach so low.
We also are to believe that it’s terrible that Obama wrote an essay about being president when he was five. Does anyone seriously believe the Clintons weren’t coveting the White House at the same early age? We are led to believe that Hillary learned the presidency by osmosis. I doubt Hillary supporters think Laura Bush is similarly “qualified.” Claiming, as some Hillary supporters do, that pillow talk constitutes “experience,” really diminishes the office. (And it's been diminished quite enough under GWB.)
In terms of quality, however, Barack Obama’s experience stands out in its insightfulness, creativity, and maturity. Hillary’s does not. As recently as 2006 she was a signatory to the so-called "American Dream Initiative," so dripping in GOP-like spin it's breathtaking for its syrup, even as it shores up on-your-ownership. Hillary offers 1990s redux, deliverance back to the DLC, which she still belongs to, and which her husband helped usher into this country. But the country has moved on. It now sees some of the problems unleashed by DLC leadership, such as NAFTA, the gutting of the US pension system, and on-your-ownership (which the DLC endlessly supports). More on the limits of the 1990s in a moment. America is ripe for a more populist message and platform, an antidote to GOP madness and DLC’s Republican-lite oversell.
The electorate does not want an endless occupation of Iraq. It does not countenance more wars without end. It has no appetite to put weapons of a nuclear type on the table against Pakistan, or any other country. It does not want war against Iran. And it is unlikely ultimately to entrust one who voted for the war and then claimed she was against it (her ex-president husband even falsely claiming he opposed it from the beginning). She’s gone along to get along.
Is it a Rupert Murdoch infested presidency Hillary will usher in? How can a Democrat dare to partner or rather party-up with Murdouch, as Hillary did when he gave a fundraiser for her? Does she really think he’ll actually support her in the long run? If not, what was the price of her soul? You have to wonder. Furthermore, she is, despite her appearance of being seasoned, too gullible for her own good. That is to say, Obama didn’t take the word of George W. Bush, that Saddam was connected to 9-11. He knew better. Hillary did not. When all is said and done, this is the single most important thing you need to know about Barack Obama. There was ample evidence to repudiate Bush’s claims, if only one looked at the extant press, government reports, and UN website.
Barack Obama dared to think outside the box. He spoke out with courage at the time. And I heard him, thank you Bill and Hill. Barack Obama stands alone among the top-three contenders in opposing the war before it happened. The fact that he didn’t rant, scream, or do a beet-faced Bill Clinton impersonation in the process does not diminish in any way that Barack Obama stood with courage. Furthermore, in doing so, Barack Obama put his US Senate run at risk. He also took real political risk by endorsing Howard Dean for President. Are the Clintons still punishing him for that? Obama’s crucial, unequivolcal and courageous position against the war is history, real history. The facts are unimpeachable, and should not rest in the hands, or poisoned tongue, of our impeached president. (Contrary to what one writer here said, Bill Clinton was impeached. He was however not removed from office by the Senate.) Bill Clinton is angry because we have the temerity to question his spin on his and Hillary’s resume’s.
Barack Obama’s only sin is not conferring fawning deference upon Bill-ary. Our party is filled with people who’d throw their vote for a change to meet-and-greet Bill. And that’s our loss. I salute their public service. I reject their implicit claim of right of succession. Celeb worship hasn’t been good for America. I voted for and defended Bill and Hillary Clinton for years. But I am done doing so. The persecution of the Clintons by the far right was unfair. I abhorred it then and still do. However, wasting our time defending them against old history (again) won’t get us toward solutions to pervasive problems we face.
The present administration has been one of overwhelming excess, on nearly every front. It has hijacked the economy, built of incredibly reckless deficits. It’s an administration so out-of-control it begs serious analysis and criticism.
And yet, the truth is that excess is a matter of degree. There were excesses during the administration of Bill Clinton as well. I have many more thoughts on this than I can elaborate here -- all the unhelpful things Bill Clinton did for this country. Here are some examples:
* --An orgy of deregulation of energy, banking, insurance, securities, ISPs and Big Telcoms, which we are paying for today.
* --Dramatic expansion of the prison industrial complex, while simultaneously refusing to rein in slave labor in pivate and public prisons, labor contracted to big corporations. Inmates make computers, take airline reservations, catalogue order fulfillment. They build furniture. At the same time, Bill Clinton would not undertake the requisite effort to equalize cocaine and crack sentencing, thus assuring more fodder for slave labor in prisons. Wouldn’t look tough on crime.
* --The gutting of labor, fair trade, workers rights, sovereignty of nations under NAFTA.
* --The relaxation of conflict-of-interest rules which ultimately permitted folks like Robert Rubin to go more directly from Treasury to “Big Bank, Inc.”
* --He even toyed with privatizing Social Security (see Joe Conasons’s book on the subject), but fortunately decided not to.
* --The deficit reduction under Clinton was also accomplished at least in part by borrowing from Social Security. Thanks, Bill.
--He ushered in (signed) draconian welfare reform with insufficient training and other support for those who'd be abruptly dumped into on-your-ownership.
--Though he added jobs, he also ushered in millions of permanently unemployed, who are not counted any longer. They will be called upon time and again to give their labor for free, to volunteer. There is a word for that.
I have watched this week as Bill Clinton took his poisonous words around the country trying to misrepresent the record of Barack Obama. Just yesterday, Mr. Clinton claimed Barack Obama put a “hit job” on him. Personally, I have had enough! Stop it, Bill! I have watched even many of the so-called fact-checkers on TV fail to have gotten it right. By right I mean, by what Obama has said and what the record shows. Obama did not say the Republican Party had good ideas. I have seen this continuous mis-characterization even as I have continued until Tuesday supporting John Edwards. And the unfairness, unprincipled nature of it demands action. Surely, this is not justifiable under any principled run for the White House. Where is the principle-centered leadership to which many of us are drawn? Again, I don’t think all politicians lie. Nor should we expect that they do. Representing yourself well does not require triangulation, or destroying your opponent by misrepresentation or hit-and-run (to the next primary state).
At the debate this past Monday, an overly aggressive Hillary (and no I am not judging her in harsher terms than males) would not let Obama get a word in and stole his speaking time. Al Gore was dissed (wrongly) for a sigh! This was so much worse.
I have got to ask this, what are Bill and Hillary so afraid of? Are they angry because Barack Obama has the audacity to try to stand in the way of Clinton restoration? Is Barack not genuflecting at the laws of dynasty? Or is it something worse, a display for all to see of how Clintonism works. Does it work in the robo calls, and push polls, the nefarious push-poller making sure to slide in and emphasize the middle name (Hussein). Does it work in the innuendo of whispered and not-so-whispered accusations of election fraud with no proof? Does it proceed like the game of gossip, first a whisper, then another, and then the message is irrevocably warped? Is it in fabrications of record, or taking things out of context? An NPR reporter yesterday asked Obama, “Is this what we can expect from you?” The real question is: Bill and Hillary, is this what we can expect from YOU? Do the Clintons mean to act in their campaigning no better than George W. Bush and Karl Rove? Is this the best they can do with their talents? Or is it something more, corporate ideology and lobbyist rich? Obama has every right, even a duty, to defend himself.
I will not here discuss the whole sordid descent into matters of race. I do not think Bill and Hillary are racists. I do think they are the worst kind of exploiters and wedgers on racial politics. Deliver us from this.
Some here know that I have taken Obama to task for escalating his talk of unity, pre-general election. I really think such talk should await the general election. For now, our candidates must demonstrate that they are not just to be president, but also to conduct their presidential lives in the populist tradition of our best Democratic presidents., though not necessarily the most popular ones. In other words, what will they do with the office? Will they rise to progressive principles, or rather the GOP-warmed over DLC principles that if it’s good for corporate America, it had better be believed good by you and me?
However, having said that, in contrast to the harsh, divisive, nasty rhetoric, and dripping condescension coming from both Clintons the past couple of weeks, I now believe Obama may have been right. I now want that message of unity too. Bring it on, Barack! It is so much more presidential.
We must simultaneously define a progressive platform while simultaneously working to benefit all Americans, but especially those who haven’t benefited from the economic peaks, that overly coddled 1% (or 10% depending on the policy). We also strive to determine who will take this country to the higher ground it craves, the destiny it must reestablish (following a squandering Bush). I think Barack Obama will take us there.
P.S. Senator Edwards, Ms. Edwards, and Edwards supporters, forgive me for my change of heart. I still hold Edwards in such high regard. He illustrates that you can be tough but humane in the vigorous discussion of the issues we need. I do not expect others to follow my lead. Rather, I hope everyone has the pleasure of voting for one they truly believe will usher in a new era of transcendent politics.