Thursday, January 24, 2008

Obama's 'what I meant' moments

Repelled as I've been by Hillary's "Obama loves Reagan" attack line, it must be admitted that Obama has an unfortunate tendency to dig deeper when he's in a hole. It is really not true that he didn't praise Reagan's policies. He did, implicitly, by acknowledging that Americans felt that government had grown unaccountable after "the excesses of the 60s and 70s." To say that the Republicans have been "the party of ideas" because they "challenged conventional wisdom" also implies that there was a there there - his later qualification suggests that those ideas are stale now, but not that at least some of them weren't good ideas at some point. In fact, his time frame in the 'party of ideas' comment was screwed up. I suspect he meant to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas in the 1980s; these ideas were corrupted, became self parodies, were driven to an extreme in "the last ten or fifteen years." It's the time confusion that's enabled Hillary to suggest that he spoke approvingly of 'bad ideas' like huge tax cuts for the rich, wars of choice, government by lobbyist, budgeting by earmark, etc. etc. since that's basically been the Republican agenda since they won control of Congress in 1994.

Another time Obama 'dug deeper' was in the YouTube debate, when he said he'd meet five rogue leaders in the first year of his presidency. Hillary was absolutely right to call him out; he sounded naive. I suspect he didn't fully absorb the question and didn't mean to say that he'd meet all five personally within a year--just that, on principle, it makes sense to be willing to meet when there's something to be negotiated. But in post-debate dueling he went the other route and tried to suggest that Hillary wouldn't be willing enough to negotiate with rogues.

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