Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 3: Bipartisanship and National Unity

This is the third of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday (used to be every Wednesday). The schedule and important comment rules regarding these forums are available here.

Both McCain and Obama are touting themselves as able to unite Americans of varying political parties and ideologies.

What do you think? Who is best able to do so?

Some things to consider: McCain clearly has a more extensive bipartisan record than does Obama; however, in the past year, McCain has voted in accordance with Bush policies 95% of the time. Does this mean we can’t really make much out of McCain’s earlier bipartisan record? Or is it simply political posturing? On the other hand, McCain has been reaching across the aisle lately, even aligning himself with independent Joe Lieberman. He has even gained support from some former supporters of Clinton. Political posturing? Or does it showcase the bipartisan spirit that McCain will carry into his presidency? But in terms of the issues (other than environmental issues), where can we see good evidence that McCain is going to be less polarizing than Bush?

Obama, on the other hand, has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate. How will his voting record translate into his presidency? Obama has talked a great deal about bipartisanship and unity — is this just talk? What can we say about the fact that Obama has, in fact, pulled a lot of independents and even some conservatives to his side — in spite of his liberal voting record? Will they be disappointed? One thing to consider is Obama’s talk about including Republicans to serve on his Cabinet. Also, his outreach to people of faith — one very important reason that he is liked by some conservatives. Just talk? Or does this outreach point to an important bipartisan spirit? In addition, how much will Obama have to stay to the left in order to keep together Democratic voters (such as disaffected Clinton supporters)?

One question for which I’d be particularly interested in hearing your responses: What could Obama or McCain realistically do, between now and November, to improve your opinion of them as a bipartisan leader?

Please don’t be afraid to express your thoughts … all are welcome here (within reason).

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9 Responses

  1. Since the primaries have ended, an interesting trend has emerged. McCain, once the bipartisan centrist on things like taxes, energy, immigration, and the environment (much more than you give him credit for), appears to have folded to the pressure from the Right to be a more ‘genuine conservative’. Hence, he has now joined the irrational religion of endless taxcuts, and his immigration policy will likely appear more right wing for awhile also. This rightward shift is most unfortunate, and I am immensely disappointed. We can partly blame Mitt & co. for painting him as a liberal and making him feel that he needs to appeal more to “the base”. McCain’s seeming unwillingness to stick to his guns is a disturbing comment on his character. He is becoming more partisan.

    Obama has also shifted rightward since the primaries eneded, and this has me excited (surprise Dennis, I’m liking Obama more all the time). His platforms during the primaries were clearly very left wing, but since they ended, his economic policies have taken a turn. He has added some very pro-market advisors, including some crucial Bill Clinton-era economic voices. I have long predicted that his stance on NAFTA would have to soften (his NAFTA rhetoric was just plain ridiculous), and I think that will happen soon. Two things come of this change: (1) It is clear that much of Obama’s primaries rhetoric was dishonest political posturing, a disturbing comment on the character of one who claims to rise above politics, and (2) perhaps Obama wants to be an economically pragmatic president like the Clinton Admin he has been so quick to criticize. Again, a sad comment on Obama’s integrity as a politician, but very, very good news for the economic future of America if he is elected.

    So what am I to do now? I feel that both candidates have compromised their integrity through political posturing (Obama more so, due to his harsh criticisms of Clinton admin policies that he will soon espouse). But, if Obama continues in this direction, he could become another Bill Clinton, which is what I’ve been hoping for all along. Pragmatic, bipartisan, centrist solutions to real problems. Now, remember, Clinton succeeded with his Third Way agenda partly because he had a Republican congress, something Obama won’t have. We’ll see if he continues this positive trend, or if he folds to the Left like he has done before (for example, when he folded on the McCain-Kennedy stuff).

    As for other issues, Obama continues to be very divisive. His Iraq stance still follows partisan lines despite the marked changes that have occurred in Iraq during the last year. When the facts change, partisan lines usually do not, so politicians have to cross them. I don’t think Obama will have the guts to be pragmatic on this one (of course the Iraq discussion is for another day).

    Obama has yet to explain how to pay for his very left wing health care plan, a typical Democrat folly. I’m hoping that Obama’s other platforms go the same direction as his economic policy might be going. We’ll see.

  2. I tend to think political unity is overrated. I don’t want a monolithic or unified government. I like a healthy debate and some disagreement, especially based on the merits of the arguments (TMB is pretty good for this). The moonbats over at Kos and HuffPo go way too far. What they do does not add anything to the dialogue.

    I will be very generic for a moment and say that the two parties are not different enough. Sure, they have different stances on Iraq and taxes, but the actual results of policies they promote are about the same. Slightly tongue in cheek (only slightly), the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans will increase taxes and spending and tell you they feel terrible about it.

    Whether it is Republicans lowering taxes and increasing the size of government or Democrats increasing taxes and increasing the size of government faster, the final result is the same. The deficit increases and the bureaucracies get more control over our lives.

    McCain and Obama have shifted slightly now that the general election campaign has started. McCain has had to move right because he lost his natural base – the media. He now finds himself having to reach across the aisle to ask conservatives for support. If Obama moves right, it will be a good thing. I believe he votes with the Democrat leadership in the Senate well over 90% of the time. A little independence of thought from him would be a great thing.

  3. It is difficult to think of anyone who could operate in a more partisan manner than the current Administration. Either Obama or McCain will be a welcome relief. I like where Obama starts from better than I like where McCain starts from, and I like Obama’s temperament better.

  4. Nice responses to get us started. And I hope we get more — for some reason these forums started out very popular, and have died down since. Maybe people were pent up with general things to say, and now they have nothing more to say. (We really are looking simply for honest responses — you don’t have to “sound smart” or know a ton about politics.) Any suggestions on how to have a better (and more publicized forum) would be very welcome. I have been thinking about publicizing to the Mormons for Obama group — but I don’t want to do that without a parallel push among McCain fans. Trouble is, I don’t know of a parallel group. Any suggestions on this?

    One thing, I think, is that unless we start to get a lot more topics, I’m going to allow for much more leeway, topic-wise. All of the topics are connected anyway. But simply realize that some discussions are probably better saved for another day.

    Anyway, in terms of the comments so far.

    Ryan:

    Well, I certainly agree with you on McCain. Your news on Obama becoming more economically centrist is news to me — but you’ve no doubt been following this much closer. If you are right, I’m not certain that it means dishonest political posturing (though it may). I will say, though, that I wish both Obama and McCain would be more upfront about these shifts in their positions. You may well be right, Ryan, that this is a political problem that Obama has been naive to think he can overcome. (I think the mainstream media, as well as the public perception to the media, is a large part of this problem.) But I don’t know if that makes him a more dishonest figure (as you have suggested in the past) — it may simply reflect that he has good ideals but still is human and lives in a dog-eat-dog world. I see Obama’s talk about post-partisan politics as something he wants to see happen — and which he is committed to work towards — but not necessary something that he can deliver on right now. Frankly, I don’t see how someone could be a serious candidate for president without being somewhat in the political mire. But, as I’ve argued to you before, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is just like any other politician. But maybe he is.

    Tony:

    I think I pretty much agree with what you are saying. Although, just to touch on your first point, when I think when most people refer to “unity” in today’s political context, they certainly aren’t talking about a monolithic government. I don’t think we have to worry about that anytime soon — on the federal level anyway — don’t even get me started about the monolithic politics here in Utah County.

    DavidH:

    I agree 100%.

  5. I wanted to comment on a few areas where I see Obama having important appeals to moderates and even conservatives.

    1. Faith and politics. It is interesting that, so far, the Democrat is the candidate of faith. The thing that has won over a lot of moderates and conservatives to Obama is this one speech on faith in the public square. Obama speaks as a new kind of religious figure, which I think is very welcoming to people (like me) who want faith in the public square but are turned off by the dogmatic political evangelical movement. And in the wake of the evangelical community’s disregard of Mormonism, I think that Latter-day Saints would be wise to pay attention to Obama and what could be a new era for faith and politics.

    2. Parenting. Once again, it is the Democrat that is shining as the moral leader for parents. Many of his comments are focused towards fathers, especially in the African-American community. However, I think that what he says appeals to family-focused individuals of all stripes. How can you not like this Father’s Day address? And where is your speech on fathers, Senator McCain? Why are you letting the Democratic candidate become the messenger of “family values”?

    One other thing: in this address Obama said, emphatically, that he was able to survive the campaign so far, because “I trust in the Lord.” And your declaration of faith, Senator McCain?

    3. Common-sense college students. Obama is mastering the art of the (conservative?) value of “tough love.” It is easy to frame Obama as the candidate who wants to simply give out endless handouts. But I see him as communicating a much different message, at least in this Q & A with college students. Obama says, in essence: Life’s tough. It takes hard work. Turn off the TV, go to less movies, quit the text messaging, etc. If you think that I’m going to suddenly soothe all the financial difficulties that college students have, you are wrong. Once again, Obama wins as the moral messenger of day-to-day life.

    And where’s John McCain? He’s simply becoming more right-wing everyday. (He did have environmentalism going for him, but his turnaround on offshore drilling will hurt him here — whether it should is a separate issue.) If McCain is not essentially allied with President Bush, nobody’s buying it. McCain would be wise to follow more in Obama’s footsteps. He’s already behind (in polls, anyway), and he can’t afford to lose voters from his base. He needs to show that he, too, takes faith, family, and young voters seriously. Or he will lose this election by a landslide.

  6. Just as I predicted, Obama is already beginning to drift on NAFTA, which was a crucial, partisan issue in the primaries:

    http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/18/magazines/fortune/easton_obama.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2008061810

    Of course, we have known all along that his NAFTA position was just posturing, ever since the leaked memo about Obama’s senior economist’s meeting with the Canadian consul (which Obama at first less-than-truthfully denied). So, the drifting towards a more centrist, pragmatic (and truthful) view is good, but the emerging evidence of politics-as-usual for the self-proclaimed post partisan (give me a break) is sad.

  7. Dennis, we run a political poll as to who the LDS/Mormons are voting this Nov. You know lots of news can be read about Mormon’s for McCain and LDS for Obama and stuffs like that. We are happy to know that LDS voices is being recognized and heard across the country and that this election cycle, LDS are very much involve with. Please drop by and click your preference at http://jbsolis.blogspot.com

    Thank you!

  8. I consider myself politically moderate, and I’ve been won over by Obama mostly by reading his book The Audacity of Hope. He wrote thoughtfully and fairly honestly about what he believes in, but what struck me is that he didn’t sound stuck in his ways. You can hear it in his speeches as well: he brings up many sides of an issue and concludes what he believes. Maybe I just watched too much West Wing, but I love someone who sounds honest. That’s the most appealing trait in a politician to me.

  9. David H. ,

    Are you an imposter?

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