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Words and Obama

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Message Douglas C. Smyth
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Words and Obama 

Republicans have been very canny with words, like The No Child Left Behind Act, which often leaves children behind, and the Clean Skies initiative which allows more pollution.


Democrats, on the other hand, have been cursed with a self-defeating tendency to hide important acts behind technical-sounding labels that do not sell them, like S-CHIP, or States-Children Health Insurance Protection Act.


Obama, however, has labeled bills more effectively, like: the Stop Fraud Act, to prevent the kind of mortgage loan abuses that led to the sub-prime debacle, and the Patriot Employer Act, to reward companies that increase or maintain the number of workers in the US relative to those overseas, those which maintain decent wages and benefits, and are headquartered in the US.


This is only a small example of the importance of paying attention to words.


In addition, if a political leader has the ability to move people with words, he (or she) can persuade, can change minds. Obama has that ability, clearly, as well as the know-how to put together a grassroots movement to support his politics. That's what he appears to have done in Iowa, where he won not just by persuading those Democratic activists who had participated in previous Iowa caucuses--as John Edwards attempted--but in bringing to them in addition a whole new set of participants, people who had never been in a caucus before. The last Democratic leader who apparently had that ability was Senator Wellstone of Wisconsin.


The argument that Hillary has experience and Barack does not is a fairly thin one: Hillary has served one and a third terms as Senator, and been fairly successful, including her re-election bid, but she has not set the world on fire; Barack has served two-thirds of a Senate term, and been about as successful as a Senator, but he was a state legislator before that. Hillary was first lady, but she did not have top security clearance, and except for her disastrous foray into healthcare policy, she was not a formal participant in Clinton's decision-making as President. She has not been "working 35 years for change," in a government capacity; Obama could say he has "worked for change" for 23 years, including his stints in the Illinois legislature and as a community organizer on the Chicago South Side.


There is a fear that as Obama gains traction towards nomination and election that the smears about his religion, his background, his name will get worse. They are already pretty bad: there is still the persistent story that he is really a Muslim, because his father was, and his grandfather was a militant. His father, by his own account, was an atheist, his grandfather was a goatherd and servant to the British colonials, while his step-father was a moderate, secular Indonesian Muslim working for Shell Oil. Barack had no religion at all until he went to work on the South Side and joined a church there affiliated to the United Church of Christ: today he is a practicing Christian.


The other smear is that Obama went to a Muslim madrassa, the kind of school that brainwashes young kids to be suicide bombers. Maybe--goes the smear--he's been programmed to take over the US for Osama (rhymes with Obama). The fact is that he went to a Catholic school and then to a public school in Indonesia, one that was majority Muslim, as is that nation, but a far cry from a militant madrassa. The Indonesian embassy confirmed that his school was a public school. The majority of his schooling has been in the US: in Hawaii at Columbia and at Harvard.


These smears have been dealt with by the Obama campaign over and over again, and they seem to continue to crop up, but, just as Clinton and Hillary have overcome the nasty stories about them, so has Barack Obama.


If one looks at Obama's record, the pieces of legislation he worked on in the Senate, and the platform he has put forward, it all looks reasonable and liberal, but he appears open to compromise in the pursuit of achieving change, not dissimilar to Hillary's own record, although more liberal. He did not vote for the Patriot Act, a claim she made for example--he wasn't in the Senate then. She did. What he voted for was a compromise re-authorization in which some of the worst abuses of the original law were eliminated. He has also been much more unequivocal about Iraq and always has been.


What is different about Obama is that he is prepared to lead, not just to govern, or to triangulate. That's what he meant in his statement about words in the NH debate:


<i>"…words do inspire, words do help people get involved, words do help members of Congress get into power so that they can be part of a coalition to deliver health-care reform, to deliver a bold energy policy. Don't discount that power."</i> Barack Obama, 1/5/08


If Bill Clinton had really led in the '90's, something so many on the left hoped for the whole time he was president, there would not have been political space for a George W. and the whole dialogue would have changed. Hillary's performance in the NH debate suggests that she would continue Bill's style, as "a doer:" she would not change the fundamental questions on the table.


Changing the political dialogue is what Obama is talking about when he campaigns for change, and with his inspirational style it looks as if he might be able to effect it. If we truly want to leave the awful Reagan-Bush legacy behind, then Obama is by far the best bet.

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Douglas C. Smyth Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications.

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