Saturday, March 29, 2008

What Made Richardson Flip?

There's an article in Slate Magazine by John Dickerson that tries to discern the motive behind Governor Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama. Dickerson writes:

What's significant about the [Nancy] Pelosi and Richardson duet is that both seem to have made a calculation that in the long-brewing tension between party elites and the new grass roots, they're siding with the latter. These veteran Democrats may be making their moves based on their assessments of Obama as a candidate, but they also may be informed by his success in raising money online and from a huge number of small-dollar donors, which may mean a dilution in the power of traditional rainmakers.

Dickerson brushes aside as a vague possibility that Richardson might actually think Obama's the better candidate, but pushes the idea that where the money's coming from in the democratic party "may" also be responsible.

Now it may, and the assertions here are so flabby that Dickerson could plausibly say that he was just raising certain possibilities, but the tone and underlying assumption is that Richardson made a calculated political move that might be explained by following the money.

I'm not saying it's impossible that Richardson did this, but why characterize his motive as a "calculation?" Maybe he just genuinely believes Obama would make a far better president? Doesn't that trump all kinds of political motives?

In short, I think a problem with a lot of political coverage is this cynicism that there must be some self-interested motive with Obama supporters the way there is for Clinton's.

I don't know how an Obama presidency would affect my financial interest, but I'm supporting him because I believe he'll do his best to act in the interests of the GOOD. Whatever that is. I haven't been pandered to - I don't care about his health care plan vs. Clinton's - who knows how that will eventually shake out? Can't that be the rationale for a lot of people - even Richardson?

In fact, I think that's what's fundamentally different about Obama's candidacy is that people support him because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that he's out for the GOOD generally, and they trust that if the GOOD is pursued (not the narrow good vs. evil
"good" that Bush pursued), then we will all be better off on the whole.

And I think this is the sense in which Obama intends to transcend the divisive politics of race, gender, etc. There's been some commentary that Obama's failed to transcend race given the Reverend Wright flap, but I don't think he's trying to transcend the topic of race or avoid talking about it - he transcends it by appealing to the GOOD of the whole, not the good for black people or certain divisions of the population in particular.

Clinton incidentally seems to do the exact opposite, pandering individually to blue collar workers, big business, hispanics, women, etc. Of course, her job's tougher because she's got to lie - there's no way to individually look out for every group - if you take care of big business, blue collar workers lose. If you take care of the blue collar workers, big business loses. She essentially has to lie to somebody because somebody's not going to get his back scratched as promised in the end.

But in looking out for the GOOD, there are no losers because everyone has a stake in that - even if it costs some groups financially in the short run.

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