A while back I stopped reading the "Edwards should endorse Obama" diaries at Daily Kos, because I was tired of getting drawn into arguments with Hillary-haters in the comment threads. Moreover, I really don't care whether John Edwards endorses a candidate--it wouldn't change my feelings about either of the contenders.
When Elizabeth Edwards recently confirmed that she prefers Hillary's health-care plan and will appear alongside Clinton when she campaigns in North Carolina, some of the Obama fans at Daily Kos went ballistic. Again, I avoided those diaries, because I am tired of trying to explain to people that yes, many health-care experts agree that some form of individual mandates are needed in order to provide truly universal health care.
Today longtime Edwards supporter Benny put up a rant at the EENRblog about somebody's open letter pleading with Elizabeth Edwards to endorse Obama. I wasn't planning to read the diary Benny was complaining about, but edgery highlighted an amazing assertion that prompted me to click over.
This statement in Bcgntn's diary is what grabbed my attention:
Senator Clinton may believe without Lyndon Johnson the Civil Rights Act 1964 would not have come into being. I recall those years. People were out on the streets in protest. The community concluded it was time for a change. The President merely signed the papers.
I've written before about how annoyed I was in January when the Obama campaign took Hillary's comments about LBJ and twisted them into some allegedly racist remark denigrating Martin Luther King Jr.
But that's not my main point today. What that Obama supporter wrote reflects a fantasy shared by too many Obama supporters, in my opinion: namely, that if he is elected, Obama is going to do what his people-powered movement demands.
One of my biggest concerns about Obama has always been that he seems likely to make far too many concessions to the Republican agenda or to DC pundits' conventional wisdom. He has chosen not to lead on some of the key battles in the U.S. Senate. He talks a lot about finding consensus and bringing people together. His strategy for winning the open-primary states has been to maximize his support among Republicans and independents who cross over.
When you look at his very cautious voting record and avoidance of leading on any controversial issue, it seems highly unlikely to me that he will govern like a progressive. There will be many days when Obama has to choose between doing what Tim Russert and David Broder would like, and doing what the Obama fans at Daily Kos would like, and I think the Kossacks will be the disappointed ones on those days.
I've raised this point with several thoughtful Obama supporters, such as Populista, the 14-year-old who will probably be a great progressive leader someday. The consensus seems to be that if he gets elected, Obama will have to listen to the activists who have done so much to support his presidential campaign. He has empowered people who are the change we've been waiting for.
This to me seems as deluded as saying that the civil rights legislation of 1964 happened because the "community concluded it was time for a change. The President merely signed the papers."
I am not old enough to remember 1964, but I challenge any Obama supporter to find me one historian of that period who will agree with that contention. The fact is, LBJ dragged Congress kicking and screaming to do much more on civil rights than probably any other president could have gotten passed.
Don't discount the importance of presidential leadership. People were out in the streets protesting the Vietnam War for years before we finally got out of there.
If Obama gets elected, he will not have the clout with Congress that LBJ had. But even if he did, I simply don't see Obama as the kind of leader who would go to the mat to push a strong progressive agenda through a resistant Congress. He seems more likely to move halfway toward the Republican position, then declare victory.
Like I always say, I would love to be proven wrong if Obama does manage to get by John McCain. But don't imagine that the people-powered movement will be calling the shots, and President Obama will just be signing the papers.