- EC: But should his conciliatory tone really be the basis to this extent of our evaluation of him? Some, including Matthew Yglesias, have argued that this focus on Obama's conciliatory rhetoric obscures the fact that Obama would still more likely prove a genuinely progressive president than Hillary would be.
PK: What evidence is there that she would be especially bad for the progressive movement? For what it's worth, Hillary's actual policy proposals are more aggressive than Obama's.
EC: What about on foreign policy? You could argue that Hillary is less willing to challenge old rhetorical frames on foreign policy, and that with her rhetoric and stuff like her Kyl-Lieberman vote, she's ceding turf at the outset on foreign policy the same way Obama is on health care.
PK: I guess I've been going on the view that no Democrat is not going to end this war, and no Democrat is going to start another war. I have not felt that foreign policy is the defining issue in the race to the nomination. Whether we're going to get universal health care is much more of a question.
To have Obama sort of sounding like the Washington Post editorial page really said among other things that he just hasn't been listening to progressives, for whom the fight against Bush's Social Security scare tactics was really a defining moment. Among the Dems he seems to be the least attuned to what progressives think.
It's a tone thing. I find it a little bit worrisome if we have a candidate who basically starts compromising before the struggle has even begun.
EC: But surely there's something to the argument that the skills to build coalitions, to win over moderates on the other side, aren't without any importance. Should we really take tone and rhetorical skills out of the equation entirely?
PK: No, but there aren't any moderates on the other side. And as far as sounding moderate goes, the reality is that if the Democrats nominated Joe Lieberman, a month into the general election Republicans would be portraying him as Josef Stalin. Obama's actually been positioning himself to the right of both Clinton and Edwards on domestic policy and has been attacking them from the right.
The Democratic nominee is still going to be running on a platform that is substantially to the left of how Bill Clinton governed, and the Republican is going to nominate someone to the right of Attila the Hun. You want the Dem who's going to make that difference clear and not say things that will be used by Republicans to say, "Well, even their candidate says..."
And after the election, if you come in after having opposed mandates and having said Social Security is in a crisis, then you're going to have some problems fending off Republican attacks on health care and The Washington Post's demands that you make Social Security a top priority. Mostly it's a question of what happens after the election.