Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Obama's Record

Given my well-known adoration of the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, it would be fair if some of my readers wondered if, to use to the current President's parlance, he might be "all hat and no cattle." Well, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a round-up of Sen. Obama's key initiatives since entering congress. She identifies four issues particularly praise-worthy, both on substance and because they tend to not get the attention they should. They are non-proliferation, Avian Flu (before it was a hot topic!), regulating genetic testing, and reducing medical malpractice suits without harming the rights of legitimate plaintiffs. As for the rest, well, decide for yourself:
-A "health care for hybrids" bill (previously blogged upon here)

-An Energy Security Bill

-Various bills on relief for Hurricane Katrina, including aid for kids and a ban on no-bid contracts by FEMA

-A public database of all federal spending and contracts

-Trying to raise CAFE standards

-Veterans' health care

-Making certain kinds of voter intimidation illegal

-A lobbying reform bill (with Tom Coburn), which would do all sorts of good things, notably including one of my perennial favorites, requiring that bills be made available to members of Congress at least 72 hours before they have to vote on them.

-A proposal to revamp ethics oversight, replacing the present ethics Committee with a bipartisan commission of retired judges and members of Congress, and allowing any citizen to report ethics violations. This would have fixed one of the huge problems with the present system, namely: that the members have to police themselves.

-Introducing legislation to make it illegal for tax preparers to sell personal information.

-Legislation on chemical plant security.

-Legislation on lead paint.

Hilzoy identifies several themes latent in how Obama approaches legislation:
I do follow legislation, at least on some issues, and I have been surprised by how often Senator Obama turns up, sponsoring or co-sponsoring really good legislation on some topic that isn't wildly sexy, but does matter. His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind.

His legislation is often proposed with Republican co-sponsorship, which brings me to another point: he is bipartisan in a good way. According to me, bad bipartisanship is the kind practiced by Joe Lieberman. Bad bipartisans are so eager to establish credentials for moderation and reasonableness that they go out of their way to criticize their (supposed) ideological allies and praise their (supposed) opponents. They also compromise on principle, and when their opponents don't reciprocate, they compromise some more, until over time their positions become indistinguishable from those on the other side.

This isn't what Obama does. Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle. (This is especially true when one is in the minority party, especially in this Senate: the chances that Obama's bills will actually become law increase dramatically when he has Republican co-sponsors.)

So my little data point is: while Obama has not proposed his Cosmic Plan for World Peace, he has proposed a lot of interesting legislation on important but undercovered topics. I can't remember another freshman Senator who so routinely pops up when I'm doing research on some non-sexy but important topic, and pops up because he has proposed something genuinely good. Since I think that American politics doesn't do nearly enough to reward people who take a patient, craftsmanlike attitude towards legislation, caring as much about fixing the parts that no one will notice until they go wrong as about the flashy parts, I wanted to say this.

Hilzoy's post is chock full of links that I don't provide, so I recommend the whole thing. I'm with Hilzoy, the wonk in me loves seeing a high-profile figure work so hard at getting legislation passed on issues that are important even if they don't hit the news waves. That shows he cares more about the good of the country than the good of his next press release. That's what I want in leader. That's what I want, dare I say, in a President.


Anonymous said...

At least I can agree that he's probably the best candidate out there at this point.

John Hall

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the research on Obama's work in Congress; it reinforces my gut feelings that this guy may very well be the real thing and the best candidate on the horizon. I would sure volunteer to help to get him up and away from the sagging sack of same-o democratic hopefuls who've tagged along with their republican cohorts for far too long.

Unknown said...

Is he too green to win? And if it turns out that the country does not elect him in 2008, has he spoiled his chances for the future?

Green Dreams said...

"Is he too green to win?"

This is such a sad reflection on our situation. I don't think there's any question that we leave a world to our children that is considerably degraded from that we inherited. Not to be green is truly the losing position.

Please take a look at this concise video by Tom Friedman:

CatBird said...

First off, I don't think "Blues Rider" meant green in the literal sense, i.e. environmental, but "green" in the figurative sense, i.e., young/inexperienced/new on the scene. But, I wouldn't want to put words on his/her comment.

Second, the phrase "All hat and no cattle" was actually uttered by Senator John McCain, as a criticism of Dubya during the 2000 primaries.

Third, I think that Obama, although an excellent legislator and negotiator, is at this point in his career, too young on the scene and too inexperienced to run for president in this go-round. I think he, as Hillary, should wait until 2012. I think for 2008 someone else should present himself; dare I say it, Al Gore, or perhaps the Dems should accede the presidency to McCain or even (UGH) Rudy, if they can hold onto the House and Senate. Both McCain and Rudy at heart are sort-of Dems, despite their sabre rattling stances on the current "war." I think getting in the driver's seat might alter their views on that stance, although I would be extremely concerned about Rudy's take on civil rights. 2008 is a huge problem for both parties, but more for the Dems, because if they run a galvanizing candidate in 2008, and lose, the liklihood of getting a presidential candidate elected in 2012 in almost nil.

Fortunately, I don't think about these things too much.


Anonymous said...

In Reality - Hillary and Obama records are similar. He was absent 30 days from business before the election primaries and Hillary 23. Just Hillary has been been involved longer. More experience

What kind of change are you expecting another guy with little experience - well that is what we have now and look how much trouble we are in now. Bush had just a tad bit more experience.

There is too much hype on Obama and people are voting for him "because he has a dynamic personality and he possible makes them feel good. Wake up he is not a god or a rock star most of what he saids just makes you feeling good. He is a great speaker I give him that much but most of it is fluff no real substance just words to hype you up...sorry if that is what you want in a President the same affect a drug may have on you - he makes me feel good - wrong reason to vote for a President hopeful. I am worry more worry then if Bush stayed in office another term - the way people are treating Obama he is not a god just a person with great words...and not a real leader at least not at this time......

Anonymous said...

Rudy - he propsed giving corporations a tax cut from 35 - 25 please like they really need a break... they have so many tax cuts now they hardly pay real taxes...corporation as we have seen in the past do not pass on their savings to the people. They just the execs more bonuses and stock options and perks. Have you read about all the perks execs get even when the company faces lay offs and cuts... Rudy is onlyb good for his time and New York no where else...

Anonymous said...

Obamma is from a state that is the 2nd largest coal producer in the US .Who did the UMWA endorse? Edwards thats because Obamma Came to Illinois promissing to restore Coalmining jobs.After being elected he killed the Clear Skies act ,(a bill that would have brought thousands of jobs to Illinois also a bill supported by the teamsters and the UMWA).Now energy plants in Illinois import non-union coal from Wyoming ! Thanks for the Fucking Barrack ! He is Just another oppertunist Socialist Politician and you are all suckers for not looking at the record!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

2 years in the Senate
70 bills sponsored or authored
1 passed and signed in to legislation.

That's no record to crow about.

Yup - he really is 'all hat and no cattle'. But he sure does make pretty speeches. Pretty empty speeches.