Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Eve of the Democratic Convention - A Plea for Substance

As the Democrats get ready to nominate Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) for President, the pundits are in high gear on to what he needs to do (for a brief but sound description see here) for a successful convention.

Perhaps the one piece of advice I most hope he takes, however, comes for Sean Wilentz, an academic and Democratic Party activist who first came to public attention for his passionate defense of Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

Wilentz makes no attempt to hide his activism and his party allegiance. While he supported Senator Clinton in the primaries, he assuredly will be voting for Senator Obama this fall (something a lot of other Clinton supporters will not be doing).

Wilentz notes that Obama has the style, but alleges that he been less forthcoming with the substance we need from a presidential candidate:

Obama's most ardent admirers, who include much of the political press and practically all of the liberal intelligentsia, will almost certainly report and analyze the event as a mammoth historical occasion, and quite possibly praise the speech as one of the greatest political orations ever. But will Obama, amid the pulsating theatrics, also attempt the less glamorous and more difficult task of explaining specifically where he wants to move the country, and how he proposes to move it, above and beyond reciting his policy positions? History, as well as recent public-opinion polls, suggests that he badly needs to do so. As a lifelong Democrat who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during the primaries, I would like to see him succeed in fulfilling his promise.
Instead, Obama should lay out a program for energetic government like his Democratic predecessors did, according to Wilentz, until Jimmy Carter, whose bland, anti-Washington centrist appeal led the party from its roots.

While making no endorsement of Wilentz's preferred policies, I endorse what I take to be his call for a campaign of substance, an annunciation of clear positions, and an intelligent defense of them. On both sides.

Instead, what we're more likely to get from both conventions are entertainment, glitz and platitudes, and we'll keep getting them until we ask for something more. There's nothing wrong with making politics entertaining, but let's demand that they inform as well.

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