Obama’s Positioning

Mickey Kaus argues that Barack Obama is contradicting himself by trying to run as both a “real democrat” and a “bipartisan bridge-builder.” Kaus thinks that you can’t have it both ways, that being a bridge-builder means sticking it to the Democratic base sometimes.

Hey may be right, but it’s not clear that Obama has another choice. Obama’s problem is that he’s faced with the challenge of running to Hillary Clinton’s perceived left and positional right.

Clinton is widely regarded as the most conservative candidate in the race, but she’s also the most “polarizing” — the least likely to win over independents and Republicans. In other words, she’s both the farthest to the right, and the least likely to pick up votes on the right. The worst of both worlds!

So how do you fight that? There’s no room to run to her right and still win the Democratic nomination, so the obvious choice is to run to her left, which is what Edwards is doing. But the other part of Obama’s appeal is that he can win the kind of broad support in a general election that you need to tackle big issues, where Clinton might only squeak by with 50.1%. So he has to try to run to her left, but still pick up votes ot her right. Not an easy thing to do!

If you watched him on Meet the Press last weekend, you saw this conundrum tie him in knots. His strategy thus far seems to be to say that his politics are so transformative that all the old left-right axes no longer apply. But it’s a fine line between “transformational politics” and plain-old incoherence.