They’re Not That into Him
Netroots vs. Obama.


Stephen Spruiell

The Des Moines Register’s final Iowa poll has Barack Obama trouncing Hillary Clinton in today’s caucuses, 32 to 25. This, the Register tells us, is thanks to high projected turnout from self-described independents, 40 percent of whom favor Obama. Nationally, polls show Obama beating prospective Republican nominees by wider margins than any Democrat running. One could make the case that Obama is more authentically liberal than Hillary Clinton or John Edwards, yet could attract more independent voters in the general election than either. On top of that, he has higher favorability ratings than Hillary and a lot more money than Edwards.

So why do liberal bloggers (a.k.a. the netroots) have such a problem with this guy? After all, they are notoriously obsessed with winning, and while they have warmed to John Edwards’s fire-breathing populist shtick, they acknowledge that his decision to take matching funds in the primary race would significantly limit his ability to campaign against a deep-pocketed Republican nominee like Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney until September. The more viable alternative, Hillary Clinton, leaves them cold over her Iraq votes. That leaves Obama, a candidate liberal bloggers have spent much of the last week attacking. Why?

As liberal blogger Steve Benen explained on his The Carpetbagger Report Wednesday, they are angry over several recent instances in which Obama “used conservative frames in very unhelpful ways” (Benen himself concludes that “the concerns seem overwrought”). For an explanation of “framing” and why it has captured the liberal imagination, see this artful deconstruction:

One way to resolve this paradox [in which Republican policies are bad for most people, yet these people continue to vote for Republicans anyway] is to divide conservatives into two rough taxonomic categories: the small elite of evil geniuses who spend their days spinning sinister plots, and the masses of ignorant dupes who can be tricked into following them. Conservatives can thus be diagnosed as either evil or stupid — masters of sinister language manipulation, or hypnotized victims of it.

Apparently, one of these evil conservative plots is to remind people that health-insurance mandates “force” people to buy health insurance. The health-care plan Barack Obama has put forward would not mandate coverage for adults whereas Hillary’s would, and Obama has run some ads illustrating this distinction by pointing out that Hillary’s plan would “force people to buy insurance even if they can’t afford it.” (Benen gives this a 5 out of 5 on the Lieberman scale for the most annoying use of conservative frames.)

The statement is true. Although Hillary’s plan would offer tax credits to offset some of the cost of insurance, it would force people to buy it, even if they feel they still can’t afford it. Obama’s statement isn’t wrong because it’s false; it’s wrong because it doesn’t adhere to the party line, according to which mandates don’t force people to buy insurance, they provide coverage, which would otherwise be absent. (Note: Obama’s plan has plenty of other coercive elements. It just lacks this one.)


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