Obama Needs to Speak His Truth to Power


There is a component to the Obama campaign pitch that needs to be brought front and center.  It is the essence of Obama’s “new politics” appeal, and seems to be the reason why he is so reluctant to return his opponent’s scorch and burn strategy. It explains why Obama won’t get in the mud with Hillary. 

Unlike John Kerry in ’04, Obama’s reluctance to respond to Millary’s and McCain’s “swift boat” attacks is not because he is soft or weak, or because he doesn’t recognize it’s potential deleterious effects; rather, it is because he is opposed to this style of politics on principle and in terms of his personal style. Like Ghandi or King he is showing his strength by seeming to refuse to fight back and this response makes voters nervous.

Obama says he wants the fight to be waged over ideas, not not personal attacks. Okay, let’s have at it.  But, this is a fight, he needs to start.   He needs to get scrappy about it.  Let’s see how touch he is. No marquis of queensbury rules; he needs to get dirty about fighting clean.

Here’s how:

Rather than talking around it, Obama needs to talk about “it” being the essence of his new politics, with “it” being something that seems to look like Jurgen Habermas’ “ideal speech” standards for public sphere dialogue.

According to Habermas, the public sphere is a norm of rational argumentation and critical discussion in which the strength of one’s argument was more important than one’s identity.  Democratic public life only thrives where institutions enable citizens to debate matters of public importance.  It is here where actors are equally endowed with the capacities of discourse, recognize each other’s basic social equality and speech is undistorted by ideology or misrecognition.

In addition to wanting to engage in real public sphere dialogue, Obama’s new politics appeal also embraces a normative component, which Geoge Lakoff writes about, and which assumes a less paternalistic and more empathetic government.

From what I can tell, Habermas and Lakoff provide guiding principles for the Obama candiacy, and shed some light on why he refuses to get in the mud with Hilary.

Here’s his challenge: in addition to naming his new politics in a way that is easily understood, Obama needs to address the same sort of valid criticisms that follows Habermas and Lakoff.  The criticism is that Haberma’s ideal speech situation is somewhat elitist and suffers from a class, race and education bias.  Obama must explain how his appeal resonates with working class voters.  On this one point, Hillary is correct.  And the test for Obama is to teach by doing, which means he must explain how his appeal resonates with working class votrs by resonating with working class voters.

Once again, let it begin. 

 

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