Marc Ambinder and Obama’s New Politics

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here Mark Ambinder) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]

For anyone who hasn’t seen it I recommend Ambinder in conversation and Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan, who makes no pretense at all of running a non-partisan blog, explains that when he needs to ground himself he heads for Ambinder’s office, just such an occasion providing the inspiration the video discussion. The discussion is vintage Sullivan, but I think it is vintage Ambinder too who quickly gets out of the way, giving Sullivan the space to make some eloquent observations about the appeal of Obama and the nature of politics.

After this Marc Ambinder posted an article asking his readers to tell him who he is as part of his naval gazing series. Marc is a successful and intelligent blogger and his ‘identity crisis’ is actually an astute recognition of how we are all defined by our daily interactions, his post simultaneously challenging his readers to define themselves. Marc aims for a non-partisan blog, but most of his email traffic is taken up with Obama supporters taking issue with his unfortunate habit of pointing out imperfections of their messiah. (I am an Obama admirer; I am laughing at myself.) Marc assumes his email traffic reflects his readership and wonders why his readership is so skewed towards Obama-ites, but I suspect a combination of advertising a non-partisan blog and the posting of uncomplimentary things about all the candidates may be more provocative to Obama-ites than it is to Clinonites and McCainites, the Obama conceit being the need to leave behind all of that old politicking and the suggestion that he is really just another pol rattles the faith of the disciples. Clinton supporters especially find this conceit totally phony, holding to the view that all politicians are playing variants of the same game, the Obama conceit being the biggest fraud of them all.

The philosophy that Marc is taking to his blog is compatible with the Clinton outlook and cuts against the Obama narrative that the ‘old politics’ is broken and something new is needed, something that Obama is offering. For example in a post yesterday Ambindercompared a passage in Obama’s St Paul speech,

“I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”

to Revelation 7:14-16:

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.

However anyone who has taken what climatologists have been saying even remotely seriously will appreciate Obama’s point. Some of their more scary projections dwarfs even the most lurid of biblical catastrophes. I recently saw a dance show put on by a large group of school children dramatising our environmental crisis; it was powerful, and they certainly got it, much more powerful for being put on by children. Obama seems to grasp the urgency of the situation Clinton and McCain certainly don’t judging by their utterly absurd and cynical gas tax holiday.

So while I think it is great to see Ambinder push back against the Obama-ites, I am not sure he appreciates how difficult it is to be neutral, how his philosophy is closer to the Clinton/McCain business-as-usual political vision than Obama’s sense of urgency, the need for something quite new.

In the interview with Sullivan, Ambinder protested that Obama had an ego in defending Hillary Clinton’s pursuit of her own agenda at the expense of the wider party’s interest. The existence of the Obama ego misses the point. Let’s just accept that we all have an ego. The issue is how skilfully we yoke the needs of that ego to the wider good, and there has been a real issue about the extent to which Clinton has been sacrificing party unity in pursuit of her own agenda: to flatten the issue by saying ‘well they both have egos’ looks pretty unfriendly from an Obama perspective. (Which is not to say that there aren’t defences of the Clinton/Penn rough tactics.)

Mac Ambinder finishes his post thus.

My goal in creating a reported blog on politics, where reporting drives analysis, where who wins matters less than why one wins and what winning means – my goal to create a welcoming space for intellectually honest partisans and non-partisans – has not, as of yet, been realized.

I would say those goals are worthy and he meets them better than any other analyst I am aware of. Maybe Marc might find the going less turbulent if he accepted that while not being a party-political partisan he must report from a point of view and that point of view will naturally be more conducive to some political philosophies than others. Pure objectivity is a chimera.


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