Emotion vs. intellect in the Obama netroots

I see an amazing phenomenon on political websites. McCain supporters are ignoring or dismissing his missteps, while Obama supporters are reacting as if his are unforgivable transgressions.

This is the first presidential election where the term “netroots” has become part of the political landscape and lexicon because politicians are actually paying attention to the opinions and criticisms expressed by online commentators and bloggers. Why can’t those who consider George W. Bush about as patriotic an American as King George III, and John McCain not much better, realize that Obama probably is actually paying attention to their criticism?

The negative emotional responses to Obama’s stepping back from, altering, or reversing previous positions is understandable.

Feeling and expressing outrage online is justified and healthy. I have no doubt that Obama has staffers that monitor the netroots and very possibly Capitol Hill Blue. If they are, my hunch is that the emotion laden diatribes against him simply get counted, possibly rated by some criteria, but not paid attention to except in the aggregate.

I want to believe that constructive criticism from columnists and posters on the smaller websites like Capitol Hill Blue, with readership in the thousands as compared to the hundreds of thousands drawn to sites like Huffington Post and Daily Kos, actually get taken seriously.

The many of us offering well meaning, often well thought out, advice, criticism and reaction on political websites are all potential consultants without portfolios. We function outside of the traditional paid and unpaid official and semi-official campaign advisers.

My impression is that between McCain and Obama, the later is far more likely to consider us a resource.

I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with venting your spleen on a political website.

However, if do nothing but express frustration and anger, you’ll probably be counted but not much more. I think you need to need to put on your thinking caps and rather than catalog your complaints and only say “I’m mad”, say “I’m mad and here’s what I think you should do.”

Everyone knows how life sometimes throws lesser of two evil choices at you. Sometimes feeling betrayed by your candidate, Obama in this case, can lead you to respond more with emotion than intellect.

I find it hard to believe that if you do this you will realize that the “evil” which will come from electing McCain is far greater than the “evil” of electing Obama.

Addendum: Exercise in Algebra

Write down what you consider to be the five major transgressions of George W. Bush* John McCain. This is A.

Write down the five major transgressions which you attribute to Barack Obama. This is B.

Ask yourself the following:

Does A = B?

You can do the same with the Republican and Democratic congressional record.


Related column: Idealization of Obama: The higher the pedestal the harder they fall


  1. JerryG

    I call it the parched throat syndrome among Dems. They’re like nomads who’ve been criss-crossing the desert drinking marginal water from their places of refuge. Now all of a sudden they find this amazing oasis (Obama) from which they can drink the finest water and eat the freshest fruits. Simply put they’ve been in the wilderness so long suffering from mediocrity that anything short of perfection will be criticized for its short-comings or measured against the past.

    There aren’t any roses for them to smell and relax and be thankful!

  2. Cailleach

    Yes, he’s a smart, pragmatic politician. Such people get things done! The Democratic party has a history of pushing candidates who are not good politcians: Nader, Kucinich, Dukakis, to what gain? They’re great gadflies, but couldn’t get elected president. If Obama doesn’t get a landslide, the Republicans will steal yet another election and the country will be totally destroyed.

    I want a president who is an exceptional politician, like Bill Clinton, but more honest, with much better ideas and a good sense of the possible and how to achieve it. I also want one who is intelligent, well-educated and well-read. One who has a good sense of who he is and of the world. One who we may not agree with all the time-nobody’s perfect-but one who can lay a foundation we can build on. Those who vote for McCain, a blithering idiot, out of spite, are themselves blithering idiots.

  3. Hal Brown

    Lying by omission, Obama justifies FISA vote as follows:

    • it brings the FISA court back into the picture and demands compliance with the court;


    • it requires the Inspectors General to investigate past misconduct, so maybe someone(s) — other than the now-immune telecoms, of course — will be exposed for their role(s) in the illegal wiretapping and perhaps even held accountable.

    The lie, what he doesn’t say, is that while he may have voted for the bill if he wasn’t a presidential candidate (or running for Senate again) – which I doubt – the primary reason he voted for it was so he wouldn’t be accused of being “soft on terrorism”.

    I think it was a calculated vote, that he knew it would alienate many supporters, but his advisers did the math and decided the vote would be a net gain.

    As I wrote previously, behind his early inspirational persona Obama has proved to be a calculating politician. This isn’t quite a redundancy, but I doubt many non-calculating politicians get elected.

    Read the two million results from a google search of Obama FISA vote HERE

  4. pollchecker

    Hal — great piece. Everything you said is absolutely true!

    Obama has shown himself to be a politician. However, he has clearly demonstrated that he is going to be a different type of politician.

    He’s not going down by taking the high road and ignoring the blatant lies, propaganda and disinformation. Unlike McCain whose can only use lies, fear and disinformation to scare the sheep.

    He’s talking to his constituency about his positions up front…..Unlike Bush/McCain who act like my father and knows better than I do what’s good for me.

    He’s showed he’s not afraid to change positions especially if it is the will of the people.

    He taught the Constitution and Bill of Rights which shows some respect for those sacred documents unlike McCain who supports Bush policies like his signing statements.

    Yes, Hal, there are lots of differences and we must keep these differences in the forefront of the dialogue or else we will be drowned out by lies, propaganda and disinformation!

    Thanks for a great column!

  5. jwritesel

    I see pundits like this Gail Collins still trying to call Obama an empty suit. I think she is so wrong I wonder why her piece did not end up on editing floor. I find Obama’s positions on the issues to be much more thought out and for the most part I find myself in agreement. I think the real empty suit is McCain. He does not appear to have an economic policy, his energy policy appears to be based on gimmicks, and his views on other issues like torture, mass transit, vets, women, taxes, and this war are all contrary to where I would like to see this country moving towards. Obama has been right about Iraq and Afghanistan. All McCain can talk about is the surge. He forgets to add we pay the Sunnis not to kill our guys. He does not want to talk about this war being based on lies. McCain changes his position on issues more often than the wind changes direction. If you look behind the curtain of McCain’s campaign you find tons of lobbyists and Rove people just waiting to get at our Treasury and continue to run this country into the ground like Bush has these past 8 years.

  6. Hal Brown

    I agree with all that you wrote, jwritesel, except that Gail Collins is calling Obama an empty suit, which I take to mean someone without substance under a compelling and attractive exterior.

    She writes about what she considers his “ruthless political” side with apparent disappointment. I think she is letting her emotions get in the way (the title of this column) when what she is observing is his pragmatic political side trumping his idealism. This disappoints her, or so it seems.

    I disagree with her saying he “rewrites his position with such confidence and bald-facedness” something she perceives and says “it’s sort of scary”. He does rewrite his position with confidence but I wouldn’t couple that with his being bald-faced.

    She writes “I have to admit I used to have a sense of what kind of president Obama would make. Now I have no clue.” I think we are getting more and more clues as to what kind of president Obama will be. He will be one of our most intelligent and deep thinking presidents and he will mix idealism with pragmatism. He certainly won’t pursue a war based on the neo-con delusion (they’d call it their ideal) that you can force democracy on a tribal and religiously divided country.

    She seems to backtrack and recognize this in this paragraph:

    “The whole country is probably going to go through this he’s-not-who-we-thought period because they started off with rather specific, very limited, visions of what he was, which I must admit he played into during the primaries. Because Obama’s such a fantastic speaker, there was an expectation he’d be an inspirational figure rather than a practical one — a combination preacher and late-life Nelson Mandela. What a surprise when he turned out to be this very smart, pragmatic politician.”