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. 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.”

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. Sandra Price

    You are right Hal. I have always believed that many Americans want to hear corrections of our multiple problems we face in America. I tried to discuss the health care mess with this forum and had no replies. I tried to discuss why so many manufacturing companies are moving across the borders even when the products are not up to American standards.

    I tried to ask many here why our schools overlook the need for plumbers, carpenters and electricians so we can keep our homes in good condition and keep up the housing need. How can we sit back and watch America fail to keep us even in the top 10 achievers in the world?

    Is there any political candidate who understands why our American corporations have failed us as consumers? Why didn’t the Automobile makers learn from Japan what the American people want to drive? What is the problem with the banks and mortgage people? Who had the authority to keep the big loan companies from passing off their loans to companies who had no validity? Why did our federal government go into such debt with our terrible trade agreements? Who had the authority to take us out of manufacturing number one place? Who has the authority to insure that the Army Corp of Engineers must keep up with their construction of our dams, levies and river banks?

    Why do we allow expensive Congress members to argue about drugs in our professional athletes? Who sets these silly priorities? How about the abuse of many organizations like Enron who raped and pillaged thousands of people and nobody said a damn word?

    How can we vote properly in November when this ridiculous set of priorities still runs our government? I expect the next government to hand the voters some guarantees that we will not enter into another war without the truth coming from the capital.

    I expect sites like Capital Hill Blue to start the members writing about how we can fix the ills that have hit us during Bush/Clinton/Bush and directed us from being a free nation into a nation in serious trouble.

  8. Hal Brown

    Not to be too cute, Sandy,
    (about needing to have a wake-up call about our priorities…)

    We became a nation by freeing ourselves from Britain, writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to assure we would be the non-Britain. Now we have become a nation whose priorities are Britainized in a different way with a different spelling: Britney-ized.

    Add that to special interests (corporations and religious groups)…

    and the gullibility of the populace…

    No wonder we’re in the mess we are in.

  9. churlpat

    Comparing Bush’s five worst transgressions to Obama’s five worst? Interesting, but Bush is not the likely Republican candidate. We need to compare Obama with McCain.

    Churlpat — a plutarch by any name is still a plutarch

  10. sherry

    If the electorate had been intellectual rather than emotional prior to selecting Obama’s empty suit, we might have better choices.
    I never cease to be astonished at the utter ignorance of the American electorate.
    Doug finally admitted recently Clinton had more “balls” than anyone out there. She was by far the most mentally tough. Yet in prior columns the editorial board of this site referred to Hillary’s bleached blond hair and pantsuits. And Hal, you were oh so concerned about why Hillary would take back her cheating husband. I really don’t know how that relates to choosing a candidate. It is a akin to Limbaugh talking about electing a woman who we would watch grow old before our eyes. How awful would that be?
    While we are on the subject, Hal, why haven’t you written a column on Obama’s obvious daddy issues?
    Obama on the other hand made great, inspiring speeches and told us to trust his judgement.Racist pastor aside, (supporters make a ton of excuses for that one too)of course we are disappointed that not only did he break his promise to filabuster FISA, he voted for it! Public campaign financing? He thought candidates should have a level playing ground. Ooops. Sorry about that. He has the ability to raise all kinds of dough. Forget that. He needs it for his message.
    So at the end of the day, I just don’t trust the guy. He is nothing more and nothing less than a media creation.
    Perhaps he isn’t just an empty suit. Perhaps he is one hell of an actor. We had one of those in the WH already. That didn’t work out so well.

  11. Hal Brown

    I believe Obama has resolved his “daddy issues”.

    I questioned the motivations behind Hillary Clinton’s taking back Bill after the Monica affair but I was not “oh so concerned” about it.

    I don’t see how anybody could read Obama’s two books and still think he fits the definition of an empty suit, i.e., somebody who lacks substance… unless one assumes they were ghost written.

    The point of the column isn’t to excuse Obama for the disappointments listed in the previous post, but to balance them against McCain.

  12. sherry

    So we are down to the lessor of two evils? Forget all that rubbish about the man of hopes and dreams. Forget that he voted with the GOP on FISA. Or that he wasn’t a typical politician. He was above all that.
    The whole reason people looked beyond his lack of resume was because he was supposed to be a different kind of man untainted by Washington.
    When combined with the fact he voted “present” 139 times in the IL legislature, he doesn’t exactly exude intestinal fortitude.
    Then, he has the audacity to say he cut welfare rolls by 80%. He neglected to note IL as did other states have to comply with the federal guidelines implemented by the Clinton administration. His fellow colleagues complained BHO took credit for legislation he didn’t actually write, but rather signed on and took the accolades at the end.
    Hal, reading his books is enough for you. I would rather look at his actions, which so far shows he is just another politician with limited experience.
    And while he claimed HRC would say/do anything to get elected, I notice he does the same thing.
    I was desperate to vote for a democrat this year. Desperate. Now that BHO is the nominee, I realize with the issues we are facing as a nation, I am forced to vote for the person likely to do the least damage. There WILL be damage. Who will do the least?

  13. Hal Brown

    Obama the ruthless politician –

    We don’t like it. Obama has shattered many hopes. Many see that their hopes were really illusions. We see that we idealized Obama in the common meaning of the word, and the more introspective may admit they idealized him in the psychological sense. Many feel they’ve been betrayed.

    Gail Collin’s writes in today’s New York Times:

    But then there is his ruthless political side, which I’m seeing more and more of. His Iraq statements are a sign of his thoroughly political nature. When the surge was being considered, he went on TV again and again and said the additional troops would not reduce violence. Today, he could just admit he was wrong. But, of course, it is an iron rule of politics that no politician — not Bush, not Obama — can ever admit a mistake….

    And he rewrites his position with such confidence and bald-facedness it’s sort of scary.

    I have to admit I used to have a sense of what kind of president Obama would make. Now I have no clue.

    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. LINK