Monday, April 30, 2007

Estrich Gets it Wrong on Obama

In an otherwise interesting piece for Fox News, I think Susan Estrich misses the mark on Obama's performance. Here is the money excerpt (and it is the point of her argument, so I'm not sure why it is buried so deep):
Asked about America's best friends in the world, Obama waxed on about NATO and our European allies before looking east to Japan. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I've been around debates for decades and it was clear that Obama didn't get that this was the Israel question.

He didn't get that people like me, voters and donors, were waiting to hear the word "Israel" in a way that Japanese Americans were not. Japan doesn't live under constant threats; Israel does. Japanese Americans don't worry about Japan's survival in the way Jewish Americans worry about Israel. Obama's answer, in my book, was the biggest mistake of the debate.

I see a number of flaws in this argument. I agree with the general sentiment -- Israel is, if not our most important ally, at least one of them. But in an early Democratic primary debate, if Brian Williams' query was "The Israel question" then eliding Israel may have been one of Obama's wisest choices. Now don't get me wrong -- Obama's approach to Israel makes me a bit wary. But at the same time, had the red meat crowd on the Democratic left, which will have dispproportionate impact on the nomination process, heard "Israel," they would not have heard it in the way that Estrich suggests would have been good for Obama. They could do more harm to him, in other words, than "people like Estrich" can do him good. This assessment of the way primaries work seems so obvious that if it is not a truism it at least rings true: Better to have folks like Estrich waiting for satisfaction than to raise the ire of the Daily Kos crowd.

If anything, Estrich's assertion shows a certain amount of interest group solipsism -- a sense that the political world rotates around the axis of her concerns -- that certainly has not thus far been reflected in Obama's fundraising, in his popularity in the polls, however flawed those polls are, or in the post-debate support Obama has held and garnered. In other words, Estrich's argument is one put forth without much evidence. She so wants Obama to be hurt by not answering what she perceived as "the Israel question" in the correct way that she is asserting that such harm has been done without any foundation.

1 comment:

Ahistoricality said...

I haven't gotten around to watching the debate itself, but everything I've read suggests that the questions were like a laundry list of screaming headlines digging for fodder for more screaming headlines....

"Solipsism": there's a word that doesn't get out enough these days. Nice.