Monday, June 23, 2008

Obama fans, beware

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know I have a certain passion for justice and have a particular interest in agricultural policy; not enough to be an expert, but enough to write about it from time to time. For example, this post, written in response to an Economist article about "The End of Cheap Food" that linked rising food costs to American ethanol and Western agricultural subsidies. It's the second in a series of 5 or 6 (at least) food-related posts I wrote in December, January and February.

Anyway, this morning I was disheartened reading an article in the NY Times entitled, 'Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol'. I also read a few weeks ago that he supported this year's farm bill, which, in addition to sustaining enormous grain subsidies for agribusinesses, also proposed to significantly decrease welfare/food stamp funding 5-10 years from now.

This concerns me for several reasons. 1) In today's NY Times article, it mentions his stance against foreign ethanol (the article mentions Brazilian sugar cane ethanol), because it doesn't 'reduce foreign dependence', despite the significantly lower amount of energy required to produce sugar cane ethanol. In a world where energy is in increasing demand, it seems off to reject a fuel that is more energy efficient in favor of a fuel that gets you elected by supporting subsidies for it. And that doesn't even touch on the foreign policy side of things - what's wrong with buying fuel from Brazil? (I'm sure there are many issues here, especially considering I know very little about the working conditions of sugar cane plantation employees or how sugar cane ethanol revenue would be used in Brazil...but I digress).

2) I am also concerned because it seems to me that Mr. Obama is backtracking. Or flip-flopping, however you'd like to look at it. When he first started campaigning, and even as recently as a month or two ago, his speeches were peppered with language about a new kind of politics, a kind of politics that isn't based on the interests of powerful lobbying groups or controlled by "corrupt", old-guard politicians. Between this stance on ethanol (i.e. support for agribusiness) and his recent rejection of public financing for his campaign, I'm less than impressed with Obama's "new way of politics". It doesn't look much different than the old way from where I sit.


Joel said...

well... Here's my opinion on Obama. I think he's one of the BEST politicians America has ever seen for one reason. He made us forget that he's a politician. He paraded around in the primaries talking about new politics, new policies, and mostly, change. But what everyone forgot, is that he's a POLITICIAN! NOT A ROCKSTAR!!! He can't make any more drastic changes than any other candidate, because he's still tied down by political expectations and requirements. Thats one of the problems of the Democratic and Republican parties. The majority of voters and politicians are split into two parties, and those two parties therefore wield ultimate power in washington. So any politician hoping to get into office must join with one of them, and is then hopelessly restricted. Thats my relatively uninformed rant.

Steve Ruberg said...

I believe it is possible that Obama is forced into this kind of action by ... the politics of the situation. If Obama comes out against the farm bill or corn-based ethanol, it will be used against him. The other party will accuse him of not supporting American farmers - even though the bill will really help only big business - voters still think these bills apply to small farmers. My guess is that Obama knows this very well being a Senator from Illinois.

As a candidate, it is almost impossible to change some perceptions on issues during a campaign. It seems to me that in order to win in a two-party system, candidates are always forced to support bad policies due to public mis-perceptions of their value. Hopefully, a better strategy will come out if he's elected. I doubt we'll see much change under another Republican presidency - they have allowed big corporations to have an even larger influence in their system.

Meanwhile, read Obama's Fathers Day speech where he addresses inner city issues like few previous candidates for president have ever had the standing to address. Not only does his campaign communicate that "We the people" really means everyone, but he has the ability to begin to address serious problems that affect the lives of the inner city poor - issues that are very familiar to you.

LynnaeEtta said...

Dad & Joel -

Joel said it best: "[Obama]'s one of the BEST politicians America has ever seen". Now, he's maybe not the best ever, but definitely in awhile. And, don't get me wrong I, I think it's great that he's the Democratic nominee - we've definitely come a long way since the 60s and he does have some great ideas, especially about social reform.

What bothers me, though, is that I forgot he was a politician. Like Joel said, he made us forget he was and now he's actually having to act like the kind of politician none of us like very much and that annoys me to no end.

And I'm not sure if I agree with you, Dad, that he's forced into it. He is to a certain extent perhaps, but only because he's determined to win. So, when he builds his campaign platform on ideas of change and then acts like all of the other politicians, regardless of the context, that bothers me.

David Brooks (New York Times) has an interesting editorial about how "good" a politician he (Obama) is. You can tell by reading it that he's not much of a fan of Obama, but he makes some interesting points.

Regarding the corn-based ethanol issue, I do stand corrected by a friend of mine who works on the Hill: Obama did vote for (or at least support) the reform-focused amendments, which (I think) included capping subsidies and who gets them, possibly even for ethanol. I haven't done my research so I don't know the specifics, but it's remotely redeeming to know that. It just redirects my frustrating at our political system in general. :)

The Gatekeeper said...

A brilliant politician he is, that is for sure. His campaign for the nomination was the most skillfully run campaign I have seen in the 4 presidential elections I have been old enough to pay attention to. I agree with Steve that he is in some ways forced into tying himself to bad policies. If one has any prayer of earning a party nomination, that person must to a very large degree tow the company line, as well as be careful not to bite the hand that feeds. Such is the evil (or rather one of the evils) of the two party system. However I do believe that Obama has been less afraid to rock the boat then any candidate I have seen, while having the foresight to know how much he can get away with. Urban decay is an issue close to my heart and I do believe Obama genuinely desires to attack this issue with vigor. However his ability to accomplish anything to left of center will be hindered in the same way that any right of center actions by a Republican president would be. This is to say that there is a small window to either side of center within a president will ever be able to enact change, unless a significant majority of the public rise up and demand change. Otherwise things will always remain more or less the same from a big picture point of view regardless of who is in office.

The Gatekeeper said...

This is Chris Zull by the way, if the gatekeeper tag left you wondering.

LynnaeEtta said...

I probably would have figured out it was you after looking at your profile page - the Navy and Monterey tags might have given it away...

But about Obama: yes, he is one of the most brilliant politicians we've seen in a long time. Yes, he seems to have a sixth sense about how much he can rock the boat without going too far. Yes, his proverbial hands are tied running for president - there are only so many things he can do if he really wants to get elected.

I think what bothers me the most about all of it, aside from the frustrating reality of the two-party system (maybe I should vote Independent this fall? :) ), is that I fell for his brilliance and believed he really stood for real change, no matter what the consequences. So, yes, my pride was hurt AND I recognize it's not entirely his fault (blame it on the "system").