Obama has the gift of style -- the ability to appeal to our deeper, primitive instincts rather than just to our intellects. We should not follow these instincts without examination -- Hitler was quite charismatic and sure knew how to work a crowd, as longtime correspondent Mark has frequently pointed out -- but it is equally foolish to overcompensate. Style and substance are not mutually exclusive.
In the age of the internet, those who argue that Obama is all style and no substance are simply lazy. A fourth grader should be able to do a Google search on "obama substance." An adult should be able to sift through the results to find the nuggets.
I did this research before I decided to support Obama. I found that not only does he have substance, but that his substance aligns with his rhetoric. Skeptics love to scoff at his message of "change," for example, but a quick investigation shows that it's not empty rhetoric.
Here is Obama on "change," in his South Carolina victory speech:
We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.
It's a status quo that extends beyond any particular party and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it's got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care that folks can't afford or a mortgage they cannot pay.
The "change" he's referring to is about getting past the "same old tactics that divide and distract." Turning to Obama's substance, we can see that he really does represent such a change. Here's Hilzoy, in 2006:
His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind.
His legislation is often proposed with Republican co-sponsorship, which brings me to another point: he is bipartisan in a good way. According to me, bad bipartisanship is the kind practiced by Joe Lieberman. Bad bipartisans are so eager to establish credentials for moderation and reasonableness that they go out of their way to criticize their (supposed) ideological allies and praise their (supposed) opponents. They also compromise on principle, and when their opponents don't reciprocate, they compromise some more, until over time their positions become indistinguishable from those on the other side.
This isn't what Obama does. Obama tries to find people, both Democrats and Republicans, who actually care about a particular issue enough to try to get the policy right, and then he works with them. This does not involve compromising on principle. It does, however, involve preferring getting legislation passed to having a spectacular battle. (This is especially true when one is in the minority party, especially in this Senate: the chances that Obama's bills will actually become law increase dramatically when he has Republican co-sponsors.)
Totally on point. Obama has actually done on a small scale what he's promising to do on the large one. Rather than capitulate like Lieberman and too many other Democrats or dig in and refuse to compromise like too many Republicans, Obama has demonstrated both a willingness and an ability to find common ground and move forward without divisiveness and distraction.
So "change" is the theme of Obama's campaign, and it's clearly working. But is that all he's about? I don't think so.
On the biggest substantive issue in recent memory -- the Iraq war -- he was right, when all the other major candidates were wrong. Here he is in 2002:
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
It was a hell of a speech, and delivered with great style. But the substance was not only present, but prescient. When Hillary and Edwards and all the Republicans were substantively wrong, he was right.
That's all I've got today, but I encourage you to do your own research.
Interested in his legislative history? Check out the rest of Hilzoy's post. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a taste:
...I do follow legislation, at least on some issues, and I have been surprised by how often Senator Obama turns up, sponsoring or co-sponsoring really good legislation on some topic that isn't wildly sexy, but does matter. His bills tend to have the following features: they are good and thoughtful bills that try to solve real problems; they are in general not terribly flashy; and they tend to focus on achieving solutions acceptable to all concerned, not by compromising on principle, but by genuinely trying to craft a solution that everyone can get behind...
I can't remember another freshman Senator who so routinely pops up when I'm doing research on some non-sexy but important topic, and pops up because he has proposed something genuinely good.
Hilzoy brings specific examples of Obama's substance on non-proliferation, avian flu, medical malpractice, energy policy, Katrina, federal spending, CAFE standards, veterans' health care, voter intimidation, lobbying reform, and ethics oversight.
Or how about this column by Charles Peters in The Washington Post, which goes into some detail about Obama's accomplishments in the Illinois State Senate?
Want to know the details of his plans for the presidency?
Start with his website, which offers documents as detailed as any other candidate's at this stage in the game. You won't find the exact wording of bills he will support as president, but you will see some specifics. For example, on his page about fiscal matters, you will learn that he supports the reinstatement of PAYGO rules, reversing Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, slashing earmarks to "no more than 2001 levels," ensuring competitive bidding for federal contracts, ending wasteful spending, doing away with tax haven abuse, and closing special interest loopholes. You'll also see that Obama has already voted for the reinstatement of PAYGO several times, introduced and helped pass legislation to limit the abuse of no-bid contracts, and voted against raising the debt limit.
And that's just "fiscal." His issues page has 19 other categories.