Eric Martin wonders why if I acknowledge that the greater boldness of the Obama and Edwards campaigns in challenging the conservative meta-narrative about terrorism is driven in part by political considerations that I still consider it an important development.
The biggest reason is that it’s wrong to think that politics is something that happens on the campaign trail and then in office the politicians follow their “real” beliefs. If John Edwards campaigns and wins on a strategy of bold economic populism, it’s likely he’ll govern as someone who believes that bold economic populism is a solid route to a successful presidency. If Barack Obama campaigns as someone who takes on the hawkish Beltway CW on foreign policy, then it’s likely he’ll govern as someone who believes he has nothing to fear from the Washington Post editorial page. Of course these kind of things can change as somebody governs.
Similarly, even thought I think it was the Clinton campaign’s first instinct to offer a timid health care proposal, it was also the Clinton campaign’s first instinct to try to neutralize all the key Democratic interest groups, and so a combination of SEIU and Edwards essentially forced Clinton to offer a bold proposal. But now that that proposal is on the table, it doesn’t go off the table whether or not it’s “real.” The proposal will be debated, and if Clinton wins it’ll have scored a win. Meanwhile, the people inside Clinton’s camp who were advocates of bolder thinking on health care are empowered by the production of a plan and the need to have an argument about it.
At the end of the day, it’s not about finding the candidate who “really” has the best views. Instead, insofar as the issues matter to you (and, obviously, there are considerations beyond “the issues” in play) it’s about finding the candidate who has the best platform. We can’t peer into their souls and we don’t really need to.