Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Republicans for Obama?

Noam Scheiber hits close to my home today, writing about following Obama supporter Monica Greene canvassing in Ankeny. It's close to home because I interviewed Monica in October for one of my favorite profile pieces.

We spoke because I had kept running into the same phenomenon over and over around Iowa: Republicans who really liked Obama. I saw them everywhere. They didn't all say they were going to vote for him, but many were, and I got the sense many others were considering it. A prominent Republican official even told me how intrigued he was.

Schreiber wonders how many such Republicans there are, and makes a very smart point:

My sense about people like Monica is that they've actually been Democrats for a long time, they just didn't know it. Monica told me she was increasingly concerned about the environment and wanted the war to end. She said she voted against Kerry in 2004, not for Bush. What kept her a Republican all those years, I think, was an unflattering mental image of who Democrats were--crusty union hacks and effete Northeastern elitists--which Obama shattered. It wouldn't shock me if there were lots more like her.

It's not that simple, but there's something to that insight. Some of that unflattering mental image, though, has been partially true in past cycles, so it wasn't altogether irrational. It would be more accurate to say that Republicans like Greene probably were not so much against Democratic policy, but not how the party was run.

As a Republican, my problem with Democrats has largely been two things: its domination by interest groups that emphasize their victimization (and consequently, division); and not enough hard-headed focus on policy results.

Democrats have surged past Republicans on the latter quality, as the GOP has largely descended into unthinking dogma and Democrats have become the fiscally responsible party.

But perhaps even more important, Obama seems to be singlehandedly changing the game on the former. George Will made the point well:

Obama's candidacy fascinates because he represents radical autonomy: He has chosen his racial identity but chosen not to make it matter much.

Other call him "post-racial," and as much as Americans hate the hyper-partisanship of national politics, they are likely even more weary of political correctness and racial tension many encounter in real life. Obama offers them the opportunity to move beyond that divide. It will be easier said that done, but the concept is so appealing to members of both parties, it will be a powerful weapon for Obama should he reach the general election.

UPDATE: The Republican mayor of Brooklyn, IA announced he would caucus for Obama tomorrow. His rhetoric sounds very close to mine:

“I’ve been a moderate Republican all my life and I simply don’t recognize these people [the GOP field],” he said. “Meanwhile, the Democrats have six solid candidates — though I think [Dennis] Kucinich is a bit out there.”

He also made a point I hadn't considered: That lots of Republicans are fed up, and will be caucusing Democrat to make sure Clinton doesn't get the nomination. If a decent number of GOPers do that, she's really in trouble.

Update h/t Andrew Sullivan

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