Continuing to anticipate the appearance by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Ohio Democratic Party 2006 State Dinner tomorrow night, I've been checking more websites of bloggers who have spoken with Obama recently. Here is an excerpt of an interview by Flash of the Minnesota blog Centrisity (Obama's words in boldface):
Do you think your more active involvement on the National party scene may improve the level of discourse between the two parties?The part about "disagreeing without being disagreeable" made me think. My usual knee-jerk reaction is to assess Democratic candidates largely on the basis of how aggressive they are. For example, in these pages I expressed doubts about former 14th Congressional District candidate and former U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) as being perhaps insufficiently zealous, and I praised the current candidate in that district, former State Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Barberton), for being a fighter. I have lauded energetic criticism of incumbents by such Congressional challengers as former U.S. Rep. Bob Shamansky (D-Columbus), Law Director Zack Space (D-Dover), and County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus). I'm not ready to back off my notion that Democratic candidates must be aggressive, but reading this interview with Obama made me focus on the equally important dimension of likeability. Sharp attacks get attention and play well with the base, but too much vitriol destroys a candidate's rapport with crucial moderates and independents.
You know, one of my dear friends and political mentors was a guy named Paul Simon [the late Democratic Senator from Illinois, and one-time presidential contender].
I’m aware of him.
He was one of these guys who had what would be considered a very liberal voting record. Yet he always did well in conservative areas. Nobody could ever figure out why except for the fact that he had mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. I think that’s one thing that American politics generally would benefit from is being able to disagree, sometimes forcefully, without name calling and without viciousness.
Right, you had a little harsh criticism from Sen McCain about a month or so ago. How would you meet the challenges you face now as you risk your independent perception and are more public traveling at various Democratic events throughout the country.
Well, you know, look, I’m a Democrat and I’m proud of being a Democrat. And I’m proud of what the Democratic Party Stands for. You’ll notice that most of the time when I’m talking I’m talking affirmatively about what the Democrats stand for. And if I’m critical of the Bush Administration, for example, it’s going to be based on their philosophy. I'm not going to call them evil, or bad intentioned, but I am going to say that they have made a lot of big mistakes in terms of running the country.
When I was a very young trial attorney, acting as second chair to a senior litigation partner in the trial of a relatively small commercial case, I was given the opportunity to cross-examine a single opposing witness. Eager to make a good impression, I attacked the witness for testifying in the courtroom that a contract had been signed in his business office, having previously testified in a deposition that the document had been signed at his attorney's office. I savaged the witness for a few minutes about it, finally asking triumphantly "Well, were you lying then, or are you lying now?" The judge ordered the witness not to answer the question and called counsel up to the bench for a sidebar conference. The judge said nothing to me but asked the partner, "Len, I thought [your firm] was going to stop hiring a**holes after that bad experience you had with that last guy." The partner assured the judge that I would be set straight and I struggled through the rest of my cross-examination without the histrionics. The partner settled the case during the next recess. The lesson I had to learn is that you have to give the jury a factual basis on which to rule in your favor, but what really wins the case for you is getting the jury to like and respect you more than your adversary.
Not an exact parallel, but that's what this called to mind.