Kerry’s Obama Endorsement: Gut Instincts?!


Barack Obama had been impressing me a while back with some calibrated, sensible approaches to recasting US-Cuba relations in this next era. I think that he was on to something big — and had a general vision of how engagement works with parts of the world, particularly nations, that are not convergent or in lockstep with our own.
I remain hopeful that Obama if elected President of the United States will be as calculating with other nations and regions that require a very different course.
But to make these changes, or leaps, into alternative bilateral, multilateral, and global arrangements requires shrewdness and diplomatic skill, not sentimentalism, leaps of faith, or gut instinct. I think experience matters — but experience can also be requisitioned. Judgment matters also — and some approaches to problem-solving can be stymied by living too much in the weeds of a problem rather than seeing some of the big opportunities.
But national security and foreign policy making is both art and science; there are many moving pieces — and America’s national security portfolio is in possibly worse shape than at the end of the Vietnam War.
Hope and gut instinct are not enough. Today, John Kerry endorsed Barack Obama — and he has every right to do so. Gary Hart did as well this week — and I should disclose that I work closely with former Senator Hart.
But I have to say that I find myself repulsed by this line from Kerry:

Like him, I also lived abroad as a young man, and I share with him a healthy respect for the advantage of knowing other cultures and countries, not from a book or a briefing, but by personal experience, by gut, by instinct.

There are many things to admire in Senator Obama. His political instincts may be impressive — but solving America’s global problems will require methodic, hard work that struggles to keep some semblance of a proactive 21st century foreign policy agenda active while many problems we need to react to will be trying to squash it.
There are legitimate differences between people and candidates on how to approach foreign policy — and I think that Obama get some of this right, as does Hillary Clinton.
But gut instinct is how George W. Bush did it — and we can’t suffer through more years of shoot from the hip approaches.
I very much hope that Barack Obama’s campaign will begin to ask his various endorsers to DROP the gut instinct line. It is not a compliment to Obama and plants more doubts than it does secure confidence.

— Steve Clemons


23 comments on “Kerry’s Obama Endorsement: Gut Instincts?!

  1. Linda says:

    dan with a small “d” and not Dan Kervick,
    Compare what Dubya did with his life until age 45 with what Obama has done. Bush went to Harvard for MBA after he was refused admission to University of TX Law School, was in businesses that failed and was bailed out by his father’s buddies, etc., did stop drinking or abusing whatever when he found religion. Bush was 45 years old in 1991, and he wasn’t elected governor of TX until 1994.
    So you do have the option of writing in George Bush next November. At least compare Obama to the other candidates, and I stand by my statement that every single one of them is better than Bush.


  2. Nobcentral says:

    I’ll be happy if they move away from this type of rhetoric just so we can avoid more over-analysis of a sound byte that composes maybe 1% of Obama’s experience, worldview, etc. That being said, i trust Obama’s foreign policy team over Hillary’s any day of the week.


  3. Bill R. says:

    Much ado about nothing, Steve! A phrase in an endorsement speech. Probably has no effect whatsoever. It doesn’t reflect anything except a more global world view perhaps, being affected by experience. Personally I think it does help Obama to generate some acceptance by Dem. party establishment types, like Kerry, and to have endorsements from people like him, Rep. George Miller (Pelosi associate), Sen. Tim Johnson, (Dem. senator from a conservative state) and so on. Particularly on the heels of close but disappointing loss in NH it helps with the perception of momentum. As a policy wonk choices of worlds may have deep meaning to you. But this is politics, not policy. Relating it to George Bush’s “shoot from the hip” ideology is a mistake.


  4. Dan Kervick says:

    Well there has to be some appropriate term for the kind of knowledge Kerry was attempting to describe. “Intuitive understanding based on experience” perhaps? How would you describe your knowledge of Japan, Steve? Isn’t it the case that you have a certain kind of intuitive knowledge of Japanese people and behavior that is not what we would call “book knowledge”?


  5. bob h says:

    “Like him, I also lived abroad as a young man,”
    Right. Wasn’t this a preppy finishing school in Europe?


  6. dan says:

    So Obama is running as an outsider but had Kerry as an endorer. Americans are indeed lving in a fantasyland. Mr Hope is an empty suit just like Bush Jr but people bought into Bush’s bogus compassionate talk and Americans are buying the same talk again.
    It can only happen in America.


  7. Sandy says:

    I was…and still am….totally amazed by Jon Stewart’s show tonight, Linda. What a courageous first ten minutes that WAS! Wow. I’m going to watch again tomorrow morning at 10:00 am….and, I think it will run again at 8 pm. What he did there was just masterful. And, honest. And, very brave.


  8. Linda says:

    After Seth’s thoughtful comment, mine is much more mundane, but the Daily Show tonight opened with a very funny piece on Bush’s trip to the Middle East. There are so many serious foreign policy questions and dilemmas out there, and it is very important that we get the best next President we need. But after watching Jon Stewart, it’s clear that anyone but Bush will be some improvement.


  9. Seth says:

    As much as it pains me to parrot campaign slogans, Obama does offer “change” and Clinton does offer “more of the same” in many regards. His foreign policy stances are certainly what trouble me most, but let’s face it: the stakes are not just high right now, they’re *incredibly* high — various regional stabilities, America’s long-term security, even, dare I say it, the quality and appeal of democracy itself, are all being challenged in unprecedented ways. We haven’t had a coherent foreign policy since Reagan, and what we need is not merely knuckling down and getting serious: we need to fundamentally retool what we do, and how we do it. The challenges we face are conceptual as much as functional.
    Bill Clinton is right, going with Obama is indeed a roll of the dice, and your own concerns are legitimate. But after some pretty exhaustive examination of Clinton’s positions and her approach to implementing them, I see no way that she would be able to deliver (much less develop) the sort of grand re-orientation that this country needs. Not gonna happen.
    Can Obama do it? I don’t know, but there’s some chance. And he’s shown far too much of an even temper to be as destructive as Bush has been. If the stakes weren’t so high I’d be happy to place my money on a sure-thing technocrat like Clinton. But with this much at stake, I think we need to roll those dice. America is wildly off course. I’m unconvinced that middling correctives will be enough to fix things up in the long-haul. If Obama were peddling revolution I’d be unsympathetic….but what he’s talking about is bold but measured. There might not be enough specifics to back it up at this point, but it’s a risk worth taking. Let me put it this way: I’m rationally inclined to trust his gut.


  10. Linda says:

    One thing I noticed somewhat on this topic is that George Bush is visiting all these places in Israel and Palestine today for the very first time in his life and in the seventh year of his Presidency.
    At the very least all the candidates of both parties had more interest in the world and have seen more of it–and would travel more as President.
    Yeah, POA, I’m trying to find something to feel good about because by the time we get to February 6, both parties will have had such dirty and mean-spirited fights that they will already have given the other side all the slime to use until November. And Steve is right that it’s going to get very ugly–mostly about things that aren’t very important.
    I don’t think about John Kerry much, but he was a war hero and brave man during Vietnam and opposing the war after and chose to serve his country in the Senate. Now Democrats denounce him because he didn’t fight back hard enough against the swfitboating or protest the election. So in a way, all the candidates always are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
    Of course, I’ve never been able to figure out what would motivate any sane person to want to be President in 2009. When I think of reasons, then I wonder about all of them, even those I prefer.


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “And I think Kerry’s point is that Obama’s are more in tune with the globalized world than those of your candidate of choice, Steve.”
    Gads, I am constantly amazed at the ability of some of you to construct total fantazies when there is no supporting evidence. Apparently, this media constructed air bag, Obama, lived in Europe for a time in his youth. And that makes him “in tune with the globalized world”??? No wonder this country is in such deep shit, a huge number of the voters are apparently willing to vote for an invisible playmate, instead of the real candidate.
    And who, pray tell, is Steve’s “candidate of choice”, Chris? To my knowledge, he hasn’t declared he has one.


  12. Chris says:

    But Kerry’s point is exactly that Obama’s “guts” and “instincts” are fundamentally different from George W. Bush. He’s talking about this in the context of living abroad, and how that enables one to gauge an international situation by, among other things, one’s instincts. Instincts such as these only add to and inform the calculation.
    Sometimes leadership requires quick decisions — and you need those guts and instincts. Has George W. Bush prevented us from talking about the instincts of our future Commanders in Chief by the mere virtue of his being so bad? I hope not. In fact, I encourage the conversation. And I think Kerry’s point is that Obama’s are more in tune with the globalized world than those of your candidate of choice, Steve.


  13. Maxwell says:

    OTOH, holding Obama to account for the fantasies various pundits and politicians project on to him is as childish and silly as swallowing Camille Paglia’s recent critique of Clinton in Salon wholesale.
    I suspect you’re smart enough to lay aside the politics of perception and the fallacies of association, and get to the roots of policy, world view and personal judgment instead.
    People choose a president in different ways. The fact that Kerry chooses a president based on intuition, emotion and perception primarily says more about John Kerry than Barack Obama.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Like the ‘ol boy, Dee Cooper, that used to run stock on Paramount Ranch, (acrost from Reagan’s Agoura property), used to say;
    “It doesn’t take me all day to look at a horseshoe.”
    I suspect, Arthur, you don’t need all day for the task, either.
    I sincerely hope that there are many out there whose common sense is stirring, trying to find its way out of their “it can’t happen here” denial.


  15. arthurdecco says:

    My gawd, POA! Could we have been separated at birth?
    (I hadn’t read your post yet when I submitted mine.)


  16. arthurdecco says:

    Steve Clemons said: “I very much hope that Barack Obama’s campaign will begin to ask his various endorsers to DROP the gut instinct line. It is not a compliment to Obama and plants more doubts than it does secure confidence.”
    I agree with you, Mr. Clemons. The phrase isn’t helpful.
    I’m wondering if the fact that it “plants more doubts than it does secure confidence” may be precisely why people like Kerry bring it up.
    After all, Kerry’s the guy who cravenly caved in rather than face up to the widespread Republican-directed voting irregularities that stole the election from him and his party and ultimately from the majority will of U.S. citizens in 2004.
    Why would a responsible person do such a thing unless he was just playing his designated role in the charade you Americans call Presidential elections – the outcome predetermined?
    And now, three years later – why should you care what such a man has to say about anything, let alone about another person running for the highest office in the land? He gave up all rights to be listened to when he ignored the will of those who elected him president thereby allowing four more years of the Bush/Cheney crime syndicate of charlatans and thugs to further undermine the rule of law at home, to further terrorize half the world at Israel’s behest and to continue shoveling billions and billions of your tax dollars into the maws of their vile co-conspirators rather than into programs that could have helped ALL Americans at a time of real need.
    In my opinion, Kerry and his damning-with-faint-praise-endorsements should be relegated to the trash bin of history – not discussed on blogs hosted by intelligent people.
    In my perfect world, all citizens would be able to make up their minds about who to vote for after reading, listening to and watching ALL of the potential candidates as they spoke aloud their proposals, plans and visions unfiltered or spun by anyone. Turn the microphones and cameras on them all equally and then shut up and let them run with it. Allow the candidates to ask and answer the questions.
    Consider how much cheaper and more honestly revealing a process that would be with reporters forcibly consigned to narrowly reporting what was said, rather than fabricating what wasn’t.


  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Kerry’s support of Obama increases my unease about Barack, tenfold. Since Kerry’s remarkably early concession, and his total lack of interest in investigating the very credible evidence that the ’04 election results were bogus, I have always thought that he was nothing more than a shill, designed to keep the Bush Administration in power. Then, when the cowardly worm slinked out of country when Conyers was actively endeavoring to get to the bottom of the apparent “irregularities” in the voting tally, it only cemented my opinion of Kerry. He’s a coward, and he allowed, if not abetted, the probable theft of a Presidential election. The fact that he supports Obama really makes me all the more cognizant of my gut instinct that tells me Obama is not at all what he appears to be.


  18. Nopher says:

    I just would like to emphasize that gut instinct does not necessarily equal George Bush’s approach. Decisions based on gut or academic research can BOTH produce rather ugly results. Alternatively, they can both produce effective and smart results. I admit that research from books and experts would be a first, necessary step but submit that instinct is another ingredient. George Bush refused to examine a situation from various angles and actually read up on broad history and contextual information that would provide solid grounds for policy choices.


  19. serge says:

    Steve, you’re correct that this was a poor choice of words. I was at this rally, and when he was introduced Kerry was quite a surprise to the very large, mostly white crowd at the College of Charleston. He stirred up the rabble quite well, even if speaking for far too long.
    I am more of an Edwards voter, but even in SC I think he’ll do poorly. That this conservative, mostly racist state (less so in Charleston, slightly) can respond like this to Obama floored me. There was no Oprah this time. These people were really enthusiastic.
    I would like to ask why those Republicans don’t question the foreign affairs qualifications of Huckabee, Romney, and even Mr 9/11…


  20. gq says:

    Hold on a second, Steve. A huge part of Obama’s campaign is that he has “judgment”. The “Washington insiders” may have experience, but that experience isn’t as important as his “judgment”. And his work ethic is epitomized by his lack of committee hearings on Europe and that he has missed the most votes of the Democratic presidential candidates.
    You’re the foreign policy expert, Steve. How else, beyond Obama’s time in the Senate, am I supposed to judge Obama’s capacity? His advisors? His speeches? Is his work ethic in the Senate (what I’m primarily using) a useful way to evaluate him?


  21. Steve Clemons says:

    JohnH — Agreed, world view is extremely important.
    best, Steve


  22. RonK, Seattle says:

    The Obama campaign has become deeply invested in a Midas mentality. I doubt it’s the sort of accessory you can just unplug and leave behind.


  23. JohnH says:

    Agreed that gut instinct is not a good thing. But WORLD VIEW is extremely important. We are about to (barely) survive eight years with a President who never ventured abroad, couldn’t care less about what ‘furriners’ thought, and treated them with suspicion and contempt.
    It would be extremely refreshing to finally have a President who has actually lived abroad, realizes that the group-thinking beltway bunker mentality is not the ultimate reality, and actually has the intellectual capacity to empathize and respect foreign cultures and peoples. Establishing a tone of respect is fundamental to negotiating and doing business not matter where you are. Once the proper tone is set, the methodic, hard work has a chance of success.
    Of the leading contenders, Obama may well be the only one with a real world view, not one conjured up by the foreign policy/national security mob, not one that says “when America talks, everybody better listen, or else.”


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