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Essence of Obamaism is the push for equality, says former aide Bill Burton

Bill Burton
REUTERS/Larry Downing
Bill Burton: "SuperPACs are a terrible way to run a democracy."

President Obama's view heading into his second term is that he is going to deal with the issues central to his view of pragmatic progressivism -- on guns, on climate change, on issues of equality -- "and the Republicans can come along or they will pay their own price," Obama insider Bill Burton told an audience at the U of M's Humphrey School Thursday.

Burton joined the Obama team at the beginning of the 2008 campaign cycle and served as the national press secretary for the historic campaign that led to the election of first black president. He spent most of the first term as White House deputy press secretary, then helped launch and run Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama SuperPAC that raised and spent more than $40 million during the 2012 cycle.

"SuperPACs are a terrible way to run a democracy," Burton said, but as Karl Rove and others prepared to raise huge sums to help Mitt Romney and other Republicans in 2012, he didn't think Democrats could unilaterally disarm.

"We may not like the rules, but, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, 'you go into the election with the rules you have, not the rules you wished you had.'" (In case you miss the reference, Bush Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that about going into a war "with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.")

As he leaves the Obama operation for the private sector (the still-very-political and Dem-leaning Global Strategy Group), Burton stopped at his alma mater (he graduated from the University of Minnesota) to reflect on the essence of the Obama presidency.

Obama has said that he hopes to be a "transformative" president on the left side of the spectrum as Ronald Reagan was on the right. Burton said Obama has pursued that vision. Acknowledging that many on the left don't think Obama has pushed hard enough and has been too willing to seek compromises with Republicans, Burton said Obama would actually benefit from having more public pressure from liberal groups to stand his ground.

When Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School's Center for the Study of Politics and Government asked Burton for the central concept at the heart of Obamaism, Burton said "equality."

On gay rights, on pay equity for women, on the growing gap in wealth, "he's really motivated by the fact that people don't really get an equal shot," Burton said.

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Comments (4)

"Equality" is a concept that

"Equality" is a concept that many on the right now regard as an attack on the beliefs of the dominant (or formerly dominant) culture.

Equality of what?

What the Right defines as an objectionable equality is equality of wealth ('redistributionism').
Their preferred equality is the 'equality of opportunity' -- operationalized as the right to be born with greater opportunities to be rich. They don't want to admit that chance had anything to do with their status.

More than Chance

Of course chance plays a part in how lives play out, but chance is not the dominant reason for why some people are rich and some are poor. And being born into wealth isn't the main reason either. There are many more self made millionaires in the US than there are heirs and heiresses.
If I was going to borrow your overly broad brush, I'd say that the Left objects to the idea that individual choices lead to different outcomes because they can't bear to think that they'd be judging the poor. Judgment is only reserved for the wealthy, of course.

Equality is fairness

Eric Black did a great job covering the wide-ranging interview Larry Jacobs and Bill Burton had. The one exception is that Burton equated equality with fairness. Being what some call "a raging feminist," as well as a bit left of center politically I've learned that some words carry heavy emotional and political baggage. Thus fairness is a less loaded word than equality as the comments preceding this attest.