Law in Contemporary Society

Creeds in 2008 Democratic Primary

-- By RobertCorp - 13 Feb 2008


Thurman Arnold stresses that the most effective creeds for a political campaign are those that lack any tangible meaning. Overarching truth-isms and broad, vague aspirations allow for people with diverse, conflicting interests to believe that their cause is championed through the creed.

  • The word is truisms. You should have checked and found it.

Ultimately it is the organization (in the relevant case here the individual) which will come to define itself; its creed it has little relation to reality.

  • This is obscure.

Barack Obama


Obama's presidential candidacy is ideal from Arnold’s perspective. Obama is running on a platform of hope. He has defined his campaign as pursuing the values of justice, opportunity and prosperity. Obama’s campaign embodies Arnold’s belief that affirmative arguments are the most persuasive. Offering a message of optimism attracts many whom would not agree with the candidate’s policies.


The beauty of the Obama’s creed is that hope does not have the internal contradictions that the best of politicians are forced to maneuver around. Typically, inconsistencies manifest in political platforms (i.e. provide more services while lowering taxes). Obama has managed to craft an umbrella wider than that formed through vagueness and inconsistency-obscuring politicking that Arnold values. It is not a platform predicated on vague policy stances, it is a shift of attention away from policy; the source of inconsistencies for others.

Obama has the luxury of a short political career, resulting in a lack of inevitable inconsistencies to rectify to his constituency. He has become a superstar without having to compromise for political expediency; this has resulted in the perfect storm for Arnold’s politician. He has a broad umbrella, yet lacks inconsistencies. Obama also utilizes masterfully the rhetorical strategies Arnold values, harkening to past heroes (J.F.K.) and to the forefathers’ ideals.

  • We discussed these aspects of the Obama campaign in class, in pretty much these terms.

Hillary Clinton


At first blush, it may seem that Clinton has failed to create an ideal creed. Her typical campaign speech runs through a litany of programs that are political, and therefore divisive. Arnold says “content and logic are the least important thing about (creeds)” (Arnold, 21). This would seem to be a damning indictment of Clinton’s candidacy, as her focus steers voters toward her content.

  • This is a form of analysis that would do a disservice to Arnold's political sophistication. Arnold would recognize Senator Clinton's need to deal with the Obama campaign's seizure of the high, undefined ground, and the impossibility of directly trying to define Obama in negative ways, by falling back on the kind of microprogramming that Mark Penn excels in, advertising tiny products carefully arranged to draw slivers of the voting map. This they are presently using in Pennsylvania to try to get ever voter who isn't Obamagirl to go their way, to pile up the largest victory possible. If they slip, they're through.

Clinton’s Own Creed

This analysis would be faulty. Arnold would say that Clinton’s content is indeed her creed, but not because of the content itself. Clinton’s creed is the pursuit of practical change; the nature of this aim is secondary to the fact that she has it. This must be the case; those who support her because of her policies do so while Obama pursues nearly the same things. The willingness to talk about issues works to craft an aura, a creed, of pragmatism.

  • No, it's practical politics being undertaken by thoughtful, expert parties who have access to technology of voting and communications that Arnold didn't know anything about. When you make use of someone's ideas you have to understand them well enough to use them flexibly, without trying to impose either dogma or insight from somewhere outside the present context of the problem you are trying to solve or understand.

Clinton, like Obama, is an irregularity in the Arnold perspective. While Arnold demonstrates that technicians fail as politicians, Clinton frames herself as a technician. This creates an image of expertise and experience. This strategy is not without pitfalls; it concedes that it is necessarily limiting the breadth of her appeal. Clinton, however, had no other choice, as the preferable lane of ‘change' had already been clogged by her more inspirational opponent. Clinton is thus refuting the idea that “the roles of an actor on the stage and the technician who directs the play are entirely different”; she is combining them (Arnold, 357).

  • Another set of comments generated by assuming that any difference between politics as practiced in 2008 and the state of the art in 1937 should be explained as non-Arnoldism. This uses labels to detract from thought.

2008 Politics


That either of these individuals may become President is possible in large part because of the moment in history. Bush’s failures created a vacuum. Arnold states that it is the failure of a previous institution that allows for a new movement to emerge, rather than its own strength (Arnold, 388). Both of these candidates are departures from the status quo, albeit in differing degrees. Obama’s candidacy, in particular, is bolstered by the public’s distaste for the current state of affairs. In 2000, following a decade of relative peace and prosperity, vague allusions to hope would not have propelled a candidate far (allusions to morality and piety worked far better at the moment, given Mr. Clinton’s transgressions).

  • This analysis proves that the winning campaign in 2000 would have been different from the winning campaign in 2008. It says nothing whatever about candidates. You need to be more precise in the analysis if you are to convince skeptical readers you have something to offer.

Can Change Happen?

A notable difference between the political realities of 2008 and those of 1937 is the rate at which change can develop. One cannot ignore the technological advancements and society’s inter-connectedness. Arnold emphasizes that change in any institution is gradual. In 2008, trends and movements can propel rapidly because of 24 hour news cycles, blogs and Facebook.

The speed with which information can spread and the various avenues for reaction and organization seemingly will alter the pace with which change can manifest. Arnold states that “changes in institutional habits are made only by the gradual substation of new habits” (Arnold, 352). A pivotal question for 2008: Is it the case that 21st century has changed the rate of institutional adoption such that gradual advancements are unnecessary? Or is the political institution itself isolated from quick changes, preserving the need for a willingness/ability to use the existing framework?

  • Maybe. Or maybe the situation is a little less different than you think. Are the same issues (health care, for example), still the crucial ones in 2008 that they were in 1938? Is the Republican Party not going to holler about socialized medicine again if the Democratic Party seems to be making inroads for national health care? Rudy Giuliani was doing so just a couple of months ago, I believe. You should be careful about "history is now completely different" claims. Some things have been transformed and some have not. Finding and relating to the reasons for both persistence and rapid transformation is the primary task of the contemporary social theorist. Historians' concern with contingency is always useful.


Clinton is much like Arnold’s England. Clinton has the ability to put on a public show and to be practical behind the scenes (Arnold, 384). If the answer to the preceding question is the latter, she has demonstrated herself to be well suited for the job. Change at the federal level is inherently slow. This makes a creed of pragmatism appealing, not only does it stand for change; it demonstrates an ability to make it happen.

Clinton has crafted a creed out of issues and policies. This alienates some. However, it also serves as a mandate if selected. Whereas Clinton is running on ‘changes’, Obama is running on ‘change’. Obama’s campaign has brilliantly masked that there are fundamentally differing opinions on issues which he will pursue. Obama may be hamstrung by “unity”, and thus may achieve only a compromised version of his plans. Without having faced the adversity of managing compromises before, Obama lacks the practicality that, for better or worse, Clinton has.

The beauty of Obama’s campaign is that he has an answer to ‘can we make them stop hating us for our freedom?' ‘Yes - We - Can’. Will this meaningless answer have meaning enough for American voters?

  • Not much of a conclusion, in fact. Was there a thesis?


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r11 - 22 Feb 2015 - 15:32:02 - EbenMoglen
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