The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


As the NH primary vote nears, we’ve heard a lot about “change” and the wonderful new world that such “change” will foster. Barack Obama has ridden the change train to a spectacular victory in Iowa (if victories in IA mean anything objectively) and the other candidates, like the producers of copy-cat TV shows, have decided to use his meme in their own campaign approach.

But Barack Obama complements his argument for change by suggesting that we must bring together the red and blue states, accomplishing “change” with a “new” bipartisan consensus.

All of this sounds very appealing, even to me. But it’s important to take a breath and think a bit about “change” and about the probability that a bipartisan (i.e., moderate or centrist) approach is in the offing should Obama become the democratic nominee and eventual President.

Robert Caldwell characterizes Obama’s approach as “trans-ideological,” but Obama's record (there really isn’t very much of one) seems to belie his words. Caldwell comments:
Obama is running, quite effectively, as both a change agent and an unconventional politician. That fits his campaign motif, a fresh-faced, idealistic outsider running against the Washington establishment voters so distrust. That, in turn, also suggests that Obama is a different kind of Democrat; one perhaps less reflexively partisan and divisive than, say, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. Certainly that was an implicit message sent in his eloquent Iowa victory speech.

What's troubling, however, is that Obama's record doesn't match his reassuring persona.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action rates Obama's voting record in the Senate at 97.5 percent, near perfection for liberal Democrats. The American Conservative Union, the ADA's ideological opposite, rates Obama's voting record at a rock-bottom 8 percent. Both ratings leave no doubt that Obama's actual votes mark him as a traditionally liberal Democrat, not a moderate.

Where in these votes is the evidence of trans-ideological change that Obama is selling so successfully on the campaign trail? Where in this record is the evidence that Obama is the unifier he claims to be?

On domestic, economic, foreign policy and national security issues, Obama's actual record is consistently liberal and consistently orthodox in Democratic Party terms. Obama typically talks like a centrist but votes like a liberal.

Obama's record also raises another disturbing matter – his penchant for ducking tough issues. In the Illinois Legislature, Obama compiled a record of voting “present” on controversial and politically explosive bills. However politically convenient, this isn't leadership. Obama's three years in the U.S. Senate are similarly devoid of any leadership examples on legislation of consequence.

This doesn't necessarily indict Obama's claimed leadership skills as fraudulent. It does demonstrate that those skills have not yet been in evidence in his legislative work. That's a curious, and worrying, fact.

Barack Obama is enormously charismatic (in the JFK-style, for those old enough to remember), making him very popular among the young and idealistic. After all, change and bipartisanship are a compelling mix.

But those of us who have been around awhile have heard all of this before. Excuse some of us for being just a little cynical and more than a little reserved in our enthusiasm. What we need are specifics, and right now, at least, there are none.

How would Obama effect change to address the oncoming crisis in social security and medicare funding? How would he achieve bipartisanship in dealing with medical coverage? Taxes? Bigger/smaller government? The Patriot Act? How would he reform homeland security? How would he “talk” with fascist regimes that are inimical to our country’s interests? How would he deal with the problems of the Middle-East? Lots of questions that are as yet unanswered, unless you think that charisma and well-worn political platitudes provide solutions for the many challenges facing our country.