Welcome to the campaign, Mr. Obama

Pitching himself to voters as a centrist candidate with a slight adjustment to the left who appeals to both sides of the political aisle and is a prototypical outsider is going to be a tough sell for Barack Obama who has supported his party’s line for the two years he has been in the Senate and is advised by leading insiders.

His economic mantra of readjusting the nation’s incomes to soak the rich and help the middle and lower classes through government spending is pure liberal dogma. It is the solution to our economic ills that the Democratic Party has espoused since Franklin Roosevelt. There is nothing wrong with that if one believes it will work except that it has been roundly rejected in the last 50 years or so of presidential elections.

Obama would make sure everyone had health care at taxpayer expense. He would raise the capital gains tax and up the corporate and individual income taxes for the "wealthy" and slow down if not end trade agreements in an effort to protect American labor despite the fact these alliances work. He is calling for a $50 billion economic stimulus plan that would include rebate checks for the unemployed and health care subsidies paid for by the above mentioned tax increases. So much for "Mr. Down the Middle."

But that doesn’t seem to be all that may not be quite as the presumptive Democratic nominee likes to portray. On the same news pages that reported on Obama’s economic proposals were stories about his connections to Capitol insiders like controversial former Fannie Mae chief executive James Johnson, belying somewhat the image of the consummate outsider he used effectively in his campaign for "change" against Hillary Clinton. He now hopes to hang the same tag on Republican John McCain, a 26-year veteran of Washington maneuvering.

Johnson, a long time political mover and shaker, was helping Obama choose a suitable running mate. Just coincidentally he has served on several corporate boards that have settled lavish pay on their chief executive officers, a practice Obama has tried to stop with legislation. Johnson resigned his Obama duties after his role was exposed.

Well, welcome to the real campaign, Sen. Obama.

Running against Washington is an approach that by the narrowest of margins won the presidency for Jimmy Carter, the first chief executive elected from the South since the Civil War. But Carter found he could not sustain that image during a one-term tenure that was marred by ineffectiveness. McCain’s backers answer repeated Obama charges that McCain is running for President Bush’s third term by contending that Obama is running for Carter’s second.

Obviously Republicans are going to challenge the outsider image and begin a vetting process that will attempt to turn any negative nugget into a boulder as they have done with Johnson. But they also must worry about a backlash that paints them and the party as unreconstructed in matters of race. As for Obama, he will have difficulty running a racially neutral campaign on the one hand while appealing to his black constituency on the other.

The contrast between the two candidates could not be sharper. In age and appearance alone there never has been a larger difference. They are also strikingly dissimilar in the way they can be expected to approach the campaign and then the job each wants. Obama contends he would have voted against the Iraq war resolution had he been in the Senate while McCain, who voted for it, defends the war policy. McCain’s economic positions are for lower capital gains, tax cut stimulation and a variety of other proposals that are diametrically the opposite of Obama’s.

But the task of maintaining his primary image as an independent facilitator of a kinder, gentler, more civil and inclusive approach to governance is going to be difficult for Obama to sustain. Certainly he would like to have the benefit of the doubt about that and on other issues the national press has given him. That dispensation isn’t likely to be granted now by a press that finally has become embarrassed by its deference to him, as the Johnson stories attest.

Probably the most prominent question in the next few months is whether Obama is as anti-establishmentarian as he has portrays himself. It remains to be seen whether his contention that he is reaching out to everyone from the center of the road is for real or just another attempt by a savvy politician to package old ideas in new wrapping.



(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)