Is Barack Obama a flip-flopper?
In recent weeks, the presumptive Democratic nominee has backed away from his opposition to a wiretapping law that would grant telephone companies de facto immunity for their participation in warrantless wiretapping after 9/11. He backed away from his pledge to stay within public-financing limits during the general election campaign. And he has recently signaled a willingness to shift ground on his plans to withdraw American troops from Iraq.
Some conservatives claim Obama is moving to the center to disguise his liberal leanings. And liberal bloggers are threatening to withdraw their support.
Is Obama just another cynical politician? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
The reports of Barack Obama’s newfound centrism are greatly exaggerated, particularly on the matter of Iraq. While Republicans are attempting to negotiate a long-term American presence there, Obama’s ultimate goal remains unchanged: Get out.
Still, there’s no denying that Obama’s messianic image has been tarnished in recent weeks. Apparently, he’s — gasp! — a politician. Far from being an unbending ideologue, Obama has recognized the politics is the art of the possible; sometimes that means making compromises. This is frustrating for Democrats and liberals, particularly those in the blogosphere, who want two things from their nominee: Ideological purity and victory in the November election. But the two goals may not be compatible. Andy Borowitz, the satirist, nailed it with this recent headline: "Liberal bloggers accuse Obama of trying to win election."
The FISA bill is probably the best deal Democrats can get in order to avoid "soft on terrorism" jobs throughout the campaign season. The financing flip-flop, while unseemly, shows that Obama is willing to do what’s necessary (but legal) to win the presidency. It would be nice if Obama hadn’t made such compromises, but his critics on the left would still presumably prefer him in the White House over John McCain. They should keep up their shouting, but realize that they’re not always going to get their way. Accepting that fact might help them get their way more often.
Will the real Barack Obama please stand up? No question, Obama is a liberal. His voting record in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate makes that abundantly clear. Obama is also a typical politician, willing to tack right to win votes from independents and disaffected conservatives, then immediately snap left to assuage the fears of his liberal base. The wiretapping bill bait-and-switch is one case of many where Obama has tried to play that double game.
Free trade is another. Obama was an incorrigible NAFTA basher during the Democratic primaries, exploiting Hillary and Bill Clinton’s support for the free trade pact. He needed to win working class voters who rightly or wrongly feel shortchanged by free trade agreements. Now Obama says he believes in free trade and recently described his protectionist rhetoric as "overheated and amplified."
Well, which is it? Politics is about picking battles, making occasional tactical compromises to achieve strategic victories, and, perhaps above all, winning elections.
That a top-tier presidential candidate should try to appear to be all things to all people should come as no surprise. But Obama’s behavior should lay to rest the idea that he is a "post-partisan" offering "change we can believe in." He’s a liberal who will say anything to be elected.
What’s new about that?
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)