Last Friday, Charles Krauthammer wrote a column that pre-empted a lot of a piece that I was kicking around — Senator Barack Obama’s recent sudden reversals on many positions he’d been holding for some time. Krauthammer outlines Obama’s change of heart on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the granting legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the federal government on wiretaps.
Krauthammer also touches on Obama’s change of heart on public financing for the general election, but I want to look at it a bit more closely.
Obama’s rationalization for forgoing $85 million from the federal government contained several elements. The first one — that he needed to be able to counter the expenditures of 527 groups that will be out to sink his campaign — I demolished yesterday. Right now, Obama can comfortably count on over 3/4 of all 527 moneys to be spent in his support. If a 3-1 ratio isn’t good enough for those groups, then do we really WANT them to prevail and gain control of the federal budget? Wouldn’t you rather entrust our money to those who operated with one-third of the money of their opponents, and still won?
His original pledge, to be fair, was not to take public money and eschew private donations. He merely said that he would “meet with” and “aggressively pursue” an agreement with the eventual Republican nominee that both of them would do so for the general election.
Well, that ain’t gonna happen. Obama has decided that since John McCain, the Republican presumptive nominee, pulled a “Howard Dean” and started to pursue public financing during the Republican primary, then backed out, then that’s good enough. Obama’s pledge is off the table. (I’m tempted to say “under the bus,” but Obama’s really made that phrase seriously hackneyed.)
And then there’s the Supreme Court’s ruling on the DC gun ban. Obama has consistently been a champion of “gun control” — that’s a polite way of opposing the private ownership of guns. In Illinois, he backed a measure that would have banned gun shops from within five miles of schools, churches, and parks — a de facto ban of gun shops entirely. He served on the board of the Joyce Foundation — one of the staunchest anti-gun groups around — for eight years. And he agreed that the government ought to ban handguns entirely, as well as saying that he supported the DC gun ban.
Right up until the Supreme Court ruled that ban unconstitutional.
That’s when he said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.
So we are left with the inescapable conclusion that he agrees with laws that violate the Constitution.
In each and every case, Obama’s position has “evolved” to more closely align with my own beliefs (or, as I like to think, closer to reasonable and sane). So there’s a part of me that welcomes these moves.
But there’s a louder part of me that doesn’t buy it.
There are several reasons why Obama is changing his positions.
The first theory is that Obama had a “come to Jesus” moment. That he suddenly realized “holy crap, I could really win this thing” and started thinking not as a candidate, but as a potential president. As such, he’s realized that the positions that he espoused during the primaries were not workable, and indeed potentially disastrous for the nation. As such, he’s maturing and growing and outlining how he will reconcile his (wrong-headed) idealism and the harsh realities of the world.
The second theory is that he “ran left” during the primaries to win the support of the hard left of his party, and now we’re seeing the “real Obama” as he orients himself towards the general election.
The third theory is that we saw the “real Obama” during the primaries, and now he’s “running right” to win over — or at least placate — enough of the general electorate to win the election.
The fourth theory is the most troubling — and the one that I think is the most strongly supported by the evidence. It combines the worst of numbers two and three — that he “ran left” during the primaries and is now “running right” for the general election. In both cases, he didn’t reveal his own beliefs, but instead provided enough of a tabula rasa that people could project on to him their own beliefs and ideals that they could convince themselves that he was “their guy.”
Carried to its logical conclusion, one is left to wonder if Barack Obama has any true core beliefs, any solid principles, any substantial opinions of his own apart from winning the presidency.
Looking at his record of accomplishments, I’d have to say that a pretty good case can be made for that one. At every crossroads of his career, he’s taken the “safe” choice and affiliated himself with those who can best serve his political ambitions. He’s never taken a bold stand on anything, never put himself at any kind of risk for any kind of principle.
I’d be delighted if the first theory was true. I could happily vote for a candidate who reconsiders his opinion as the facts change or evolve, and proudly proclaims that he is not so rigid, so locked into any particular ideology, that he can and will adapt to changing circumstances.
I could live with the second two theories. Lord knows that’s pretty much how things have been in the past, to the point of “running to the left” or “running to the right” during the primaries, to shore up the base, then “running to the middle” to pick up enough support from the middle is an axiom of campaign wisdom. It’d be the same old same old, and we’ve survived it so far.
It’s that last one that troubles me the most, though. It’s the perfect formula for winning the presidency — but a guaranteed disaster for governing. Once the election is won, who will show up to take the oath of office?
I’m reminded of the lyrics from “Where Do We Go From Here,” the final song in “Once More With Feeling,” the musical episode from Buffy The Vampire Slayer:
“Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?
The battle’s won, and we kind of won,
So we sound our vict’ry cheer.
Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear,
When we know home is near.
Understand we’ll go hand in hand,
But we’ll walk alone in fear. (Tell me)
Tell me where do we go from here?
When does ‘THE END’ appear,
When do the trumpets cheer.
The curtain’s close, on a kiss god knows,
We can tell the end is near…
Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?”