Course-reversals by Barack Obama are eroding his policy differences with John McCain. Ironically, that is the very briar patch McCain might hope to land in.
If the main issue is not to be Obama versus McCain over policies, then the default issue is Obama as Obama. It can be Obama’s ultimate undoing, and McCain’s best chance of emerging as the lesser of two dissatisfying candidates.
Behold Obama’s recklessness: Having cinched the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination — barring some new horror still lurking in his closet — Obama is navigating ever closer to the middle of the American mainstream.
With a straight face, he has pirouetted on the threats from Iran and North Korea, when to quit Iraq, policy toward Israel, free trade, the death penalty, banning guns, welfare reform, faith-based initiatives . . . more will surely come.
He’d not be twirling like this if he felt in serious danger of losing the radical left, which has become the base, and demonstrably in control, of his party.
Proof: In his latest policy “refinement,” Obama voted for President Bush’s terrorism-surveillance bill, a measure he swore to oppose, even by filibuster. It shocked . . . shocked . . . his more-radical backers. They pitched a predictable blogosphere hissy-fit. Didn’t faze Obama, content to ride out that little squall.
Why? Because it gave him one fewer policy issue for McCain to raise against him, an issue Obama had good cause to believe would benefit McCain.
So secure was Obama in this tactic that, in the process, he tossed not one bone but three to a wolf pack of his major constituents — the trial bar that feasts on class actions against targeted corporations. He voted for three amendments he knew could not pass even the Democratic-controlled Senate. They would have deleted or diluted the exemption of telecommunication firms from prosecution for having assisted in monitoring suspected terrorists.
Surely, Obama knows this maneuver exposes him to the John Kerryesque posture: “I voted against it before I voted for it.” It won’t appease insatiable trial lawyers for whom everything is never enough. So, either Obama’s arrogance assures him he can skate home free, or robbing McCain of an advantage on this issue is worth stiffing a well-heeled bastion of the far left.
Typically, McCain missed the boat by not blasting such raw duplicity. Instead, he tamely tut-tutted at the latest Obama-flop. He could have at least wryly welcomed this as a flop in the right direction. So, Obama posted another plus in his strategy to out-center McCain, who was too busy campaigning to vote.
Still, it’s perilous strategy for Obama. Blurring policy differences robs McCain of advantages on merits of issues, but it also exposes Obama’s fatal Achilles' heel. It leaves as the major campaign issue the very issue of Obama as Obama.
This campaign is already crystallizing around one question: “Do I really want the next president of the United States to be this fellow Barack Obama?”
Despite his admirable qualities, McCain grows harder to discern on the political radar screen. Fewer people seem to be interested in asking themselves, “What do I see in John McCain that really makes me want him to be president?”
It looks now as though this election may turn on one issue: Obama as Obama.
By subordinating conflicting policy issues, almost to the point of extinction, Obama is leaving himself (whoever that is), his background (wherever that is) and his integrity (such as that may be) as all that matters.
Ironically, Obama as Obama is the issue upon which Obama first introduced himself to voters. Even “change” was a derivative of Obama as Obama.
Obama as Obama recalls his embarrassing support, then disavowal, of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That reintroduces the collateral issue of flip-flopping — not necessarily specific flips on which Obama has flopped, but the vague impression of flip-floppery as his personal way of political life. That’s a nasty set of sub-issues Obama doesn’t need, for it echoes Obama as Obama.
Each time Barack Obama reaches for another of his policy-issue boomerangs, he would be well advised not to forget to duck.
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.
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