Barack Obama, Man of Mystery

by Laura Snedeker

Will the real liberals please stand up? After enduring months of attacks by Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, Barack Obama once again tried to cast himself as a nonthreatening moderate who nonetheless wants to rock the political boat.

Although the Democrats have an advantage on economic issues, which Americans now rate as their top concern, Sen. Obama (D-IL) is well aware that moderates are cautious about his lack of experience, and sought to out-maneuver the Republican front-runner and his Democratic opponent on foreign policy in a speech to open a new round of campaigning in Pennsylvania.

“The truth is that my foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan,” he said, accusing George W. Bush of having a naive foreign policy and accusing Republicans and Democrats alike of enabling him.

In recent months, Clinton has cautioned that Obama’s liberal record will weaken his base of support as he fails to draw in moderate and independent voters, with campaign strategist Mark Penn warning that “the evidence is that the more voters have been learning about him, the more his coalition has been shrinking."

McCain’s campaign, which recently branded Obama a “down-the-line liberal” accused him last week of “embracing the liberal tax-and-spend, big-government policies that hit hardworking families at a time when they’re most vulnerable." Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has cast himself as the only reasonable National Security candidate in the race, warning last week of the danger of terrorists who “devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children” and cautioning that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would embolden al-Qaeda and destabilize the region.

Obama’s recent remarks were merely the last in a long line of denials aimed at casting him as a candidate with ideas so revolutionary that they defy categorization, and despite the enthusiasm among liberal Democrats for Obama, their perception of him as a liberal is driven mostly by Clinton’s attempts to paint a picture of her opponent as a wide-eyed idealist and by the media’s focus on his supposed liberal voting record.

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a liberal lobbyist group that rates members of Congress on whether they vote for or against liberal issues that the group considers important, gave Obama a rating of 100 percent in 2005, indicating that he voted with the organization on every issue. By 2007, he had a rating of only 75 percent due to several votes missed while on the campaign trail.

The ADA’s ratings do not tell the whole story. Between September and November of 2007, Obama missed 80 percent of all Senate votes, including one that declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a terrorist organization. He later blasted Clinton for voting in favor of the resolution, arguing that it would enable President Bush to invade Iran. And although Obama opposed granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that eavesdropped on Americans, he could not be bothered to show up for the final vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That such a liberal senator would consistently fail to stand against such dangerous resolutions casts doubt on the media’s claims and on his ability to lead effectively.

Instead of playing up his liberal credentials and appealing to the widespread dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, while working to remove the stigma of being labeled a liberal, Obama has tried to be all things to all people and filled his campaign with contradictions.

His promise to talk with leaders that he disagrees with and build multinational coalitions to solve the world’s pressing problems of war, poverty, and climate change appeals to liberals, yet that internationalist vision strongly contrasts with his Republican-like invocation of Ronald Reagan and strengthens Clinton’s and McCain’s more consistently conservative positions.

Obama’s appeal is not that he is liberal or conservative, but that he is different. His inspiring message of hope and change assuages any fears about his nebulous foreign policy, and he is experienced enough to know that most Americans who are not inclined to keep up with the news are unconcerned about his contradictions. His approach is different. Never mind what it is.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic by Frederick; you can see more of Frederick's graphics at the blogs Guys from Area 51 and MCCS1977. This graphic is made available through a Creative Commons License.)

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Dave Lucas said...

Is B.O. really all that? Mysterious, I mean?

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