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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sounds a Little Bit Like My Column This Week

posted by on July 2 at 9:30 AM

But only a little bit.

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial that the McCain camp is hyping this morning, ticks off a laundry list of recent Obama moves toward the center/right: backing FISA, attacking, backing (and seeking to expand) Bush’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives, and agreeing with the right-leaning justices on the U.S. Supreme Court in their recent gun rights ruling and their recent dissent over banning the death penalty for child rapists.

My column, which will be online later today and printed in the coming issue of Stranger, asks whether Obama will face any political costs on the left for these and other moves. The Journal, being the Journal, spins the laundry list into an opportunity for some political jujistu, suggesting it’s actually Obama, and not McCain, who is “running for President Bush’s third term”:

We’re beginning to understand why Barack Obama keeps protesting so vigorously against the prospect of “George Bush’s third term.” Maybe he’s worried that someone will notice that he’s the candidate who’s running for it.

Most Presidential candidates adapt their message after they win their party nomination, but Mr. Obama isn’t merely “running to the center.” He’s fleeing from many of his primary positions so markedly and so rapidly that he’s embracing a sizable chunk of President Bush’s policy. Who would have thought that a Democrat would rehabilitate the much-maligned Bush agenda?

Now, here’s the thing: I’m not sure it’s a negative for the Journal’s audience, and conservatives and independents in general, to hear that Obama is embracing some parts of the Bush era (which they voted for) while rejecting other parts, most notably the Iraq war (which they probably also supported but, as polls suggest, have probably since come to regret).

This election, like every election, is a game of being perceived in the right way by the right audiences, and so far I think Obama’s winning the game. He’s taking heat on the left for his moves to the center, sure, but even so there’s no way the left is ever going to buy the argument that Obama is the second (or third) coming of Bush. And if some on the right hear that Obama is backing some Bush policies (FISA, Faith Based initiatives), policies that they always thought sounded reasonable—well, that’s a win for Obama, too.

The Journal and the McCain camp don’t see it this way—they probably think they’re setting Obama up for questions about his political integrity and general honesty—but I actually think they may be doing Obama a huge favor, building up his “independent” and “open-minded” cred for their audience on the center/right.

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I think the real problem here is that Democrats have a history of being perceived as wishy washy and flip floppers. Republicans pull the same move toward center - even George W. Bush did in 2000 - without getting the same label. McCain has always branded himself a maverick and independent thinker, but he's made many changes in position. If he's successful in getting that label on Obama, he distracts from the fact that he's done the same - particularly with the Republican base.

Posted by bohica | July 2, 2008 9:41 AM

I agree, bohica. Every year the democrats pander to the right, and it never pays off. Pandering to the center is one thing, but going full on right wing is just pointless-- those guys aren't going to vote for you anyways. The shameful and later regretted pro-Iraq war votes by Kerry and Clinton are a good example. I know Obama thinks he's being politically savvy, but really he's just making it seem like he stands for nothing. This campaign strategy is pissing me off. Should he be wishy-washy on gay marriage? Probably, according to polls. But I really don't think backing FISA is going to win you any votes, Barack. C'mon now!

Posted by Mr Me | July 2, 2008 9:49 AM

The folks on the left who are the most angry about Obama's "shift to the center" seem to be the ones who made the most unrealistic assessments of him to begin with. The idea of Obama as some sort of mega-liberal progressive messiah for the Democratic party is, and always was, a myth (the Clinton supporters were right about that, at least). As far back as his keynote address at the 2004 Convention, he billed himself as a politician fond of reconciliation and moderation, not the uber-lefty crusader that some made him out to be.

Of course we'd all love to have a die-hard liberal progressive in the White House, but look at the example of Dennis Kucinich: folks like that can't win presidential elections.

Posted by Hernandez | July 2, 2008 9:51 AM

Can we get past this idea that all who support Obama think that he's boy-wonder with magical powers? This straw-man was continually built up by Clinton supporters desperately trying to knock down Obama by calling the rest of us names.

I'm as pragmatic a democrat as there is in practice, even though in theory my politics shift hard left. I also think that Obama is an extraordinarily gifted politician, and that his message of unification is the most powerful tool that he wields, and just happens to be exactly what I think America needs right now.

The idea, dear Clinton supporters, that you're going to really show us now, pop our bubble as to what we thought Obama was, is pointless and erroneous for most Obama supporters I know. We do know he's human, and many of us understand that he has to take moderate positions in some areas if he's to win the White House and bring sanity back to a broken Office.

Posted by Timothy | July 2, 2008 10:15 AM

the corner bush is painting obama into (no-bid oil contracts, permanent iraqi bases, blown up iranian nukular facilities) will leave him no option but to be bush III. for a little while.

then he better be roosevelt III, because we're headed for some deep shit.

Posted by max solomon | July 2, 2008 10:26 AM

Yes moving right, what an adept Chicago pol!

And now: beefing up social programs thru religious groups.

Gee, doint exacly what Clinton used to do, exactly what turned on some Obama supporters initially who thought he was soooooooo different than that evil triangulator WJC and his partner in crime HRC.

Yawn. ITYS.

Only diff is, Obama's better at masking it and as media now knows our nation is truly fucked they are not calling Obama on it very much. I mean I would give one journalist at a small PNW alt. paper credit for coming up with this story line they are reporting it but not cslamming him for being a flip flopper. They way they did Gore and Kerry to their regret now.

And love that agressive ad buy. But why is he advertising in ND and not in Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas? Where D's have actually won sometimes?

He's s'posed to expand the map. Isn't avoiding those states shrinking the map not expanding it? And I see on real clear he's still behind in Florida.

Meanwhile McCain is on a free trade kick very dumb worth at least 2-5 points for us in OH IN PA MI easy. His free media helps Obama. Great!

Posted by PC | July 2, 2008 10:27 AM

No matter what Obama does we have to elect him. We can not survive a McCain administration. Obama/Gore 2008!

Posted by Just Me | July 2, 2008 10:32 AM

As far as I can tell, the only position Obama has actually changed is on telecom immunity. The rest of the accusations in the WSJ op-ed are nonsense.

I'm still waiting to find out who, other than Obama's critics, ever said he was a liberal in the first place.

(@6 SusanUnPC: You're slime.)

Posted by elenchos | July 2, 2008 10:32 AM

The left has no organization through which to hold Obama accountable. So there will be no consequences.

Posted by Trevor | July 2, 2008 10:35 AM

Seemingly every person in America considers her/himself an "independent voter," just as seemingly every person in America considers her/himself "middle class." Rather than "shift" or "pivot," it is much stronger to say, "This is what I believe, and if you don't agree with me on everything, know that I will work my hardest to keep this country safe and make it stronger. You may not agree with my stand 100% but you will absolutely know where I stand." People can trust that, and if people trust Barack Obama, especially in this political climate, he will win.

Posted by Bub | July 2, 2008 10:36 AM

@4 Are you inferring that I am/was a Clinton supporter? I take offense at that, sir. I've been an Obama supporter this whole time, and I have noticed, whether back at the caucus, or in conversation with fellow Obama supporters, or even here on Slog, that some folks really didn't understand how moderate many of his views actually are.

Posted by Hernandez | July 2, 2008 10:53 AM

Short answer - No, Obama will not take any flak for doing this.

We're out for blood this year, and the only Republicants left will be the ones gutted and bleeding on the battlefield.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 2, 2008 10:55 AM

I'm confused. When did supporting the death penalty become a left position?

Posted by Mike of Renton | July 2, 2008 11:11 AM

As a long time subscriber of the WSJ and a general independant with admitted leans toward the right (however undecided at the moment) I can tell you that this opinion piece does nothing but make me nervous.

Most people want a canidate without surprises. We want to know what we're getting. Obama's dodgeball routine of appeasement only adds to my uncertainty and mistrust. This story does him no favors.

Posted by menelaus | July 2, 2008 11:24 AM

I disagree with you and agree with 4 & 14. This doesn't help Obama. There's no doubt he's moving right and unabashedly courting right-of-center Christians (a piece in the NYT confirmed that). He must in order to have any chance. Liberals and progressives will be more dissappointed if he embraces school vouchers. As far as I know, he hasn't decided on a position. He sends his own kids to private school much to the notice of minority parents. Polls suggest that the race is even (CNN has a poll with McCain slightly ahead). The Iraq War, whether Obama endorsed it or not isn't front page news and the Surge by all accounts appears to be working. There is no viable 3rd party candidate as well to offset the McCain vs Obama dynamic. Obama will make a few more accomodations rightward.

Posted by lark | July 2, 2008 11:59 AM

Apparently, add backing off on his anti-war stance to the list as well:

Democrat Obama signals flexibility on Iraq

What's left?

Posted by Mason | July 2, 2008 12:01 PM

Why does this remind me of all the talk in 2000 of there being no difference between Bush and Gore?

Posted by Just Sayin' | July 2, 2008 12:26 PM

@17 You mean like this?

Posted by Mike of Renton | July 2, 2008 1:38 PM

Billed as new and different, Obama is the same old shit. You can have him. And when he says he's changed his mind and won't be leaving Iraq, you'll finally see him for what he is.

Posted by Vince | July 2, 2008 3:03 PM

Even if he is elected and wants to leave Iraq, he won't be able to make it happen. There's plenty of other chefs with their fingers in the pot here, including many Blue Dog Dems who are virtually Republicans.

A Dem who withdraws will be smeared as the one who "lost" Iraq. 1975 all over again. We keep refighting the Vietnam war, because we didn't win it. (In the eyes of some, we didn't win, and they can't sotp refighting it in their heads.)

For a Dem to withdraw is going to lead to all sorts stereotyping about wimpiness and limp-dickitude, how the Democratic party just are not the warrior kings we need in a dangerous world, etc etc.

So, because only Nixon can go to China, only McCain (this time) or some other Republican (4 years later) can pull out. And then he'll be slapped on the back for his "statesmanship."

It's not just Saigon '75, it's also China '49, and all sorts of other redbaiting in the 50's. Oy, it never ends.

Solution? Obama wins White House, and finds some other war to start and WIN. Image of Democratic Paty in U.S. re-manly-fied! Image of US in world... nailed to cellar floor.

Posted by CP | July 2, 2008 4:26 PM

For those who claim they appreciated the "real Obama" all along ... what were his good points?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 2, 2008 5:22 PM

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