What's All This Then?

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

I think maybe Barack Obama has spent too much time with Hillary Clinton - first battling and now joining forces with her - because her approach of doing whatever it takes and saying whatever needs to be said to become the nominee of her party and to win the presidency, seems to have rubbed off on him. He’s beginning to change previously stated positions - not at the rate established by John McCain, whose flip-flops, according to Keith Olbermann, fill three pages - but enough to make us wonder if he’s truly going to move this country in a new direction when he moves into the White House.

I realize that if he wants to get elected, he can’t appear to be too extreme in his ideas and his proposals and that his chances would be improved if he came across as a centrist. The trouble is, he didn’t start out that way - and his efforts to become the candidate who pleases everyone is chipping away at his shining armor. For example, I know that he intends to go after voters that past Democratic candidates have ceded to the Republicans in knee jerk fashion, but to me, his speeches on "patriotism" and his proposal to increase the size of the Bush "faith based" programs smacks of pandering to that group of voters who care nothing for the real issues with which this country has to grapple- only the narrow parameters of their insulated world. Obama is better than this, but he is performing more and more like the description hung on him by his former pastor. "He’s a politician. and he says what he has to say as a politician.. He does what politicians do."

I can forgive him most of what critics have termed his flip flops. He didn’t pledge to take public funds if the other side did the same - only that he would try to come to an agreement on ground rules with his opponent - and apparently, McCain didn’t want to have any such discussion. Even the Chicago Tribune acknowledged that in a recent editorial.

His support of the FISA bill is understandable. The bill takes the final word on spying procedures away from the White House and puts it in the hands of a secret court. Even though he once said he would approve or support a filibuster against granting immunity for past actions by telecom companies - at this point in the campaign, a filibuster would be a distraction that would please no one but the most extreme members of the left.

I’m not sure that his once stated view that the Washington DC ban on handguns is constitutional contradicts what he said in response to the recent Supreme Court decision - that he has "always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms." There is nothing in the constitution or in the five to four decision that says local communities can’t enact gun laws. This may be a case where Obama can legitimately have it both ways.

But what has disturbed me most about Obama’s seeming attempts to move to the center, is his effort to "distance himself" from General Wesley Clark’s comments on Face The Nation last Sunday. The Republican attack machine glommed onto what the general said as though he had committed the mortal sin of insulting a war hero - if you consider that being kept a prisoner of war for 5½ years by the North Vietnamese qualifies one as a hero.

But Clark did no such thing. He was trying to say that Obama is as "qualified" to be commander-in-chief as McCain , despite McCain’s military background - and the following exchange then took place.
Bob Schieffer: Well you, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote, and these are your words, "untested and untried," And I must say I, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years. How can you say that John McCain is un- untested and untried? General?

Clark: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it-'

Schieffer: Well-

Clark -it publicly.' He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe-

Clark: So-

Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If-

Clark: Sure
And here’s where Schieffer makes one of the dumbest comments I have ever heard him make..
Schieffer: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean-

Clark: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.
And that’s the remark that the McCain campaign and surrogates, along with the print and electronic news media, jumped on as attacking McCain’s military service. Shieffer’s comment couldn’t have been any clearer. It was perfectly O.K. to make the point that Obama also hasn’t had the executive experience that Clark said was lacking in McCain’s resume - but there was little sense in making the point that unlike McCain, Obama has never ridden in a fighter plane nor been shot down. And Clark answered the implied question truthfully - that having such an experience didn’t make McCain or anyone else qualified to be president. He wasn’t insulting McCain. He wasn’t attacking McCain. He was merely pointing out that McCain’s military service, including being shot down, captured and held prisoner for 5 ½ years didn’t make him any more qualified to be president than Obama - who has never ridden in a fighter plane and been shot down!!

Why Obama would "distance himself" from Clark’s comments is beyond me. It’s as though he’s looked at the scoreboard - seen that he’s a touchdown - maybe a touchdown and a field goal ahead - and even though it’s only the first quarter - decided to play defense for the rest of the game. And his idea of "defense" when it comes to McCain’s military service - is to be critical of a supporter who states truthfully that such service makes him no more qualified to be president than someone who has never served in the military - and to virtually agree with those who categorize such comments as an attack on McCain!!. Maybe this is some kind of brilliant strategy - defusing the other side’s attacks by agreeing with them - but the impression that I’m left with is that Obama would rather back away from any discussion that involves McCain’s military service than fight, even if the involvement is barely tangential.

Obama needs to stop praising McCain every time he mentions his name and stop saying that he "honors his service." And to not "distance himself" from anyone who says, truthfully, that military service doesn’t make McCain any more qualified to be president than anyone else. McCain and his supporters are using that service and his years as a POW to make him a sympathetic figure. He has a television ad showing him in captivity - and a lot of people might be influenced by that appeal for sympathy. Remember Hillary’s crying performance? Obama needs to be able to portray the Republican presidential candidate as decidedly un-sympathetic - and not let himself be conned into playing into the hands of the Republican strategists. And for sure, in his effort to appeal to all voters and not just Democrats - he needs to be careful not to create doubt in the minds of those who have supported him from the beginning as to who he really is and what he stands for.