Despite the rampant flip-flopping that has transformed John McCain from a Maverick to a clone of the President, his campaign apparently feels no shame in claiming that Barack Obama is the one who has based his every thought and action upon political calculations. At the same time, the political left has groaned that the Obama candidacy is more moderate than they had been led to believe or, more accurately, than they had led themselves to believe. Gail Collins offered her thoughts earlier this week:
Think back. Why, exactly, did you prefer Obama over Hillary Clinton in the first place? Their policies were almost identical - except his health care proposal was more conservative. You liked Barack because you thought he could get us past the old brain-dead politics, right? He talked - and talked and talked - about how there were going to be no more red states and blue states, how he was going to bring Americans together, including Republicans and Democrats. Exactly where did everybody think this gathering was going to take place? Left field?
When an extremely intelligent politician tells you over and over and over that he is tired of the take-no-prisoners politics of the last several decades, that he is going to get things done and build a “new consensus,” he is trying to explain that he is all about compromise. Even if he says it in that great Baracky way.
It’s not his fault that we missed the message - although to be fair, he did make it sound as if getting rid of the “old politics” involved driving out the oil and pharmaceutical lobbyists rather than splitting the difference on federal wiretapping legislation. But if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of
. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb. Iraq
Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns - attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance. On the common-ground front, he’s called for giving more federal money to religious groups that run social programs, but only if the services they offer are secular. People can have guns for hunting and protection, but we should crack down on unscrupulous gun sellers. Putting some restrictions on the government’s ability to wiretap is better than nothing, even though he would rather have gone further.
Dumb-avoidance would include his opposing the gas-tax holiday, backtracking on the anti-Nafta pandering he did during the primary and acknowledging that if one is planning to go all the way to Iraq to talk to the generals, one should actually pay attention to what the generals say. Touching both bases are Obama’s positions that 1) if people are going to ask him every day why he’s not wearing a flag pin, it’s easier to just wear the pin, for heaven’s sake, and 2) there’s nothing to be gained by getting into a fight over whether the death penalty can be imposed on child rapists.