Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama Might Just Blow It

The biggest danger to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign comes not from his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, nor from his former rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, but from Barack Obama himself. Obama has sold himself as a new kind of politician, even an anti-politician, a practitioner of a new kind of politics. The Achilles heel of this strategy is that Obama is not really that different from other politicians; and if he can be shown to be just like every other candidate, save for his eloquence, voters who invested in him on a personal level may begin to feel like they have been had.

The past week provided Obama with a few opportunities to show that he really is a different kind of candidate, indeed a different kind of Democrat, than the standard variety. But in each instance, he espoused the typical liberal position. The Supreme Court's wrongheaded decision in Boumediene, for the first time granting habeas corpus rights to terrorist detainees, was embraced by the "different" Obama as an important step in preserving civil liberties for American citizens. But the decision has nothing to do with Americans. It grants the rights of Americans to non-Americans who want to harm American citizens, but it does not one thing to advance any American's civil liberties. Obama's embrace of the decision may just as well have come from the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or any other far left liberal watchdog group. Obama missed an opportunity to take a "new politics" position on terrorists, in favor of a garden variety liberal one.

Obama then compounded his error by holding out the example of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as a model for how an Obama Administration would deal with terrorists and terrorist acts. He assessed the trial and conviction of the terrorists in that first Islamic terrorist attack on American shores as having been a success. "They are in U.S. prisons, incapacitated," he boasted of the terrorists responsible. He did not address how, if the trial and conviction of those terrorists was so successful, the September 11th attacks took place. Clearly, the trial did nothing to prevent further acts of terrorism on America at home or abroad. Obama missed a chance to take a post-September 11th position on terrorists, a more robust one than federal prosecutors can implement, in favor of a tired old liberal worldview.

But Obama was not finished. He capped off the week by suggesting that if Osama bin Laden himself were captured alive during an Obama Administration, the mastermind of the murder of more Americans than any other person in history would not be subjected to the death penalty. Obama said that the U.S. should deal with a captured bin Laden in a way that does, "not make him a martyr." That may be a popular position in the liberal salons of Cambridge and New Haven, but it is not one that will resonate with an overwhelming majority of Americans. Even those personally opposed to capital punishment will have a hard time finding any sympathy for bin Laden's soul. Obama could have easily said that bin Laden deserved "ultimate justice" for his crimes, or some other suitable euphemism for execution, and he would have been praised as a "new" kind of Democrat, tough on terrorism. But instead he went out of his way to take the liberal position, even for the worst of America's enemies.

Since securing the nomination, Obama has been trying to tack back to the center, walking back pledges to meet personally and unconditionally with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. But there's nothing new about that strategy either. Presidential candidates since time immemorial have campaigned to the fringes in the primary and to the center in the general election. What is new about Obama, however, is the length to which he has gone to convince voters that his greasy fast food served on fine china is really nouveau cuisine. It's not. If Obama doesn't start to come up with some genuinely new positions and fresh ideas, he will lose in November, and become just another bitter liberal former nominee.

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