December 28, 2007


Obama & the Burden of Liberalism (Kimberley Strassel, 12/28/07, Opinion Journal)

If the Democratic race has been about anything, it's been about promises of "change." Mr. Obama has made it his signature issue, tapping into a national unease with the status quo, and riding it to within striking distance of Hillary Clinton. What the charismatic young Illinois senator has not yet had to do is explain what shape this change will assume, or how he intends to bring it about. And lucky for him, because it's far from clear Mr. Obama is anything but same old, same old. [...]

Washington is gridlocked in part because congressional Democrats have attempted to govern with an agenda that is too liberal even for many in their own party. Mr. Obama is captivating, though probably not captivating enough to convince Republican rivals to sign up for Nancy Pelosi's game plan. His only real tool for changing Washington presumably rests in convincing his own party to move toward a more innovative middle. Yet nothing in Mr. Obama's history, or current campaign, suggests he intends to forge a new Democratic direction.

As a candidate, Bill Clinton recognized Democrats' national image problems, and ran on a message of "opportunity, responsibility, community." President Bill Clinton abandoned most of that within his first 100 days, caving to liberals. But it remains the case that his signature policy achievements--welfare reform and trade--were the result of his ability to shift Democrats toward the center. When Mr. Obama was last heard talking about trade, it was to complain that Americans had lost their jobs for "a cheaper T-shirt" and to promise to "amend" Mr. Clinton's Nafta with stricter labor agreements.

This is no Joe Lieberman, who seeks to keep his party from jumping off a foreign policy cliff. Mr. Obama criticizes any Democrat who supported the Iraq war. This is no Daniel Moynihan, who favored private Social Security accounts as a means of alleviating wealth inequality. In 2005, Mr. Obama suggested private accounts were a form of "social Darwinism." This is no former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who wanted to transform Medicare into a system that would help seniors buy insurance on the private market. Mr. Obama has blasted Medicare Advantage, and boasts of his votes to pour more money into today's failing government-run system.

As for Mr. Obama's claim he is no slave to "rigid ideology," consider his voting record. National Journal in March released its 2006 annual rankings of Congress based on key roll call votes, and Mr. Obama was found to be more liberal than 86% of his senatorial colleagues.

...but one of the reasons Democrats have fared so poorly in national elections the past thirty years is their tendency to nominate a pig in a poke, who turns out to be a disaster during the campaign, while the GOP just anoints the next in line, a known quantity, if generally an unexciting one. It's a matter of sizzle vs. steak and the former is fleeting by nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2007 9:38 AM

It's fun watching Hillary try to stop Obama from being this year's Bill.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at December 28, 2007 12:04 PM

So who are the Dems going to nominate? I can see three scenarios that seem plausible:

1. Hillary! collapses, and Obama picks up the pieces. Nice because it rids our national politics of the Clintons, and Obama seems a decent fellow on a personal level -- dead wrong on most of the issues and not experienced enough by half, but he's a nice guy, and maybe his nomination means an end to the bloodthirsty partisanship of the Clinton-Carville-Dean-Pelosi axis.

2. Obama does better than Hillary! in the primaries, but Hillary! plays dirty and she's better at inside baseball. Hillary! wins by capturing a majority of the unelected "superdelegates" or persuading one of the also-rans (Edwards) to play kingmaker, or both.

3. The political junkie's dream: nobody goes into the convention with a clear majority, the "superdelegaes" don't break for one or the other, and we have a good old-fashioned multi-ballot convention. (Not likely, I know, but a guy can dream, can't he?) In this scenario, the rabid antiwar Angry Left will have power all out of proportion to its actual following.

Posted by: Mike Morley at December 28, 2007 12:08 PM

...Mr. Obama was found to be more liberal than 86% of his senatorial colleagues.

Well, that's better than Kerry's 97%. So there's some progress.

Posted by: Brandon at December 29, 2007 12:24 AM