Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rove on Obama

An interesting piece on Obama by Karl Rove in the WSJ-- extrapolating implications of Obama's "shift" on Tuesday night as he responded to sharp attacks by both Clinton and McCain...

In campaigns, there are sometimes moments when candidates shift ground, causing the race to change dramatically. Tuesday night was one of those moments.

Hammered for the 10th contest in a row, Hillary Clinton toughened her attacks on Barack Obama, saying he was unready to be commander in chief and unable to back his inspiring words with a record of action and leadership.

John McCain also took on Mr. Obama, with the Arizona senator declaring he would oppose "eloquent but empty calls for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people."

Mr. McCain, too, raised questions about Mr. Obama's fitness to be commander in chief. Mr. McCain pointed to Mr. Obama's unnecessary sabre-rattling at an ally (Pakistan) while appeasing our adversaries (Iran and Syria). Mr. McCain also made it clear that reining in spending, which is a McCain strength and an Obama weakness, would be a key issue.

Mr. Obama had not been so effectively criticized before. In the Democratic contest, John Edwards and Mrs. Clinton were unwilling to confront him directly or in a manner that hurt him. Mr. McCain was rightly preoccupied by his own primary. On Tuesday night, things changed.

Perhaps in response to criticisms that have been building in recent days, Mr. Obama pivoted Tuesday from his usual incantations. He dropped the pretense of being a candidate of inspiring but undescribed "post-partisan" change. Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism.

Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama's promise to change Washington by working across party lines. Mr. Obama hasn't worked across party lines since coming to town. Was he a member of the "Gang of 14" that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations? Was Mr. Obama part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues like energy, immigration or terrorist surveillance legislation? No. Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.

Mrs. Clinton can do much more to draw attention to Mr. Obama's lack of achievements. She can agree with Mr. Obama's statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration -- and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument....

These stands represent not just policy vulnerabilities, but also a real danger to Mr. Obama's credibility and authenticity. He cannot proclaim his goal is the end of influence for lobbies if the only influences he seeks to end are lobbies of the center and the right.

Unlike Bill Clinton in 1992, Mr. Obama is completely unwilling to confront the left wing of the Democratic Party, no matter how outrageous its demands, no matter how out of touch it might be with the American people. And Tuesday night, in a key moment in this race, he dropped the pretense that his was a centrist agenda. His agenda is the agenda of the Democratic left....

The road to the presidency just got steeper for Barack Obama, and all because he pivoted on Tuesday night.


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