This is a painful post to write. Contrary to his campaign slogan, Barack Obama does not represent change we can believe in. He represents change we want to believe in.
I don’t think his campaign realizes the enormity of his promise to change politics, and the powerful emotions it has evoked in his supporters. If they do, then I resent them for banking on it as they set their sights on the failed course of running to the middle:
the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake. Tacking to the center is a losing strategy. And don’t let the latest head-to-head poll numbers lull you the way they lulled Hillary Clinton in December.
Running to the middle in an attempt to attract undecided swing voters didn’t work for Al Gore in 2000. It didn’t work for John Kerry in 2004. And it didn’t work when Mark Penn (obsessed with his “microtrends” and missing the megatrend) convinced Hillary Clinton to do it in 2008.
Fixating on — and pandering to — this fickle crowd is all about messaging tailored to avoid offending rather than to inspire and galvanize.
But Barack isn’t pandering to the center. He’s pandering past the center. As evidenced by his nuanced position on abortion to the list of broken promises detailed in a must read editorial by the New York Times:
The Barack Obama of the primary season used to brag that he would stand before interest groups and tell them tough truths. The new Mr. Obama tells evangelical Christians that he wants to expand President Bush’s policy of funneling public money for social spending to religious-based organizations — a policy that violates the separation of church and state and turns a government function into a charitable donation.
He’s aiming past the center at the religious right. He’s aiming into a paranoid fantasy land with his other position changes:
The new Barack Obama has abandoned his vow to filibuster an electronic wiretapping bill if it includes an immunity clause for telecommunications companies that amounts to a sanctioned cover-up of Mr. Bush’s unlawful eavesdropping after 9/11.
In January, when he was battling for Super Tuesday votes, Mr. Obama said that the 1978 law requiring warrants for wiretapping, and the special court it created, worked. “We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend,” he declared.
Now, he supports the immunity clause as part of what he calls a compromise but actually is a classic, cynical Washington deal that erodes the power of the special court, virtually eliminates “vigorous oversight” and allows more warrantless eavesdropping than ever.
Standing up for our rights was a centerpiece of his campaign. It still is if you don’t count privacy.
From the nytimes editorial (emphasis mine):
We are not shocked when a candidate moves to the center for the general election. But Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.
There are still vital differences between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain on issues like the war in Iraq, taxes, health care and Supreme Court nominations. We don’t want any “redefining” on these big questions. This country needs change it can believe in.
And so we are caught in a crude but effective trap. Whereas Obama let’s us down, McCain would go so far as to engender and further the same boiling rage Bush provoked.
If anyone from the Obama campaign is listening, damn him for doing so much to lose my trust, knowing full well he will not lose my vote.