Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hands Off Obama

Lately, Barack Obama has become everybody's favorite punching bag.

What's left of the Left are going after him for abandoning gun control in support of dubious Second Amendment rights, as well as his revised stance on FISA, newly-nuanced views on troop withdrawal in Iraq, and his desire to extend, and expand, George W. Bush's faith-based initiative programs, to name but a few. Then, of course, there's Obama's recent contention that a woman's mental state should not exempt her from the Supreme Court ban on late-term abortion.

These are all full-throated assertions, and no one is suggesting, for a moment, that these recent seismic shifts to the center aren't letting the air out of the Obama balloon. But, they are also showing that Houdini isn't running for president, and even Houdini would be hard-pressed to run a campaign without interference from party elders.

The Democrats, and so-called progressives, are doing such a good job of attacking Obama that McCain is struggling to come up with a campaign strategy. If the barbs against the Illinois senator keep up at a steady rate, McCain won't even need a strategy---all he'll need to do is keep his mouth shut.

Clearly, the single most precarious issue, for Obama, is the war. While the economy may be the ultimate concern for working Americans, nobody takes John McCain's economic plan as anything but a continuation of that of his predecessor's, but those who oppose the ongoing occupation of Iraq will account for a greater presence at their polls than voters who support Nader or Barr.

For some, it is too bad the world comes in three dimensions. How much easier it would be if one could merely say "let's roll up our tent and go home." Yes, there are serious questions about whether a President Obama will allow for the continued occupation of Iraq long after the military leaves. But, Obama's mistake might not be that he said he intends to revisit the idea of troop withdrawal in the first 16 months he's in office, or that his decisions, as a commander-in-chief, will depend on the situation in Iraq at the time.

Curiously, like President Kennedy before him, Obama's biggest mistake might be that he recognizes, and acknowledges, that his decisions are nuanced, not obdurate, and subject to change. Doubtless, JFK kicked up a lot of dust, behind the scenes, from those whose interests were better served by maintaining, and expanding, troop presence in Vietnam, and Obama is kicking up a lot of dust by saying he is thoughtful, willing to move into the gray zone and out of the binary field of black and white, right and wrong, progressive and conservative. This scares the wits out of people.

Nothing bothers this country of the Puritans, by the Puritans, and for the Puritans more than a thinking president. Look at all the crap thrown at Jimmy Carter for not blowing up Iran when he had the chance.

But, hey, simply yelling out "stop the war, I want to get off" won't do it either nor will voting for Ralph Nader (read: John McCain). The solution is to work with the problem, not abandon it, and hold Obama to task for his pledge to have better judgment.

More importantly, we need leadership that will move us from a wartime to a peacetime economy, and one whose vision is to de-escalate, not look for more parts of the globe to preempt or provoke.

Those who argue that Senator Obama doesn't have a "plan" to get us out of Iraq are naive if they think that a Kucinich, Nader, or any other "plan" would not meet with fatal resistance from the military industrial complex. Didn't we just come out of eight years of pathological lying? Do we want to elect another president who will lie to us?

The infrastructure for war, and wartime profiteering, are deeply embedded in our country's ethos. Patriotism is inseparable from militarism. If you have any questions about that, just listen to what conservative talk show pundits, like Bill Bennett, say about guys like Wes Clark---that he's a four-star general makes him perfect presidential material. Okay, so why did we ask Pakistan's Musharraf to take off his uniform if generals are so ideally-suited for governance?

We need leadership that will address the need to continue affirmative action programs at a time when we have more youngsters of color in our nation's prisons than in our nation's universities.

In the end, those who contend that Obama represents a movement are right, and he must account to that movement, and it is up to the talking heads, pundits, progressives, and Congress to hold him accountable once he takes the oath of office.

In the meantime, efforts to sabotage him by pointing out his flip-flops will only result in a president, McCain, who has the opportunity to appoint another neanderthal to the Supreme Court, and provoke greater global hostility in the name of homeland security.

While McCain may be limping, he's not wounded, just a bit dazed. Who'd have thought that he'd be up against this kind of opponent---clearly not the designated heir-apparent. But, make no mistake, while he may need to refresh his settings, or regain his balance, McCain is far from down for the punch, and this recent effort to expose, and attack Obama can only help McCain in November.

If nothing else, we've learned from American History 101 that nobody shoots themselves in the foot better than Democrats. In the next four months, those who want to see a Democrat in the White House must get behind Barack, and not pander to Republican talking points about flip-flopping.

There will be plenty of time to pontificate on his weaknesses once he's in office, and call him to task on his pledge to work with Chris Dodd on the retroactive immunity clause in FISA reform. After all, like the others before him, Barack Obama's first task, on becoming president, will be brainstorming about how best to win another term.

So, leave the swift-booting of Obama to the Repugs. Let the McCainites call him Sergeant Flip Flop. Hell, they'd call JFK a flip-flopper, too, for talking about making changes in his Vietnam policy, as well as thinking about lifting the trade embargo against Cuba not, as he said for moral reasons, but because, unlike those who followed, Kennedy had the wisdom, and foresight, to work toward a global economy.

Higher order thinking is lost on a unitary executive, as well as a country caught up in dichotomies of "good guys" and "bad guys," so what happens to a presidential candidate who is more comfortable playing Hamlet, and entering the gray zone, in a country without Hamlets that is overrun by Macbeths, Macdonalds and, unless we're careful, McCains.