Obama running for Bush's 3rd term
Bush's Third Term
July 2, 2008; Page A12
We're beginning to understand why Barack Obama keeps protesting so
vigorously against the prospect of "George Bush's third term." Maybe
he's worried that someone will notice that he's the candidate who's
running for it.
Most Presidential candidates adapt their message after they win their
party nomination, but Mr. Obama isn't merely "running to the center."
He's fleeing from many of his primary positions so markedly and so
rapidly that he's embracing a sizable chunk of President Bush's policy.
Who would have thought that a Democrat would rehabilitate the
much-maligned Bush agenda?
Take the surveillance of foreign terrorists. Last October, while running
with the Democratic pack, the Illinois Senator vowed to "support a
filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for
telecommunications companies" that assisted in such eavesdropping after
9/11. As recently as February, still running as the liberal favorite
against Hillary Clinton, he was one of 29 Democrats who voted against
allowing a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee reform of
surveillance rules even to come to the floor.
Two weeks ago, however, the House passed a bill that is essentially the
same as that Senate version, and Mr. Obama now says he supports it.
Apparently legal immunity for the telcos is vital for U.S. national
security, just as Mr. Bush has claimed. Apparently, too, the legislation
isn't an attempt by Dick Cheney to gut the Constitution. Perhaps it is
dawning on Mr. Obama that, if he does become President, he'll be
responsible for preventing any new terrorist attack. So now he's happy
to throw the New York Times under the bus.
Next up for Mr. Obama's political blessing will be Mr. Bush's Iraq
policy. Only weeks ago, the Democrat was calling for an immediate and
rapid U.S. withdrawal. When General David Petraeus first testified about
the surge in September 2007, Mr. Obama was dismissive and skeptical. But
with the surge having worked wonders in Iraq, this week Mr. Obama went
out of his way to defend General Petraeus against MoveOn.org's attacks
in 2007 that he was "General Betray Us." Perhaps he had a late epiphany.
Look for Mr. Obama to use his forthcoming visit to Iraq as an excuse to
drop those withdrawal plans faster than he can say Jeremiah Wright "was
not the person that I met 20 years ago." The Senator will learn – as
John McCain has been saying – that withdrawal would squander the gains
from the surge, set back Iraqi political progress, and weaken America's
strategic position against Iran. Our guess is that he'll spin this
switcheroo as some kind of conditional commitment, saying he'll stay in
Iraq as long as Iraqis are making progress on political reconciliation,
and so on. As things improve in Iraq, this would be Mr. Bush's policy too.
Mr. Obama has also made ostentatious leaps toward Mr. Bush on domestic
issues. While he once bid for labor support by pledging a unilateral
rewrite of Nafta, the Democrat now says he favors free trade as long as
it works for "everybody." His economic aide, Austan Goolsbee, has been
liberated from the five-month purdah he endured for telling Canadians
that Mr. Obama's protectionism was merely campaign rhetoric. Now that
Mr. Obama is in a general election, he can't scare the business
community too much.
Back in the day, the first-term Senator also voted against the Supreme
Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But last week he
agreed with their majority opinion in the Heller gun rights case, and
with their dissent against the liberal majority's ruling to ban the
death penalty for rape. Mr. Obama seems to appreciate that getting
pegged as a cultural lefty is deadly for national Democrats – at least
This week the great Democratic hope even endorsed spending more money on
faith-based charities. Apparently, this core plank of Mr. Bush's
"compassionate conservatism" is not the assault on church-state
separation that the ACLU and liberals have long claimed. And yesterday,
Mr. Obama's campaign unveiled an ad asserting his support for welfare
reform that "slashed the rolls by 80 percent." Never mind that Mr. Obama
has declared multiple times that he opposed the landmark 1996 welfare
* * *
All of which prompts a couple of thoughts. The first is that Mr. Obama
doesn't seem to think American political sentiment has moved as far left
as most of the media claim. Another is that the next President, whether
Democrat or Republican, is going to embrace much of Mr. Bush's foreign
and antiterror policy whether he admits it or not. Think Eisenhower
endorsing Truman's Cold War architecture.
Most important is the matter of Mr. Obama's political character – and
how honest he is being about what he truly believes. His voting record
in the Senate and in Illinois, as well as his primary positions, would
make him the most liberal Presidential candidate since George McGovern
in 1972. But he clearly doesn't want voters to believe that in November.
He's still the Obama Americans don't know.