Politicians don’t usually get me excited, but Barack Obama does. Maybe it’s the contrast between him and the elocutionally-challenged President Bush. Having lived through and reported on the Civil Rights movement, perhaps the source of my euphoria is the possibility of a black man being taken seriously as a presidential candidate when just four decades ago in America he would have been barred from certain hotels, restrooms, lunch counters and neighborhoods. Electing Obama, some rationalize, might be the propitiation for our racist sins; a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream about judging a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin.
There is a double standard still applied to black people in America, however. The media and “black leadership” play down the accomplishments of a Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice because of their associations with the Republican Party (though Powell was also associated with the Clinton administration, he remains a Republican) while Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Barack Obama are lionized because their liberal policy positions comport with most of those in the media, academia and the rest of the liberal establishment.
If you read Obama’s record, however, you’ll find his positions differ little from those of Hillary Clinton. According to a compilation of the voting records and position statements of Clinton and Obama (available at www.2decide.com/table.htm) the two senators hold identical positions on nearly every issue. From abortion on demand (support), to the war in Iraq (for withdrawal and against the troop surge), embryonic stem cell research, gun control and plenty more, both candidates are joined at the ideological hip.
The difference is that Obama makes us feel good and Hillary Clinton doesn’t. Obama has the prettier family portrait. As with JFK, who doesn’t long to see children romping around the White House? That would make our youth-obsessed Baby Boomers feel young again, an objective that occupies increasing amounts of their time.
Ronald Reagan made many feel good, but he had a well-developed sense of who he was and what he wanted to do (defeat the Soviets, cut taxes, reduce the size and reach of government). Obama’s chief foreign policy position seems to center around talking to Islamic leaders rather than defeating radical Islam. Does he seriously believe people who think they have a religious mandate for wiping out America and dominating the world would negotiate anything less? Talking does not pacify an enemy; an enemy must be defeated. Any goal that is less than victory is naive in the extreme.
I admire Obama’s rhetoric about changing the tone in Washington and seeking consensus to overcome corrosive polarization. But consensus requires compromise. On which of his liberal positions would Obama compromise? Abortion? Taxes? Growing government? He hasn’t said. Maybe if he gets the nomination he will. One plays to one’s base (in his case a very liberal base) during primary season and then races toward the middle after receiving the nomination.
Others before Obama have come to Washington with the announced intention of “changing the tone.” No one changes Washington. Washington changes them. The Congress, of which Obama is now only a freshman member with no legislation he can point to that has his name on it, checks and balances legislation proposed by the chief executive. No president can dictate policy. Hillary Clinton failed in her attempt to impose universal health care on the country when a Democratic-majority Congress refused to go along.
Flirtations are fun and make people feel good, but at a time of turmoil in the world and serious threats to our nation, to indulge in feelings over substance can be costly. The last time we put feelings first, we got Bill Clinton (and before him, Jimmy Carter). President Clinton mostly ignored the terrorist threat, preferring instead his own physical satisfaction. That preference contributed to 9/11. Don’t we have it backward? Shouldn’t a president’s policies make us feel good?
To promote feelings instead of policy is pure self-indulgence. We can’t afford that luxury in a president.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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