It says a great deal about a liberal Democrat that he does not outrage conservative Republicans. To mention the Clintons, Howard Dean, Al Gore, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or John Kerry to this crowd is to inflict hypertension. But I, for one, can sit through an entire speech by Barack Obama without flinching. I can admire his poise, his fluid delivery, and his self-confident, dignified presence.
Part of the reason Obama doesn't send his political adversaries up the wall is that he employs the language of unity and patriotism. He is clearly the most gifted speaker to grace American politics since Ronald Reagan. And as with Reagan, there is a basic decency to Obama that blunts dislike.
But as he moves into the lead for the Democratic nomination, however much we may delight in seeing the air deflate from the Clinton dirigible, we must ask: What would a President Obama look like?
Much of his rhetoric is lighter than air -- almost content-free. It's the past versus the future, hope over fear, one nation not two, yes we can, turn the page, and so forth. But when you get past the music and really focus on the lyrics, Obama emerges as an utterly conventional, down-the-line liberal Democrat. He claims to be all about the future, but his policy ideas are about as modern as disco and the leisure suit.
In pitching his universal health care idea, Obama asserts that Americans spend twice as much per capita on health care as Canadians or Germans, yet "our outcomes are not better, in some cases they are worse." He is correct about per capita spending, but not about results. As evidence of our poor outcomes, he cites infant mortality statistics from the state of Mississippi (and only Mississippi, our poorest state) to suggest that infant mortality rates are rising.
The use of infant mortality as a measure of health care quality has been shown to be unreliable. Infant mortality is closely tied to social factors like illegitimacy, maternal drinking and other misbehavior far more than to the availability of health services. Further, cross-cultural comparisons are problematic, as countries define the term differently. In some countries, a newborn must breathe and show other signs of life before a death will be counted in the statistics. In America, every baby delivered (including severely premature infants) counts. Further, as US News & World Report has noted, "In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth." In the U.S., we count them all. Besides, infant mortality is also closely tied to multiple births. Because so many Americans are resorting to (expensive) fertility treatments, our rate of multiple births has skyrocketed in recent years.