Steve Chapman

Some of the positions that get him tagged as liberal confound traditional categories. Among the members of Congress who share his support for withdrawal from Iraq are Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who favors dismantling most of the federal government, and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who was secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

These days, 20 percent of Republicans say we should bring the bulk of our troops home within a year. They can attest that opposing the war doesn't make you a liberal any more than eating nuts makes you a squirrel.

That's one reason the liberal label may not be quite the ball and chain Republicans hope. If "liberal" is taken to connote gay marriage, socialized medicine and unilateral disarmament, most people won't find it appealing. But Obama does not espouse those. If it is taken to mean trying something different from the last seven years -- or offering a plausible alternative to war, inflation and a housing bust -- they will be receptive.

Back in 1980, everyone knew Ronald Reagan was too conservative to win. But when non-conservatives were presented with a conservative who was likable, temperate and occasionally eloquent, many of them found they could vote for him. What Obama has going for him, more than anything, is a quality of calm and thoughtful gravity, which offers a refreshing contrast to President Bush's inarticulate defensiveness and McCain's stubborn pugnacity.

I disagree with Obama's positions more often than not, but reducing a political leader to the sum of his positions is like judging the value of an artwork by adding up the cost of the canvas and paint. Obama didn't get where he is by being a liberal like any other. He got there by being a liberal like no other.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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