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Does Obama Know What He's Doing?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There had better be something to this "divinely anointed'' business, because if there isn't, Barack Obama is setting himself up for the biggest political spill in recorded history -- all the ways down the slopes of Olympus to whatever gunk lies below.

Which is to say, nobody, probably, can be as good as Obama's adoring followers, whether in Portland or Berlin, seem to believe. Disillusionment is ugly to see in action: The higher the expectations, the angrier the eventual response to reality.

What gives these musings their relevance isn't just the unfortunate track record of idols who weary the crowd. It's the nagging sense that Obama doesn't really know what he is doing -- apart, that is, from speaking with super-smooth facility during a super-rough passage in his country's recent history.

Now and then, as we know, man meets moment with dramatic consequences. Think Winston Churchill and the spring of 1940, when Britain lay open to Nazi invasion. Obama's match to the current American moment isn't equally obvious.

Churchill brought to the prime ministership a lifetime of public experience. Obama brings an incomplete term in the U.S. Senate, marked by, as much as anything else, a pronounced lust for higher office. We just can't know the full measure of his gifts. No one has watched him long enough. No one has had the chance to see if he's the man. Look a bit closer, though. The intellectual structure on which Obama purposes to drape his salvational schemes is more than just a little rickety. It creaks; it groans.

We have seen something of the kind during the past week in the candidate's back-and-forth over the military surge in Iraq. Obama finds Iraq a safer place than before the surge. He could start next year, as president, pulling American troops out. So was he wrong in opposing the surge as a senator and presidential candidate? No! No! He was right!

Howzat? The military operation that created the conditions that favor his proposal was (SET ITALS) wrong (END ITALS)? We shouldn't have done it? But if the senator from Illinois had prevailed, and somehow had blocked the surge, then the conditions he cites as favoring U.S. pullout wouldn't exist, and he'd have to find another argument for what he wants to do. Isn't that a fair reading?

And so the way we explain Obama's positions on Iraq is ... I'll be a three-eyed Lithuanian bootlegger if I know how to explain it. The Obama positions don't fit together. They fight and carry on like a couple in divorce court trying to divide the family antiques. The Democratic nominee presumptive wants to have his cake and eat it -- not precisely a rare desire but one that, alas, rarely gets gratified.

Economic discourse, on Obama's part, hasn't led yet to such obvious contradictions, but it probably will once the candidate starts talking about paying for universal health insurance by raising taxes on rich people who will, wonder of wonders, find other things to do with their time besides exposing themselves to higher federal taxes. Obamanomics presupposes a seemingly infinite supply of tax revenues to spend -- and the willingness of revenue-producers to share with the government larger and larger portions of their rewards.

Does Obama know, in fact, what he's doing? Well, yes, to a point. He knows he's running for president. What he doesn't seem to understand is that if he gets elected on the basis of such gorgeous promises as he has made, he must start quickly to deliver. If delivery has so far entered his mind, let's just say it isn't obvious from watching him bounce on tiptoe atop Olympus, where the media and the blogs and the anti-Bushies seem to have dropped him from a helicopter.

Good luck, Barack, old boy. There's a bigger, warmer wish, even so, that needs extending as the Obama machine rolls on. Good luck, American voters, in sorting out the meanings of this crazy election.

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