Commentary Magazine


Out Obama-ing Obama

Barack Obama’s call for bipartisanship and his emphasis on ending the acrimony of old-style politics have been a big part of his appeal. It was a clever angle–both as a means of differentiating himself from Hillary Clinton who embodied take-no-prisoners partisanship and as a means of diffusing concern about his relative lack of experience (i.e. he has no axe to grind in the politics of the past). However, in a general election this approach has its limits, in part because there is no factual basis for claiming he is a great bridge-builder.

He has essentially taken up every cause of the left (from opposing confirmation of Justices Roberts and Alito to supporting a bevy of tax increases) and has been absent from any of the truly bipartisan efforts, few that they may be, since he got to Washington (e.g. the Gang of 14).

As the most liberal Senator according to National Journal, he is further from the middle of the Senate and less inclined to compromise on strict party line voting than Senator Mitch McConnell (the ninth most conservative Senator) is on the other end of the spectrum. Is someone more doctrinaire in his voting record than McConnell on the Right (and Dick Durbin and John Kerry on the Left), the best person to lead us into a new era of bipartisan co-operation?

Worse still, John McCain actually can lay claim to being a bipartisan role model, which made his primary run so problematic with the GOP base. His list of bipartisan efforts on global warming, judges, campaign finance, immigration and spending reform is long and substantitve. Joe Lieberman attested to McCain’s bipartisan credentials on This Week:

Well, I don’t agree with John McCain on everything, but I agree with him on the important things. And I agree with him on the number one challenge to our political system today. We’ve got to put the national interest ahead of partisan interest. We’ve got to forget the Democrat-Republican business and remember that we’re all Americans. And unless we pull together, we’re not going to get this country to where all of us want it to be.

So having correctly diagnosed the problem (i.e. many Americans want politicians to work together more often), Obama now faces this dilemma: His own career offers no indication that he actually is disposed, other than rhetorically, to reaching across the aisle to accomodate the other side’s interests and concerns. (Does he expect to charm them with an avalanche of soothing words, envisioning that they will just capitulate on substance to his liberal policy views?) The Republicans may have stumbled into selecting an ideal foil for Obama – someone who actually has done what Obama says we need to more of.