Barack Obama makes two claims, aside from his post-racial appeal, which form the basis of his “change” message. The first is that he is will bring political unity and rescue “good ideas” which he claims “die” under mysterious circumstances in Washington. The second is that he will be a new type of politician, less divisive and more willing to rise above the endemic personal attacks which turn off so many voters. So far, it doesn’t appear there is much to either of Obama’s claims.
His repeated mantra that good ideas are savaged by special interests in Washington, of course, belies the real differences separating the parties. Republicans don’t have to be the prisoners of special interests to conclude that raising taxes is bad policy. Obama and the Democrats don’t have to be prisoners of their special interests to conclude the opposite. Moreover, by refusing to concede that he is even “liberal” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he leaves open the real question as to how a far-Left President would bridge very substantial policy differences with the Congress and the public. At least Bill Clinton had an approach (“the third way“) by which he attempted to lessen partisan differences.
Even more central to Obama’s appeal is the notion that, bluntly, he’s better than all the politicians who came before. He won’t deceive, he won’t lie, he won’t belittle his opponents, and he won’t stoop to strong arm tactics. I think it is only because his Democratic opponent is practically the archetype of a “partisan politician” (and because the media largely allows Obama to get away with it) that he has been able to disguise his utter failure, even at this early stage in his campaign and career, to live up to this billing.
It’s not “new politics” to strong-arm Michigan Democrats into dropping a plan for a re-vote (and to offer a cynical “compromise” to split the delegates 50-50). That’s good old-fashioned Chicago muscle. It’s not “new politics” to, day after day, repeat the lie, as he did again on Friday and through his hapless surrogate John Kerry today, that John McCain wants “to continue this war in Iraq for maybe 100 years.” (When Frank Rich calls that refrain “flat-out wrong,” maybe it’s time to try something else.) And it’s not “new politics” to fence for a day and refuse to condemn his warm-up act for labeling McCain a “warmonger.” (Recall that McCain did precisely this when the shoe was on the other foot.)
None of this is hugely out of bounds for partisan politics. But it just isn’t new. If that’s what he offers, how will electing him amount to “turning the page”?
Again, Clinton is in the worst position possible to make this argument. But at some point in the general election McCain will make the argument that he (who lauds Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall’s bipartisanship and shuts down the use of racial epithets in his own party) is the less conventional politician of the two. Or maybe, without the hubris of laying claim to have discovered bipartisanship, he already is making that argument