Commentary Magazine


The New Obama

Whether they defend or attack him, most media observers have figured out that Barack Obama is playing fast and loose with the recent Supreme Court rulings and past positions on everything from NAFTA to FISA to campaign financing. His media fan club expresses admiration for how he is “moving to the center,” while conservative commentators express horror. But Obama should keep in mind two words: Mitt Romney.

Romney faltered in large part because he lacked a core — or rather couldn’t convince voters that he had a core set of beliefs that wasn’t contrived for political convenience. Many conservative pundits were just glad to have someone who agreed with them. But voters didn’t buy him as a cohesive candidate. Combined with a shifting message and a remote personality, he lost — despite a huge financial advantage.

Hmm. Does sound a tad familar. The problem for Obama is made more acute by several factors. First, the media is on to the shifts and evasions and has turned up the heat. Obama, as we saw yesterday, isn’t great at maneuvering through the incoming fire (in part because he’s never really had to do it before). Second, unlike Romney, Obama is running on a personal platform of political virtue and superiority. He’s above taking money from lobbyists, above political attacks, and above dishonesty. Except he’s not. And the hypocrisy charge is one which every pundit loves to make. (Which is why they were excessively harsh in their judgment of his campaign finance switcheroo.)

I sense the rules are changing and the New Obama is learning the new ground rules are far less accommodating than the old ones.