The famous quote goes, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 30, you have no brain.”
If you embrace gun rights, proactive military policy, and stricter abortion requirements while pushing for crippling taxes and universal healthcare at 46, you’re Barack Obama–and the question of your deficiencies remains an open one.
Obama’s move to the right is not a tactical ploy designed to siphon off McCain voters or undecided independents. Opening up the general election with a 12-point lead over John McCain (including an 8-point lead among registered independents), the safe advice would have Obama in a holding pattern in hopes that McCain starts making bad moves. And even if some tacking to the center was in order, it would not have required the across-the-board conversion we’ve witnessed these past few weeks. A mere acknowledgment of success in Iraq would have gone a long way.
Nor is Obama’s move to the right an attempt to draw fire as a flip-flopper instead of as a far-left liberal. Obama stumbles and falls in the realm of specific data. He does better defending a liberal stance on broad ideological grounds than in detailing the reasons for this or that policy change. His worst moments of the primary came when Hillary, armed with an encyclopedic grasp of figures, went to-to-toe with him on policy disputes.
Obama’s tack to the center is simply what happens when the Senate’s most liberal member ventures off Capitol Hill and faces intractable reality. It’s what happens when a community organizer with radical friends becomes a global player with deadly enemies. You can talk about the failures of Iraq until your face turns blue, but can’t very well tell David Petraeus to pack it in because his efforts were for naught. You can talk about sitting down with Mahmoud Amadinejad in a CNN studio, but you can’t tell EU leaders that you’re going to undermine their Tehran incentives by offering unconditional dialogue. You can rant about the abuse of executive powers, but then again, in Obama’s own words, “Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I’ve chosen to support the current compromise.”
From the recognition of Jeremiah Wright as a poisonous backstabber to the support of necessary intelligence laws, we’re witnessing a very green political mind come of age. What is troubling is that it’s the kind of change one usually goes through before making it to the homestretch for office of the president of the United States. Some have asked if conservatives should not happily welcome the converted Obama into the fold. The answer is complicated. On all these issues, he’s moving in a direction that vindicates the rightness of a conservative worldview and that, one hopes, makes the world a better, freer place. But most conservative shifts are born of a love of principles, a recognition of the promise of freer society, a solidified realization of right and wrong. Obama’s shift was functional or utilitarian. He’s embracing more conservative positions because not to do so would have rendered him ineffective. This kind of rightward shift should be welcomed with caution.