Liberal Democrats from the North haven't had much success in recent
presidential elections — not Hubert Humphrey, not George McGovern, not
Walter Mondale, not Mike Dukakis and not John Kerry. Democratic
Southerners — Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — have done
quite a bit better.
Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, knows
this history. So why does he think he can be the first Northern liberal
Democratic president since John F. Kennedy edged out Richard Nixon
almost a half-century ago?
(1) There is no incumbent
president or vice president running for the first time in more than 50
years. Add a controversial war, an unpopular incumbent and a shaky
economy, and you have a wide-open race full of voters rethinking things
as never before.
(2) As the first African-American candidate
to seriously contend for either party's nomination, Mr. Obama offers
Americans a sort of collective redemption at home and admiration abroad.
Obama's wife, Michelle, said she had never been proud of America until
her husband ran for office, she made explicit what seems to be the
campaign's implicit contract: Vote for Mr. Obama and, at last, America,
you can prove you are not a racist country and finally heal
Many Americans are also tired of the
flag-burning, embassy-storming and other virulent — and often violent —
anti-Americanism broadcast into our homes from overseas. They
apparently hope a young President Obama would recast the United States
as a hip, likable multicultural society, marking an end to the
stereotype of the U.S. as a stodgy white-guy superpower.
(3) Most important, Mr. Obama still continues to talk in platitudes of hope and change. His delivery is excellent and so far how he speaks rather than what
he says is what has mesmerized crowds. Indeed, if Mr. Obama were
honestly to articulate in any detail what he has stood for, his long
laundry list of new taxes and social programs might not be so warmly
There is surely a reason why various monitoring
groups have given Mr. Obama an almost-perfect liberal ranking based on
his Senate votes.
He favors re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and
threatening to raise some trade barriers, on the premise the United
States cannot compete abroad — and that other countries won't follow
suit and retaliate.
His version of the war on terror is
largely a story of lost civil liberties and eroding the Constitution,
not that we've done something right these past 6½ years to prevent
another attack such as the one on September 11, 2001.
spoken of the surge as a failure —- not a success that has stabilized
Iraq and paved the way for downsizing the U.S. troop presence there
And he believes Iran has grown into a threat not just
because of its desire to spread radical Islam, acquire the bomb,
destabilize its neighbors and destroy Israel, but also largely due
either to our presence in Iraq or to our diplomatic failure to talk and
engage with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a broader
sense, the pessimistic Obama theme is that elites have stacked the deck
against the average Joe, who can't get a doctor, pay for his children's
college education or pay his mortgage. Therefore, we must take back
more income from the better-paid and hire a lot more people in
government like Barack Obama to more wisely administer the money.
Obama's overall message — to the extent we know from cross-examination
and position papers — seems very different from Bill Clinton's, who
reformed welfare, advocated free trade, held the line on government
growth and spending, advocated strong international engagement, and
emphasized crime fighting. Indeed, at home and abroad it's more
reminiscent of George McGovern's hoped-for changes.
is that Mr. Obama really does offer a change — not just in matters of
youth, race and eloquence, but also in that we have not seen such a
leftish philosophy on the national scene in over a generation.
handlers should let Obama be Obama — in the way true believers once
demanded that handlers stop sugarcoating Ronald Reagan and instead let
him make the case for his bedrock conservative beliefs.
Obama should now follow through on his promises of a new politics of
candor and transparency, and use his magnetism and persuasive skills to
make the detailed liberal case for more taxes on the wealthier for more
government services for the majority along with trade protectionism as
the proper antidote to our problems.
Who knows? Maybe today's
indebted Americans really do want to move leftward toward a centralized
European model. But the voters should at least be given the chance to
understand fully in 2008 what they may well get in 2009 and beyond.