Barack Obama’s campaign is one of the most banal Presidential campaigns in decades. It isn’t that Sen. Obama is a dumb man—quite the opposite is true. Yet his campaign is about the most gauzy and indistinct principles: “Change we can believe in.” Change is meaningless. Turning the US into a Hinduist theocracy would be “change.” Forcing every male above the age of 30 to wear tube tops 365 days a year would be “change.” Just being for “change” boils down for being for nothing in particular. Obama is avoiding taking sides on critical issues because if he did he’d have to enter the fray, and then he’s lose many of the advantages that have taken him this far.
There’s a reason why Barack Obama is running such a banal campaign—because Barack Obama is not a post-partisan uniter, but a doctrinaire liberal. In fact, he was recently determined to have been the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007. Obama is intelligent enough to know that being open with his views would ensure his defeat. There are more self-identified conservatives than self-identified liberals in this country. No outright liberal candidate has won the Presidency in the United States since Lyndon Johnson. The most successful Democratic politician of the last 25 years (and now Obama’s biggest enemy) was Bill Clinton, and he ran not as a liberal but as a Third Way “New Democrat” who would not expand government but “reinvent” it. Obama’s campaign is not based on his record because his record would put him at odds with most of the country. Instead, Obama has wisely decided to make himself appear “above the fray” and run on meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in” and “yes we can.”
Obama also clearly has to deal with the issue of race. This puts Obama in a difficult position. He cannot emulate the race-baiting politics of a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. He needs a broader base of support. At the same time, Obama is presenting two different faces to white voters and black voters. This South Carolina radio ad makes the disparity clear. The tone of that ad is specifically targeted to black voters. For a candidate that is trying to bridge the racial divide, this ad plays into the politics of racial division.
It is hard to argue that Obama’s different approaches aren’t tactically wise. Black voters and white voters have very different views of the nation, and Obama probably couldn’t get away with running the same ads to both communities. Even though that approach is understandable and politically smart, it still puts into question whether Obama genuinely wishes to bridge racial divisions in this country, or whether he’s making a political choice. Sooner or later Obama will be forced to reconcile these two public faces, and when he does it could compromise both.
Ultimately, what makes Obama so troubling is that he’s putting out the political equivalent of junk food. His silky-smooth and tasteful rhetoric is ultimately full of calories, but has no nutritional value. A President must make hard decisions. They must not only talk about “change” but about facing down the real issues that effect the lives of voters. The American public deserves something more than smooth talk—they deserve real and substantive answers. Will Barack Obama continue to govern along the same far-left liberal lines as he has voted in the Senate? How will Barack Obama deal with the threat of terrorism? How will he deal with the impending insolvency of Medicare and Social Security? Talking about “change” is not an answer. Saying “yes we can” is not an answer. The American people deserve real substance, and Senator Obama is feeding us empty calories.
Obama’s appeal is not difficult to understand. There is something refreshing about a candidate willing to use the spirit of American optimism rather than wallow in the pessimism and division that has become all too common with Presidential candidates these days. At the same time, mere optimism isn’t enough. Obama has been called the Democrats’ Reagan, and in some ways that comparison is apt. However, Reagan’s rhetoric was optimistic but substantive. Reagan was a surprisingly deep thinking and had a lengthy history of speaking out on particular issues and years of executive experience. Barack Obama has none of those things, and being a Senator or less than one term and a state legislator before that does not adequately prepare one for the highest office in the land.
Despite Obama’s ethnic background, he is running a “white bread” campaign. By failing to address the issues he is charting a politically wise course, but one that fails his duties as a Presidential candidate. The American people deserve specifics, and Barack Obama is giving us banalities. It is one thing to have the audacity of hope, it is another to be politically brave and take the risks involved in being forthright with the American people. Obama is inspiring, he is a wonderful orator and he is certainly intelligent and capable. However, that is not enough to qualify him to be the President of the United States, especially not in such a crucial time. He brings many positive things to the table, but not the requisite experience to lead. The heart of leadership is not in telling people what they want to hear, but in taking positions and defending them. Barack Obama has not done this, and that is why he is not yet suited to be President.