Saturday, February 10, 2007

Audacity of Avoidance

Today's speech by Barack Obama in Springfield was meaningful to all of us in Illinois. Although we might not agree with his politics, to have a bona fide candidate for the presidency stand in front of the Old State Capitol and intone the words of our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, was special—regardless of party.

I have met and briefly talked to Obama a few times and he is as advertised, personable, charming and charismatic. He's without doubt the most sincere of the Democrats' big three of Clinton, Obama and Edwards.

It takes great courage to run for President, yet it is clear from the speech today Obama is not a courageous leader, nor a particularly creative one. His laundry list of challenges—poverty, declining unions, living wage was straight from a 1960s liberal playbook with not a new idea in sight. Then he complained about the "smallness" of our politics and proceeded to say "let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

Most strikingly, he almost completely avoided the challenge of his generation—defeating the gathering storm of Islamic extremism.

All of us know what those challenges are today -- a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.
Maybe Obama doesn't believe terrorism is the challenge of his generation or maybe he didn't want to say something that is not music to the ears of his left-wing audience in Springfield or in the Democratic primary. Either explanation is unsettling.

Despite the hype, Obama is hardly in the mold of the last presidential candidate liberals swooned over: JFK. He's much closer to George McGovern. Here's what JFK said in 1960 when he announced his candidacy for president. He was not afraid to confront the challenge of the day and assert it was America's duty to defeat it.

For 18 years, I have been in the service of the United States, first as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II and for the past 14 years as a member of the Congress. In the last 20 years, I have traveled in nearly every continent and country--from Leningrad to Saigon, from Bucharest to Lima. From all of this, I have developed an image of America as fulfilling a noble and historic role as the defender of freedom in a time of maximum peril--and of the American people as confident, courageous and persevering.
And more JFK from that speech:

The Presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life. For it is in the Executive Branch that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made in the next four years--how to end or alter the burdensome arms race, where Soviet gains already threaten our very existence--how to maintain freedom and order in the newly emerging nations--how to rebuild the stature of American science and education--how to prevent the collapse of our farm economy and the decay of our cities--how to achieve, without further inflation or unemployment, expanded economic growth benefiting all Americans--and how to give direction to our traditional moral purpose, awakening every American to the dangers and opportunities that confront us.
George W. Bush had a similar view of America when he announced his candidacy for President. This was of course pre- 9/11.

America must seize this moment. America must lead. Because America's greatest export to the world is, and always will be, freedom.
Obama, instead, urged a rapid retreat from Iraq and separated that from the fight against terrorists. That's a distinction that Democrats have been making for several years for purely political reasons, the type of politics Obama says he despises. Regardless, the previous truth of the Iraq-Al Qaeda link doesn't matter. The reality is that the two are extricably linked now and if Obama can't see it he's hardly the best choice to lead the country the next four or eight years.

The closest he came to addressing America's leadership in the world was this tepid internationalist statement.

But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe.
Obama also curiously avoided mentioning America's defeat of fascism and communism when listing how our country always met the challenge of the day.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Some commentators complained that Obama's speech today lacked substance. I disagree. It told Americans plenty about Obama's internationalist, pacifist worldview and his lack of new ideas on the homefront.

He's a compelling figure with a message that's far from compelling. Instead of tackling problems head-on like JFK, Lincoln and GWB, Obama's avoidance style is more reminiscent of McGovern or Bill Clinton.

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