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The Obama Enigma
Change . . . from what to what?


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Victor Davis Hanson

Lame-duck Republican President Bush’s dismal poll ratings have descended to those of Harry Truman’s when he left office. The Democratic majority in Congress will probably widen after the election. Republican nominee John McCain has not run a dynamic campaign. Gen. Colin Powell, George Bush’s former secretary of state, has now enthusiastically endorsed Barack Obama.

The country is in two unpopular wars — amid the worst financial panic of the last 80 years. Not since prophet of change and newcomer Jimmy Carter ran against Gerald Ford (post Watergate and the lost Vietnam war) have voters been so eager for a shake-up.

Why then is the charismatic Barack Obama not quite yet a shoo-in?

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Easy. Voters apparently still don’t know who Obama is, or what he wants to do — and so are still not altogether sure that Obama is the proper antidote to George W. Bush. After more than a year of campaigning, he still remains an enigma.

Obama promised to be the post-racial candidate who would bring us together. But when asked in March 2004 whether he attended regularly Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama boasted, “Yep. Every week. 11 o’clock service.”

The healer Obama further characterized the racist Wright as “certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for.” And Obama described the even more venomous father Michael Pfleger as “a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.”

Obama can dismiss his past associations with Bill Ayers as perfunctory and now irrelevant. But why then did an Obama campaign spokesman say Obama hadn’t e-mailed with or spoken by phone to Ayers since January 2005, suggesting more than three years of communications — in a post-9/11 climate — after Ayers said publicly he had not done enough bombing?

Obama’s campaign shrugged when legal doubts were raised about the sloppy voter registration practices of ACORN — an organization that Obama himself has both helped and praised.

Yet Obama once was a stickler for proper voter documents. In 1996, he had all of his Democratic rivals removed from the ballot in an Illinois state primary election on the basis of sloppy voter petitions.

Many of Obama’s surrogates — from congressional leaders like Rep. John Lewis to his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden have suggested that the McCain and Palin candidacies have heightened racial tensions. Do such preemptory warnings mean that one cannot worry about Obama’s 20-year relationship with Rev. Wright or long association with Father Pfleger?

It’s also unclear exactly what Obama’s message of “hope” and “change” means. The hope part turned a little weird when Obama, in prophetic fashion, proclaimed, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and later put up Greek-temple backdrops for his speech at the Democratic convention.

If we didn’t get that supernatural message, Obama also promised of his election that it would be the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

And change? Obama himself has changed positions on FISA, NAFTA, public campaign financing, town-hall meetings with McCain, offshore drilling, nuclear and coal power, capital punishment and gun control, his characterization of Iran, the surge in Iraq, and the future of Jerusalem. So change from what to what?

Under Sen. Obama’s tax plan, nearly half of all income earners wouldn’t pay federal income taxes. He also offers billions in cash payments to millions of those people. And he promises to pay for that loss in revenue by upping taxes on those in the highest income brackets, who already pay the majority of existing income taxes — and who could also be subject to proposed higher payroll, estate, and capital-gains taxes.

Is that a tax-cut policy or more a redistribution of wealth in search of forced equality — what Obama himself apparently calls to “spread the wealth around” or what Biden once suggested was “patriotic”?

A Martian who reviewed Obama’s past elections in Illinois, the various associations he once cultivated, his brief voting record in the Senate, and the positions he originally outlined when he announced his presidential campaign might objectively conclude that America could elect either the most far left or the most unknown presidential candidate in its history.

I just hope that it is still not racist or McCarthy-like — or blasphemous — simply to suggest that.

– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal and the 2008 Bradley Prize.

© 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.



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