Obama versus Obama
Will the real Barack Obama (if there is one) please stand up?


Victor Davis Hanson

There is little need any more to offer consistent opposition to Barack Obama, since he himself is already running hard against the many previous incarnations of Barack Obama.

The first one we met was Barack the radical progressive, in his primary campaign against Hillary. Then in the general election we were introduced to the centrist Obama, who promised to invade
Pakistan if need be, called for an end to partisanship, and lectured about fiscal sobriety.

Then with congressional majorities, soaring public support, and obsequious media attention came the leftist ideologue President Obama, who tried to ram through a statist health-care regime, gobbled up private enterprises, and gave us Anita Dunn and Van Jones.

Now we are back to sorta centrist Obama, who is going to fight terror, not apologize any more to the Muslim world, and freeze spending rather than give us another $2 trillion in debt. 

These serial reset Obamas are quite astonishing even for a politician.

Take the examples of public advocate Obama’s once idealistic promotion of C-SPAN broadcasts of the health-care debate, and Obama’s current fiery lamentations over the Supreme Court decision overturning elements of the McCain-Feingold limitations on corporate campaign donations.

But Obama, the current reformer, seems to be railing at Obama, the cynical backroom organizer, who would never dare televise anything about his thousand-page health-care mess. Yet Obama II not only nixed Obama I’s repeated promises of C-SPAN debates, but outsourced his health-care bill to congressional insiders, who did more backroom-dealing, vote-buying, and quid-pro-quoing than at any other time in recent memory.

So there is no consistency even in the flip-flopping. Obama III as the sudden guardian of campaign-financing curbs is antithetical to Obama I, the rejectionist of any government interference. In 2008 Obama I destroyed the idea of public campaign financing of presidential elections. Indeed, in his efforts to raise a billion dollars of private money, Obama became the first presidential candidate in the general election in over 30 years to back out of public financing, an idea which is now more or less kaput.

So what is the present-day Obama III? Nothing and everything. We have no idea whether he is against corporate campaign contributions, given Obama I/IIs voracious appetite for them. Will he accept public campaign financing in the future? Only if his money machine stalls? Is C-SPAN necessary for or irrelevant to public debate?

Take also terrorism. Obama 1.0, the champion of civil liberties, based the entire foreign-policy side of his 2007–08 campaign on the notion of George W. Bush’s shredding the Constitution in his unnecessary War on Terror and his venture into Iraq. Obama at one time or another attacked almost every Bush protocol — e.g., renditions (“shipping away prisoners in the dead of night”), military tribunals (“flawed military commission system”), preventive detention (“detaining thousands without charge or trial”), the surge of troops into Iraq (“not working”), the Patriot Act (“shoddy and dangerous”). We were to have all combat troops out of Iraq by August 2010, and Guantanamo (“a legal black hole,” “a sad chapter in American history,” “a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus”) closed last week. Predator strikes, according to candidate Obama, recklessly terrorized civilians.

But Obama 2.0 seemed to be ignoring Obama 1.0. Our realist president embraced renditions and tribunals, still held terrorists in preventive detention, kept troops in
Iraq, championed the Patriot Act, and apparently counted on Guantanamo to stay open. Three days after he took office Obama ordered our first reported Hellfire missile attacks inside Pakistan itself.