That’s a good question, and the media are forced to start
considering it now that the Democratic candidate for president is
’shifting his emphasis’ considerably on many key issues and leaving
his supporters baffled.
David Broder says in WaPo that no one really knows who Obama is just yet, and they’re starting to notice that they don’t.
In their effort to embarrass him, Republicans ask: Who
is the real Barack Obama? Is he, as he claims, a fresh face, heralding
a new era of post-partisan politics, or a cynical old-style pol making
poll-driven adjustments with scant regard for principles? A
protectionist or a free-trader? A corporate-basher or an ally of
interest-group contributors? Is he a doctrinaire liberal, disguising
himself as a late-blooming centrist?
Last week, the Republican National Committee, in a statement
cataloguing some half-dozen recent Obama “flip-flops,” threw up its
hands without offering answers. The McCain campaign issued its own list
of Obama’s changed positions; it totaled 17 items but confessed that
“nobody knows what Barack Obama truly believes.”
It’s not just Republicans, Broder points out.
I can do no better, and I confess that it is only
speculation to suggest that Obama’s recent performance is motivated by
a desire to confuse the opposition.
Shifts in emphasis are normal for candidates when they try to broaden their appeal for the general election.
But Obama’s case is more challenging than the typical
candidate’s post-primary adjustment. For one thing, he is more opaque
than the usual nominee. No one in recent decades has emerged as the
party standard-bearer from so truncated a political career: four years
in the U.S. Senate, during which he has yet to lead on any major
domestic or foreign policy issue, preceded by largely anonymous service
in the Illinois state Senate.
Another WaPo piece questions where his ideology is, since his own party hasn’t really found it yet.
One factor in Obama’s success has been his ability to
confound both left and right. But while that may be a measure of a
skillful politician determined to win a general election, it has left
unanswered important questions about his core principles and his
presidential priorities. How well he answers them over the coming
months will determine the outcome of his race against Republican Sen.