What do you admire about Obama?
I think Democrats should be struggling with Cohen's original question more than they realized. One of the big mistakes Democrats have made is to think they could win just by running against President Bush. They fell into this trap because Bush quit defending his policies so it looked like an easy target. But when McCain started focusing on the issues and challenging Obama on them, they found themselves disarmed. It is a lot easier to run against someone who does not defend himself than it is to run against someone puts you on the defensive.
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.
On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions -- not speeches -- that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam War POW to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.
But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position, virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate, and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.
Obama argues that he himself stuck to the biggest gun of all: opposition to the war. He took that position back when the war was enormously popular, the president who initiated it was even more popular, and critics of both were slandered as unpatriotic. But at the time, Obama was a mere Illinois state senator, representing the (very) liberal Hyde Park area of Chicago. He either voiced his conscience or his district's leanings or (lucky fella) both. We will never know.
And we will never know, either, how Obama might have conducted himself had he served in Congress as long as McCain has. Possibly he would have earned a reputation for furious, maybe even sanctimonious, integrity of the sort that often drove McCain's colleagues to dark thoughts of senatorcide, but the record -- scant as it is -- suggests otherwise. Obama is not noted for sticking to a position or a person once it (or he) becomes a political liability. (Names available upon request.)
... He has been for and against gun control, against and for the recent domestic surveillance legislation and, in almost a single day, for a united Jerusalem under Israeli control and then, when apprised of U.S. policy and Palestinian chagrin, against it. He is an accomplished pol -- a statement of both admiration and a bit of regret.