Obama's Warmed-Over Message

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., speaks at a rally Monday, Jan. 7, 2008, in Claremont, N.H. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

This column was written by John J. Pitney Jr..

Barack Obama speaks of a "new politics" of unity: "You know that we can't afford four more years of the same divisive food fight in Washington that's about scoring political points instead of solving problems; that's about tearing your opponents down instead of lifting this country up." He is surging because more and more Democrats see him as a virtuous statesman who soars above "our broken and divided politics."

But the message isn't new and the image isn't true.

As I explained on NRO nearly a year ago, Obama is echoing what George W. Bush said in the 2000 campaign. In fact, if Obama's speeches were term papers, I'd report him for plagiarism. "Our country has unlimited potential. But our politics is broken - at least in Washington," Bush said in California on October 30, 2000. "You know what's wrong, Washington is obsessed with scoring points, not solving problems." In another California swing a month earlier, Bush said: "I'm going to reject the ugly politics of the past, where people felt like they could get ahead by tearing down their opponents."

One could argue that Bush was merely spouting political pap - but that's the point. The "unity" message has been old for a long time. Here's another example: "I saw many signs in this campaign. Some of them were not friendly. Some were very friendly. But the one that touched me the most was - a teenager held up the sign `bring us together.' And that will be the great objective of this administration, at the outset, to bring the American people together."

That was Richard Nixon, after his election in 1968.

Obama supporters would shriek at these comparisons, contending that their man follows through on his words by shunning personal attacks. That's only partially true. Like so many politicians before him, he speaks lofty prose while leaving the wet work to underlings. Eisenhower had Nixon, who later had Agnew. Obama has David Axelrod, among others.

Axelrod has been Obama's chief political adviser for years. In 2004, Obama defeated millionaire Blair Hull for nomination to the Senate after sordid details of Hull's divorce came out. Obama didn't talk about it in public. But according to David Mendell, the reporter who broke the news about the divorce papers, Obama's campaign "worked aggressively behind the scenes to fuel controversy about Hull's filings." And says the New York Times, many in Chicago "believe that Axelrod had an even more significant role - that he leaked the initial story. They note that before signing on with Obama, Axelrod interviewed with Hull."

So let's recap. Barack Obama is a senator today because his campaign exploited his opponent's messy divorce. This is a miracle that qualifies him for secular sainthood?

Obama and Axelrod have kept their opposition researchers busy during the current campaign. A few months ago, an Obama campaign memo said: "The Clintons have reaped significant financial rewards from their relationship with the Indian community, both in their personal finances and Hillary's campaign fundraising." It called her "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)." Obama's campaign sent it to reporters on a "not for attribution" basis. The Clinton campaign made it public, prompting protests from Indian-Americans. Only then did Obama apologize.

More recently, Marc Ambinder reported in the Atlantic (subscription required): "In August, Obama's team scored a significant hit by helping to place a story in several newspapers revealing that Norman Hsu, a major Clinton donor, had skipped town after having pleaded no contest to a charge of grand theft 15 years earlier and still faced an outstanding warrant." The hit proved less effective when it turned out that Obama's campaign had sought Hsu's financial help.

There is nothing Satanic about Obama's tactics. He and his team are just playing tough, old-fashioned politics. What's offensive is his insistence that he's above it all. His supporters are swooning over a halo that isn't there.
By John J. Pitney Jr.
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online
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