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December 11, 2006
Obama Campaigns In New England

The coyness continues from Barack Obama, who took his "aw, shucks" campaign to New Hampshire this weekend. In two appearances, he appeared humble and somewhat mystified about his sudden popularity -- but he used it to attempt to move the debate to the left:

Senator Barack Obama came to New Hampshire for the first time in his life on Sunday, selling a message of hope while proclaiming himself wary of the wave of hype that surrounded his visit.

His visit gave Democrats in two sold-out halls a chance to inspect the man who has emerged as their party’s strongest alternative to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as a presidential contender.

“It is flattering to get a lot of attention, although I must say it is baffling,” Mr. Obama said here late Sunday afternoon.

“I think to some degree I’ve become a shorthand or symbol or stand-in for a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represented,” he said, referring to the losses of two incumbent congressmen here in November. “It’s a spirit that says we are looking for something different — we want something new.”

What New Hampshire saw was a first-term senator from Illinois who offered a strong condemnation of the way politics have been conducted in Washington and who positioned himself as someone who could strongly appeal to the more liberal Democrats who tend to dominate primaries. In two speeches and a news conference, Mr. Obama called for universal health care — the issue with which Mrs. Clinton, the New York Democrat, was once closely identified — a battle on global warming and a timed redeployment of troops from Iraq.

Obama wants to position himself as a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton, a prospect that seems rather daunting, given her history. Even more dangerous to Hillary, he embodies a desire across the political spectrum for change -- changing the last name in the White House to something other than Bush or Clinton. His entire approach in both appearances was focused on the need to change the tenor of politics in Washington, finding ways to approach policy in non-ideological ways to get things accomplished.

He may have put on a naive persona in doing so, claiming mystification at the extension of his 15 minutes of fame, but this points out a real naivete about the nature of politics on a federal level. Ideological differences spring entirely from the notion that the federal government should solve everyone's problems. Take universal health care as an example. The nationalization of that industry would represent a fundamental policy change for the United States, which has always championed private industry and a competitive marketplace over government solutions. Ideology plays a significant role in the tension over this issue. Of course the debate will get ideological -- that's why we elect representatives to go to Washington!

Obama would be on firmer ground if he spoke about mindless partisanship. That kind of tribalism, where party trumps policy, really does become destructive. It results in ossified politics, where the only point in the effort is to count Rs and Ds at the end of the day. Nothing gets done except for the aggregation of personal power. That kind of politics the American people should eschew.

I'm looking forward to reading Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, which I ordered on audio CD this weekend. From the little I've seen, it casts him as a superficial policymaker, but perhaps there is more to him than just a self-effacing, clever political personality. If he presents any kind of challenge to Hillary, that book will get dissected in the media quicker than one can say Al Gore, and it will be a good idea to have a grasp of the material.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 11, 2006 6:16 AM

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