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(Credit: Politirazzi)

By David

The lefty blogosphere — otherwise known as the blogosphere — is in up in arms these days about Obama’s alleged centerward tack in anticipation of the general.

It is tacky (heh heh heh), but some of the sky is falling alarmism is a bit overblown.

The essence of political campaigns is to define yourself and your opponent before your opponent is able to do so to you.

It is worth remembering how exotic to most Americans Obama is: middle name Hussein, mixed race, grew up in Indonesia, etc., etc. If the McCain camp intends to paint him as outside of the American mainstream, which surely, they do, since every Republican tries to do that to every Democrat, then they have a lot to work with.

Democrats from Dukakis to Kerry have been skewered for having even slightly human impulses on the death penalty and war, and Obama’s record is far to the left of either of those.

The faster Obama can reassure Americans that he is one of them, and against child rapists, losing wars and terrorists, the better off he will be in the long run.

Of course, as John Kerry proved, and Tim Russert made a living out of, getting tarnished as a flip-flopper can be a death knell for a politician. People have a right to change their minds, but when they do so rapidly on the heels of a campaign season, you have to wonder about the sudden change of heart. And voters have been pretty astute about this. Mitt Romney was a pretty solid centrist governor of Massachusetts, and when he ran to the right of Jesse Helms this year, people were understandably skeptical.

All politicians do it, of course. In fact, that’s the game — talking to voters and convincing them why they should vote for you.

And, because the primary campaign, which had a message tailored for a certain audience, went on for so long, Obama got nailed down to a positions in a way that previous nominees did not.

On to the facts of each, along with a scorecard for political wind-twisting, on a Mitt Romney 1-5 scale:

(continued) The Supreme Court says no death penalty for child rapists:

Last month, SCOTUS decided that states couldn’t execute child rapists, because the punishment (death) wouldn’t fit the crime (rape, but not death). Obama said he disagreed with a blanket prohibition on the death penalty, that it should be reserved for the narrow circumstances of heinous crimes. In 2004, when Obama ran for U.S. Senate, he called for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty, saying that the system was flawed and should be fixed. He did not call for its end, however.

Of the alleged Obama flip-flops, this strikes me as the most egregious. Death penalty opponents frequently cite “evolving standards of decency” in their arguments against capital punishment, and surely that includes death for non-capital offenses. Yet you’d have to be a political tin ear to hear the words “child rape,” and not call for the maximum punishment possible. This, of course, if why we have separate branches of government.

Score: 4 Romneys.

NAFTA:

In the primary, Obama, following Clinton’s lead, called NAFTA “devastating,” “a big mistake,” and threatened to pull out in order to extract concessions from Canada and Mexico. In a recent article in Fortune Magazine however, he said he was “guilty” of overheated language and recommitted himself to free trade.

This was an unfortunate moment in the campaign. Though free trade surely has helped accelerate job losses in some industries in some parts of the country, and could be done in fairer, more environmentally friendly manner, it has overall been a huge benefit to Americans and indeed to many around the world. It is hard to argue that if the U.S. had closed it borders 15 years ago that the country would be in a better place economically.

Obama seems to get that free trade should be fairer trade, and was righting some previous panders.

Score: 3 Romneys

FISA:

This one really sent folks up a tree, with Kos pledging to withhold campaign donations and a group forming on Obama’s Web site to announce their opposition to Obama’s shift on re-authorizing the law.

I think Obama was right on this one. The problem with Bush’s domestic spying program wasn’t that it allowed officials to listen in on phone calls but that it violated pre-existing protocols and thus was illegal. Reconfiguring the law to include privacy safeguards and due process was the right thing to do. A lot of people are upset that the bill included immunity to the telecom companies that allowed the spies to tap into their networks, but punishing them now for doing what the FBI asked of them strikes me as unfair and distracting from the real issue.

Score: 1 Romney

Iraq:

Ending the occupation was a cornerstone of Obama’s primary campaign, so people were naturally upset when he said would “continue to refine” his plan for a 16-month withdrawal.

But as Andrew Sullivan wrote in the Atlantic in December,

“Every potential president, Republican or Democrat, would likely inherit more than 100,000 occupying troops in January 2009; every one would be attempting to redeploy them as prudently as possible and to build stronger alliances both in the region and in the world. Every major candidate, moreover, will pledge to use targeted military force against al-Qaeda if necessary; every one is committed to ensuring that Iran will not have a nuclear bomb; every one is committed to an open-ended deployment in Afghanistan and an unbending alliance with Israel. We are fighting over something, to be sure. But it is more a fight over how we define ourselves and over long-term goals than over what is practically to be done on the ground.”

Indeed. The facts on the ground in Iraq are ultimately going to determine what happens to our presence there far more than what gets said on the campaign trail, and that’s true for both candidates. Obama’s right to say he’ll take into account what the generals say.

Score: 1.5 Romneys

Tags: flip-flops , fisa , barack obama , iraq war , david freedlander

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