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Obama's Liberal Shiver

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Watching liberals grope for first aid as Barack Obama does an about-face on their most cherished issues, one recalls a scene from the 1950 movie "All About Eve."

Theater critic Addison DeWitt takes great offense when a manipulative young actress tries to sneak her schemes past him. He snarls, "Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on -- that you have the same contempt for me as you have for them?"

Obama has indeed shown contempt, or at least insensitivity, toward the thinking liberals who handed over their hearts based on his stances concerning -- among other things -- warrantless wiretapping, campaign finance reform and our continued presence in Iraq.

Everyone expects some alterations as the chosen candidate moves to the center for the general election. But Obama hasn't just shortened a sleeve here, taken in a waist there. He's come out with a whole new summer wardrobe of policy positions. Nor had he left a face-saving interval between one view and its opposite.

Obama seems to have lumped the wonks in with the bouncing kids for whom he need only be young and cool. He no doubt calculates that, happy or not, the left has nowhere else to go. But the speed with which he chucked his promises suggests that he also regarded the intellectuals as an easier sell than they thought themselves.

Case in point is New York Times columnist Bob Herbert's lament over the new Obama. He quotes from a speech in Iowa last January that "sent a shiver of hope through the electorate." Obama said this: "The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face, who will listen to you and learn from you, even when we disagree, who won't just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know."

What choices? Which challenges? For many listeners, the shiver was one of discomfort at seeing Democrats and the media go gaga over so little. Those generic sentiments could have been delivered by Fred Thompson or Dennis Kucinich. As Addison DeWitt might have put it, "What a dull cliche."

For my money, Obama's new policies mostly improve on the old. His lightening up on trade speaks of a more reality-based economic view. And his support for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act recognizes its value to counterterrorism and recent compromises that have made the bill more respectful of civil liberties.

The challenge of Obama is figuring out what he would do if elected. You know what you like and dislike about John McCain. But it's really hard to connect the dots on this guy. His short time in the Senate has produced few fixed positions, and the dots he's left during the campaign are all over the place.

How will the Woodstock blowout planned for the Denver convention sit with weary observers of the rock-star candidacy? Rather than accept the nomination in the convention space, as is usually done, Obama will be anointed before a sea of 75,000 fans in a football stadium -- Invesco Field at Mile High.

The event will intentionally hearken to John F. Kennedy's 1960 acceptance extravaganza at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And it occurs exactly on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, so it will be made reminiscent of that historic moment, too.

Obama's fine words are sure to send shivers down spines in the cheap seats. But you wonder how liberals confounded by his elastic principles will receive the show. With less enthusiasm than before, one imagines.

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