Don’t Fear the Reaper

Barack Obama has boycotted Fox News for the past two years. Obama’s boycott ended today, as he was interviewed by Chris Wallace. The result suggests that Obama had nothing to fear from the ostensibly hostile crowd at Fox.

Obama showed, once again, that he is a rare political talent. In contrast with his uncharacteristically poor performance in the Pennsylvania debate, Obama handled questions about Wright, Ayers, flag lapel pins–all the hot button topics he would rather avoid–deftly. Rather than showing resentment at being asked about such things, Obama acknowledged that voters want to know who he is, and that these topics are therefore fair game. He skillfully deflected questions on these as well as more substantive issues.

To take just one example, here is how Obama responded when Wallace pointed out that he has little or no track record as a “uniter” or advocate of bipartisanship:

WALLACE: Senator, one of the central themes of your campaign is that you are a uniter who will reach across the aisle and create a new kind of politics. Some of your detractors say that you are a paint-by-the- numbers liberal, and I’d like to explore this with you.

OBAMA: Right.

WALLACE: Over the years, John McCain has broken with his party and risked his career on a number of issues — campaign finance, immigration reform, banning torture.

As a president, can you name a hot-button issue where you would be willing to buck the Democratic Party line and say, “You know what? Republicans have a better idea here?”

OBAMA: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.

WALLACE: Such as?

OBAMA: Well, on issues of regulation. I think that back in the ’60s and ’70s a lot of the way we regulated industry was top-down command and control, we’re going to tell businesses exactly how to do things.

And you know, I think that the Republican Party and people who thought about the markets came up with the notion that, “You know what? If you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives, for businesses — let them figure out how they’re going to, for example, reduce pollution,” and a cap and trade system, for example is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.

I think that on issues of education, I’ve been very clear about the fact — and sometimes I’ve gotten in trouble with the teachers’ union on this — that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers that…

WALLACE: But, Senator, if I may, I think one of the concerns that some people have is that you talk a good game about, “Let’s be post-partisan, let’s all come together,” just a couple of quick things, and I don’t really want you to defend each one. I just want to speak to the larger issue.

OBAMA: Right.

WALLACE: The gang of 14, which was a group, a bipartisan coalition, to try to resolve the issue of judicial nominations. Fourteen senators came together. You weren’t part of it.

On some issues where Democrats have moved to the center — partial birth abortion, defense of marriage act — you stay on the left and you are against both.

And so people say, “Do you really want a partnership with Republicans, or do you really want unconditional surrender from them?”

OBAMA: No, look, I think this is fair. I would point out, though, for example, that when I voted for a tort reform measure that was fiercely opposed by the trial lawyers, I got attacked pretty hard from the left. During the Roberts…

WALLACE: John Roberts, the Supreme Court.

OBAMA: … the John Roberts nomination, although I voted against him, I strongly defended some of my colleagues who had voted for him on the Daily Kos and was fiercely attacked as somebody who is, you know, caving in to Republicans on these fights.

In fact, there are a lot of liberal commentators who think I’m too accommodating.

So here’s my philosophy. I want to do what works for the American people. And both at the state legislative level and at the federal legislative level, I have always been able to work together with Republicans to find compromise and to find common ground. That’s how I was able to provide health care for people who needed it in Illinois. That’s how I passed ethics reform both at the state and the federal level.

That’s how, you know, I’ve worked with people like Dick Lugar from here in Indiana on critical issues like nuclear proliferation.

It is true that when you look at some of the votes that I’ve taken in the Senate that I’m on the Democratic side of these votes, but part of the reason is because the way these issues are designed are to polarize. They’re intentionally designed to polarize.

On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that.

Now, part of the reason they didn’t have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion — and I don’t begrudge that at all. They have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral.

Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.

So the point I’m simply making is that as president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don’t think that’s any Republican out there who I’ve worked with who would say that I don’t listen to them, I don’t respect their ideas, I don’t understand their perspective.

And I do not consider Democrats to have a monopoly on wisdom. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we’re always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.

In my opinion, given that Obama has essentially zero record of working with Republicans, that was extremely well done. He makes you want to believe him.

I’ve said that I think John McCain is the early favorite to beat either Obama or Hillary Clinton, but Obama’s performance today was a reminder of how formidable he will be in the fall, assuming that he gets the nomination–and that’s apart from the fact that he is the greatest money-machine in the history of American politics.

Operation Chaos, anyone?

PAUL adds: Wallace’s question is the one Bill Otis had been hoping someone would ask Obama. Wallace’s follow-up suggestion that, for Obama, post-partisanship means “unconditional surrender” by the opposition was also contemplated by Bill’s post on Power Line.

I agree that Obama handled the questioning well, as he did throughout his appearance on Fox. However, it’s significant that the best Obama could come up with to recommend himself as a “uniter” was (1) to distance himself generally from (his characterization of) the Democratic position on regulation during the “the 60s and 70s,” (2) to note that he defended the right of Democrats to vote in favor of the John Roberts nomination, which he himself voted against, and (3) to blame the legislation before the Senate for his failure ever to deviate from the Democratic position when it comes actually to voting.

Obama either has a skewed sense of what it means to be post-partisan or an audacious sense of his ability to snow the American public. I’m guessing he has both.


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