Barack Obama's candidacy is an ongoing series of calculations and adjustments with a single desired outcome: victory. And, controversial as this may sound, I have no problem with that - if (and this is a big "if") it doesn't over-calculate and bring harm to itself or the party.
Obama hasn't come near that point with the actions of the last week, but he is playing "chicken" with his own fate and that of his party. Obama appears to be a extremely centered person. But, as any meditator can tell you, the process of "centering" can paradoxically cause you to lose your balance. How? If you try too hard.
The real problem isn't that Obama indicated he'd vote for a so-called "compromise" FISA bill that gives the Right 90% of what it wants. The problem is that he'll gain absolutely no benefit from having done so. Here's why:
They're treating him the same way they treated former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a fine public servant who bent over backward to work with the GOP on issues of war and terror. Daschle had genuine military and intelligence credentials as an Air Force intelligence officer, too - yet he lost to a businessman with no military experience. John Thune claimed Daschle was a virtual traitor who "emboldened the enemy" by questioning the Administration's execution of the war.
It's the same Republican Party now that it was then. That's why frequent Obama collaborator Sam Brownback is now falsely claiming Obama's never worked in a true "bipartisan" fashion, ignoring their extensive joint efforts.
The FISA vote's been delayed. That means Obama still has an opportunity to do several things differently:
Which raises the (rhetorical) question: Has McCain been granted "retroactive immunity" from the press for his associations with lobbyists for telco's and other big businesses?
Here's the bottom line: Obama's in danger of making the same mistake Democrats have been making for the last eight years. He's running the risk of letting them define the narrative. That's exactly the criticism some of us levelled against the Clinton campaign's Kyl/Lieberman vote and hawkish rhetoric.
(Side note: If last week's actions are the fruit of the new collaboration unveiled in "Unity, New Hampshire," the end result will have some of us feeling it should've taken place in "Intercourse, Pennsylvania." But fair is fair: Hillary did a terrific job and is back in the running for VP.)
The biggest danger Obama exposed himself to this week isn't that he alienated his base, although diminishing his intensity of support is a genuine risk. It's that he's playing an uncharacteristically weak game of chess. He needs to look a couple moves ahead: This unusually proactive candidate could find himself painted into a corner, where he looks like a flip-flopper if he accommodates and is labelled "weak" if he doesn't.
Obama's got a lot to lose all of a sudden. That means he's going to have to fight the temptation to play it safe even when it may be unwise. The Republicans know that, and they're going to try to get inside his head with it. He'll need to remember in the coming weeks and months that sometimes the best defense is still a good offense.
(related post - Blue Alert: Obama and the Dems Need a Strategy for War and Terror)
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