This evening Robert Novak spoke during our dinner at the Defending the American Dream Summit. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking who routinely read my blog. It has not been long since I said of Novak that as he has aged (he is 76) he has gradually stopped doing research and reporting and instead has become a gossip columnist. (And, yes I made a similar claim about the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund who will be speaking to us tomorrow.) But, let me tell you, Novak’s speech this evening and the Q&A session afterwards were both insightful and interesting.
Novak’s speech was built around two points; (1) that Barack Obama is not as strong a candidate as some have given him credit, and (2) that this election matters.
Novak cited numerous data points which have historically been negative indicators that an incumbent party can retain the White House; an unpopular President, engagement in war, a third term for the same party, etc. The Republican party is not just fighting against one or a few of these negative circumstances but a whole plethora of them, yet it is a very close race. In fact the Rasmussen daily tracking poll showed the candidates essentially even on July 12 and July 13. How could that be?
Barack Obama is not as strong a candidate as has been credited, and John McCain is a much stronger candidate than has been reckoned.
Dick Morris recently wrote an article explaining why he believes the race is close.
Obama has carried flip-flopping to new heights. In the space of a month and a half, this candidate – who we don’t really yet know very well – reversed or sharply modified his positions on at least eight key issues:
• Once he threatened to filibuster a bill to protect telephone companies from liability for their cooperation with national security wiretaps; now he has voted for the legislation.
• Turning his back on a lifetime of support for gun control, he now recognizes a Second Amendment right to bear arms in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
• Formerly, he told the Israeli lobby that he favored an undivided Jerusalem. Now he says he didn’t mean it.
• From a 100 percent pro-choice position, he now has migrated to expressing doubts about allowing partial-birth abortions.
• For the first time, he now speaks highly of using church-based institutions to deliver public services to the poor.
• Having based his entire campaign on withdrawal from Iraq, he now pledges to consult with the military first.
• During the primary, he backed merit pay for teachers – but before the union a few weeks ago, he opposed it.
• After specifically saying in the primaries that he disagreed with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) proposal to impose Social Security taxes on income over $200,000 and wanted to tax all income, he has now adopted the Clinton position.
Obama’s breathtaking flips and flops are materially different from McCain’s. While McCain had opposed offshore oil drilling and now supports it, the facts have obviously changed. Obama’s shifts have nothing to do with altered circumstances, just a change in the political calendar.
As a candidate who was nominated to be a different kind of politician, Obama has set the bar pretty high. And, with his flipping and flopping, he is falling short, to the disillusionment of his more naïve supporters.
That’s lots of flip-flopping. Barry Goldwater, Jr. referred to it this evening when he noted that Barack Obama has recently seemed obsessed with working out. His staff has reported that his workouts have sometimes been as often as three times in the same day. Of course, one has to stay in shape to do that much flip-flopping.
Okay, so that isn’t the funniest joke you have ever heard. However, it does illustrate how Barack Obama has managed to put himself into the uncomfortable and unseemly role of waffler. (“Can’t I just finish my waffle?”)
Novak’s other main point was to emphasize that it makes a difference who is elected. Supreme Court Justices and other appointed judges will establish legal precedents that will endure for decades. The war in Iraq matters. And, the democrats who are running for office are more liberal than any group of candidates in the history of American elections.
Anticipating the questions of some in the audience regarding the claim that Republicans need to lose the election so they can pick up the pieces afterward, Novak stated that “Losing an election has never helped anyone.”
For the sake of brevity, I will refrain from commenting on the Q & A. However, I was fascinated by some of Novak’s responses to his questioners. I will try to share some them in future posts. But, I have to share the following.
Novak knew his audience well. Many, if not most, of those attending are still very uncomfortable with John McCain as the Republican candidate. Addressing this, Novak ended his presentation with a reference to an old Henny Youngman joke. Youngman used to begin his comedy by having someone ask him “Henny, how’s your wife?” To which Youngman would reply, “Compared to what?”
When you compare John McCain to Barack Obama, he looks really good.