While the New York Times takes aim at Barack Obama’s claim to be cleaner than thou in politics, David Ignatius looks more closely at his claim to bipartisanship at the Washington Post. He finds the record a lot less impressive than the rhetoric, and less courageous than one might expect as well. Ignatius argues that Obama has done little more than grab the low-hanging fruit of bipartisanship while avoiding all the risks:
The record is mixed, but it’s fair to say that Obama has not shown much willingness to take risks or make enemies to try to restore a working center in Washington. Clinton, for all her reputation as a divisive figure, has a much stronger record of bipartisan achievement. And the likely Republican nominee, John McCain, has a better record still.
Obama’s argument is that he can mobilize a new coalition that will embrace his proclamation that “yes, we can” break out of the straitjacket. But for voters to feel confident that he can achieve this transformation should he become president, they would need evidence that he has fought and won similar battles. The record here, to put it mildly, is thin.
What I hear from politicians who have worked with Obama, both in Illinois state politics and here in Washington, gives me pause. They describe someone with an extraordinary ability to work across racial lines but not someone who has earned any profiles in courage for standing up to special interests or divisive party activists. Indeed, the trait people remember best about Obama, in addition to his intellect, is his ambition.
I argued this yesterday. Of the three candidates left standing in this cycle, John McCain has the clearest record of bipartisanship and of pressing for change in Washington politics. Granted, that hasn’t made many in his party very happy with him, but McCain has had the courage to take those risks. He has demonstrated leadership and action for change, and has paid the price for it at times.
Meanwhile, where are Obama’s battle scars? Ignatius says they’re non-existent, and he’s right. On issues where he hasn’t had to fight against the interests of his party or its big-money backers, he has no problem aligning with Republicans, with the one exception of earmark transparency, where both parties have pushed back against the reformers. Otherwise, his professed record consists of mostly uncontroversial positions on veteran’s affairs, nuclear proliferation, and the threadbare ethics reform passed by Democratic leadership in the 110th Congress and almost immediately ignored.
Otherwise, Obama’s record shows him to be a doctrinaire Democrat, and one from the farther reaches of the Left. His voting record on the rest of the issues — thin as it is — shows no indication that he will govern from the center. His economic plan calls for the greatest increase in federal spending in the presidential primary field, and that was true when the NTU had eight candidates to analyze. Obama will add almost $300 billion in annual spending to a budget that already has impending entitlement disasters to resolve, an issue where Obama has provided no bipartisan leadership, either.
Obama may talk about change, but he hasn’t shown any evidence that he can provide it or that he’s even interested in taking the risks necessary to promote it. Talk is cheap, and all Obama has is talk.
UPDATE: Fixed link to Ignatius’ column.