Obama on policy: er, Hope! Change!

The Washington Post runs a front-page analysis of Barack Obama’s policy positions today, and they find … nothing much. In fact, what little work Obama had done on policy since entering the Senate in 2005 he abandoned in 2006 as he prepared for his presidential campaign. To the extent that he has any policy credentials, Perry Bacon reports that it doesn’t differ at all from the standard platform of the Democratic Party:

Already famous for his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama entered the Senate with more than the usual aspirations about the impact he could have.

So in 2005, he had his office arrange informal seminars so that experts on health care, the economy, energy and education could brief him. “I’m not running for president,” he told a group of experts at his Capitol Hill office in the spring of 2006. But he said he had a “national voice” and wanted to use it.

When Obama changed his mind and decided to run for president after only two years in the Senate, however, he effectively dismissed the importance of policy proposals, declaring in one speech in early 2007, “We’ve had plenty of plans, Democrats,” and in another: “Every four years, somebody trots out a white paper, they post it on the Web.” He cast his “new kind of politics” in terms of his ability to transcend divisions and his unique biography and offered few differences on issues from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the other Democratic presidential candidates. …

Obama has not emphasized any signature domestic issue, or signaled that he would take his party in a specific direction on policy, as Bill Clinton did with his “New Democrat” proposals in 1992 that emphasized welfare reform or as George W. Bush did with his “compassionate conservatism” in 2000, when he called on Republicans to focus more on issues such as education.

Obama’s campaign is “clearly politically transformative, it’s clearly from a policy standpoint been cautious,” said James K. Galbraith, a liberal activist and economist at the University of Texas at Austin who had backed former senator John Edwards in the early primaries.

Translation: It’s all about the biography. Obama claims to transcend partisanship, but that only accounts for style, not substance. What little substance he has established shows a trend farther to the Left of Bill Clinton.

In one sense, Obama’s candidacy shows the triumph of style over substance. It seems like an age ago when politicians ran on broad philosophical approaches to governance or detailed policy proposals. Even Clinton ran on an economic agenda and a perception as a policy wonk, a man who knew government and had specific ideas to implement policies. In Obama’s case, we get nothing more than platitudes about hope and change, even though as the WaPo reports, he hasn’t brought any change at all to Washington, and shows a concerted lack of interest in the policy mechanism that would bring it.

Bacon notes that Obama largely goes along with the flow on policy — the Democratic Party flow. He doesn’t have any new ideas but instead aspires to put his face on the same old progressive agenda of big-government solutions that the party appeared to reject during the Clinton era. The DLC faction has all but disappeared, and what remains is a McGovernesque, Mondalesque Democratic Party that wants to expand federal power through massive redistribution of wealth. Instead of leading the party on this agenda, though, Obama cheerfully acquiesces to it, in a certain sense selling his brand as a label.

Quite frankly, this is a portrait of a dilettante. Obama doesn’t really have ideas of his own, not even an overarching governing philosophy as a prism through which policy could get made. He just wants to be President, and figures that he can charm his way to the White House.