Kondracke: Phony or pragmatist?

Mort Kondracke poses this as a rhetorical question in his Roll Call editorial, but he appears to be leaning towards “phony”.  After all of the policy reversals and waffles Obama has served up in the past month, some of which Kondracke applauds as pragmatic, can he be trusted?  If he was willing to throw the netroots under the bus on FISA reform, just where will Obama take a stand on principle?

We haven’t seen that happen yet:

But much more dubious — in fact, raising questions of character — is his abandonment of a solemn promise to run his general election campaign with public funds if his Republican opponent did.

Obama still says he favors public financing and he even claimed with a straight face that his collection of hundreds of millions of dollars from small, private donors — along with a lot from big donors, too — actually constitutes public financing.

From this episode — which probably matters only to political insiders — we learn that Obama is a politician of … shall we say, flexible principles. Pastor Wright told us as much before Obama disowned him, although the pastor certainly deserved to be disowned.

Then there’s his position on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said during the primaries — and continues to say on his campaign Web site — should be renegotiated. But lately he’s said that statement was “overheated.”

It seems he wants it both ways — satisfying the anti-free-trade AFL-CIO on the one hand and a passel of pro-trade New York investment bankers on the other.

To be fair, Obama is hardly the first politician to attempt to be all things to all people.  However, he ran on the explicit promise that he was not that kind of politician, and that he despised that kind of politics.  That was the trade-off, Obama claimed, for his lack of experience; he was therefore not infected with the dreaded Beltway Disease.  Without that immunity, Obama becomes just another politician — and a greenhorn one at that, with no track record of success as a legislator and no experience as an executive or in the military.

The reversal on public financing may be the worst, as it speaks directly to character and principle. If Obama’s main theme has been change, reform has been the largest part of that theme.  Public financing, he assured people throughout the primaries, was a bedrock of that reform.  Yet he abandoned it, and lied about the reasons for doing so. Contrast that with John McCain, who refused to abandon his support for the Iraq war when it appeared it would doom his presidential campaign — or when McCain refused early release from his torturers in Viet Nam to get a break over those captured before him.

Not only did that reveal a lack of character, but it may have also revealed poor political calculation.  His fund-raising has dropped 20% or more each successive month since his peak in February, to the point where McCain outraised him in May.  Obama now has to spend time raising money when he should be campaigning, and he also has to compete with the Denver convention committee and Hillary Clinton’s debt-retirement tour.  McCain has it relatively easy, with the RNC raising ten times as much as its counterpart.

Kondracke wonders whether Obama will change course on Iraq and complete his journey to the center.  He calls it unlikely, but he believes the media has to start asking tough questions from Obama on his other course changes to determine whether Obama has the character to be President — or whether he’s a snake-oil salesman adjusting his pitch for each audience.  That may be as unlikely as Obama changing party affiliation.