USA Today: Who's the Uniter?

USA Today’s editorial board looks at the claims from both presidential candidates of bringing unity and purpose to Washington, and finds Barack Obama wanting.  John McCain has taken many more political risks, especially in opposition to his party, than Obama.  They leave one question unaddressed in this editorial, however:

McCain, in Congress for 26 years to Obama’s four, has the longer record of producing bipartisan alliances on tough issues. He has bucked his party again and again to do just that — on immigration, federal judges and campaign finance, to name three on which he enraged many Republicans by defying the party position and working with Democrats. McCain-the-maverick has reverted to party orthodoxy on taxes and other issues this year, which will put him in a bind if elected: Would he stick with those new positions, or compromise with the Democratic Congress he’d likely be working with?

As McCain points out on the campaign trail, Obama has a much thinner record of bucking his own party. With the exception of tough fights for ethics reforms in the Illinois Senate and in Washington — where he angered Democratic colleagues by insisting on the disclosure of lobbyists who bundle campaign donations — Obama has rarely challenged party dogma on the sort of big, contentious issues he’d face as president. As a U.S. senator, he has taken liberal Democratic positions on most issues. Studies by Congressional Quarterly show Obama has voted with his party almost 97% of the time, vs. about 85% for McCain. …

Obama’s bipartisan accomplishments in Washington have been on significant, but relatively non-controversial, efforts to secure nuclear weapons and establish a federal-spending database. What he lacks is a record of challenging his own party on divisive, difficult issues — the deficit, immigration, energy — that he’d have to reach out to Republicans on if he’s elected. Even with a Democratic majority in Congress, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass most major measures.

None of this is to say Obama couldn’t turn into a consensus-building, party-challenging president. Based on their records so far, though, it takes a greater leap of faith to believe that of him than of McCain.

Obama’s record is even thinner than USA Today notes.  The accord on nuclear weapons actually didn’t involve nuclear weapons at all; he co-sponsored a rider on a decade-old law that dealt with conventional weapons, and it was so controversial that it had no opposition at all.  Neither did the federal spending database, although I for one applaud Obama’s work on that nonetheless, because it generated almost no enthusiasm, either.

McCain clearly owns the true mantle of “agent of change”.  He’s been fearless in pursuing unpopular policies when he believes them to be the right thing to do.  The surge, and the Iraq War in general, almost killed his presidential run, and had it failed he would never have survived to the primaries.  Immigration reform continues to drag down enthusiasm among his base, and yet he has not backpedaled away from it, much to the consternation of most here at Hot Air and around the conservative blogosphere.  The BCRA (McCain-Feingold) still sticks in my craw.  Those show a willingness to take risks that Obama has never demonstrated, not in the US Senate, and not in Illinois, either.

However, this seems overrated to me.  George W. Bush wanted to be The Uniter, too, and had a track record of it in Texas.  He discovered that America didn’t want to be united.  Instead of healing the partisan divide, the divide got positively deranged.  We have serious disagreements on the nature of government and its policies, and what we need is honest debate rather than blather about Utopian unity and Kumbayah campaign themes.

Perhaps the American electorate needs to grow up a little and stop believing in fairy tales.  Political candidates should stop telling them, too.

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