- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Given the intensity and length of a Democratic primary season mostly devoted to hugs and kisses for leftist absurdities, it seems little short of astonishing that Barack Obama is now edging however tentatively in the direction of common sense on at least a few issues. But there you have it. He is.

The extent of his transformation from a yodeler of simplistic extremism to a moderated hummer of prudence can be exaggerated, and has been as commentators both liberal and conservative have decried the opportunism of it all. Why, the man is becoming a centrist to woo independent voters, many say, although something else could simultaneously be at work: a degree of promised principle.

In crucial respects, Mr. Obama has hardly been the presidential candidate he himself is forever describing. Free of special interests? Not this captive of the ethanol lobby, this panderer to unions. A transformational leader who can bring opposing sides together on the pressing issues of the day? It hasn’t seemed so as he has established a far-left voting record and castigated political opponents as social Darwinists and worse.

Yet we now see him cautiously backing off some of his most intellectually obnoxious positions, such as rants about the afflictions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the dire threats of free trade unshaped by hands such as his. Calling himself a “free market guy,” he is reportedly listening closely to an economist who believes in personal accounts for Social Security and understands the benefits to the least advantaged of Wal-Mart’s product prices.

Mr. Obama surprised at least some followers with support of the Supreme Court position on gun control, which is not what many on the left keep insinuating it is, a ban on any gun laws at all. He also thinks the court went too far in saying only homicide can justify the death penalty, but was careful in his criticism, saying he thought there should at least be some possibility of the penalty in cases of child rape. That’s hardly an incomprehensible position for the father of two young daughters.

He surprised followers, too, in deciding not to insist on possibly punishing telephone companies that cooperated with the government in trying to prevent terrorist attacks. Many fellow liberals want vengeance for that telecommunication’s audacity.

The switcheroo that seemed most fundamental to his campaign and most at odds with previous statements was a defense of Gen. David Petraeus from certain wacky assaults against him and also - can you believe it? - a pledge to “continue to refine” his positions on the war.

Of course, refining views through attention to actual circumstances and new information is the last thing desired by antiwar activists, who demand withdrawal of troops now, no matter the military advice, the conditions on the ground and the calls of rationality and the warnings coming from sober analysis.

Mr. Obama listened to the ensuing hysterics and then refined his talk of refinement, but somehow you had increased hope that he could turn out to be more a president of the scalpel than the sledgehammer if - as seems likely - he is elected.

Yes, some of his evolving positions may be more for convenience than anything else, and he is still refusing to bend on some issues despite the beckoning of logic. Even now, he stands by the ideological idiocy that drilling for more oil when you need more oil cannot possibly be of any avail, at least if that oil happens to be in Alaska or off America’s shores.

His Republican opponent John McCain is better about offshore oil exploration, and on a number of other issues as well, even if he, too, has a capacity to disappoint. But the new Barack Obama is truly a better Barack Obama, someone who increasingly seems to get it that his job will be to govern the whole nation if he goes to the White House, not just do silly, dangerous things to win applause from the left.

Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.

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