- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ask not what Barack Obama can do for this country, but instead, how he’s going to do it. That should be the general election campaign’s central question. America’s collective response will determine the next president of the United States.

It’s a more complicated query than you think. Breaking it down a little further, I’m unsatisfied with describing 2008 as a “change” election. Every election is about change. When was the last time you heard candidates describe themselves as “champions of the status quo?” Or, “I’m the person who will keep everything just the way it is?” Some kind of change is promised in every campaign. What will the candidate do differently? How will he or she tackle a problem? How can we improve?

Barack Obama and John McCain are both about change. Where they differ is in the type of change they offer and in their ability to deliver it.

Start with the substance of change each offers. Democratic strategists know Mr. Obama possesses a huge vulnerability here. America is a center-right country. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, only 25 percent of voters describe themselves as “liberal.” And based on the same Rasmussen surveys, 67 percent believe Mr. Obama is a liberal. By way of comparison, only 53 percent viewed John Kerry as a liberal at the end of the 2004 campaign. It’s hard to imagine a center-right country - once voters focus on the candidates’ ideology - will elect a person who nearly seven out of 10 believe is a liberal.

Mr. Obama’s voting record in the U.S. Senate supports the liberal label. Democratic Rep. David Boren of Oklahoma told the Associated Press this week that Obama was “the most liberal senator,” and that his voting record in the Senate “does not reflect working in a bipartisan fashion.” A growing number of Americans see it that way, too. Only 47 percent viewed Mr. Obama as a liberal in December, according to the same Rasmussen surveys referenced above - meaning a 20-point climb in just five months. That reality is like fingers scratching a blackboard for the Illinois senator’s partisans.

Obama supporters know he can’t win if his real political views become widely known, and they are taking pre-emptive steps to bat down that perception. Blogger John Henke writing at TheNextRight.com noted earlier in the week that one tactic among liberal bloggers will be to pre-emptively deligitimize criticisms of Obama as “racist.”

And Americans should care about his ideology. Teamed up with a Democratic Congress, an Obama administration could usher in the most liberal, special-interest dominated period in American history. Power will shift to Washington as labor lobbyists, trial lawyers and environmental activists will have a heyday pulling all the levers of power.

There is no evidence that Mr. Obama would move to the center on any of his policies. We certainly don’t hear about it in his campaign rhetoric. We hear about “change” and vague references to bringing people together, but there’s no substance to back up the talk. Presumably, Mr. Obama will bring people together, as long as they all end up agreeing with him. So he’s really offering a kinder, gentler way of getting rolled.

We see this gap between “what” and “how” all the time in polling. It’s easy to achieve consensus on rhetorical promises - “we need change, we need to bring people together, let’s get America back on track.” Not many want to turn down that kind of apple pie. But consensus breaks down and things get more uncomfortable when we start showing precisely what track we’re on and where it’s heading.

One of the best teachers I ever had - Leland Ryken, professor of literature at Wheaton College - likes to say that every good story tells the reader what happens in the plot. But a great story shows us how, in concrete ways. The same is true when it comes to politics. Everyone agrees we want change in America. But Mr. Obama has not answered the fundamental question of how.

If he thinks partisan difference will melt away, he’s naive. If he believes he can bludgeon conservatives and moderates to adopt his liberal policy agenda, he’s dangerous. Neither sounds like the type of person a majority of Americans want as their next president.

Gary Andres , a former White House lobbyist, is vice chairman of research and policy for Dutko Worldwide.

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