Sen. Barack Obama has been changing, chiseling and recalibrating his positions on gun control, trade, terrorist surveillance and possibly his withdrawal plans for Iraq in rapid moves toward the center that are upsetting activists in his party’s liberal base.
With the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking surveys showing Mr. Obama in a dead heat with Republican Sen. John McCain, the Illinois Democrat has in the past week or two moved quickly to revise, and in some cases abandon altogether, some of the liberal positions he staked out in his early political career in Chicago and in his marathon primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The senator’s apparent makeover for the general election abandons some of his party’s most fervently held positions in opposition to gun rights, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the pending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which gives retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that help the government spy on terrorism suspects.
That has triggered a debate among his party’s growing ground forces in the powerful Internet community that ranges from feelings of betrayal to pragmatic acknowledgement that he cannot win the presidency unless he reaches out to the center to appeal to moderates and swing voters who believe in gun rights, free trade and getting tough on terrorism - Mr. McCain’s strongest issue.
“In the last week, Barack Obama has handed progressives a string of stinging rebukes,” said Democratic blogger Jason Rosenbaum on the Huffington Post Web site.
“First, he all but capitulated on the issue of retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecom companies by endorsing the FISA ‘compromise.’ Next came his disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty shouldn’t be imposed for rape. And then his flip on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling allowing the sale of handguns in D.C.,” he wrote Friday.
“The harsh reality is, Barack Obama can and will tack towards the center on issues that are important to progressives during the general election. We can argue until we’re blue in the face … but Obama will do what he wants to do. Unless we are willing to actively work against him, we have no leverage.”
Democratic activist and blogger Mike Lux on the Open Left Web site said he is “bummed” and worse that “Obama and most of our Democratic leaders caved in on FISA.”
Mr. Lux said that others in the left’s netroot armies are “writing about not lifting a finger to help Obama” since his vote against them on FISA, but he urged the party’s Internet warriors to stick with their candidate, because the alternative, Mr. McCain, “is not an acceptable option.”
Mr. Obama’s shifts on some of the party’s bedrock issues, which have been virtual litmus tests for liberals, have taken many party activists by surprise and, collectively, have drawn a great deal of attention from political pundits and analysts at week’s end that was mostly critical.
“Barack Obama has crafted an image as an unconventional candidate, a change agent … who represents a dramatic break from the status quo. But since securing the Democratic presidential nomination, when confronted with a series of thorny issues, the Illinois senator has pursued a conspicuously conventional path, one that falls far short of his soaring rhetoric,” wrote Kenneth P. Vogel in the widely read Politico Web site.
Many of Mr. Obama’s latest positions appeared to be significant changes in what he has stood for before, though last week he maintained he has always held them.
On trade, he recently told Fortune magazine, “I’ve always been a proponent of free trade” and said he had no intention of withdrawing from NAFTA, calling some of his early campaign rhetoric “overheated.”
But he was sharply critical of trade deals during his primary fight with Mrs. Clinton, fiercely attacked NAFTA for “sending jobs overseas,” and threatened to abrogate the trade deals with Canada and Mexico if the two countries did not agree to changes in its terms.
When the Supreme Court struck down the District’s gun ban Thursday, Mr. Obama said that he has “always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms.” But he supported gun controls as a state senator in Chicago, backed gun bans in the legislature, and last year a staffer for the senator told the Chicago Tribune that “Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.”View Entire Story
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