- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2008

In the midst of his heated primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama fully embraced red-meat liberal issues that he said offered Americans “change you can believe in.”

He had outpromised Mrs. Clinton on every hot-button issue and nailed down the nomination by appealing to the party’s liberal base. But his makeover in recent weeks has enraged many in that base who say his sudden abandonment of long-held liberal positions is a betrayal of his claim to be a new kind of politician.

In the past week alone, Democratic advocacy groups say their Web sites have been lit up by angry complaints attacking Mr. Obama’s character and honesty, threatening to withhold their contributions, or worse, shift their allegiance to independent candidate Ralph Nader.

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“We’ve been hearing more from voters who are disconcerted about Obama’s move to the right. We’re hearing from antiwar folks, civil-liberties people and other activists concerned about his flip-flops and considering voting for Nader,” said Chris Driscoll, media director for the Nader for president campaign.

“We’ve had a big increase in the past couple of weeks in our Web site hits and our online fundraising contributions,” he said.

A CNN poll of 906 registered voters reported this week that Mr. Nader’s support has risen to 6 percent, potentially enough of a margin to deny Mr. Obama close-fought battleground states.

During the primary, Mr. Obama was a fire-breathing critic of free-trade deals, condemning the North American Free Trade Agreement as a job-killer that he vowed to renegotiate or scrap. He opposed renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which would give telephone companies immunity from lawsuits when they help the government tap phone lines.

He was a leading gun-control advocate as an Illinois state senator and backed the District’s gun ban. He was a sharp critic of President Bush’s faith-based services program to help the poor that was blocked by Democrats. He told Planned Parenthood he “would not yield” on abortion and denounced a Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortion.

But in the past few weeks, Mr. Obama has, at a minimum, nuanced if not outright flip-flopped on all of those positions in a race to the political center to reposition himself for the general election. He told Fortune magazine he believes in free trade and does not want to overturn or pull out of NAFTA. He endorsed the pending FISA bill, saying “the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people.”

He declared himself a “supporter of the Second Amendment” after the Supreme Court struck down the District’s gun ban. He announced a faith-based plan of his own, saying that government alone could not solve every problem. Most recently, he told a Christian magazine that laws restricting partial-birth abortions needn’t have an exception allowing the procedure if the pregnancy might damage the mother’s mental health.

Nowhere is criticism of the presumptive Democratic nominee more intense than on the Internet, the cyberspace world where the Obama campaign has received hundreds of millions of dollars from more than 1.7 million donors and whose bloggers have been among his biggest fans.

“There is a line between ‘moving to the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized. And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, the top site of the liberal netroots community.

“Not that I ever bought it, but Obama is now clearly not looking much different than every other Democratic politician who has ever turned his or her back on the base in order to prove centrist bona fides,” he said.

Mr. Moulitsas said he was withholding a maximum $2,300 contribution to the Obama campaign because, “I simply have no desire to reward bad behavior,” but acknowledged at this point, “I’ll still vote for him.”

Another Web site, Democrats.com, a liberal-advocacy group not formally tied to the party, said “progressives were shocked last week” when Mr. Obama supported a Bush-backed bill granting legal immunity to communications companies who cooperate with federal surveillance efforts to intercept terrorist calls or e-mails.

Web site president Bob Fertik is asking its supporters to put money they plan to give to the Obama campaign into their own escrow accounts “until he demonstrates progressive leadership on issues we care about, like warrantless wiretapping.”

Over at the Huffington Post Web site, blogger Joseph A. Palermo said progressives were outraged by his push for a faith-based program “blurring the line between church and state,” warning the Obama camp that its candidate “is treading on thin ice.”

“If he continues to move to the right, he’s going to alienate his most enthusiastic supporters. He will lose precinct walkers, phone bankers, voter-registration campaigners, and other activists who were responsible for catapulting him this far,” Mr. Palermo wrote.

“It’s time for Obama to dedicate a little of his time to the care and feeding of his base,” he said. “He’s going to need those people in November.”

Longtime Democratic advocacy groups like Americans for Democratic Action said Mr. Obama’s shift on so many issues embraced by liberals has also triggered a number of e-mails within the ADA expressing concern about his shifting positions so soon after the ADA had endorsed his candidacy last month.

“There’s a dialogue going on among our people who are not sure what his remarks mean,” an ADA official said.

Much of the criticism of Mr. Obama’s changeover is appearing on his campaign Web site, where nearly 12,000 visitors have organized their own online group on My.BarackObama.com to pressure him into voting against the domestic surveillance bill.

The grass-roots appeals were so numerous that Mr. Obama wrote a response from the campaign trail that was posted on his community-group Web site Thursday, saying, “This was not an easy call for me.”

“The ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counterterrorism tool, and I’m persuaded that it is necessary to keep the American people safe,” he wrote back.

Still, he acknowledged the furor some of his changed positions have triggered, especially on the FISA bill.

“Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That’s OK, but I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have,” he said.

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