Politically, we know that Senator Obama knows how to play hardball. In his first race he sued to get everyone else off the balott. And in 2004, his minions pushed to have the divorce proceedings of his opponent revealed to the public. A few years ago, he did not assist a bipartisan efforts to defeat a Chicago machine apparachik in a race for the Cook County Board President. Perhaps Obama judged that the machine candidate would win anyway, and, therefore, there was no reason to oppose the machine. Or perhaps he is comfortable working with the machine (perhaps because he wished to move it to serve his own ends). When a campaign aid told the Canadian government not to take Senator Obama's anti-Nafta remarks too seriously. Was that his real policy? Or was that aid fired for mis-stating Obama's real position? This year, he cleverly hit the smaller states hard in the primaries, and was therefore able to defeat Hillary Clinton. He pledged to take public financing for the general election when it was his interest to do so. And he switched to private financing when it was his interest to do so. He keeps saying that Senator McCain is replacing $12,000 worth of health benefits with $5,000 of tax breaks. (It is not his fault that Senator McCain did not respond by asking "does anyone think I would design a plan that would leave workers $7,000 in the hole? That $5,000 is to pay taxed on precisely that $12,000 Senator Obama keeps talking about. And he says he wants to change the tone of Washington . . .) By talking about it that way, Senator Obama avoids talking about the philosophical issues that divide him from Senator McCain on health care. In 2004 he said that he preferred a single payer health care system for the U.S. Is that still his thinking? Does he wish to move us in that direction? Assuming his proposed plan will be renegotiated with Congress, in what direction would he like to see it move?
The Obama campaign kicked the reporters for papers that endoresed Senator McCain off the campaign's plane, and the campaign has refused to give another interview ever again to a TV station that asked Senator Biden tough questions in an interview. The campaign and its friends has sued or threatened to sue its critics. Senator Obama has not held a press conference in ages, or even given reporters significant access. When Jack Tapper caught up with Obama on an airport tarmac just today, and asked the Senator how he would spend the $700 billion in funds now allocated to backstop the financial system, Obama refused to respond, saying it was not the time or place. When Tapper suggested that he hold a press conference. Obama said he would do so on Wednesday. Senator Obama has sat back and allowed his campaign to make it relatively easy to contribute illegally. (As I understand it, the default settings of credit card receiving software check the credit card number against the name and address. If that's the case, the people raising money for Senator Obama, unlike those doing so for Senator McCain, turned that part of the software off.) In all these cases, Obama is being an effective politician. He is doing everything he can within the law to further his own cause. Moreover, he is good at working the system. He is, in other words, a clever lawyer and will probably be an effective bureaucrat. He is a good politician who knows how to get the nasty parts of the business done, even as he seems to be above the fray.
But how will Obama legislate? And how will he deal with questions that can't be handled in that manner? Does he have real backbone? Has he ever dealt with a situation where the tools of organization, litigation, protest, and legislation don't provide the answer? How will he act when that case comes up? Senator Obama recently declared that "Power concedes nothing without a fight." When our system of freewheeling debate and checks and balances opposes him, will he see it as part of the constitutional system he is sworn to "preserve, protect, and defende" or as a power to be opposed? Is that rhetoric that a master politician is using to fire up his base, or a declaration of principles? (In short, what rules of the game will a President Obama observe? Does anyone know for sure?)
Regarding legislation, is his comment about using the tax system to make coal power impossible a sign? It would be a good way to kill the industry without seeming to. Is that what he really wants to do, or was that what he said to please the audience of a liberals? In foreign policy, recall this bit from the debates, discussing sitting down with Ahmadinejad without preconditions: "So we sit down with Iran and they say they'll wipe Israel off the face of the map and we say 'No you won't'?" How would a President Obama respond to such a situation? McCain gave a fair summary of what Obama seemed to be saying. Presumably there is more to Obama's position, but what is it? We don't know. And, given Obama's professed hope to bring us all together, will he regard those who oppose his plans with the good will he has often displayed in his manner? Or will he try to shut them up as his campaign has tried to do? (An extension of his litigation against his political opponants in the past?) (Does he agree with his friend Cass Sunstein that the government must regulate speech and the press in order to re-unify our culture in the age of talk radio and the internet.) All these questions remain unanswered as we go to the polls.