Senator Barack Obama appeared on this past Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. The interview lasted 25.21 minutes and can be viewed at the ABC News website. As we promised on Monday, we now address Obama’s comments on the show, and particularly his disingenous response regarding statements he made against war funding when he was not in the Senate, which he forgot about once he was actually in the Senate.
For a man running on his biography, Obama seemed particularly unprepared for softball questions from George Stephanopoulos. Usually we expect Harvard Law Review types to have answers to pedestrian questions, but in this, Obama was surprising. From the beginning of the interview Obama appears flummoxed by simple questions.
[1:46 minutes into the interview]
Obama: Well the truth is, in my public life, as a legislator, most of the difficult tasks have been to build consensus around hard problems. And, what I think the country needs more than anything right now is somebody who has the capacity to identify areas of common interest, common good, build a consensus around it and get things done.
Stephanopoulos: That is part of the job, there is no question about it, but you know a big part of the job for president is what you would do in a crisis, the crisis you didn’t expect. And you never ever really had to deal with something like that, right?
Obama: Well, what I think is absolutely legitimate is that my political career has been on the legislative side and not on the executive branch. Now, that is true for a lot of my colleagues, who aren’t governors, and one of the things that I hope, over the course of this campaign I show, is the capacity to manage this pretty unwieldy process, um, of a political race and one of the great things about the press is they’re going to be watching very carefully…
Stephanopoulos: Every move you make.
Obama: Every move you make and to make sure that people have a sense of how I deal with adversity, how I deal with mistakes. Who do I have around me to make sure we are executing on the things that need to get done.
Obama’s answer then is that as we witness his campaign fall apart, into crisis, we will at long last see his crisis management abilities demonstrated. Is this an unfair interpretation? We don’t know how else to make sense of this senseless, unprepared answer. Obama’s answer seems to be “I have the ability to be president because I’m running for president”. This is an eyebrow raising, eye popping answer. We, like Stephanopoulos, expected to hear some remarkable example of biography. Instead we got the equivalent of “my campaign will provide crisis after crisis from which I will then extricate myself and you will be duly impressed with me.” We were not.
But it is 6:00 minutes into the interview that Obama fell apart:
Obama: I don’t think they’re polar opposites. I would agree with that. I think that my position though has been clear from the start and has been consistent, which is that I thought this was a bad idea, I said so from the start. I also said, even as I said it was a bad idea, that once we were in, it was going to be tough to get out, and that we were going to have some responsibilities to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. And I’ve been consistent in that position.
Stephanopoulos: But, but, but, back in 2003 you were against supplemental funding for the war. You gave a speech where you said “I would vote against the 87 billion dollars.”
[At this point 6:43 minutes in, a videotape of an Obama speech from 2003 is played:] “I said no unequivocally because at a certain point we have to say “no” to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled we are not going to stand a chance.”
Obama: And the reason was because I was trying to establish a principle at that time, and I said this at the time, that for us to be giving 20 billion dollars in reconstruction dollars in no bid process where money will potentially be wasted is a problem. But what I also said at that time is that the 67 billion that was needed for the troops was something that I would gladly vote for. And, I have been consistent in saying that as much as I think this has been the biggest, if not one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in history I want to be sure that our troops who are on the ground who perform magnificently aren’t caught in the political crossfire at home.
Obama: Because, at that point you have hundreds of thousands of young men and women who have to carry out the mission on behalf of the American people. It’s not their fault that our civilian leadership made bad decisions. And what I wanted to make sure was that they had the night vision goggles, the Humvees, that they needed, and I also felt that, and I continue to feel this way, that if we could create some semblance of stability in Iraq that would be a good thing.
Unlike the Illinois legislature, the U.S. Senate is not a place to vote “present” as Obama did on crucial issues in Illinois. It is very easy, from outside the Senate, from the safety of a microphone, to make sweeping pronouncements on issues. But when actually in the U.S. Senate an actual vote must be cast.
Obama, behind a microphone would have stopped funding for Iraq. Obama in the Senate, year after year, voted without a murmur, for funding. Of course that is a charge that can be leveled at Iraq Resolution co-sponsor John Edwards as well. When in the U.S. Senate, John Edwards was co-sponsor of the Iraq Resolution, but once outside the U.S. Senate “I was wrong.” As Reverend Al Sharpton said: “Senator Obama and I agree that the war is wrong, but then I want to know why he went to Connecticut and helped Lieberman, the biggest supporter of the war.”
Obama needs to get a better answer to his war funding votes. Implying that Democrats are the cause for troops not getting funded is stupid at best. This is not the first time Obama has stumbled on this question. Time after time he repeats George Bush’s propaganda that the Democrats will be responsible if the troops do not get their funding. We know that George Bush is responsible for the Iraq War and that it is his vetoes that will deny the troops funding. Note to David Axelrod: prepare your candidate better for interviews and obvious questions.
These were not the only bum answers Obama provided on This Week. On Social Security Obama was asleep. Obama said ‘“everything should be on the table” when it comes to reforming Social Security. Among the options worth considering, he specifically included raising the retirement age and increasing taxes (but not privatization).” Where was Obama when the Democrats slammed the door shut on any negotiations with bad faith Ripublicans and George Bush on Social Security?
Perhaps the problems with Obama go deeper. Perhaps he simply has not thought through these issues and is “winging it” in more ways than one. Obama cannot handle specifics or the pressures of campaigning even as he asks us to judge his crisis management based on how he runs his campaign. His incoherence about fatalities in the Kansas tornado he blamed on exhaustion – hardly an inspiring example on how to cope with sleepless weeks of crisis in the Oval Office.
Proclaiming his innocence regarding the Youtube attack ad by one of his minions with close roomate ties to his campaign was unbelievable. Getting a haircut while David Geffen and his campaign attacked Hillary and President Clinton for fundraising in the White House was equally without believability. During all these incidents Obama claimed to be “not present”.
Obama has also had trouble addressing unions and answering union members’ questions. His New Hampshire town hall answers on healthcare have been unformed and weak. Addressing the International Firefighters Union he proved to be a wet blanket on the fires of their enthusiasm. In debate he requires repeated opportunities for answers. He is at sea when deprived of bromides and platitudes. The presidency is not about how many inspirational adjectives you can string together for a publishing house. It is detail work and specifics.
Obama also lives in a dreamworld. He wants to build consensus he says. He wants to be a uniter, not a divider. The problem with this bromide of “let’s all get along” is that the disagreements are substantive. Obama has to realize that for years the Democrats tried to reason with mad dog Ripublicans. But Ripublicans do not want compromise, they want victory. They are going to have to be beaten. Obama, as revealed in the New Yorker Magazine profile fetishizes compromise. For him compromise is an end.
As former Obama supporter Alex Beam wrote in the Boston Globe:
“Let me repeat: I wouldn’t mind living in a country where Barack Obama is president. Brains; candor; charisma; ambition hitched to a work ethic; I admire those qualities. But frankly, the people who’ve ponied up $4,600 for Obama in this election cycle might as well have piled the money on the kitchen table and set fire to it. Or donated it to the Audubon Society, which has a lot better chance of being in business a year from now than Obama’s presidential campaign.
Earlier this year, The New Yorker asked the three leading Democratic presidential candidates how they might manage the Iraq war . As opposed to Hillary Clinton, who, according to the magazine, “speaks with confidence and directness” on the subject, Barack “has not yet articulated an overarching national security world view.” That’s OK; he’s only a first-term senator, not far removed from local Illinois politics.
But in extended interviews, Obama comes off as more of a Darfur guy than an Iraq guy, meaning that he is better informed about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan than he is about the briar patch of a war that has killed thousands of American soldiers.
A more recent New Yorker article depicted Obama as an emotionally centered, mellow cat. Inevitably, the political pros are asking themselves: Does he have the fire in the belly? Does he have What It Takes?
Last week, The New York Times profiled Obama’s spiritual adviser, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Wright is an inspirational minister responsible for Obama’s embrace of Christian values and mission. The Times politely calls Wright’s politics “Afrocentric,” but Obama’s political rivals will call them black separatist when it behooves them to do so. So, in a high-stakes, nationally televised debate, Obama might be called upon to defend his pastor and church, or abjure his faith.
I write this with my head, not my heart. I’ve discussed this column with friends, who point to Obama’s astonishing fund-raising ability, or Hillary Clinton’s purported unelectability as counter-arguments. I reply: Money isn’t everything, and I have stopped believing in Clinton’s unelectability. She’s walked through fire too many times. The setbacks and unspeakable humiliations thrown in her face didn’t kill her, they made her stronger.