It seems like a long time ago that Barack Obama delivered these stirring words in the wake of his victory in the Iowa caucuses:
On this January night - at this defining moment in history - you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do. You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days. You have done what America can do in this New Year, 2008. In lines that stretched around schools and churches; in small towns and big cities; you came together as Democrats, Republicans and Independents to stand up and say that we are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come.
You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington; to end the political strategy that's been all about division and instead make it about addition - to build a coalition for change that stretches through Red States and Blue States. Because that's how we'll win in November, and that's how we'll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation.*
My, how times and the perceptions of Barack Obama have changed. Will his unifying rhetoric someday seem as much a quaint curiosity as George W. Bush's promise to be a uniter and not a divider?
OBAMA BRAVELY ENTERED the lion's den this afternoon, daring to answer questions from the ferocious Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. People who have lives and don't set their Sunday plans around the Beltway weekend chat-fests are probably wondering how he did. (I'm sure our Sonny Bunch will be along shortly with his take.)
I say Obama did quite well for himself. Earlier today, I posted something that analogized Obama to Ronald Reagan. Well, brace yourself, because here comes another Reagan/Obama comparison. When Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, the most common charge that Reagan had to handle was that he was a crazed warmonger who couldn't wait to blow up the world. The best way for Reagan to counter these charges was to appear on TV and let his natural affability shine through. The narrative that Reagan's foes peddled didn't square with the genial 69 year-old candidate who popped up in America's living rooms.
Right now, the biggest threat Obama faces is the solidifying narrative that he's an elitist who comfortably keeps company with some rather unsavory characters. His associations have led many to infer that Obama isn't just a liberal, but a member of the fringe left, a part of this country that repulses the majority.
When Obama makes appearances like this morning's on Fox News Sunday, he helps dispel this narrative. He's likable and engaging. He's appealing. He certainly doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would condone bombing the Pentagon or support a pastor who yells "God Damn America!" In other words, Obama got great mileage out of this morning's performance. Even though he's a clunky extemporaneous speaker (as Reagan was in the latter part of his career) and stumbled over his own words repeatedly again this morning, he should make appearances like today's a habit.
Of course, Obama didn't do anything today to add more substance to his unity shtick. His claim that he stood up to the left by supporting John Roberts even though he voted against Roberts's confirmation comically highlighted the emptiness of Obama's rhetoric. Nevertheless, this was a good morning for the Obama campaign, which will have to tackle its existential threats one at a time.
(*HT: Someone else quoted Obama's Iowa speech and noted his relative fall from grace since then, but I forget who. Sorry. May have been Tom Maguire. He does lots of clever stuff.)