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Barnes: Obama's Tack to the Center

5:40 PM, Jul 6, 2008 • By FRED BARNES
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Barack Obama's tack to the center is quite clever for three reasons (and maybe more, but three is all I could think of). One, it may cause moderate and centrist voters to feel more comfortable about voting for him. That's the big one. Two, he's better off being attacked by John McCain as a flip-flopper than as an unrepentant liberal. And three, he gave up practically nothing in the process. The tack to the middle has been mostly a fuzzy feint that didn't lock him into any new positions.

Start with Iraq. He says he'll consult the generals before ordering troop withdrawals. No kidding! Any president would do that. The only new thing in his formulation on ending the war is that "stability" would be a consideration. But of course "stability" is a vague concept. Stability in Iraq in January 2009 will be in the eye of the beholder.

Obama's Iraq problem will come later in the campaign after his promised visit to Iraq. He'll find, contrary to his assurances last year that the surge would fail militarily and politically, that the civil war is over, al Qaeda largely beaten, and the Maliki government considerably less sectarian and dysfunctional than it had been. That's likely to be the reality that Obama will have to adjust to.

On several issues, Obama has given, then taken away. He endorsed a faith-based initiative, but said the religious organizations that accept federal funds can't discriminate in hiring. That's a killer condition, sure to drive most of them away. Religious groups, more often than not, insist on hiring co-religionists.

Obama told AIPAC, the pro-Israel group, that he favors an "undivided" Jerusalem. The next day, he took that away. On abortion, he said mental distress shouldn't be grounds for a late-term abortion, but he offered no path to instituting that change in the law. Then, not unexpectedly, he retreated from that position.

Commenting on Supreme Court decisions was the safest means for Obama to drift to the center. He said he supported the court's striking down of most of the District of Columbia's gun ban, but didn't say what sort of gun control legislation he might propose. He disagreed with the 5-4 decision to bar the death penalty for child rapists without revealing what he thought about the court's reasoning.

What have I left out? Obama said last week that he's patriotic, no matter what anyone says. This is largely a straw man. Of course he's a patriot. That's a given. Questions were raised, however, about his removal of an American flag pin from his lapel, but he provoked those by claiming he didn't want to project a false patriotism.

Anyway, bottom line: Obama is a very smart politician and an impressive candidate who wisely is trying to minimize his political vulnerabilities.