Obama Creating Bridges to Evangelicals, With Varying Responses From The Left

Can Barack Obama pull it off? From accounts such as this, it appears he might be doing the best job among Democrats of appealing to different crowds, without resorting to basing Democrats Joe Lieberman-style:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois told more than 2,000 evangelical leaders in Orange County on Friday that he “respectfully but unequivocally” disagrees with those who oppose condom distribution to fight the AIDS pandemic. But he said a solution to the worldwide spread of AIDS would also come from churches guiding people to make moral decisions.

Obama, a Democrat weighing a run for the White House, made his remarks at an evangelical AIDS conference sponsored by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

Some conservatives, offended by Obama’s support for legal abortion, had called on the mega-church’s pastor, Rick Warren, to rescind his invitation to the senator.

Yet Obama drew a standing ovation from the 2,072 pastors and others who came from 39 states and 18 nations to explore church solutions to the AIDS pandemic, which has killed 25 million people worldwide. In measured words, he dismissed the notion that simply discouraging promiscuity could stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Talking before evangelicals might make some liberal uncomfortable, but Obama’s goal is not to lead a movement but to lead a country. Unlike George Bush, if he were elected it does not appear he would govern from the extremes.

Obama is eliciting a variety of views from the blogosphere. Kos believes that if Obama runs, he wins. At the moment Obamamania reminds me a lot of the hype surrounding Howard Dean in 2003, which is perhaps why Kos sees him as a winner. The difference is that, so far, Obama does not show the same propensity to self-destruct which I noticed in Dean well before his campaign fell apart in early 2004.

In contrast to Kos, Chris Bowers of MyDD expresses reservations about Obama, fearing that in attempting to attract the support from non-liberals he attacks the same straw men typically created by the right. Also at MyDD, Matt Stoller believes Obama will lose badly, and fears Obama will run an insider campaign full of back room deals. Being an insider does not sound like the position expected to be taken by the author of Dreams of My Father.

Perhaps part of the mystique currently surrounding Obama is that he can vote as a liberal while avoiding the usual us vs. them divisions. New York Magazine notes:

Which is not to say that Obama doesn’t have very strong partisan convictions. “There are times I think we’re not ambitious enough,” Obama says. “I remember back in 2004, one of the candidates had made a proposal about universal health care, and some DLC-type commentator said, ‘We can’t propose this kind of big-government costly program, because it’ll send a signal we’re tax-and-spend liberals.’ But that’s not a good reason to not do something. You don’t give up on the goal of universal health care because you don’t want to be tagged as a liberal. People need universal health care.”

According to Congressional Quarterly, Obama voted with his party 97 percent of the time in 2005—the same as John Kerry and three others—with only eight senators voting consistently more Democratic than he did. (As a point of contrast, John McCain voted with his party only 84 percent of the time.) It’s hard not to call that record liberal, as much as Obama dislikes labels. When Obama was still in the Illinois state senate, his contributions were certainly viewed as liberal—sponsoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, requiring that confessions for capital crimes be videotaped—though he was also known as a man who worked skillfully across the aisle.

Obama might turn out to be a passing bit of excitement before the real race gets started. We’ve seen individuals from Colin Powell to Gary Hart create excitement in the past without going anywhere. Obama’s inexperience might also be a problem if faced with opponents such as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry in a debate. We will probably learn a lot more about Barack Obama in the next year. While he might turn out to be a story to bide our time between the midterm elections and when the 2008 race really gets going, there is also the possibility he might be able to do for liberal views what Ronald Reagan did for conservativism, in bridging gaps which earlier candidates from his party were unable to bridge.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Probus says:

    I don’t see Sen. Obama getting very far once he announces his candidacy. He’s not in favor of setting a specific deadline for redeployment of troops which I think is critical in bringing our troops home. Sen. Kerry’s plan is much better and is more comprehensive. The ISG Report released today includes specifics that have been part of Kerry’s plan.

    Also Obama doesn’t have the potential to raise money the way Kerry has done. He raised 14 million dollars for dem Congressional candidates. Obama would be a very weak candidate against Romney, Huckabee, Brownback or McCain. He conducts himself as more of a celebrity than a presidential candidate. 2 years in the Senate are not enough to run for the highest office in the land. He should wait. I don’t think he would make a good vice presidential candidate either due to his lack of experience. Daily Kos jumped the gun in prematurely endorsing him. It’s like the time they endorsed Gov. Dean.

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