Rizza on Obama

Ryan Lizza profiles Barack Obama at TNR. After a discussion of his early years, Lizza predicts the type of candidate Obama will be:

Despite his history, Obama is cast by the press as the candidate unwilling to stoop low enough to win, while Hillary is the machine politician whose last name has become synonymous with ruthlessness. But that David-versus-Goliath framing of the race is overstated. Obama’s political team is seasoned and conventional. His media adviser and strategic guru, David Axelrod, has spent decades in Chicago politics working for both the reformers (Harold Washington) and the machine (Richard M. Daley). Obama has all of the political machinery–ad-makers, fund-raisers, opposition-researchers–in place to run a serious but traditional campaign.

Moreover, when Obama’s ideals clash with reality, he has been able to find compromises that don’t put him at a political disadvantage. For instance, no Democrat can win the general election while adhering to the public financing system if the Republican nominee doesn’t do the same. Clinton and John Edwards have simply conceded that the public financing system is dead and are ignoring fund-raising restrictions that would be triggered if either ends up playing within the public financing scheme. Facing the same situation, Obama–a longtime champion of campaign finance reform in general and public financing in particular–asked the Federal Election Commission if he could raise the potentially restricted money now (the world as it is) but then give it back if he wins the nomination and convinces his Republican opponent to stick with public financing (the world as we would like it to be).

Back home in Chicago’s recent mayoral election, Obama endorsed Richard M. Daley–the symbol of machine politics, corruption, and racism for Hyde Park progressives and Obama’s old organizing friends. Asked if she was disappointed, Rudd said, “Yeah. We all want our politicians to be pure and ideological, but I think it was a strategic move on his part and a well-considered one.” Another member of Obama’s organizing fraternity told me, “That’s part of his political savvy. … He recognizes that Daley is a powerful man and to have him as an ally is important. While he was a state senator here and moving around in Chicago, he made sure to minimize the direct confrontational approach to people of influence and policymakers and civic leaders. These are the same people now who are very aggressively supporting his campaign.”

But when those supporters become a liability, Obama has not been afraid to take a direct, confrontational approach. Reverend Wright learned this recently, on the evening before he was scheduled to deliver the invocation at Obama’s presidential announcement speech in Springfield. According to The New York Times, after Trinity’s Afrocentrism–which had originally drawn Obama to the church in the 1980s–had become a sticky campaign issue, Obama called his old friend and told him it was probably best if the pastor didn’t speak, after all. The following day, Wright could be seen silently watching the proceedings from the sidelines along with other Obama supporters.

The way that Obama and his team have responded to the opening skirmishes of the presidential race has also been telling. Every time Obama has been challenged this year, his campaign has responded with ferocity. When Fox News falsely reported that Obama attended a madrassa in Indonesia, his aides not only went into war-room mode, beating back the story–not that difficult, considering it was obviously untrue–but Robert Gibbs, Obama’s communications director, also told Fox political reporter Carl Cameron that he wouldn’t be allowed to travel on Obama’s plane. What is Fox going to do to us, Gibbs asked Cameron, report that Obama attended a radical Islamic school? Oh, wait, you already did that!

When Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Obama’s Iraq plan would embolden Al Qaeda, Obama delivered a rehearsed line to a room full of reporters about how Howard should send more Aussies to Iraq if he cares so much about the situation there. And, most famously, when the Clinton campaign called on Obama to distance himself from Geffen, his campaign shot back by referencing the Clintons’ Lincoln Bedroom fund-raising scandal.

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