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“What Washington does is cause everybody to concentrate on where they disagree as opposed to where they agree,” Coburn continued. “But leadership changes that. And Barack’s got the capability, I believe-and the pizzazz and the charisma-to be a leader of America, not a leader of Democrats.”
THOUGH OBAMA HAS BEEN A FIERCE CRITIC of the Iraq war, he hasn’t resorted to the vitriol typical of some of his more seasoned Democratic colleagues. When President Bush announced his “surge” strategy in January, like other Democrats, Obama opposed it. But unlike others, he was sure to add: “I have no doubt that the President is sincere in believing that his strategy is the right one.”
As has been widely explored, Obama had to navigate through many worlds and balance several cultures growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia as the offspring of a white woman from Kansas and black man from Kenya. As president of the Harvard Law Review and law professor at the University of Chicago, he went to great lengths to give both sides a fair hearing on controversial issues, according to the accounts of those who knew him at the time.
As Obama adjusts to being a candidate in a contentious Democratic primary dominated by a base that is restive and angry, his conciliatory impulses are being put to the ultimate test. “When George Bush steps down from office, the entire world will breathe a sigh of relief,” he said in Rye, New Hampshire. At a rally in Manchester, he declared that the American people “are tired of a foreign policy that instead of being based on our ideals, on our values, is based only on bombast and bullying, and in some cases, lies. “The fact that he had to add the qualifier “in some cases” suggests he’s still not entirely comfortable throwing red meat to partisan crowds.p> IN HIS FIRST BOOK, Dreams of My Father , Obama recounts his only meeting with his dad. His father left Hawaii when the younger Barack was just two years old, and they didn’t see each other until his father visited Hawaii in the early 1970s. Writing of the visit, Obama describes his father’s “effect on other people, “recalling: br> /p>
For whenever he spoke-his one leg draped over the other, his large hands outstretched to direct or deflect attention, his voice deep and sure, cajoling and laughing-I would see a sudden change take place in the family…. It was as if his presence had summoned the spirit of earlier times and allowed each of them to reprise his or her old role; as if Dr. King had never been shot, and the Kennedys continued to beckon the nation, and war and riot and famine were nothing more than temporary setbacks, and there was nothing to fear but fear itself.br> Watching Obama on the campaign trail made me wonder if he is channeling his father, because whenever he speaks, it’s as if September 11 had never happened, as if there weren’t terrorist groups throughout the world plotting to attack us, and the only thing we have to fear is “cynicism.”
It fascinated me, this strange power of his…
Obama has called for increasing the size of the military and moving against terrorist groups when the subject specifically comes up, or when he is addressing a more general audience, but when speaking to a partisan crowd, he strikes a different balance.
Before the Rye, New Hampshire town hall meeting I attended, a woman handed out cookies decorated with a pie chart representing the size of the Pentagon budget, suggesting that money wasted on outdated weapons could be diverted to health care and education. (She was with the group PrioritiesNH, which claims to be nonpartisan, but is run by liberal activist Ben Cohen, co-founder of ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s.)
During the question and answer session, Obama was asked about withdrawing all of our troops based throughout the world. Responding, he held up the cookie and noted the disproportionate amount of money America spends on defense relative to the rest of the world. “We spend more money on defense than the next 30 nations combined, “he stressed. “Combined.” Obama acknowledged that “we have very real enemies out there, “but argued that we could be spending money more wisely, and lamented the cost of the Iraq war. Instead of proposing that money saved by pulling out from Iraq be spent to improve national security in other ways, he said we could use the money for early child education, or to expand access to health care. This was quite a different tone from the major foreign policy address he gave a few weeks earlier. In that speech (which got good reviews from neoconservative Robert Kagan), he called for adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.
ANOTHER QUESTIONER WANTED TO KNOW what could be done to increase humanitarian assistance to the rest of the world. “How do we see a Department of Peace be a bigger item than a Department of Defense?” she asked.