At the recent and widely reported White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Seth Meyer’s had a line which I predict will be analyzed down the road – ““I’ll tell you who could beat you: 2008 Barack Obama. You would have loved him.”
With his speech yesterday on the Middle East, I hope the 2008 Obama is back. His call for a settlement based on 1967 borders can be either seen as a continuation of, or a radical departure from the Clinton/Bush strategies. One can point to different points of time and words to describe America’s view on what a Middle East solution should look like. Purposeful ambiguity was built into any policy position on the Middle East so that politicians could appeal to different domestic interest groups without offending anybody. The biggest difference from the past in Obama’s May 19 speech is that clarity has replaced ambiguity on what the American sense of a Middle East solution is.
Why does clarity matter? Because it signals principle over pragmatism, and sincerity over strategy. Obama has de-linked his domestic political interests in laying out America’s role in a Middle East solution. His speech is going to do him little good in his reelection campaign, and may actually hurt him a little – or maybe a lot, It may cost him Florida. I wouldn’t be surprised if his reelection campaign strategists discussed this with him, or he with them. If they did talk about it and he still gave the speech, more kudos to him.
But principle over pragmatism, and sincerity over strategy have not always been hallmarks of the Obama Presidency. Obama’s base has expressed its disappointment in his Presidency on these grounds for some time now. The dilution of the health reform package, the capitulation on the financial reform package, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, and the continuation of the military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are manifestations of the victory of pragmatism and strategy over principle and sincerity.
What made 2008 Obama appealing beyond his racial background was that he seemed to stand for principle and oozed sincerity. Principle and sincerity seemed to be a brilliantly employed strategy in the campaign. The promise seemed a mirage. With his May 19 speech, one can only hope that 2008 Obama is back. For the execution of principle and sincerity are victories in themselves and will contribute to nation building far more than any electoral or political win. That was the promise of Obama 2008, and we should expect no less.
We will know that 2008 Obama is back if he does not dilute his call for Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, and if he is willing to take on the Republican House as it sips its tea. In other words, if he starts doing some things that may even have negative reelection consequences.