We appear to be entering a new phase of the campaign season. Let's call it the Age of Disillusionment (with Barack Obama). The New York Times capped a week of head-scratching over Obama's positions on FISA, gay marriage, the death penalty, and troop withdrawal by publishing a scathing editorial called "New and Not Improved." Yesterday Frank Rich, who was an Obama enthusiast throughout the Democratic primaries, compared the nominee unfavorably to Wall-E, a cartoon robot. Today E.J. Dionne writes that Obama is showing signs of "unsteadiness" in responding to the McCain campaign's goading on Iraq.
And let's not forget the continuing faux outrage from editorial boards over Obama's decision to privately fund his campaign; Republicans have more 527 funding groups, so Obama's choice ensured he can compete with McCain on even financial ground. The Hartford Courant, though, declared the decision "Mr. Obama's Flip-Flop" and called him a "hypocrite," all without mentioning conservative 527s.
Are we experiencing a genuine shift in Obama's issue positions and campaign strategy, or just a self-perpetuating media narrative? Obama's position on FISA does appear to represent a real capitulation. But his statement that he'd assess conditions on the ground before implementing his promised Iraq troop draw down is just common sense. Meanwhile, social liberals who profess to be surprised by Obama's stances on the death penalty, guns, and gay marriage have not been following either his writings on these topics or the campaign itself.
Political analysts and reporters are entering a phase of boredom and frustration with this campaign. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were the two most interesting people in the 2008 presidential contest; for many of us writing about the race a lot of the fun ended when Clinton dropped out. And because of how long the Dem primary went on, people seem particularly disappointed and annoyed by the shift in tone to the general election, in which candidates, naturally, appeal to the center.
Nevertheless, it's true that Obama hasn't been making strong progressive statements on domestic social issues. He hasn't been discussing the importance of the Supreme Court in a context larger than its recent decision, for example. (Hello, Roe?) Whether this trend will continue will be tested tomorrow, when Obama will speak here in Washington, D.C. to the League of United Latin American Citizens. Another contentious topic, immigration, will surely be on the agenda.