Today the New York Times editorializes about the "New and Not Improved" Barack Obama.
It's disheartening to see "The Audacity of Hope" beginning to morph into "The Mendacity of Change" and disappointing that Obama may be taking for granted those whose hopes he stirred and reaching out too far and too fast to those who will only see his efforts to build consensus as duplicity and weakness.
A month ago, it would have been unthinkable to write that sentence, but since wrapping up the nomination, the apostle of the New Politics has been looking like a Mr. Hyde of the old on almost an issue a day--public campaign financing, telecom immunity in the FISA bill, gun control, the death penalty for crimes not involving murder and the separation of church and state.
"We are not shocked," the Times says, "when a candidate moves to the center for the general election. But Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games."
Political purity is not the issue in all this. Many Obama admirers value, among other qualities, his open-mindedness and his not-Bush aversion to dogmaticism. But these recent rapid shifts of substance and tone raise suspicions of calculation and opportunism--of a too-clever-by-half attempt to retool his image for demographic purposes.
If so, he and his campaign advisers risk losing much of what got him to where he is now--an authenticity that this year's voters desperately want.
The campaign may want to stop worrying so much about converting Independents and liberal Republicans and concentrate on winning over and solidify his support among those Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton. They are a more natural constituency for him, if he can win and keep their trust.
In a dialogue with dissenting voters on his web site about his FISA position, Obama made a point worth keeping in mind for the long run:
"I learned long ago, when working as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, that when citizens join their voices together, they can hold their leaders accountable. I’m not exempt from that. I’m certainly not perfect, and expect to be held accountable too."