By Karl Rove
The Wall Street Journal
June 26, 2008
Many candidates have measured the Oval Office drapes prematurely. But Barack Obama is the first to redesign the presidential seal before the election.
His seal featured an eagle emblazoned with his logo, and included a Latin version of his campaign slogan. This was an attempt by Sen. Obama to make himself appear more presidential. But most people saw in the seal something else – chutzpah – and he's stopped using it. Such arrogance – even self-centeredness – have featured often in the Obama campaign.
Consider his treatment of Jeremiah Wright. After Rev. Wright repeated his anti-American slurs at the National Press Club, Mr. Obama said their relationship was forever changed – but not because of what he'd said about America. Instead, Mr. Obama complained, "I don't think he showed much concern for me."
Translation: Rev. Wright is an impediment to my ambitions. So, as it turns out, are some of Mr. Obama's previous pledges.
For example, Mr. Obama has said he "strongly supported public financing" and pledged to take federal funds for the fall, thereby limiting his spending to roughly $84 million. Now convinced he can raise more than $84 million, he reversed course last week, ditching the federal money and its limits. But by discarding his earlier pledge so easily, he raises doubts about whether his word can be trusted.
Last month he replied "anywhere, anytime" to John McCain's invitation to have joint town hall appearances. Last week he changed his mind. Fearing 10 impromptu town halls, Mr. Obama parried the invitation by offering two such events – one the night of July 4, when every ambulatory American is watching fireworks or munching hotdogs, and another in August. His spokesman then said, "Take it or leave it." So much for "anywhere, anytime."
My former White House colleague Yuval Levin pointed out that Mr. Obama, in his first national TV ad rolled out Friday, claims credit for having "extended health care for wounded troops," citing the 2008 defense authorization. That bill passed 91-3 – but Mr. Obama was one of only six senators who didn't show up to vote. This brazen claim underscores the candidate's thin résumé and, again, his chutzpah.
Mr. Obama has now also played the race card, twice suggesting in recent weeks that Republicans will draw attention to the fact that he's black. Who is unaware of that? Americans overwhelmingly find it a hopeful, optimistic sign that the country could elect an African-American president. But they rightly want to know what kind of leader he might be. They may well reject as cynical any maneuver to discourage close examination of him by suggesting any criticism is racially motivated.
The candidate's self-centeredness has been on display before. Having effectively sewed up the Democratic nomination, he could have agreed to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations (states Hillary Clinton had carried). While reducing his lead by 50 to 55 delegates, it would not have altered the outcome. But Mr. Obama supported cutting these battleground-state delegations in half. At a time when magnanimity was called for, the candidate decided he'd strut.
Mr. Obama's alpha-male attitude was evident even as he stumbled towards and over the primary finish line. First, his campaign announced in May it was talking to Patti Solis Doyle after Sen. Clinton fired her as campaign manager. This served only to pour salt in the Clintons' wounds.
Then, after the primaries ended June 3, Mr. Obama's campaign leaked word that Leon Panetta (a Clinton supporter who'd apparently angered the Clintons by persistent criticism of their performance) and Ms. Doyle would conduct its outreach to the Clinton camp. Ms. Doyle was named chief of staff to the as-yet-to-be-chosen vice presidential running mate. All this was pointless, but reveals a disposition certain to manifest itself in other ways.
Mr. McCain will be helped if he uses Mr. Obama's actions to paint his opponent as someone driven by an all-powerful instinct to look out only for himself. In a contest over who is willing to put principle above personal ambition and self-interest, John McCain, a war hero and a former POW, wins hands down. That may not be the most important issue to voters in electing a president, but it's something they will rightly take into account.