Monday, February 4, 2008

Two sides of Obama coverage

When you're compared to Kennedy and Reagan (one a conservative turned liberal or vice versa, the other a liberal turned conservative or vice versa), anything can happen.

Steve Chapman: [AD COPY EDITED OUT]

On Thursday, The Washington Times reported that in 2004, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Obama came out for decriminalizing marijuana use. That usually means eliminating jail sentences and arrest records for anyone caught with a small amount for personal use, treating it more like a traffic offense than a violent crime. But in a show of hands at a debate last fall, he indicated that he opposed the idea.

When confronted on the issue by the Times, however, the senator defended his original ground. His campaign said he has "always" supported decriminalization.

It's a brave position, and therefore exceedingly rare among practicing politicians. Which may be why it didn't last. Before the day was over, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying he thinks "we are sending far too many first-time non-violent drug users to prison for very long periods of time" but "does not believe that we should treat offenses involving marijuana with a simple fine or just by confiscating the drug." Recently, he had told a New Hampshire newspaper, "I'm not in favor of decriminalization."

This episode reveals that as a candidate, Obama is more fond of bold rhetoric than bold policies. But it also proves the impossibility of talking sense on the subject of illicit drugs during a political campaign. That course of action would mean admitting the inadmissible: that the prohibition of cannabis has been cruel, wasteful and fraudulent.

Of course, Ron Paul has taken a stand here.

Back to Obama. Musing on Reagan Democrats, Salena Zito had an idea:

If one great communicator -- the eloquent Ronald Reagan -- could build a coalition of disaffected Democrats that swung both of his presidential elections his way, can an almost-great communicator -- the fiery Barack Obama -- build a coalition of disaffected Republicans to swing the Democrat primary election his way?

It's possible, says Brian F. Schaffner, an assistant professor of political science at American University in Washington, D.C...."Obama speaks so often of bringing the parties together and working with Republicans, he seems less polarizing to Republicans than Clinton, who has long been demonized by that party."

The Pew Research Center corroborates Schaffner's inkling. It recently produced a report showing that Obama is perceived as more liberal than Clinton among Democrats, yet is seen as more moderate than Clinton among Republicans.

And there are other reasons that a true red may go Obama:

One Republican who isn't afraid of Obama's liberalism is John Martin, who directs the grassroots Web organization "Republicans for Obama."

A Bronx, N.Y., native who was very active in the Young Republicans in college, Martin, 29, is in law school but serving on active duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Navy reservist. E-mailing from Afghanistan, Martin said his group has more than 400 members since he last checked and that the Web site's server received so many clicks the day Obama won Iowa that it crashed.

Lisa Kinzer, 30, is another rock-ribbed Republican who's gone Obama. The Norman, Okla., native has been a registered Republican for 12 years. She has nothing against President Bush. But she does have a problem with the GOP's 2008 candidates.

Their bickering over the morality of using torture while interrogating terrorist suspects in an early debate was her turning point, she says, so she went to shop on the Democrats' side and picked Obama -- who she believes stands the best chance of uniting the nation of bringing the country back together "of by "reminding us of what we all have in common, our love of this country and our hope for its future."

Towson University science professor Antonio Campbell is a lifelong Republican -- he even ran as one in Maryland's 7th Congressional District 10 years ago. Yet if Obama wins the Democrats' nomination, Campbell says he will become an "Obama Republican."

"Obama's message reads like Reagan's playbook -- individual strength, faith and behaving in a fiscally competent way," Campbell says.

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