Gene Lyons

Recently, I spoke with a Clinton supporter who takes politics seriously. Was she still angry, I asked, or would she heed Hillary’s endorsement of her rival? No question, she allowed. Come November, she’d cast her ballot for Sen. Barack Obama.

“Yeah, but you’d vote for a timber-rattler,” I teased, “with a ‘D’ after its name.”

“Two words,” she said. “Supreme Court.”

So there’s definitely that. A couple more appointees like Roberts and Alito, and apart from the latter half of the Second Amendment — where it says even children and barnyard animals lacking opposable thumbs have a right to keep and bear .44 magnum handguns — we’ll have to rename the Bill of Rights the Liberal Elite List of Unrealistic Suggestions.

Meanwhile, the Chosen One, as certain Democrats call Obama, has been changing positions so fast it’d take a Doppler Effect equation to locate him. (Astronomers measure distances by calibrating the “red shift” as light waves move closer or farther away.)

“In recent weeks,” the Los Angeles Times summarized, “he toughened his stance on Iran and backed an expansion of the government’s wiretapping powers. On Wednesday, he said states should be allowed to execute child rapists. When the Supreme Court the next day struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns, he did not complain …”

Obama once vowed to filibuster the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance bill he now supports. In Illinois, he once proposed abolishing handguns. (Obama blames a staff error. Yeah, right.) Maybe his most predictable sidestep was opting out of public campaign financing to exploit his fundraising advantage over Sen. John McCain.

During the Democratic primaries, Obama’s position was that Hillary Clinton’s crawfishing on public financing proved her membership in the corrupt Washington establishment. Evidently, however, the moneychangers can keep on scheduling cocktail parties and fact-finding missions to the Bahamas. The Chosen One won’t be chasing them from the temple after all.

Welcome to the big leagues, Obamaphiles. At least Bill Clinton used to bite his lower lip and explain raspily why the cause he was about to abandon was a tough sell. Obama just kind of glides. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether an African-American’s blushing. But what are you academic lefties going to do about it? Vote for Ralph Nader again?

Not everybody thinks Obama’s calculated shape-shifting is so clever. Writing in Salon, Glenn Greenwald opines that Obama’s gotten sandbagged by the Beltway celebrity media, which always depicts GOP positions as centrist: “(A) very strong media narrative is arising that Obama’s abandoning his core beliefs for political gain. … The advice that (Democrats) should ‘move to the center’ and copy Republicans is guaranteed to make them look weak — because it is weak. It’s the definition of weakness.”

So who is this guy? Here’s how Obama defined himself at a recent campaign rally: “Hillary Clinton and I agree on 99 percent on the issues. We had to work to find something to disagree on … It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy. We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

This drew an instant rebuttal on NPR, of all places. “Weekend Edition”’s Scott Simon indignantly demanded to know, “What has John McCain ever done or said to merit the charge that he’s going to make Senator Obama’s race an issue? … Millions of Americans hope the country can go through this year’s historic presidential campaign without anyone playing the race card, but they’ll have to watch both sides of the table.”

Notice anything? Obama hadn’t actually mentioned McCain’s name. But the Arizona senator’s a Beltway media favorite, and even the Chosen One won’t be allowed to treat him like Hillary Clinton. The time for this objection was around the South Carolina primary, when Obama surrogates cynically played a whole deck of race cards against both Clintons.

Hillary’s taking a position similar to Boston Red Sox centerfielder Coco Crisp, explaining why he held no grudge against a Tampa pitcher who deliberately hit him with a pitch, triggering a brawl: “Even though we went at it, he hit me in the leg; he didn’t try to hit me in the head. He didn’t try to kill me. I ran out there and then he tried to hit me in the head. That’s the way to go.”

It’s classic baseball logic. The situation dictated that Crisp be thrown at. But a big league fastball can crush your eye socket, while most pitchers can’t punch worth a damn.

Because Obama never personally endorsed the racism smear, Hillary can pretend it never happened. The November election, however, will be played by different rules.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at genelyons2@sbcglobal.net.

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