Not a good two days for the NeuroticDemocrat.
Started yesterday morning reading, in the Times, that Obama voted against a "Born Alive" bill while in the Illinois Legislature. Anti-abortion advocates were demanding he account for this vote. (An almost identical bill in the U.S. Congress drew wide bipartisan support.) Obama said that in Illinois, it had been paired with another bill that would have criminalized certain abortion procedures. Bill sponsors dispute that. I finished reading the story with a kind of a muddled feeling. I would have had a few followup questions for Obama, starting with: Where do you stand on the bill today? The NeuroticDemocrat has no trouble envisioning the ads this October, skewering Obama for wanting to kill live-born aborted fetuses.
It was a travel day yesterday, as my family left Cleveland for Denver. Mostly, on the trip, I played Shark Attack with my three-and-a-half year old, while my one-and-a-half-year-old climbed over chairs and turned the overhead light on and off over and over, refusing to take his nap. We had a fantastic afternoon in Boulder, the boys running up and down Pearl St., finishing the day at the farmer's market, where the kids found musical heaven in a woman with a bongo drum and an assortment of kid-friendly instruments.
Then came the call from my grandmother, who convinced me, in no time, that Obama has been completely ineffective in his communication strategy, allowing himself to be constantly placed on the defensive by GOP attacks. She noted that Obama was only up one point in the latest poll she had seen.
Today, we spent some time walking around downtown Denver. There are plenty of stores selling Democratic/Obama gear and apparel, though not as many as I would have imagined. One store is selling a shirt with a drawing of Hillary Clinton on it, above the words: "I support Obama." Later in the day, I received an email from a friend, a McCain supporter in Chicago, who told me McCain was up five points in one poll. This, after spending the afternoon in the car with two Denver locals -- both Obama supporters -- who implored me to help them make the case for Obama to their Jewish friends, who remain skeptical. Among their chief concerns: Obama's judgment in staying in Rev. Wright's church for 20 years, and his "flip-flopping" on the issues.
Just before heading to bed, I read an email from a buddy of mine -- a banker from Charlotte, North Carolina -- who says he is "looking to vote for Obama but is so unexcited about that prospect." He made a few criticisms of Obama. He doesn't think Obama's spending plan is fiscally responsible, and he didn't like his answer, at Saddleback Church, when asked to name a "gut-wrenching" decision he'd made in his life (Obama's answer: His decision to oppose the war in Iraq). My friend concluding with this: "*what won him the democratic nomination when he was on a roll was his voice of change / hope / a 'reinvented america' that competes globally and is fair to its citizens --- dude, this is absent in his current campaign and why he is slipping... it also nicely countered the first 2 items above which are weak points he won't overcome..."
I would argue that McCain, with his proposal to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, is the more fiscally irresponsible -- but a Republican like McCain isn't easily tagged that way. I agree with my friend, though, about Obama's answer to the "gut-wrenching" question. McCain's answer (his decision to STAY IN the Vietnamese POW camp, when offered the chance to leave, so as not to hand the enemy a propoganda victory) was much better. It's astounding to me that Obama couldn't come up with something better, too -- he needs to dig deeper, on the personal front, to connect. Think of the people you know and love. Who among them would say that their most gut-wrenching decision was a political stance?
My most gut-wrenching decisions have had to do with the people I love most -- decisions revolving around family conflict; decisions that I spent a great deal of time ruminating on, seeking the counsel, sometimes over a number of conversations, of those I know and love. My decision, when I was 22, to leave America for the first time -- and to quit a great job I had at a newspaper that I loved -- to live in Israel for a year -- that was gut-wrenching. My decision to leave another job four years later, as a reporter for a wire-service, to devote my life to writing fiction -- that was gut-wrenching. Decisions about who to love and who not to love, and what to tell your three-year-old when he asks you what happened to his great-grandfather, who'd recently passed away: these are gut-wrenching, each in their own way.
I know that Obama has faced these, and tougher. I've read his books. Look at the sections in "The Audacity of Hope," when he talks about what it's like being away from his daughters on the campaign trail, or how he feels, speaking to them about death. I know he is real and compassionate and filled with the kind of empathy we want and desperately need in a president.
Why he gave the answer he did, at this stage in the presidential campaign -- that's beyond me.