The latest campaign controversy comes from an Obama interview with ABC News in which he said this:
What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated….And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world.
He is saying this in the context of explaining why he opposes the detention facility at Guantanamo (as do McCain and that dangerous enabler of terrorism, Colin Powell) and, by extension, why he supports the Boumediene ruling. Of course, it is true that we put the ’93 WTC terrorists on trial, and it certainly seems true that there is nothing fundamentally different about the Guantanamo detainees who will now be put on trial. That may be debatable, but it is far from obvious that there is a meaningful difference. Obama is saying that he is against a para-constitutional legal order, and apparently the McCain campaign wants to make it known that they support such a thing. The critiques that Obama wants to return to “September 10 mindset” (that’s from McCain’s foreign policy advisor) or that he wants to make terrorism a matter of criminal investigation and prosecution alone would be embarrassingly silly if they weren’t so likely to be politically effective. The candidate who has urged launching strikes into Pakistan and supported the bombardment of Lebanon is not one who is leery of using force to respond to terrorism and other security threats.
Also in the interview is Obama’s statement on school vouchers, which might have come from an NEA talking points memo:
We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.
Contrary to the (bizarre) expectations of certain starry-eyed Obamacons, Obama does not actually support school vouchers. I’ll keep saying it until it sinks in: his nods to conservative reform proposals are head fakes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is wrong about vouchers. As I have said before, I have never quite understood the preoccupation among movement conservatives with school vouchers, which are strongly opposed for the most part by their own middle-class constituencies for exactly the reasons Obama gives. These people don’t want to lose any funding for their school districts, which are for the most part not in total disrepair, and they see no advantage for their children in supporting the measure. Even so, where anyone got the idea that Obama would entertain school choice as part of any education reform is beyond me.
Update: Philip Klein responds:
So Larison doesn’t buy Obama’s head fakes on domestic issues, and yet he expects those of us who favor aggressive action against terrorism to buy Obama’s national security head fakes hook, line, and sinker.
The real point is that Obama doesn’t make substantive concessions on domestic policy, whereas on foreign policy he is much closer to the mainstream consensus, whether we are talking about Israel, the “war on terror” or any other question of national security and foreign policy. He isn’t making “head fakes” on national security at all, because he is, in fact, consistently supportive of an activist and fairly aggressive foreign policy on everything except Iraq. The “nods” to which I refer above are the sort of meaningless throwaway lines that Obama has made when he has fielded questions on vouchers or affirmative action or other domestic policies. I am not talking about fully articulated, formal policy positions that are stated in his campaign literature and reflected in his voting record.
My conclusion about Obama’s view on vouchers comes from what Obama himself says his view on vouchers is, rather than being misled by the “bipartisan” posturing that he will engage in to show how reasonable and accommodating he can be. Ironically, the one area of policy where he is broadly in agreement with the Washington consensus, foreign policy, is the one where people constantly assume that he is some new McGovern, while his domestic platform is much farther to the left, as conventionally defined, than his views on foreign affairs. Despite this, for some reason, it is on domestic policy that people keep imagining that Obama is open to a variety of ideas, and it doesn’t seem to bother them that there is absolutely no evidence for this. Obama’s statements and votes on national security and foreign policy are consistently more aggressive and within the mainstream consensus in Washington than Klein gives him credit for, because it seems to Klein to be basically inconceivable that someone could oppose the war in Iraq and yet otherwise be robustly in support of antiterrorism and using force overseas.
Some Obamacons like to imagine that Obama will embrace school choice, because that is what their ideal, imaginary Democratic friend would do; Klein looks at Obama’s actual record, ignores what it obviously means and then imagines the worst-case scenario (from his perspective) of what an Obama administration would mean in foreign policy. So this is what puzzles me about Klein’s position. He thinks that Obama must be misleading the public when Obama takes a formal position on a question of national security and foreign policy that doesn’t fit his preconceived notion that Obama wants to abandon the “war on terror” and change U.S. Israel policy, and relies on second or third-hand anecdotes to back up his suspicions, but he’s quite content to accept that Obama is opposed to vouchers on Obama’s say-so. But Obama probably once had dinner with someone who supported school choice, and we all know what that means. Oh, right, it means nothing.