Make no mistake, Barack Obama is an engaging candidate, successfully pandering "hope" to a nation of people weary of war, high gasoline prices and the way things are.
Those of us who are old enough to remember John Fitzgerald Kennedy's 1960 campaign saw the youthful Kennedy upset the more experienced Nixon. Or the 1964 race where Lyndon Johnson's "great society" trounced Barry Goldwater's conservative agenda (which, by today's standards, is almost liberal at times).
I'm weary of being fat. It's my life story. And if someone offered me "hope" in the form of a magic elixir that would make me svelte, I just might jump for it even though the reality is that it may not work.
And the Obama campaign is just about that -- selling the magic "hope" pill vs. harsh reality. The contrast surfaced during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday.
Obama, who pledged to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, was asked if he reserved the right to go back into Iraq. He responded that "if al-Qaida is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."
The next day McCain mocked Obama, ''I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq."
Obama fired back, ''I do know that al-Qaida is in Iraq and that's why I have said we should continue to strike al-Qaida targets. But I have some news for John McCain. There was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq."
So what, pray tell, is Obama's Iraq strategy?
It seems to be that he knows al-Qaida is in Iraq but he's going to pull out anyway. But if al-Qaida establishes a base in Iraq, he'd go back in. Does that sound confusing? His policy seems to pull our troops out of Iraq and hope for the best. And, for him, the "real" issue is what cowboy Bush and McCain did five years ago.
Given the nation's weariness with the war, that message has proved to be appealing to Democratic primary voters. They want no part of the grim realism of McCain's position that Iraq is part of the wider struggle against Islamist jihadism athat will require a long-term U.S. commitment. Arguing over what happened in 2003 is a way to avoid facing today's realities, McCain reasonably argues.
Hope also figures in Obama's willingness, as president, to meet, without preconditions, America's adversaries like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said he wouldn't "shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel." He didn't mention names but he meant the Iranian president.
Obama's blind followers see his we-can-talk diplomacy as a refreshing. Hillary Clinton is the surprising voice of realism here but her efforts to paint Obama's position as naive apparently aren't swaying many Democrats. (And heaven forbid that her position coincides with Bush saying meeting with a tyrant like Ahmadinejad only buttresses an oppressive government, confuses our allies and demoralizes Iranian reformers.)
Given the complexities of the world, a president occasionally does have to meet with unsavory characters in pursuing vital foreign policy initiatives. Bill Clinton tried coax Yasser Arafat to negotiate an end of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only to see his work and peace hopes vaporized by Arafat's allegiance to terrorism.
A President Obama would be taking a big gamble meeting with a rogue like Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Iran wants nuclear weapons, is a sponsor of terror responsible for mass murder as far away as Argentina, and has been at the heart of Islamist-inspired turmoil for nearly three decades. It stones women to death for adultery. It executes more children than any country in the world. Tehran lashes gays and kills them by public hanging. It jails, tortures and executes political dissidents.
At Columbia University last year Ahmadinejad advocated an end to Israel, denied the Holocaust and even claim no homosexuals live in Iran. More recently he proclaimed Iran has two missions. complete the Islamic revolution in Iran and then go about "introducing the Islamic revolution to the entire mankind."
Hope may make for a good American political campaign, but it's not the basis for foreign policy. And in less troubled times it may be a comfortable elixir.
But in a diseased world, removing the cancer is the best prelude to hope.