Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Democratic Primaries: Gloves Coming Off

If these comments by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a Hillary Clinton surrogate, are any sign of what is now to come, it is fair to say the gloves are about to come off in the heated battle for the Democratic presidential nomination:

Sen. Barack Obama's promise of transformation and an end of partisan politics has its seductive appeal. The Bush-Cheney era, after all, has been punctuated by smear campaigns, character assassinations and ideological fervor.

...But will Mr. Obama fight? His brief time on the national scene gives little comfort. Consider a February 2006 exchange of letters with Mr. McCain on the subject of ethics reform. The wrathful Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of being "disingenuous," to which Mr. Obama meekly replied, "The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you."

Mr. McCain was insultingly dismissive but successful in intimidating his inexperienced colleague. Thus, in his one known face-to-face encounter with Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama failed to stand his ground.

What gives us confidence that Mr. Obama will be stronger the next time he faces Mr. McCain, a seasoned political fighter with extensive national security credentials? Even more important, what special disadvantages does Mr. Obama carry into this contest on questions of national security?

How will Mr. Obama answer Mr. McCain about his careless remark about unilaterally bombing Pakistan - perhaps blowing up an already difficult relationship with a nuclear state threatened by Islamic extremists? How will Mr. Obama respond to charges made by the Kenyan government that his campaigning activities in Kenya in support of his distant cousin running for president there made him "a stooge" and constituted interference in the politics of an important and besieged ally in the war on terror?

How will he answer charges that his desire for unstructured personal summits without preconditions with a host of America's adversaries, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Kim Jong Il, would be little more than premature capitulation?

Contrary to the myth of the Obama campaign, 2008 is not the year for transcendental transformation. The task for the next administration will be to repair the damage done by eight years of radical rule. And the choice for Americans is clear: four more years of corrupt Republican rule, senseless wars, evisceration of the Constitution, emptying of the national treasury - or rebuilding our government and our national reputation, piece by piece.

In order to effect practical change against a determined adversary, we do not need a would-be philosopher-king but a seasoned gladiator who understands the fight Democrats will face in the fall campaign and in governing.

Mr. Wilson is right.

It's high time the focus of discussion on both sides transcended the current cults of personality.

America must seriously assess who is best qualified to navigate the very deep, hot waters the country finds itself in.

For my money, that person is Hillary Clinton.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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