It was not quite a Roger Mudd moment, but it was close. Mudd, you might recall, posed a simple question to Ted Kennedy in 1979: “Why do you want to be president?” Kennedy’s vague, unprepared answer raised serious questions about his candidacy.
Recently, Jake Tapper of ABC News asked a similarly blunt question of Barack Obama: “Have you ever worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk for yourself?” Obama’s response is worth quoting in full: “Well, look, when I was doing ethics reform legislation, for example, that wasn’t popular with Democrats or Republicans. So any time that you actually try to get something done in Washington, it entails some political risks. But I think the basic principle which you pointed out is that I have consistently said, when it comes to solving problems, like nuclear proliferation or reducing the influence of lobbyists in Washington, that I don’t approach this from a partisan or ideological perspective.”
For a candidate running as a centrist reformer, this is pretty weak tea. Ethics reform and nuclear proliferation are important issues, but they have hardly put Obama in the liberal doghouse. When I recently asked two U.S. senators who are personally favorable to Obama to name a legislative issue on which Obama has vocally bucked his own party, neither could cite a single instance.
The contrast to John McCain is stark. Contrary to some depictions, McCain is not a moderate. He is a conservative with a habit of massive, eye-stretching heresy.