Obama might well be simply bullshitting us. His rhetorical prowess might well be hiding nothing more than an empty suit with no higher ambition than to warm a chair in the Oval Office.
But the presidency of the United States is not a ceremonial position (all right, it's not an entirely ceremonial position). I'm pleased that Obama looks at multiple points of view (or says he does). I'm happy that he gives his decisions careful thought (or says he does). I agree that there is a degree of intrinsic virtue in restraint.
If we want a president, though, who simply does nothing but give stirring speeches while his amoral cronies line their pockets with The People's money (all right, yet another president who...), we can hire an actor (yes, yes, yet another actor).
If we want something more, we'd like to see that, after all the sensitivity and ecumenicalism, after the intellectual consideration, with all due respect for restraint and caution, a presidential candidate can actually make a decision, stake out a position, and work to implement it in the face of opposition.
The perfect position for Barack Obama to take is a substantive position against the war in Iraq.
It is a position that has broad support. Pretty much everyone is against it. The only people still for it are those who would rejoice if Bush started rounding up liberals into concentration camps and invaded the Blue states, killed their governors, and forcibly converted the people to Fundamentalist Christianity. These are not votes Obama is likely to receive in any case.
Ending a war is not contrary in general to any but the most extreme ideology. Obama would not have to sacrifice his ideological ecumenicalism to oppose the war in Iraq. And again, he would "sacrifice" only those votes he wouldn't ever get in the first place.
It is a position that both demands immediate action, and that actually has some chance of immediate success. Other issues--health care, the economy, our eroding civil rights, etc.--have no practical near-term strategies for implementation; they will have to wait until after the next election no matter what Obama does. Vague generalities and assurances that his heart is in the right place will do for these lesser (but still important) issues so long as Obama can gain our trust by actively tackling Iraq with principle, vigor and political effectiveness.
Actually ending the war in Iraq before the election is not strictly necessary (of course it's desirable and perhaps even possible); it's necessary only to force the Republican party to take the blame for failure to end it.
It is a position that will attract the "Right Wing Noise Machine". Obama has so far been more-or-less successful in avoiding the Noise Machine. As the Democratic nominee--as well as a sitting president--he will sooner or later have to confront the Noise Machine. We (and by "we" I mean rational people of every sane political opinion who still value truth and rational discourse) would like to see that he can do so sooner rather than later.
It is a position which, as a sitting Senator, he actually has a personal and professional responsibility to address, regardless of the election. If Obama cannot discharge the responsibility he has now, by what virtue are we supposed to give him more responsibility?
It is a position that sharply defines him against his most important primary opponent. Senator Clinton has practically begged anti-war voters to choose a different candidate. Clinton is handing her opponents a gift, but anti-war voters are not Obama's by default: He will have to act to take them.
It is a position that offers a "target-rich" environment. The shameful indifference to the medical needs of returning veterans? It's about the war. Infinite extensions to Iraq service? Abu Ghraib? Guantanamo Bay? They're about the war. Even habeas corpus and domestic wiretapping are about the war. Just by sucking up almost a trillion dollars, the war affects everything.
If Obama makes his campaign and his Senate service about ending the war, he will win the nomination and the presidency. More importantly, he will win with a mandate to end the war in Iraq and remove the proximate cause of much of the nation's insanity. If he actually does help end the war before being elected, he will win the presidency as a hero, and still have a mandate to actually address the rest of the nation's considerable problems with his personal brand of thoughtful, restrained ecumenicalism.
Obama might be able to win the nomination and the presidency without vigorously opposing the war in Iraq, perhaps without even ever directly confronting the vicious propaganda in today's media, perhaps without ever saying or doing anything in the next two years that has even the slightest taint of substance. But if he does win thusly, he will take office without a mandate, without a dime of political capital, and without a position of moral strength. And he will be remembered as the most ineffectual president since William Henry Harrison.
I strongly recommend that Barack Obama take a page directly from Bill Clinton's playbook. His own office, every campaign office, every staffer and volunteer's home, should have on every wall, in 72 point extra bold type:
It's the war, stupid!