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the Boston Globe

The Change We Can Believe In?

Joan Vennochi

The Presidential candidate who promises to change Washington raced into Washington's arms right after the media crowned him as the presumptive Democratic nominee.

During a Thursday visit to the nation's Capitol, Barack Obama was fawned over by those he critiqued two days earlier: "Washington didn't give us much of a chance," he said during his North Carolina victory speech.

Clearly, that's no longer the case.

But, being hailed as a winner is different from being hailed as the change agent Obama pledges to become.

Obama changed the rhetoric and style of the 2008 contest and would make history if he becomes the first African-American president. A Democrat in the White House would change the dogma. But what else, besides the face of Washington, will he change?

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright called him out as a politician, a description that angered Obama as much as any other declaration by his former pastor because it exposed an unflattering truth. Obama held Wright close when it was politically advantageous and cut the controversial minister loose when it was politically advantageous.

The Obama campaign discouraged revotes in Michigan and Florida. It's running the clock when it comes to coming up with a solution about seating delegates from those states. Both states ignored party rules when they scheduled their primaries, leading the Democratic National Committee to strip their delegates. The Obama campaign did not rush to find a way to seat them and help Hillary Clinton add to her delegate count.

During the long primary season, Obama was occasionally asked to answer for actions that add up to very ordinary politics. One example is the flap over the North American Free Trade Agreement and an Obama representative's suggestion that what the candidate was saying on the campaign trail would not govern his actions as president.

He worked with lobbyists as an Illinois legislator and US senator, even as he distances himself from them as a presidential candidate. The Republican National Committee sent out a press release Thursday, noting that a former lobbyist, Antill E. Trotter, held a fund-raiser for Obama that night in Washington. Trotter specialized in telecommunications, transportation, and environmental issues from 2000-2004. The RNC release also contained reminders of an ABC News report that Obama introduced nine bills to make certain chemicals tax-exempt at the request of some corporate lobbyists; and a Boston Globe report about Obama's work with an insurance lobbyist to make healthcare legislation more acceptable to insurance companies.

A first term senator, Obama's relative newness to Washington helps him draw a symbolic contrast with Clinton and Republican John McCain. But in recent weeks, as more Democrats in Congress fell in step behind Obama, the establishment provides a familiar backdrop for his fresh face. During Thursday's visit, he looked like anything but an outsider. Greeted like a celebrity, he shook hands with members of both parties and posed for photographs during a stop in the House of Representatives.

The positive side of this image showcases a candidate who can unify his party and work with Republicans if elected. But part of Obama's appeal to voters is his promise to dramatically change the political culture in Washington. Savoring last week's primary victory, he said, "What North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C."

The senator from Illinois walks a delicate line. He's the newcomer who crashed the 2008 campaign and changed the script from Clinton's inevitability to his own. He argues that he's best suited to challenge Washington's political culture because he isn't steeped in it. Today, Clinton is scorned by Democratic insiders and McCain is more maverick than darling of the GOP.

Obama speaks exquisitely about change; the signs at his rallies and speeches underscore one pledge: change.

After eight years of partisanship and unproductive chill between the executive and legislative branches, it's a change to see a presidential candidate warmly embraced by the establishment.

But if Obama wins the Oval Office, the next step is calculating how much distance it takes to truly change the status quo.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at

© 2008 Boston Globe

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