Supposedly, everyone has a bottom line, an absolute limit past which we won’t go. First principles, perhaps, which can’t be compromised, or a sense of fairness that compels you to fight for certain ends. Richard Cohen has looked at both presidential candidates and finds that a bottom line is what separates them:
But here is the difference between McCain and Obama — and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It’s not just that he’s been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It’s also — and more important — that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This — not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express — is what commends him to so many journalists.
Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don’t know what they are.
Cohen doesn’t actually say what that bottom line is, but it’s useful to know that McCain has a bottom line. But Obama–not sure yet. Except, wait:
McCain has a bottom line. Obama just moved his.
Obama just moved his–indeterminate–bottom line. Oh, and Cohen admits that both candidates have changed their position on things, but this represents a bottom line change on Obama’s part, even though we don’t know if Obama has a bottom line. Argumentative prestidigitation abounds. Watch Cohen work but–ah!–not too closely becuase you’ll miss that the premise of Cohen’s argument–woosh!–has disappered! Bottom lines comes and go in a puff magic smoke. Thanks folks, Cohen will be back on the Post Op-Ed pages next week.
P.S. Publis at Obsdian Wings nominates this for Worst Op-Ed of 2008