I wrote harsh things about Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois a couple of weeks ago, and the very next morning, his press aide, Tommy Vietor, was on the phone howling about inaccuracies. It was an illuminating conversation, indicative of the sort of instinctive reflexes at work in the office of a man already breathlessly touted as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2008, and maybe a presidential candidate somewhere down the road from there.

Obama's man took grave exception to my use of the word "distanced" to describe what his boss had done when Illinois' senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, got into trouble for likening conditions at Guantanamo to those in a Nazi or Stalin-era camp. This was one of Durbin's finer moments, so he duly paid the penalty of having to eat crow on the Senate floor. His fellow senator, Obama, did not support him in any way. Obama said, "Each and every one of us is going to make a mistake once in a while ... " He said this three times. This isn't distancing?

Nor did Obama's man like my description of Obama's cheerleading for the nuke Iran crowd. Obama recently declared that when it comes to the U.S. posture on Iran, all options, including military ones, should be on the table. This is standard senatorial tubthump, meaning we can drop the big one if we feel like it. Like Kerry and Hilary Rodham Clinton he cold-shouldered Rep. Jack Murtha last October when Murtha called for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. If that had happened, in six months the Iraqi factions might have got their act together and arrested the slide into civil war.

Obama is one of those politicians whom journalists like to decorate with words as "adroit" or "politically adept" because you can actually see him trimming to the wind, the way you see a conjuror of moderate skill shove the rabbit back up his sleeve. Above all he is concerned with the task of reassuring the masters of the Democratic Party, and beyond that, the politico-corporate establishment, that he is safe. Whatever bomb might have been in his head has long since been disarmed.

There are plenty of black people like that in the Congress now. After a decade or so of careful corporate funding, as the Black Congressional Caucus is sinking under the weight of Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) clones like Artur Davis of Alabama, Albert Wynn of Maryland, Sanford Bishop and David Scott of Georgia, William Jefferson of Louisiana, Gregory Meeks of New York, all assiduously selling for a mess of pottage the interests of the voters who sent them to Washington. Obama has done exactly the same thing. His political action committee, the Hope Fund, is raising money for 14 of his senatorial colleagues -- 10 of whom are DLC in orientation, which is half of the DLC presence in the Senate.

There has been a more substantive signal, keenly savored by the corporate world, where Obama voted for "tort reform," thus making it far harder for people to get redress or compensation. Actually, the yes vote in the Senate was filibuster-proof, so Obama could have voted either way without it making any difference. He just wanted the top people to know just how safe he was.

Some hopeful progressives still say, "Obama has to bob and weave while positioning himself at the high table as the people's champion." But in his advance to the high table he is divesting himself of all legitimate claims to be any sort of popular champion. He advertises himself as another safe black, like Condoleezza Rice (whom Obama voted to confirm). The Empire relishes such servants.

And so Obama, the constitutional law professor, voted to close off any filibuster of Alito and fled Sen. Russell Feingold's motion to censure the president, declaring: "my and Sen. Feingold's view is not unanimous. Some constitutional scholars and lower court opinions support the president's argument that he has inherent authority to go outside the bounds of the law in monitoring the activities of suspected terrorists. The question is whether the president understood the law and knowingly flaunted it."

That's not the question at all. The vitality of the Constitution does not rest on whether Bush understands it, any more than the integrity of the Criminal Code depends on whether the president has ever read a line of any statute. We can safely assume that he doesn't and he hasn't.

And so also did Obama, the constitutional law professor, vote Yea on March 2 to final passage of the U.S.A PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, unlike 10 of his Democratic colleagues.

Vietor, Obama's man, laughed derisively at my complaint at the end of my last column how most of her Democratic colleagues had fled Cynthia McKinney. "She apologized," Vietor cried, as though that settled the matter. In fact, the betrayal of McKinney, particularly by her black colleagues, was an appalling and important political moment rewarding the racism showered on McKinney and the ongoing implosion of the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama, of course, distanced himself from her, too.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.