Don’t Look for a Magic Candidate

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Democratic Party, elections

Senator Barack Obama has been all over news media lately, and today he said he was considering a presidential run in 2008.

I’m lukewarm on Senator Obama, to tell the truth; he’s a great speaker, but I can’t tell from his Senate record if there is more to him than words.

Frank Rich seems more encouraged than I am:

What makes the liberal establishment’s crush on Mr. Obama disconcerting is that it too often sees him as a love child of a pollster’s focus group: a one-man Benetton ad who can be all things to all people. He’s black and he’s white. He’s both of immigrant stock (Kenya) and the American heartland (Kansas, yet). He speaks openly about his faith without disowning evolution. He has both gravitas and unpretentious humor. He was the editor of The Harvard Law Review and also won a Grammy (for the audiobook of his touching memoir, “Dreams From My Father”). He exudes perfection but has owned up to youthful indiscretions with drugs. He is post-boomer and post-civil-rights-movement. He is Bill Clinton without the baggage, a fail-safe 21st-century bridge from “A Place Called Hope” to “The Audacity of Hope.”

Mr. Obama has offended no one (a silly tiff with John McCain excepted). Search right-wing blogs and you’ll find none of the invective showered on other liberal Democrats in general and black liberal leaders in particular. What little criticism Mr. Obama has received is from those in his own camp who find him cautious to a fault, especially on issues that might cause controversy. The sum of all his terrific parts, this theory goes, may be less than the whole: another Democrat who won’t tell you what day it is before calling a consultant, another human weather vane who waits to see which way the wind is blowing before taking a stand.

That has been the Democrats’ fatal malady, but it’s way too early and there’s too little evidence to say Mr. Obama has been infected by it. If he is conciliatory by nature and eager to entertain adversaries’ views in good faith, that’s not necessarily a fault, particularly in these poisonous times. The question is whether Mr. Obama will stick up for core principles when tested and get others to follow him.

That’s why it’s important to remember that on one true test for his party, Iraq, he was consistent from the start. On the long trail to a hotly competitive senatorial primary in Illinois, he repeatedly questioned the rationale for the war before it began, finally to protest it at a large rally in Chicago on the eve of the invasion. He judged Saddam to pose no immediate threat to America and argued for containment over a war he would soon label “dumb” and “political-driven.” He hasn’t changed. In his new book, he gives a specific date (the end of this year) for beginning “a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops” and doesn’t seem to care who calls it “cut and run.”

Contrast this with Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, who last week said that failed American policy in Iraq should be revisited if there’s no improvement in “maybe 60 to 90 days.” This might qualify as leadership, even at this late date, if only John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hadn’t proposed exactly the same time frame for a re-evaluation of the war almost a week before she did.

However,

The Democrats may well win on Election Day this year. But one of their best hopes for long-term viability in the post-Bush era is that Barack Obama steps up and changes the party before the party of terminal timidity and equivocation changes him.

I’m still more inclined to agree with Taylor Marsh

Unfortunately, so far, I’ve seen nothing to imply that he is ready for the presidency.

Frankly, after George W. Bush’s reign, I want someone of deep experience in the presidency. A mature foreign policy thinker and gifted diplomatic leader. It’s a cynch that Obama outpaces Bush by a mile in intelligence, thought, curiosity and every other meter. However, he would still be a man learning on the job, having to rely enormously on his advisers. Regardless of whatever instincts Senator Obama may possess, though there’s no way to judge those talents as yet, he simply doesn’t have the depth of experience I believe is required in these complicated times. It’s simply not the time for a person that is an unknown, in my humble opinion.

On the other hand, I’d rather have Obama as the 2008 nominee than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. It may be that in 2008 people would rather have an “unknown” than someone they associate with either the Clinton or Bush administrations. We’ll see.

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11 Comments

  1. Swami  •  Oct 22, 2006 @11:12 pm

    I saw Barack Obama on Larry King Live the other night.. He does appear to have a gentle spirit. And that would be a breath of fresh air after living through the horror show of personality and character we’ve been subjected to with Bush.

  2. moonbat  •  Oct 22, 2006 @11:24 pm

    Agree with Taylor Marsh and with Maha – at least Obama seems better than Mrs Clinton.

    But frankly, I want someone who is strong enough and clear minded enough to name these last six or more years for what they are: the effect of massive corruption and bullying by the powerful far right. After they spent decades moving the center of gravity so far to the right that Nixon and Eisenhower seem like pinkos, the last thing we need is some accomodating Democrat who just wants to make nice. I’m sure the right would just love him.

    I saw some talking heads on TV just fawning over Obama last night, and frankly it made me sick. I don’t want accomodation, I want my country back.

  3. a517dogg  •  Oct 22, 2006 @11:50 pm

    Gore, Feingold, Clark, Obama, Edwards, Kerry, Clinton, Richardson…. I will support the Democrat for President in 2008.

    Worrying about who it is right now seems a little superfluous, even if I currently prefer other candidates (Gore, Clark, Edwards, Feingold) to Obama or Clinton.

  4. Donna  •  Oct 23, 2006 @12:40 am

    Well, speaking from Obama’s state of Illinois, and living in a strong Republican county, I have to tell you that it was nothing short of miraculous when he ran the long shot for Peter Fitzgerald’s open U.S. Senate seat.
    It just didn’t seem to matter where he campaigned, whether in urban or rural counties, speaking to Democrats or Republicans, folks just plain loved him and flocked to hear him in bigger and bigger crowds. Geez, this unknown guy wasn’t even considered to have a chance to win in the state democratic primary for the chance to run against a Republican senatorial candidate. As well as I could read it, he simply kept being his uncluttered self and speaking and listening with that quiet intelligence and caring……. he just thoroughly touched and won over hearts and minds and souls wherever he showed up to campaign in this state.

    Barack Obama is a phenomenon of some sort, and it is not just because people yearn for a ‘star’. It is because he is genuinely brilliant and humble and gracious and mannerly, all the while able to focus his abilities on whatever matter is foreground and important. I trust this guy to know what he can handle and I trust him to be truthful with himself and the rest of us. That is such a rare combination in today’s world of politics.

    I’ve not met him except briefly in the summer of 2005. But I did meet his wife Michelle in the fall of 2004 after I had watched a tape of his speech at the ’04 Democratic Convention. She was later the speaker at a state Democratic Women’s luncheon. Luncheon tickets sold out early, and still throngs of extra people came to stand against the back walls to hear her speak. She was utterly comfortable just being herself. No pretense, no spin……imagine that, if you can.

  5. Possum  •  Oct 23, 2006 @1:01 am

    Having done nothing, Obama will have nothing to apologize for. He is a great orator however, which makes him far superior to GWB. I like him, but wonder if he is just a different kind of empty suit.

  6. FurGaia  •  Oct 23, 2006 @1:14 am

    Maha, in the UK, some are saying it will be HRC. Steve Clemons seems to think so too … with Obama as vice-president!

  7. Jonathan Versen(Hugo Zoom)  •  Oct 23, 2006 @1:33 am

    How many articles, in the past 20 or 25 years, have appeared in Time fawning on an up-and-coming Senator’s presidential prospects? How many of these guys have since become president?

    If we want a politician with a funny name, how about Philly congressman Chaka Fattah? He has a solid (and pretty consistent)record of legislative accomplishment.

  8. Lynne  •  Oct 23, 2006 @5:55 am

    I think “funny name” is the least of our worries. Moonbat, while I concur with most of what you are saying, please don’t putNixon and Eisenhower together in the same sentence.

  9. Fred  •  Oct 23, 2006 @6:35 am

    We still, as of yet, have had any Senator since JFK ascend to the Presidency. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

  10. ChiTom  •  Oct 23, 2006 @8:28 am

    Maha, this also from an IL resident.

    Not to be too defensive of Sen. Obama, nor yet an overt supporter of him as a Presidential candidate, the fact that he might have to lean on advisers is not all bad– at home or abroad. Part of the current problem is that GWB has lousy advisers and no genuine intellectual independence (or, seemingly, capacity): Obama can do far, far better than that. And with less baggage than older hands: we do need somebody who can try to recreate an American middle again. (I say this from the left: I’m the guy who was tempted to go Green a while back.)

    PS Maybe, I should know this, but whom do you/would you favor as a Democratic candidate?

  11. CMc  •  Oct 23, 2006 @10:47 am

    If we want experience and wisdom along with intelligence and curiosity, it seems to me that the obvious nominee should be Al Gore. For one thing, he’s already won once. For another, no political leader in America has been as far-sighted on such future-oriented issues as technological innovation and environmental preservation. Finally, he was politically right on all the recent military actions, making him rare among Democrats of his generation (and, I would assert, morally right as well: the principle is simply that aggression is wrong, making Iraq the bad guy in 1990 and the US in 2003.) A good VP choice would be a military officer such as Wesley Clark or Anthony Zinni.

    But it very well may be that America will be ready for a fresh face and a fresh start in 2008. I have a sense that a large majority of our citizens, at some level of consciousness, don’t want this once-great democracy to go Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton, and Gore may be too much a person of the past, too much a part of that quasi-monarchical dynamic. Obama strikes me as the most talented political person since Bill Clinton arose in the 1980s. To win in 08, the Democrats must be credible on military matters, law enforcement, and what might be called the cowboy personality or frontier image that is so much a part of American history (which is why Southerners and Westerners have done well in recent elections). The upcoming election should throw up a number of candidates with those qualifications to either challenge Obama for the top spot or provide an attractive running-mate.

    If that happens (the nomination and election of a new-comer ticket), the Democratic establishment better get behind the “upstarts”–instead of sabotaging them as happened to Jimmy Carter. In fact, this entire 25-year period of increasingly far-right insanity could be said to stem from the failures of Democratic-controlled government in the late 70s.

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