Thursday, February 21, 2008


On Wednesday, Kos showed us how Obama will win the nomination. And he’s probably right, as he usually is. My still unanswered questions are, “Do we have the candidate who can win in November, and do we have the candidate who will make the best President?”

Those two questions have not yet been answered to my satisfaction. Good thing I’m in Oregon where we don’t have our primary until May! Let me tell you where I stand at this moment and maybe some of you will help me with my two questions. I began this primary season—it seems like eons ago—believing that most of the seven or eight Democratic candidates would make good presidents, far better than all of those lined up on the Republican side. I once thought that John McCain would be the best of all bad choices on that side, but I’ve doubts about that now. By election time, he will have so imitated and be so in debt to the right wing of the party that he will always have to try and out-Bush Bush.

But I’m not here to write about Republicans today. As the Democratic race unfolded before Iowa and New Hampshire, I did not consider Obama a serious contender in this election, but rather for the race eight years from now. The primaries, however, have brought him to the fore in a tight race with Hillary Clinton. What a choice, I thought, having the privilege of choosing between two equally qualified candidates, one a woman and one an African American! They have different gifts but still, in my mind, both are equally qualified.

But are they equally qualified a) to win against McCain, and b) to lead the nation back from the disaster wrought internationally and to constitutional government by the Bush administration?

I read two articles today by columnists who are not my mentors, but to whose words I’ve learned to take seriously.

The first was an
article by Robert J. Samuelson:
As a journalist, I harbor serious doubt about each of the most likely nominees. But with Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I feel that I'm dealing with known quantities. They've been in the public arena for years; their views, values and temperaments have received enormous scrutiny. By contrast, newcomer Obama is largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views.


Political candidates routinely indulge in exaggeration, pandering, inconsistency and self-serving obscuration. Clinton and McCain do. The reason for holding Obama to a higher standard is that it's his standard and also his campaign's central theme. He has run on the vague promise of "change," but on issue after issue -- immigration, the economy, global warming -- he has offered boilerplate policies that evade the underlying causes of the stalemates. These issues remain contentious because they involve real conflicts or differences of opinion.

The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the media -- preoccupied with the political "horse race" -- have treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.

The second was a
column by David Brooks that was characterized more by sarcasm than erudition, in which he talks about an “Obama Comedown Syndrome.”

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center fro Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

After the sarcasm and charges that will be daily fair for conservatives in the general election, he comes out at a strange place:

The victims of O.C.S. struggle against Obama-myopia, or the inability to see beyond Election Day. But here’s the fascinating thing: They still like him. They know that most of his hope-mongering is vaporous. They know that he knows it’s vaporous.

But the fact that they can share this dream still means something. After the magic fades and reality sets in, they still know something about his soul, and he knows something about theirs. They figure that any new president is going to face gigantic obstacles. At least this candidate seems likely to want to head in the right direction. Obama’s hype comes from exaggerating his powers and his virtues, not faking them.

For a people so disappointed in an administration—Bush’s approval rating dropped to 17%—having someone ignite dreams does mean something.

In many ways and for many people, Obama reminds people of JFK. I was one of the young people that Kennedy excited and got into the political process, like Obama seems to be doing now. But more was required than JFK was able to deliver, more probably even if he not been assassinated. In the most detailed and documented chronicle of the Civil Rights Movement, a three-volume history of
America in the King Years, Taylor Branch tells again and again of the Kennedy administration’s reluctance in the issue of segregation, except with words, and finally to offer up the Civil Rights Act. JFK was, after all, looking to be re-elected to a second term. Branch also tells of the great disappointment of King and other civil rights leaders in Kennedy, because his rhetoric was not matched by deeds.

Maybe it was the country’s shame at Kennedy’s assassination, but even more it was the legislative savvy and clout of one Lyndon Johnson that got the act passed. Remember the brouhaha about Hillary’s comment giving credit to LBJ for passage of the Civil Rights Act, seeming to disregard King’s role? Understand this, King put the pressure on the country and converted the Vice-President to the necessity of the legislation before the Kennedys. Without LBJ, the legislation didn’t stand a chance. For whatever he did later in Vietnam under the advice of inherited Kennedy advisors, in 1964 he got the Civil Rights Act passed.

Which candidate, Clinton or Obama, has the savvy and vision to end the war in Iraq, undo the damage the Bush administration has done to the rule of law, begin the repair of our international reputation, and at the same time, confront the real threat of terrorism? If, as Kos suggests, the nomination is now a done deal, let us hope that Obama has the soul and strength to face these gigantic obstacles.

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