Barack Obama has made it to prime time. Magazine covers, television interviews and the subject of countless columns including most of the Op-Ed voices at the New York Times. We’ve heard all the pros and cons, the urging to run, the reservations including this morning’s slow down and wait message from Bob Herbert. I for one cast my vote for an Obama candidacy in a post last May when voicing concerns about both John the Savior McCain and Hilary the Inevitable Clinton. Because so much has been written and said these last two weeks, I am a little reluctant to join the chorus, but perhaps a word from an ordinary voter not a professional pundit can justify yet another Obama piece.
It’s interesting that we are suddenly faced with so much Presidential talk just two weeks before such a critical mid-term Congressional election. To be sure much is being said about the potential for a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate. The country does seem at long last to be mad as hell and unready to take it any more. One wonders what took it so long, but to carry the cliché, “better late…” We’re focused on the Presidency for one simple reason, that’s where the power lies and that’s the only place where a change of direction can take place. Six years ago when, as John Kerry might put it, Al Gore first won and then lost the election, conventional wisdom had it that an appointed President in a split country would lack the power to do much harm. So much for conventional wisdom, as we find ourselves, in retrospect, arguably the most damaged country on the globe. Of course our discomfort pales in comparison to what is being faced by the citizenry on the streets in Iraq or in the nightmare that is Darfur, but not relative to where we could or should be. That damage, that dramatic turnaround of events symbolized by a record surplus turned into a record deficit both actually and metaphorically can in the final analysis be laid at only one doorstep, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We’re focused on ’08 in ’06 for good reason.
And why Barack Obama? I think it all boils down, certainly for many Democrats but perhaps for some Republicans as well, to one simple fact. We’re tired of holding our noses and voting for the last man standing chosen from a field of the uninspiring, the less or the just barely acceptable. We simply want to be excited about our candidate, to be counting the hours till Election Day when we can pull the lever for our standard bearer. Al Gore wasn’t Bill Clinton and John Kerry wasn’t, yes you guessed it, Bill Clinton. Just look at the field today, in both parties. Is there anyone out there about whom a majority of Americans, much less a broad spectrum of party loyalists can get excited? Sure Senators have a poor record of success in winning the presidency, Jack Kennedy being the exception. Hello, the relatively inexperienced Jack Kennedy had charisma, that something special that made your heart beat a little faster. I encountered him first on my college campus in the presence of, among others, the Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren and no one could take their eyes off him. Don’t tell me emotions don’t count. Clinton, who is our reigning political superstar, may be a policy wonk and he may be able, unlike Bush, to put not only two but thousands of words together coherently and elegantly, but ultimately it’s emotion, his aura, that carries the day.
Leadership is not about clever (and misleading) slogans, but about getting people to follow both little people like you and me and world leaders, all at the same time. Barack Obama may be untested in the regard, but at least he shows the potential. He holds out the possibility that we can rekindle the fire within and with it restore not superficial flag waving but real pride in being Americans. That’s a heavy hurtle to put on someone’s plate, perhaps it’s asking too much, but if not now, when? This country is moving ever so closely to the historic tipping point that has plagued virtually all of the world’s great empires, the one that leads ever so certainly to decline and then destruction. The Republican National Committee is running a commercial showing Osama and company, a ticking clock in the background. It’s likened to the famous Daisy commercial run against Goldwater in 1964. Hopefully the Democrats will counter with the simple but powerful question, “why is Osama still around on your watch” – done hold your breath. The fact is, the GOP ad is accurate, not the face of Osama, but the ticking. People are getting excited about Barak Obama because, realistic or not, they hope he might be able to stop it.