Sunday, October 15, 2006

Barack Obama in 2008?

I've posted about Barack Obama a few times here, most notably when he spoke at Sojourner Magazine's Covenant for a New America ("A Call to Renewal"). A month ago, in my speedlinks, there were two stories that offered insights into Obama's possible run in 2008. First, an AP article offered Obama's views on national security. Then there was an earlier article in the New York Times which pointed out that Obama might say he is not running, but he isn't really not running either.

With Mark Warner dropping out of the race before it even gets started, Obama might be the closest thing to a centrist the Democrats have to offer. He seldom comes out with partisan speeches and can often be heard trying to find the middle ground. Part of that inclination might be that he is still a young senator, but it also might be that he truly believes that partisan politics do not serve the American public.

I like Obama, but I am cautious. I liked Hillary Clinton at the end of last year, but then she began a series of moves toward the right (a flag burning amendment, continued support for the Iraq War, fund-raising with Rupert Murdoch) that make me believe she will do anything to get elected, including selling out her liberal support. I hope Obama won't disappoint me the way Hillary has.

Time magazine has Barack Obama on the cover of their current issue, with an article entitled "The Democrats' New Face." Here is a bit of their article:
About halfway through the hour-long meeting, a middle-aged man stands up and says what seems to be on everyone's mind, with appropriate passion: "Congress hasn't done a damn thing this year. I'm tired of the politicians blaming each other. We should throw them all out and start over!"

"Including me?" the Senator asks.

A chorus of n-o-o-o-s. "Not you," the man says. "You're brand new." Obama wanders into a casual disquisition about the sluggish nature of democracy. The answer is not even remotely a standard, pretaped political response. He moves through some fairly arcane turf, talking about how political gerrymandering has led to a generation of politicians who come from safe districts where they don't have to consider the other side of the debate, which has made compromise -- —and therefore legislative progress -- —more difficult. "That's why I favored Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal last year, a nonpartisan commission to draw the congressional-district maps in California. Too bad it lost." The crowd is keeping up with Obama, listening closely as he segues into a detailed discussion of the federal budget. Eventually, he realizes he has been filibustering and apologizes to the crowd for "making a speech." No one seems to care, since Obama is doing something pretty rare in latter-day American politics: he is respecting their intelligence.
There are glimpses of second-tier thinking in Obama, a rare commodity in politicians. I'd have to read the new book myself to know for sure, but this section from the Time reporter is telling:
I counted no fewer than 50 instances of excruciatingly judicious on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-handedness in The Audacity of Hope. At one point, he considers the historic influence of ideological extremists -- —that is, people precisely unlike him. "It has not always been the pragmatist, the voice of reason, or the force of compromise, that has created the conditions for liberty," he writes about the antislavery movement of the 19th century. "Knowing this, I can't summarily dismiss those possessed of similar certainty today -- —the antiabortion activist ... the animal rights activist who raids a laboratory -- —no matter how deeply I disagree with their views. I am robbed even of the certainty of uncertainty -- —for sometimes absolute truths may well be absolute."
It sounds like he is trying to transcend relativism, a move more Democrats should make if they want to ever regain power in this country.

The article concludes that Obama -- despite his bold opposition to the Iraq War in 2002 when his Senate campaign was just getting off the ground -- is not yet ready to tackle the bigger issues, such as energy policy and universal health care. But there is still time, and Obama is more than willing to adopt the ideas of others when they make sense (he supported Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal last year for a nonpartisan commission to draw the congressional-district maps in California) and he says in the article that he will talk to Al Gore about his proposal for a huge increase in gas taxes to offset Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Obama's only policy move as a Senator was a joint effort with ultra-conservative Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to publish every government contract -- a move which is certain to embarrass his fellow Senators when they fill bills with "pork."

The next year will be interesting. Obama may decide to get some more experience under his belt before trying to take the White House. The current unwillingness to make a definitive statement about 2008 might be a ploy to sell more books (as Colin Powell did in 1995). But it is also worth noting that his lack of a long political record makes him a much more electable candidate than Hillary Clinton or Russ Feingold.

The real question - whenever he runs, and he will run -- is whether or not he can tame his inclination to consider both sides of every argument enough to appear decisive and forceful -- traits that Americans seem to desire in this ambiguous world.

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