As part of my resolution to work out my body and exercise my mind (so far, so good) I’m reading Game Change: Obama and The Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of A Lifetime. It’s an insider’s view of the 2008 presidential campaign written by two veteran political journalists, John Heilemann and Mark Helperin.
It’s far from a scholarly read. If People Magazine were to write a book about the 2008 campaign, it would probably be something like Game Change. I’m enjoying it as a guilty pleasure even as I recognize its gossipy and superficial. There are better books about how Barack Obama won the election, but few are as easy to read through.
It took me back to a column I wrote in 2007 when Obama announced he was running for the presidency.
Let’s consider this for a moment. Let’s say you are running a business and you recruit a young, handsome, articulate (and ambitious) young man to join your organization. He’s green as grass regarding how the business works, but he’s eager, a hard-charger, a real go-getter. You see in him the kind of talent and drive one would only hope others to exhibit and emulate.
He’s been on the job for a few years. He’s congenial and everyone likes working with him, but he hasn’t really done anything yet.
A key vacancy at the top of management opens up. There is no shortage of qualified individuals vying for the job. They have decades worth of experience. They are battle-tested, seasoned and know their way around the block.
But they’re a pretty dull group of gray-suit guys. Competent as hell to be sure, but with the collective sex appeal of a cold bowl of chicken noodle soup. They’re VHS in a DVD world.
So do you give the job to the new kid on the block?
Do you risk putting a fresh young face up against some of the roughest and toughest competitors on the planet? Are you willing to risk the future of the business on a relative rookie who has more star power than street smarts?
Is this job one that can be trusted to someone with more enthusiasm than experience.
This is the question Barack Obama will have to answer.
The question of Senator Obama’s experience is the one both he and those that doubt he has the necessary skills to be President of the United States would prefer to focus upon. That debate distracts from the more uncomfortable one of whether or not the nation is ready to choose a Black man as Chief Executive.
But the experience question is a legitimate one. Unlike Senators McCain, Biden, Brownback and Dodd whom have decades of experience between them, Obama is a newbie. Even John Edwards waited until he finished his six years as a Senator before making a run for The Big Chair.
However, as someone who has met the man, shook his hand and watched the way he works a room, I can say with 100 percent certainty that whatever the elusive star quality is some people have in abundance and most people don’t have at all, Barack Obama has “it.” To quote that great philosopher Tupac Shakur, when Obama is onstage it’s All Eyes On Him.
Obama doesn’t need another 20 years watching his hair become a distinguished grey and giving increasingly boring and irrelevant speeches on the floor of the Senate. He is never going to be more popular than he is right now. He has tapped into the desire of the American public for fresh faces appealing to our higher nature and not our base instincts. Obama seeks to unite with rhetoric of common goals and shared sacrifice, not the politics of division and character assassination.
Not yet anyway.
I concede the criticism that the media has designated Obama as The Chosen One is a valid one. In the search for the Anti-Hillary, Obama has been cast in the role of the charismatic newbie who can inspire the masses and lead the Democrats back into the White House in 2008.
This may be surprising coming from me, but I don’t think being Black will be Barack Obama’s main obstacle. There’s a certain hardcore group of voters that will not under any circumstances vote for a Black candidate no matter how qualified they might be. Their vote isn’t up for grabs so there’s no point in wasting time and money going after them.
But the experience issue is one that nags at even those who admire Obama. They see a world full of potential enemies and real ones challenging the U.S. and a myriad of issues that can’t be solved with high-sounding accolades and vague generalizations.
The fallacy is that you have to possess a vast wealth of experience to become the President of the United States. Correct me, but I don’t think George W. Bush or Bill Clinton had an immense amount of exposure to draw upon in their stints as state governors in dealing with China, Iran, Russia or North Korea. Every president is heavily dependent upon the staff he hires to provide him with good intel and advice. Even the most rock solid Republican would probably admit that Bush was poorly served by the pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, though Bush didn’t seem to hold anyone accountable for it. I doubt Obama would have a problem putting together a solid staff to help him.
Nobody seems to be scoffing at Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack or Sam Brownback for thinking about making a run at the White House and politically speaking these guys are nobodies. Most of them would have to walk around with a “Hi, My name is _____” sticker on their suits before anyone realized who they were. None of these guys have a snowball’s chance at winning so why are they running? Nobody thinks there’s anything weird about a White guy wanting to be president no matter how off the wall their candidacy is.
Barack Obama has the name recognition and high-profile most of the potential candidates would cut off their pinky finger for. The deconstruction of Barack Obama has already started in ways both trivial (his middle name being Osama) and slightly disquieting (that he has admitted to using drugs in his youth will disqualify him with those who imagine a every president should be made of a higher moral fiber than the rest of us).
Obama is nobody’s fool. He knows nobody has gone from the Senate to the White House since John Kennedy. But he also knows Kennedy had a skimpy job performance in the Senate and only viewed it as a stepping stone to the presidency.
Obama has drawn enough White support to make him a viable candidate for the presidency. That does not mean he can count on that translating into actual votes and victory because the same good people who say they’re open to voting for a Black man to be President, may go in a very different direction in the privacy of the voting booth.
Frankly, I don’t understand all the drama over Obama. He’s certainly not the first African-American to run for the top job. Maybe what it is if he can put together a credible campaign, he might be the first that could actually win?