Archive for Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ability to inspire may be Obama’s greatest gift

November 2, 2008


When Barack Obama began his candidacy for the White House 20 months ago, most Americans knew next to nothing about the young senator from Illinois, barely two years into his first term in federal office.

After his performance in 2004, some Democratic activists had marked him as the best convention speaker since Ted Kennedy, Ann Richards or Mario Cuomo. Others had read his book, "Dreams from My Father," and had declared him their finest literary talent since Ted Sorensen was ghostwriting for John F. Kennedy. Still others remarked on the fact that, unlike many of the party leaders in Washington, Obama had been prescient in his opposition to the U.S. attack on Iraq.

But no one knew much about his political skills or his ideology, and so he was generally underestimated as a threat to Hillary Clinton and the others who lined up to seek the 2008 prize.

What we have learned since then has been impressive. The most basic question about him - or anyone seeking the presidency - is whether he has the capacity to lead the country and manage the government. Nothing in Obama's history - lawyer, community organizer, state legislator and back-bench senator - had demonstrated extraordinary remarkable skills. The proof had to come from the campaign itself.

As soon as I saw him on the small-town circuit in Iowa, where he began his pursuit of office, two things became clear. He could generate votes by the force of his rhetoric and personality; he was not yet a celebrity, but he already had the capacity to convert strangers into friends.

And second, he had a cadre of people working for him who knew what they were doing. Though many of them were in their first presidential campaign, they were not amateurs. They understood their responsibilities and - reflecting Obama's own self-discipline - they went about their work with minimal waste of energy.

Somehow, this young senator had developed a battle plan for an awesomely intimidating and expensive process. Mitt Romney, with his Harvard Business School MBA, was no more efficient than Obama.

Of course, running a good campaign is not a guarantee of success as president. Jimmy Carter figured out brilliantly how to move from Plains, Ga., to the White House, a journey almost as implausible as Obama's, but he didn't know how to govern once he got there.

Obama has been Carteresque in the extravagance - and vagueness - of his promises to change Washington. But he is not afflicted with Carter's intellectual-moral contempt for other politicians, the trait that wrecked Carter's relationship with a Democratic Congress. On the contrary, Obama moves well among the political insiders, even while presenting an outsider's visage to the public.

What we have learned of Obama's programs puts him squarely in the liberal tradition of the party. Unlike Bill Clinton, he has not tried to spell out - during the campaign - the ways in which he would propose to rewrite Democratic foreign or domestic policy. As a result, we can only guess what his real priorities - in a time of severe budget constraints and a backlog of accumulated needs - would be. One can imagine serious debates within an Obama administration and between his White House and Congress.

In what history may record as his singular achievement - dealing with the classic American dilemma of race - he had the largely unappreciated help of his opponent, John McCain, who simply ruled out covert racial appeals used by politicians of both parties in the past. But Obama himself demonstrated repeatedly how to bridge the racial divides that still remain, by emphasizing his calm good judgment and respect for others. As a symbol of that national maturity, he carries a powerful positive message to the world.

Obama is not, any more than other politicians, a paragon. He reneged on his promise to use public funds for his general election campaign, driving a stake in the heart of the post-Watergate effort to reform the campaign finance system. He rejected McCain's invitation to joint town hall meetings - opening the door to the kind of tawdry exchange of charges that we have seen. In both instances, he put his personal goals ahead of the public good - a worrisome precedent.

But he has engendered widespread enthusiasm in a jaded and cynical public, especially among young people. And if he does not disillusion them in the years ahead, that would be a real gift to the nation.

- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


4paz 9 years, 6 months ago

Leaders must be inspirational to move people to action. It's not much different than a coach. Mangino can no longer run that ball down the field, but he can inspire his people to do it. Who wants someone whose answer to a national disaster is to tell people to go shopping. That's shallowness, not inspiration. We were ready to unite to bring down Bin Laden's group of thugs, and we were told to go shopping to keep the economy strong? Inspiration, not fear, is the sign of a true leader.

Pete Kennamore 9 years, 6 months ago

"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." H.L. Mencken

Pete Kennamore 9 years, 6 months ago

Don't forget, the average citizen is an idiot and thus should have no voice in the politcal process.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 6 months ago

Never questioning authority and party line voting has brought us colorful republican history: repub latest escapade into Syria is just another violation of international law just like Iraq. The USA government does not have unlimited authority around the world.The repub party is largest law breaker in our nations history:Isn't it odd each time our nations financial institutions crumble there are Bush family near by and a McCain still in office?Who has history with financial institutions going south such as the savings and loan scandal? Republicans! The Most Reprehensible of the Keating Five. The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling Teapot Dome and Watergate ... Who hosted the Iran Contra secret illegal sale of weapons? Republicans! Who brought the nation Iran Contra number 2? Republicans! Which party illegally spied on the democrats to win an election? Republicans! Watergate! Which party held secret energy meetings and refused our elected officials its' content and who attended? GW Bush and the republicans!CRIME: Which party lied to congress and the world,went against military advice and created the worst strategic blunder in the history of the USA aka Iraq War? Republican Party!Which party has held secret oil deals with Saudi Arabia?Republicans! Secret Oil deals for Iraq Oil- Republicans! AGAINST DEMOCRACY : PNAC's policy document, "Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination. Many PNAC members hold highest-level positions in the George W. Bush administration.

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