Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Obamamania

This weekend Illinois Senator Barak Obama crossed the Atlantic to appear on the Ed Sullivan show attended a rally in New Hampshire, fanning speculation about a Presidential bid. As a result, we are feeling both an Obama wave and the inevitable Obama skeptic undertow. A review of sources, then a few thoughts.

WaPo’s story about the New Hampshire swing is the current touchstone for all things Obama. Chris Cilizza notes that much of Obama’s staff are Daschle veterans, so the former Senate Majority Leader demurring on his own run is a good thing for Barak. Dickerson writes up a studiously arm’s-length appraisal, but it’s clear he’s excited despite himself.

The best, most clear-eyed case I’ve seen for Obama is this pre-election post on Obsidian Wings about his genuinely impressive legislative record. If you click through one link in this post, make it that one. TNR has been all over his candidacy, with blog posts, a review of the NH performance and name checks in unrelated articles. Closer to home, Staff at BSB takes in an Obama speech and is unimpressed with his take on trade.

So what to make of this. First off, to put some cards on the table, I’m for anyone who can prevent the Hillary train wreck. Personally, I like her, but she will pancake in the general.

I haven't sifted through all of Obama's policy positions, but I like most of what I've seen so far. I especially like that he doesn't fit either a Liberal or Blue Dog mold. His policy positions appear to be based on his assessment of the facts, rather than some score card for A Politician of His Ilk.

Assessing the man himself – as someone who has had the honor of meeting him – he is extravagantly endowed with both intelligence and charisma. He's as good at the podium as working a small room and as good working a room as he is one-on-one. I’ve made the Subodh comparison before – he’s the rare combination of top-tier campaigner and the smartest guy in the room.

All of which is to say that he has the skill set to be President, and probably a great President. But is he sufficiently well seasoned? At this point we can say he has good answers for the experience question. At ODP the answer was "Nobody is prepared to be President." Lately he's been noting that Cheney and Rumsfeld are as experienced as anyone can be and still managed to put the country in a ditch. People are also noting something that I have been saying in private conversations – that the last time a candidate from Illinois with little official experience was elected, it turned out pretty well.

While Obama will be answering questions about his experience throughout the run, fact is, he's probably as salable now as he ever will be. It is notoriously difficult to run for President from the Senate. A legislative record gives opponents a huge trove for oppo research. On the other hand, legislative accomplishment are almost always a mixed blessing. Rarely is legislation necessary because everyone wants the thing to be legislated. Legislation generally sets rules for resolving disputes and makes at least one of the antagonists unhappy.

A governor, or even a vice president not named Al Gore, can point to what happened under his watch and claim credit. A Senator -- one of 100 -- rarely can make that claim stick. Legislative accomplishment is measured in laws being passed. Americans are at best neutral on laws, often finding them an inconveniece or worse.

Obama has shown legislative chops, but probably is most electable now while his oppo file is relatively thin. Alternatively, he could try to run for governor of Illinois, but that's at least four years away, probably more.

My bottom line: I want to know more. BSB points out that his trade stance may be particularly troubling. But he shouldn't be dismissed as a lightweight or as just a face. He's a serious guy who has been preparing himself for this job most of his adult life. He's one of the most gifted leaders of his generation. And he just might be what the country needs.

2 comments:

Mencken said...

If he changes his first name to Al, he could lock up the South.

Porkopolis said...

Pho:

As a lawyer, you might appreciate a post I did a few weeks back taking Sen. Obama to task for voting against the Military Commissions Act and misrepresenting the Habeas Corpus provisions (Barack claimed they weren't there) in the Act.

Post is at: Porkopolis calls Bullshit on 'Rock-Star' Senator Barack Obama.