It can be viewed as nothing other than societal progress that the 2008 presidential race might include a woman (Hillary Clinton), a Jew (Michael Bloomberg), a Mormon (Mitt Romney) and an African-American (Barack Obama). It's about damned time we have choices beyond the usual gang of white Christian males.
But amid all that diversity, it's Obama's possible candidacy that's the real fascination.
There he was last weekend in New Hampshire generating unprecedented crowds of real people (as opposed to party activists), stirring the hearts of white Northeasterners and drawing comparisons to Jack Kennedy. And there he was on Monday Night Football flashing that winning smile and that endearing sense of humor. Whether or not the junior senator from Illinois is fueling the buzz to sell more copies of his new memoir, The Audacity of Hope, remains to be seen.
But everything we've know about Obama points to his entry. His ascendance has been almost instantaneous because he's always eyeing the next rung up. Whenever he's had the chance to jump to the next level, he's seized it. He has said that political ambition is a flaw he possesses. He should do it because his iron is white-hot.
He should also do it because, if he is the real thing-and, for the time being, that is a big if-America needs him. Whether or not it's the right decision for Obama's family (his wife and his two young daughters) is irrelevant. We're sorry, but considering the sad condition of this nation, its fading hopes and its ominous future, the interests of 300 million Americans come before the interest of four Chicagoans. We say that because modern politics has a way of attracting ninnies-men and women who get off on power or are decent at first but easily corrupted. This guy Obama seems different, special. He appears to have gotten into the business for the right reasons and carries an air about him that somehow suggests he'll avoid the Dark Side of the Force.
Maybe that's wishful thinking. Perhaps we're falling for a marketing campaign aided by overzealously compliant media. But our thinking is supported by what is known about the man.
After earning a degree in political science, Obama worked for a nonprofit in Chicago, organizing job-training programs in poor communities. He then went to Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude. A Harvard classmate told Time's Joe Klein that Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review "because the conservatives thought he would take their arguments into account." And his constitutional-law professor told Time's Amanda Ripley that he chose Obama to be his research assistant because he was the most impressive among the thousands of students this professor had encountered. After law school, Obama went to work for a firm specializing in civil rights and taught constitutional law before entering politics.
His career choices seem to indicate that this excerpt from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention is not just a collection of inspirational words: "If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief-I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper-that makes this country work."
In our view, this country's not working so well. The gap between rich and poor is widening at an alarming rate, making it more difficult for that child to get a decent education. Healthcare policies favoring the interests of drug companies make that senior's medicine less affordable. Fear-mongering and an authoritarian approach to homeland security make that Arab-American family feel less free. Exceedingly articulate, personable and intelligent, Obama appears able to communicate traditionally liberal ideals like these to a mainstream audience, for it's not that Americans reject liberalism out of hand; it's that it's been too long since a liberal politician has been able to deliver the message in a way that resonates.
As well, in his short Senate career, he has shown interest in finding common ground with conservatives, evident in his partnerships in legislation with Republicans Richard Lugar (weapons non-proliferation) and Tom Coburn (transparency in federal appropriations). Not to mention that he opposed the invasion of Iraq when such a stance was overwhelmingly unpopular, which sets him apart from Mrs. Clinton.
The press likes Obama. But the press will overcompensate by being as tough as possible as it vets him. Fortunately, he's already admitted to snorting coke and smoking pot ("I inhaled-that was the point," he's said), so that's out of the way.
So far we like what we see.