Friday, July 25, 2008


Obamania has reached such a deafening crescendo with Grand Tour of Europe that I feel I would be remiss in not commenting on it. I hadn't wanted to, since it would only add to the din, but I feel like I have to.

First of all, let's deal with the obvious. Barack Obama is an undistinguished politician who is his party's nominee because of his race. I say this without malice and it would have been equally true that sex was the determinative factor had Hillary Clinton become the Democrats' standard-bearer.

Close your eyes. I am going to ask you to imagine a politician. His name is John Smith. John Smith is a telegenic, articulate, middle-aged man. He has impeccable academic credentials. He had a short career in the private sector and then returned to his home, a large urban city, to become a community organizer. He spent three years working with a community development organization before attending a very prestigious law school. He excelled in law school and graduated with high honors.

He returned to his hometown where he resumed his work in community development, working with underprivileged residents before joining a small law firm specializing in civil rights legislation.

After four years practicing law, he runs for the state legislature. He gained accolades for his work trying to improve the situation of the underprivileged residents of his state. Next comes an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives.

Four years later he wins an impressive victory in the Democratic primary in his campaign for a seat in the US Senate. His expected opponent, the Republican incumbent, drops out of the race five months before the election. With less than three months before the election, the Republicans decide to run a candidate with national name recognition but few ties to the state. Smith wins the election.

During his first term he works with several Republicans on some key issues, such as border security and immigration. Still, he remains a largely unknown quantity.

Before completing his first term, Smith decides to explore running for the presidency largely on the basis of a keynote address at his party's national convention that propels him into the national spotlight.

Seriously, would you vote for him? Would you expect him to become the star of a bona fide media circus? Perhaps, you might say, one day with more Senate experience and maybe some executive experience, he may be considered presidential timber. After all, for an elected official, Senator Smith is still a young man.

But as is? I just don't see it.

Consider some other relative newcomers who have surged to prominence. Let's start with Fred Thompson. He captured the country's attention, briefly, but then petered out. And I would argue that Mr. Thompson had both more experience and more name recognition (having had a successful acting career) than Mr. Obama.

Mitt Romney had a very successful private-sector career as a CEO, before rescuing the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake. He followed that by winning the governor's mansion as a Republican in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts. By any measure, Mr. Romney has significantly more experience than Mr. Obama.

A similar argument could be made for Michael Bloomberg. Also, these two men are capable of self-financing their campaigns. Mr. Obama is the black John Edwards, without the hugely successful career as a trial lawyer and the resultant money with which to finance his campaign.

So what to make of this hysteria? First of all, there is no doubt that Obama is the subject of genuine enthusiasm among younger voters. But that was true of Howard Dean in 2004 and he imploded spectacularly. And I would argue that they youth vote is unreliable and fickle. (Even though E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post argues that this is the year - finally - when the youth turn out en masse. I'll believe when I see it.)

Frankly, I think Obamania is largely a media-driven phenomenon. The media are the ones who determines who gets coverage and in what measure. And I think their decision to get behind Obama was determined by two factors: his vote against the Iraq War, which the media detests, and his good fortune in not being Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton's cold calculating persona along with her naked lust for the presidency, combined to make her that most fatal of qualities in a candidate, unlikeable.

What I find most maddening and mystifying about Senator Obama is how little of substance he seems to say. His campaign slogan, "Change We Can Believe In", tells us nothing. Change in and of itself is neither good nor bad, unless we know what we are changing from and towards. If I offer to "change" $100 into $50 for you, is that a good deal for you? Of course not. And if I ask you to give me $100 without telling you what it is for, are you likely to give it to me? Again, of course not.

I think Obamania is going to backfire. In the midst of all the hysteria, what the media hasn't told you is that Obama and McCain are basically in a dead heat now. And now Obama's campaign is beginning to smack of pride and narcissism.

I hadn't realized that up until a few months ago, Mr. Obama used to adorn his podium with a seal, complete with a motto in Latin. In the words of columnist Charles Krauthammer, "Who does Obama think he is?"

In Germany, he asked to make his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where John Kennedy famously uttered "Ich bin ein Berliner" and where Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". Obama can point to no such achievements. Trying to associate himself with these men who faced down a deadly enemy in the Soviet Union reeks of conceit.

Consider this exchange:
“It is not going to be a political speech,” said a senior foreign policy adviser, who spoke to reporters on background. “When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech, it is not a political speech or a political rally.

“But he is not president of the United States,” a reporter reminded the adviser.

And that gentle reminder was from a reporter. Even the people who helped him get where he is are softly suggesting he rein it in a bit!

I think he and his staff have gotten caught up in the hype. I think the more strategic course of action would have been to sit out the 2008 campaign and wait to be courted as a vice presidential candidate and gained experience in a national campaign. If he weren't successful on a national Democratic ticket, then I think he would have done well to serve a term or two as governor of Illinois or mayor of Chicago so that he would have some executive experience to bring to a presidential race.

I think the American people are going to decide that Mr. Obama has gotten a bit too full of himself. He is already acting as though he is the president when many people have not made up their minds about him. With his relative dearth of experience, I think they will decide that it's too much, too soon.

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