Bicycle Diaries: Obama

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Will he run? Can he win?

Our junior senator, Barack Obama, had a busy weekend. He was in New Hampshire, the New York Times reported, to sell a message of hope while proclaiming himself wary of the wave of hype that surrounded his visit.

The two events he attended were sold out with local Democratic bigwigs jostling for photo-ops. Despite the the palpable excitement of the local crowds Obama repeatedly emphasized that he was still thinking about whether he would run for president in 2008.

Hype aside, this weekend's New Hampshire visit is sure to raise the hopes of those who want him to run. He has joined a growing list of potential candidates who are testing the waters in the state that will be the first to hold its primary in 2008.

All this reminds me of something Studs Terkel said back in 1980 when the liberal Republican John Anderson was running as an independent against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter:
People are so tired of dealing with two-foot midgets, you give them someone two foot four and they start proclaiming him a giant.Given
Obama's increasing popularity, I wonder if a similar dynamic might be at work today. Is he the best we've got in a field dominated by political midgets? Or is he this generation's JFK: young, energetic, and idealistic.

Like JFK, Obama's brief senate career could work to his advantage. All we have is a rather mundane voting record that reveals little about his positions on a host of national and international issues. There isn't a lot to criticize except the fact that there isn't a lot to criticize.

On the other hand, Americans haven't elected a senator for president since JFK. Lyndon Johnson was actually the last but he wasn't elected since he assumed presidency after JFK's assassination. Instead, the voters have put their trust in former governors who at least have concrete administrative experience.

But what concerns me most about Obama is not his lack of administrative experience. It's his political record that falls way too short of his inspiring rhetoric. As Ken Silverstein wrote in Harpers Magazine last week,
Gone are the days when, as in the 1970s, the U.S. Senate could comfortably house such men as Fred Harris (from Oklahoma, of all places), who called for the breakup of the oil, steel, and auto industries; as Wisconsin’s William Proxmire, who replaced Joe McCarthy in 1957 and survived into the 1980s, a crusader against big banks who neither spent nor raised campaign money; as South Dakota’s George McGovern, who favored huge cuts in defense spending and a guaranteed income for all Americans; as Frank Church of Idaho, who led important investigations into CIA and FBI abuses.
So will he run? Probably. Will he win? Possibly. But more importantly, how will he govern? I have no freakinin' idea.

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