Saturday, February 10, 2007

Does Obama have the right stuff?

Barak Obama has made it official, throwing in his hat for the race to be the Democratic candidate for President of the US next year. It says quite a bit when BBC World pre-empted its hourly summary to carry the speech. One of his key planks is to introduce universal health coverage by the end of 2012 -- which when it plays out will probably be a "pay or play" system with a government plan as a fallback for the uninsured. I wish him luck, but it's going to be an uphill climb and not just because Hillary Clinton is the front-runner.

America is a nation at crisis. It is bitterly divided and it lacks a sense of purpose and not just because of the war. If one accepts the theory of the "fourth turning" there have been three previous crises of this magnitude. The first was at the country's founding in 1787, and the battle between the Federalists and anti-Federalists -- which was solved when George Washington was elected President and proved to be a very able administrator. The second was when the country was sliding into civil war. Along came a Republican named Abraham Lincoln and although the war played out Lincoln managed to keep the North together and had the best chance of reuniting the country as a whole until he was shot. Then came the Great Depression, and along to the rescue came no less than Franklin Roosevelt -- a Republican turned Democrat.

The Federalists are long gone, the GOP is not the party of Lincoln anymore and the Democrats (rightly or wrongly) have conceded that in some respects FDR may have gone too far in federal intervention. But Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt all had one thing in common: They had extensive experience behind them before they came to office so when their turn came they were ready.

Obama barely had a few years in the Illinois legislature before he was elected as a Senator and in the two years since then he has not introduced one significant piece of legislation that eventually became law or a serious talking point; even one twisted or co-opted by Republicans. So what does he have going for him? Charisma. Sure ... so did JFK and Reagan. The former proved to be an adulterer and the latter committed acts during Iran-contra that merited impeachment although it was never pursued by Congress. But even then both men had political experience.

It's one thing to have good intentions. It's another to try to use those good intentions and run headlong into something where there could be no return. Every politician claims they'll stand up to the lobbyists but wind up in bed with them -- literally or figuratively. Every one claims a national purpose but runs against states' rights.

As for the claim that he's not electable because of the colour of his skin -- I'm not even going to dignify that. Blacks can be elected to high office, as much as women can. It's the kind of person who can pull people together and build on those coalitions rather than going ad hoc from one issue to another that makes the difference. Bipartisanship is one thing at the state level where there's a general social consensus such as in Illinois. It's way different in DC whether Obama wants to admit it or not.

Obama is a sincere person and would do a competent job at the White House under normal times. But times aren't normal. The War Against Terror is going nowhere, the War in Iraq is a quagmire, the US debt keeps piling on and 46 million Americans remain uninsured. Oh yeah, a country with only 3% of the world's oil reserves consumes 20% of the global demand. I rue using the phrase, but he's just not up to the job.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

No comments: