Today is the day when Barack Obama moves decisively to claim the leadership of the Democratic Party. He is expected to set the stage for the presidential contest in a speech tonight at the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. In doing so, he will be saying to John McCain, his Republican opponent “you can run, but you can’t hide!”
Back in the days when it was not at all clear that Obama would even get past Super Tuesday, February 5th when several primaries were held at once and Clinton was thought to have the organizational, financial and political advantage, I wrote the following to a couple of friends who had decamped to Europe, awaiting the American Spring:
Not much going on in Maplewood. Obviously Bush’s economy is unraveling fast, laying bare the underpinnings of a weak presidency, sustained only by the fear and hatred of the other… So, unless the Democrats manage to screw it up badly, the White House and Congress are theirs for the asking.
I voted for Obama in the [NJ] primary, because of my distaste for dynasties, whether it be a Clinton dynasty, a Bush dynasty or a Duvalier dynasty. They stifle the democratic debate and insure a lock hold for the very few, what we would call the establishment. This said, I have followed the reporting on Obama, but not really took the time to listen to his speeches, read his musings, or watch the debates. Until this last Thursday when he squared off against Hillary. Frankly I thought that Hillary did slightly better than Obama in handling the questions and the responses. Her biggest liability has and will be Bill. My suspicion is that most Americans didn’t think that Bill should have been given the 3rd degree over the Monica affair, but generally believe that he’s pompous, arrogant and ass… who exploits people to his own end. Obama is new and more attractive. He’s a mutt: neither white nor black, although the 1% rule is used as the measuring stick still in 21st century America. In any case, if my logic holds, he’s got 2 things going for him: a) the presidency remains a man’s job in the eye of most people — not easy to go from gun slinging Bush/Cheney to the female touch; b) women had an easier time breaking down barriers and glass ceilings once Blacks brought them down, so Blacks deserve a first shot at running the White House.
With respect to an Obama presidency, there may be nothing to fear but fear itself. Yet, to run for the presidency, one must have an outsized ego. When people turn to adulation, there comes a sense of infallibility that carries one to victory, but cannot compensate for thoughtful management of a government. Having witnessed the rise of charismatic leaders who managed to screw things up (Aristide), and renege on their commitments once in power (Clinton), I am a little bit weary of promises that will be impossible to keep. As in, “we’ll start withdrawing the troops from Iraq in 60 days…” — in this case by the way McCain is getting a bum rap from Democratic diehards… looks to me that the US may have to send troops to Pakistan too…
The next time I caught up with Obama, Hillary Clinton was on the ropes, working feverishly to save her campaign by achieving victory in the Pennsylvania primary. The press had seized on comments made by the Rev. Wright about the United States, the oppression of African-Americans and a whole slew of things that I will not go into here since they’ve been discussed ad infinitum. The silly equation “Wright = Obama, Obama = Wright” was the only thing that pundits, reporters, commentators talked about, I guess in a way to gain as much attention as possible in order to sell their worth as media buys. There stood Obama before a lectern and television cameras, with a promise to address the issue head on. And out came one of the finest speeches I heard about racism (honest, lucid and forward-looking), getting over its legacy and moving on to build bridges. Listening to the speech, I was amazed that he articulated the issue so clearly and that it did not seem to matter to him that such a speech could derail his entire campaign. What seemed to matter is that he spoke truth to power. “He is the real thing,” said Jocelyn to McCalla. And McCalla agreed, even though he still wearied of the ego.
I sincerely hope that, after winning the primaries tonight, he goes on winning the national elections, and that he keeps the promise of speaking truth to power.