Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Obama Mystique

He’s likeable. He’s popular. He’s smart. He’s articulate. He’s clean. He’s Barack Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois, and he may be the Democrat’s savior, if we believe the conventional wisdom.

Sen. Obama has taken the country’s left by storm, running second behind Hillary Clinton, and ahead of both John Edwards and Al Gore. Yes, he’s an average of about 18 points behind Mrs. Clinton in recent polls, but he is solidly ahead of Mr. Edwards and Mr. Gore. But Mr. Obama has achieved a measure of greatness even if he ultimately loses the nomination to Mrs. Clinton because of his storybook, fairytale start in the 2008 campaign.

Barack Obama is the first serious black presidential candidate the Democrats have had; the Democrats are excited. But does Mr. Obama really have a shot at being President? I don’t think so.

It’s nearly a year and a half before the conventions to nominate candidates for the 2008 election, and almost a year from the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, the first of the important opportunities to take the public’s pulse on candidates. That’s a long time, and a lot can happen. There is ample opportunity for a candidate to self-destruct, to be over-exposed, and for the veneer to wear off.

All of these things hang over the head of any/every presidential hopeful this far in advance of the election. But I think Mr. Obama has a different problem. And, I think Mrs. Clinton has a similar problem.

I would have voted for Jeanne Kirkpatrick for president if the Republicans had nominated her, and I would have voted for Alan Keyes for president if the Republicans had nominated him. But I have serious doubts that the American electorate is prepared to elect either a female or a black as President of the United States.

Beyond that, each of these two hopefuls has their own set of problems that, while not insurmountable, are significant problems. Not to over-simplify these issues, but Mrs. Clinton is a far-Left socialist who is trying mightily to move to the center, and that creates all manner of official inconsistencies that will be hard to reconcile, and then she still has to sell her modified-radical ideas to the voters. And Mr. Obama has to overcome his youth and inexperience, his being only half-black (although perhaps some may see that as a plus), his strong liberal orientation, and his failure so far to express anything more than popular platitudes instead of actual ideas. And perhaps most important, in primary campaigns candidates generally tend to beat each other bloody along the way in order to make themselves look like the better candidate, and that has already begun between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama months before presidential campaigns usually begin.

As always, the political season will be fascinating political theater, and the fact that this one started so far ahead of the usual schedule only increases that aspect.

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