(UPDATED) An Obama presidential candidacy Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Make no mistake, politics is all about ego, and there are some massive ones out there. The term "public servant" is for rhetorical purposes only.
Barack Obama, Democratic Senator from Illinois, is an interesting and appealing candidate regardless of which side of the political spectrum from which you come. Young, articulate, fresh, attractive, black and, it seems, destined for higher political office, each party would love to have more such a candidates. As some have said, rightly in my estimation, he has "star power."
But is now - as in '08 - the right time for him to consider the Presidency? Apparently he's seriously considering putting his name in the hat. Here's a guy who hasn't even finished his first term as a Senator (ala John Edwards) thinking about running for the presidency. What has he done?
Well, if we recall, that's precisely the same question that was asked of John Edwards in '04. And the answer, which frankly I believe hurt him, was "not much". Obama is in the same political boat. And other than his race, Edwards fit the political superlatives I listed for Obama to a tee. But Edwards couldn't wait, letting his youth and impatience get in the way of building a record he could run on. And I think, eventually, that did his presidential candidacy in as most Democratic voters, while finding him a worthy candidate, didn't consider him to be the best candidate.
The second question has to do with leadership. In politics, leadership is usually measured in how a candidate has governed. That lack of experience in governance is one of the primary reasons Senators so rarely are elected to the presidency. Most have never actually governed anything, and most Americans discount their claims of "leadership" in the Senate. In Obama's case not only has he never governed anything, as I mentioned he's not even served a full term as a senator. As a junior Senator in the minority party, he can't even claim Senate "leadership". And as one might imagine, most voters don't believe the presidency to be the best choice for OJT in governance.
So despite all his attractive qualities, I think Barak Obama is a little ahead of his time seeking the presidency.
But then maybe he's not really doing that at all. Maybe the way Barak Obama gets the visibility and experience he needs is to declare he's seeking the presidency while, in reality, he's really pursuing the Vice Presidency. It is a short-cut to the top. Being VP in a Democratic administration would solve a lot of the problems I mention above for him.
At 45 that would put him in an excellent position, should the ticket win and hold the White House for 8 years. He'd then be 53, with 8 years of 'governance' at a national level behind him. Succeeding the president with both the experience of the Vice Presidency and the visibility it brings (it would also depend on how he, and the president, used the vice presidency ... active, visible, and given responsibility, it sets him up for a run. Figure-head who attends state-funerals would probably hurt him) would put him in fine stead.
I think, in reality, Obama knows he needs more seasoning. I think he understands why John Edwards didn't succeed. I also think Obama is a very ambitious and intelligent young man who recognizes he has the best potential to help make up a Democratic dream team in '08, and that it could eventually land him in the Oval office at a later date.
My guess ... and that's all that this is ... is he's running for VP knowing he has the star-power (something Edwards really didn't have to Obama's extent) to help any eventual Democratic presidential candidate in '08. I think he'd happily accept the 2nd spot in '08 and use it to build a presidential candidacy in '12 or '16. And he knows to make that happen, he has to be in the '08 race.
Win lose or draw in '08, Barak Obama runs as a serious and favored Democratic presidential candidate after that.
UPDATE: Andrew Samwick of Vox Baby has similar thoughts about experience coupled with a slightly different approach for Obama to gain the experience necessary to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate:
There has been no one since JFK to move from the Senate to the Presidency. Every President since has either been a current or former Vice President or a governor. In this era, there needs to be some record of achievement (of whatever quality) in the executive branch of a government in order to campaign successfully for President. Look at John Kerry's bid for President in 2004—three terms in the Senate and essentially nothing to show for it during the campaign.
So my advice to Obama would be to make a spirited campaign in 2008, talking about big issues and running it squeaky clean. If it works in the primaries, keep it up. If it doesn't, settle for VP nominee in 2008 if that's offered (hard to imagine it wouldn't be). If that doesn't work out, he can get back in the game in 2012 or 2016, but it's not clear he would be in any better shape, just a longer serving Senator. The lesson from history would be to challenge for the governorship of Illinois in 2010 rather than another term in the Senate.
UPDATE II: Richard Cohen waxes pathetic in his call for Obama to run. Among many reasons his most banal:
I cheer also because Obama is an African-American — an African father, an American mother. For someone like him to be a presidential candidate — maybe even president — says oodles about this country. After eight years of George W. Bush and his narcissistic foreign policy — me, me, us, us — it would be great to have a president who presents a different message just by his complexion and compensates, if anything can, for how Iraq (Abu Ghraib, etc.) has tarnished America's reputation, particularly in the Third World. Obama's candidacy would not be just a photo-op, it would be historic.
A point ... a foreign policy which isn't "me, me, us, us" doesn't serve the nation well. Foreign policy, in the first place, always has been about "me, me, us, us". That doesn't mean that we can't also do good in the world or help others, but, speaking of naive, if foreign policy isn't about us, who should it be about?
Great minds apparently thing alike. As I discuss, the other way to get experience governing is for Obama to go back to Illinois in 2010 and run for Governor. There has been no President since JFK who has not been previously a VP or a Governor.
I have yet to see a detailed report from the media on his bio. If he has had private industry positions of real leadership, his government experience would not have to be so extensive. I shall now move on to an Internet search.
Obama ain’t no Russ Feingold. He ain’t even no Sam Brownback. In other words, I don’t know what he stands for. I can’t attribute any particular policy ideas or political actions to him. That is no coincidence: it’s a deliberate commitment to vagueness.
If someone can tell me something he has done yet other than come from Kenya and whip the pathetic Alan Keyes in an election, I’ll see how I feel. But for now, he irritates me. And I think Democrats are stupid to fawn on him.
Comparing him to Edwards is a disservice - Edwards at least has a defining theme- poverty - and an agenda to fix it, criticisable or not.
Obama has the John Kerry post-Iowa primary bounce: nobody knows a darn thing about him other than his cutesy background, and he never gets negative press. Bah.
But Edwards couldn’t wait, letting his youth and impatience get in the way of building a record he could run on. And I think, eventually, that did his presidential candidacy in as most Democratic voters, while finding him a worthy candidate, didn’t consider him to be the best candidate.
WHat you say about Obama is spot on but you miss the point on Edwards. He tried to game the system - bought a Senate seat, and used that seat to campaign for the Veep slot under the guise of the Pres spot. That was his ultimate goal, be VPOTUS and then run for POTUS under the clout of incumbency.
That game won’t work for Obama. Anyone throwing him on the ticket as VP will immediately (rightly or wrongly) be seen as racial pandering or "balancing the ticket". Besides, Obama wants to do it as the main man.
He needs to wait 1 more cycle in my opinion and he better watch what he says until then. Being black isn’t enough to be Pres.
Obama has some interesting attributes, but a lot of his appeal is that the rest of the bench for the Democrats is so weak.
Whatever you think about her, Hillary lays the best claim to being a serious candidate. And she’s just now running for her first re-election, and except for first-ladyhood, has no special leadership qualifications. The rest are mostly so far out of the mainstream that they could no more win than John Kerry could.
The Democrats are lagging in governors with appeal, so much that the colorless Phil Bredesen in Tennessee is sometimes mentioned as one of their best bets. Their congressional leadership consists of the likes of Reid and Pelosi, who even themselves know better than to try and win a national election.
The GOP’s nomination prospects are not ideal. But they’ve got Guiliani, McCain, and Romney, all with enough gravitas to run effectively. I don’t much care for any of them, and have already said I won’t vote for McCain under any circumstances. However, I’m not talking what I want here, but what I think the middle-of-the-road voter is likely to respond to.
Could Obama win against any of those? I don’t see how, not in 2008. Unlike shark, though, I think VP is a good prospect for him because he might help someone like Hillary get in and then follow her, or if the ticket fails he won’t receive much of the blame and will be positioned to run for the top spot later.