A reader points out that my list of potential Democratic Presidential candidates with low negatives omitted Barack Obama. That was a mistake.
When George Bush said he did not believe in nation building, I did not know he was talking about this nation.
[Can’t find the full text on line. Does anyone have it?]
On some dimensions, of course, an Obama candidacy seems like a far fetch:
1. With only four years in the Senate behind him plus a couple of terms in the Illinois Senate, he’d have the thinnest record in public office of any Presidential candidate (bar GWB) since that other lawyer from Illinois.
2. He has exactly zero experience related to foreign policy.
3. Rush Limbaugh will inevitably refer to him as “Osama.”
4. He’s black. Not only will that cost votes, but polling won’t tell us how many votes it will cost. Black candidates in mostly-white constituencies tend to poll several points ahead of the real results.
Against that, he’s young, smart, good-looking, eloquent, funny, and squeaky-clean. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. Four years in the Senate isn’t long enough to build much of a record of accomplishment, but it’s also not long enough to build a record of votes that are easy to distort. And my impression is that he’d be a much better counter-puncher than Gore or Kerry were.
Substantively, he’s pretty damned liberal: his stances are much closer to mine than I would ordinarily think healthy for a Presidential candidate. But despite — or perhaps even due to — his race, he comes across as much less culturally threatening to Red America than his issue stances might suggest.
Aside from whatever votes his name and skin color would cost, Obama may be the closest thing to “generic Democrat” we could put on the ticket.
There remains the question of how good a President he’d be. Our experience with Jimmy Carter and the Republicans’ experience with GWB should remind us that, even on a purely cynical partisan basis, electing a turkey isn’t a good long-term strategy.
From this perspective, the scariest thing about Obama’s record is that he’s never run anything. That makes it next to impossible to guess whether he could figure out, on the fly and under enormous pressure, how to run the government.
Obama’s sheer smarts — he seems to have an IQ in the Clinton range — don’t provide much of a guarantee. People who are used to being smarter than everyone else are sometimes hard of listening, which is a bad thing in any President. Carter, Clinton, and Nixon all would would have been more successful Presidents had they been willing, as Kennedy, Reagan, and GWB were willing, to listen to people who knew more about Presidenting than they did.
But if Obama’s self-deprecating wit indicates someone who has his ego well under control, that would help a lot. On balance, I don’t see the expected-value quality of an Obama Administration as any lower than that of a Clark or Warner or Edwards Administration. We know more about Kerry and Gore and Biden, but what we know about them doesn’t reassure me at all.
An Obama candidacy still looks like a long shot. He isn’t rich, hasn’t raised tons of money, and hasn’t eaten enough rubber chicken to have built up a huge favor bank. And I’m not at all cheerful about the prospect of having lots of candidates in the race to split up the anti-Hillary vote. If Hillary and Gore both go for it, I’m not sure there will be enough oxygen in the room for anyone else. Even if Gore stays out, if the race sets up as Hillary and the Seven Dwarfs she can probably slide through. What those of us who fear a Hillary nomination and a Hillary Presidency have to hope for is that the race shakes down quickly to Hillary v. X.
But X = Obama seems to me like an excellent solution to that equation.
As Speaker Reed said when asked whether the Republicans would nominate him for President in 1896:
“They could do worse.
They probably will.”