Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reading: Rich on Obama Rising

I haven't warmed terribly to the Obama candidacy. He's certainly more interesting, in many ways, than any of the other candidates, but I'm content to watch the bandwagon pass me by for now.

For one thing, regardless of the candidate, it's too damned early. The drive to lock down big donors is causing presidential campaigns to start sooner--and to crash sooner, often for no relationship to the candidate's stand on issues but rather because they can read the signs that they won't be able to keep up with the ridiculous costs of a year-long campaign. (This vicious circle--candidates becoming electable on the perception of their electability--is another argument for gutting and reworking our system of financing campaigns, but let that pass for now.)

For another thing, I've found the "experience matters" argument to be a tough one to get around. True, Obama was speaking out against the war from the outset, unlike any of his possible competitors. But he was speaking out from the Illinois legislature--the political/ethical calculus of taking a stand like that is completely different when you're in a body that doesn't have any authority on the subject one way or the other. Does two years in the Senate really cut it as background for the presidency? (We've already established that six years as governor in a weak-governor system like Texas doesn't do it.)

Comes now Frank Rich, with something unexpected from him: a contrarian argument, not his usual discursive mode. Rich argues that Obama's lack of experience--one might substitute the word "contamination"--inside the Beltway is a plus:
As the official Barack Obama rollout reaches its planned climax on "60 Minutes" tonight, we'll learn if he has the star power to upstage Anna Nicole Smith. But at least one rap against him can promptly be laid to rest: his lack of experience. If time in the United States Senate is what counts for presidential seasoning, maybe his two years' worth is already too much. Better he get out now, before there's another embarrassing nonvote on a nonbinding measure about what will soon be a four-year-old war.

History is going to look back and laugh at last week's farce, with the Virginia Republican John Warner voting to kill a debate on his own anti-surge resolution and the West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd seizing the occasion for an hourlong soliloquy on coal mining. As the Senate pleasured itself with parliamentary one-upmanship, the rate of American casualties in Iraq reached a new high.

Rich's column is going on to the sidebar at left.

1 comment:

Torrid said...

Is the concern that he can't govern effectively without more experience, or that he won't be perceived as electable without more experience?

I don't think his relative lack of political experience would hurt him in office. He actually has a very good background--elected office, top law education, years of civic service in poor areas. To me that says he understands how to forge coalitions and compromise, he is grounded in the founding principles of governance, and he knows what it's like for most Americans who do not reside in the top 20% income quintile.

Who Obama is might not be as important as what he represents and the time he occupies: he may just be the right candidate at the right time. Folks are hungry for vision and purpose again, I think.