The best evidence of Obama’s readiness to lead the nation is the ability with which he has run for president. After all, what is more difficult, complicated, or challenging than getting elected president? What other life experience better illustrates one’s qualification to hold the office than a manifest skill in seeking it. For anyone who has ever been elected president, the race that sent them to the White House was the single most important event in their lives and dwarfs any other experience they might have had before running.
As we have watched Obama surmount the hurdles that lay in his path, we cannot help but be impressed with his judgment. Adam Wallinsky, who served on Bobby Kennedy’s staff, once singled out good judgment as JFK’s most salient characteristic. Obama has faced so many delicate questions and issues and seems always to have the right feel for how to handle them.
At the start of the contest, he chose to avoid running as a black candidate for president and ran, instead, as a candidate who happened to have black skin. He crafted a middle course between the determined rejection of his race and its grievances of a Clarence Thomas and its emphatic embrace by a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. While Hillary invoked her gender at every turn, Obama decided to transcend his race rather than invoke it.
He began his candidacy eschewing donations from PACs and lobbyists, preserving his purity and giving him ground on which to stand in his claim to represent a new kind of politics, rejecting the special interests. When Hillary, whose campaign decisions have been as faulty as Obama’s have been flawless, wallowed in such donations, the Illinois Senator used the difference to paint her into the corner of the status quo candidate.
Beyond simply avoiding special interest money, Obama learned the lesson of Joe Trippi and the Howard Dean campaign of 2004 (even though Trippi was working for Edwards) and used his star power to develop a massive cyber-roots fund raising base which he mobilized again and again by the click of a mouse. He realized the potential of the Internet to democratize campaign funding in a way the other candidates in general, and Hillary in particular, did not. (Mrs. Clinton invested tens of millions in direct mail instead with all of its costs and limited returns).
When Hillary criticized him for lacking experience, he brilliantly seized the opening she provided by becoming the candidate of change. He realized, as Hillary and Bill did not, that America wanted a change beyond the Bush/Clinton oscillation and grasped the fact that Hillary’s emphasis on experience would play into his hands.
And when the Clintons tried to use race to derail Obama, he countered skillfully by making Super Tuesday a referendum on tolerance and inclusivity, overtly rejecting the racial polarization which seemed to have set in after South Carolina. Underscoring his message with victories in white states like Utah, Idaho, Colorado and North Dakota, he buried the race issue.
While the Clintons went for the knockout blows of winning New York and California, Obama created a fifty state organization to win each caucus state. As Hillary’s campaign wasted half a million dollars on flowers, Obama’s husbanded his resources to put teams on the ground in the small states where his organizing paid off and brought him sufficient victories to survive the loss of the two big Super Tuesday states.
And when the Clintons went to full time negatives, Obama carefully parsed the attacks he would answer from those he wouldn’t and disdained to engage in the tit-for-tat negative campaigning, realizing that the process turned voters off more than the negatives themselves ever did.
Will he be a good president? If he is half as skillful in serving as he has been in running, he can’t miss.