The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama Barack Obama has a new book coming out in October, The Audacity of Hope. Here is a sample (pdf).

For me, none of this [disagreement in the Senate] was entirely surprising. From a distance, I had followed the escalating ferocity of Washington’s political battles: Iran-Contra and Ollie North, the Bork nomination and Willie Horton, Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, the Clinton election and the Gingrich Revolution, Whitewater and the Starr investigation, the government shutdown and impeachment, dangling chads and Bush v. Gore. With the rest of the public, I had watched campaign culture metastasize throughout the body politic, as an entire industry of insult—both perpetual and somehow profitable—emerged to dominate cable television, talk radio, and the New York Times bestseller list.

And for eight years in the Illinois legislature, I had gotten some taste of how the game had come to be played. By the time I arrived in Springfield in 1997, the Illinois Senate’s Republican majority had adopted the same rules that Gingrich was then using to maintain absolute control of the U.S. House. Without the capacity to get even the most modest amendment debated, much less passed, Democrats would shout and holler and fulminate, and then stand by helplessly as Republicans passed large corporate tax breaks, stuck it to labor, or slashed social services. Over time, an implacable anger spread over the Democratic caucus, and my colleagues would carefully record every slight and abuse meted out by the GOP. Six years later, Democrats took control, and Republicans fared no better. Some of the older veterans would wistfully recall the days when Republicans and Democrats met at night for dinner, hashing out compromise over a steak and cigar. But even among these old bulls, such fond memories rapidly dimmed the first time the other side’s political operatives selected them as targets, flooding their districts with mail accusing them of malfeasance, corruption, incompetence, and moral turpitude.

Reading this, straightforward description of political machinations though it may be, is enough to make me cry. I’m usually skeptical of rosy descriptions of how much better things were in the good old days, but it’s pretty clear that our political culture has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Sadly, I think that the splintering of communications channels has a lot to do with it — and yes, that includes blogs. Not only can everyone get news and information from sources that confirm their worst prejudices, but there is plenty of nonsense available on the other side (whatever that may be) for them to make fun of and feel superior. I don’t have any clever prescriptions for making it better, but increasing polarization and scorched-earth tactics will be an incredible barrier to political progress for decades to come.

Obama, of course, has a magical gift for overcoming (or at least seeming to) these barriers. What he says makes so much sense, and he says it so well, and it directly speaks to a yearning that so many people have for a more dignified and respectful dialogue, it’s hardly surprising that he’s become such a hit in such a short time. Too bad, people say, that he’s not more experienced, or he’d make a great candidate for national office — but for 2008 Democrats seem to be stuck with a field so uninspiring that Al Gore is thought of as some sort of savior.

Well, screw that. I think Obama should run in ’08. (And I’m sure his strategy team is hanging on my every word.) What’s wrong with being young and inexperienced? Obama will be 47 that year — Teddy Roosevelt was 42, John Kennedy was 43, and Bill Clinton was 46 when they were elected, and they did okay. Sure, he’s had less than one full term in the Senate, but that seems like an advantage rather than a liability. The Senate tends to gradually strangle its members’ suitability to run for President, as they become accustomed to its lethargic rhythms and hamstrung by awkward voting records. Now is the perfect time! Obama should run while he’s still a hot property. (Not that I think he actually will.)

Of course, there is an elephant in the room that Obama would have to deal with if he ran for the White House — namely, he’s black. Pundits like to contemplate African-American candidates like Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice, but my suspicion is that there are a substantial number of Americans who just aren’t going to vote for a black candidate, even if they won’t admit it to pollsters. And that certainly doesn’t only include Republicans. On the other hand, Obama could set an inspirational example just by running a competitive campaign, regardless of the outcome. It’s long past time that the U.S. had a President who wasn’t yet another white male; now is as good a time as any.

Update: As usual, I find myself ahead of the curve (via Kos). We all know what happened to Cassandra.

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10 Responses to The Audacity of Hope

  1. Elliot says:

    I would like to see Obama president as well. That said I think it will not be in 2008 unless there is a tremendous groundswell.

    I actually am a big fan of the other senator from Illinois Dick Durbin. Another intelligent articulate person on the correct side of things.

    It is somewhat incongruous that with two such stellar senators, we have a governors race between Judy and Rod. I guess if your running within the state, the standards are considerably lowered.

    Elliot

  2. PK says:

    Obama would have the same problem as Kerry did: He’s too decent to run a smear campaign, and as a result he will be slaughtered by Karl Rove (or whoever is slinging the mud in 2008).

  3. tooliroukus says:

    Beware of any liberal desideratum: Margaret Thatcher was the first (modulo the queen) female head of state in the UK, and she got down like the Mother from Hell. Colin and Condi each have a lot going for them (more so than Al Gore and Hilary); a color-blind electorate might creep up on the soi-dissant liberal establishment sooner than they think.

  4. The Anti-Condi says:

    Condi has more going for her than Al Gore? Please.

    Kerry’s problem wasn’t that he was so decent that he got massacred; his problem was that he ran a terrible campaign, became obsessed with the debate over his Vietnam record and got sucked into its petulance, and is as exciting as a lump of coal.

  5. Rob Knop says:

    Perhaps one way to help mitigate the splintering of communication is to have political opinions on science blogs….

    People will be drawn to the blog for one reason, but then will see opinions there that they would never have seen on a political blog, for they’d never have been drawn to a political blog that would post that opinion.

    Dunno. In reality, the whole hope things seems just a little to audacious to me.

    -Rob

  6. Arun says:

    I’d settle for a competent President of any gender, race or creed.

  7. spyder says:

    Hopefully when you get fully moved to SoCal the luster of Obama will be seen for the tarnish it appears to some of us. David Sirota had an interesting essay post today on the failure of the vision of Lieberman.

    http://www.davidsirota.com/

    Senator Obama is not much different really, younger and slightly more willing to occasionally utter some political spin candy pandering for votes from the real progressive left. We keep coming back to trying to elect people who are electable rather than people we know would be the best persons making the decisions for the precariousness of our future. When the center is really to the right, and folks like Hillary, Joe, and Barack try to tell all of us that we are included, they are being disingenuous, not unlike McCain or Frist (who said this weekend that the most important issues in the US right now were gay marriage and flag burning?).

  8. Sourav says:

    There is nothing essentially worse about political discourse now — a quick survey of American history should tell you so. While blogs are rarely impartial, discerning readers have more choices, and there is a healthy ecology — blogs from all sectors of the political landscape are at least keeping an eye on one another. Same goes with other media channels.

    The current “dialog” is effectively worse because the Republicans have shored up power under heretofore untapped themes that Rove idenitfied. Furthermore, the Democrats have crumbled in the face of it, unable to devise a similarly compelling message, splintering between the ideology of the far left and the pragmatism of the center.

    I understand the appeal of Barack, a la Clinton: young, cool, well-spoken, and at least giving empathetic lip-service to standard liberal issues like egalitarianism. But unless Barack can galvanize the Democratic party machine to match that of the Republicans, I don’t see the Democrats being relevant.

  9. Elliot says:

    Spyder,

    Your suggestion that Obama and Leiberman, and Hillary are even comparable border on laughable. Leiberman is not even a democrat. Hillary is political opportunist. Obama is the real deal, head and shoulders above the other two.

    Had Gore picked Dick Durbin for his running mate in 2000 he would have picked up Missouri and be president now. Picking Leiberman got him nothing, not even the Jewish vote in Florida which he already had.

  10. Jack says:

    I really don’t believe that Obama being black is a problem. It’s certainly not as much of a problem as Hillary being [a certain kind of] woman.