Presidential candidate Barack Obama is black. Bill Clinton is not. That seems like an odd thing to have to point out. But maybe it isn’t. Not if you listen to a lot of black folk who have the … audacity, dare I say? … to call Bill Clinton “the first black president.” That continues to be about the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Is it that some black folk just couldn’t wait for Obama? Guess they figured Bill was the best we could do.
But Bill Clinton wasn’t all that great. Yeah, he was better than most Democrats and better than any zany Republican. His economic policies helped produce in the 1990s the best economy the country had seen in a long, long time. Jobs were created, the federal deficit was reduced and Clinton left office with a surplus. Well done. But Clinton, as our writer Delores McCain pointed out in her column a few weeks ago, sold many blacks down the river, and all for politics.
But moving away from former president Clinton for the moment, Obama is something even better: sane. Can’t say that about most politicians. He’s sane because he’s offering hope and optimism, which is, I dunno, among the most important things historians rate good-to-great presidents on. Franklin Roosevelt? Optimistic. And he’s also one of our greatest presidents. Ronald Reagan? No, he was no great president based on his entire record, but he was surely optimistic. He made people feel good about themselves and the country. Obama’s doing that right now. “Yes we can,” he says. What’s Hillary saying? “No we can’t.” We can’t hope, we can’t have anything new, and we can’t expect anything better from our government. I thought she and Bill believed in a place called Hope? Guess they put up the for sale sign a long time ago.
I suppose I could offer Sen. Clinton congratulations for winning Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary. Congrats, Hill. But she can’t win the nomination, unless the superdelegates choose her over Obama, even though she’ll likely trail Obama in states won, the popular vote and confirmed delegates when this Democratic primary season is finally over.
I was watching some of the pundits on TV Tuesday night talking about Obama’s lingering problems with some party voters. One pundit asked, “Is Barack Obama John Kennedy or Adlai Stevenson, the former Illinois governor known for his vast knowledge of the issues and his oratorical skill, but who, according to politicos, had a hard time relating to the ‘common man’?”
Before Tuesday’s primary, pundits were suggesting that Obama visit more coffee shops and factories and hold fewer of the big rallies he’s become known for.
It’s not a bad idea to reach out to voters in different ways, but putting on a flannel shirt and trying to play “Mr. Common-Man” is not reaching out to voters, it’s pandering. Too often, these same pundits reward politicians for doing exactly that.
Barack Obama has made mistakes, but he has not so far in his run resorted to the kind of political phoniness that plagues many politicians, like … well, Bill and Hillary Clinton.
George W. Bush played that game in 2000 and 2004. “Compassionate Conservative,” “Cowboy from Texas”-all of that, just like many of his policies, was built on lies and deception. Obama is breaking that mold but the media and some voters are having a hard time recognizing it. He’s making history, not just in his run but in his words and actions. Forget for a second what led to his historic speech on race. Who was the last presidential candidate in recent memory, the last 20-30 years, since black-and-white TV or whatever, who made such a speech? Not as president, but as a candidate?
Say what you will about his experience. That’s a fair question for any candidate, but it ultimately has little merit. Ulysses S. Grant was a Civil War hero. As a president, mediocre to bad. Who had the most foreign policy experience in the current administration? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. What did all that experience give us-a sham war in Iraq, divisions in the country, Congress and abroad.
Obama is right: Judgment is what makes a president, not a resume. That will be his true test if he’s president-or if it’s anyone else.