It’s official: Obama officially declared that he’s exploring a Presidential bid. He did not announce his candidacy explicitly, but at this stage there’s no difference between going around the country and giving speeches, and being an official candidate. Said Obama,
Running for the presidency is a profound decision — a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone — and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country.
SLC has referred to him as “PZ and Alon’s whipping boy.” Although PZ and I hardly like the guy, I certainly don’t think he’s the worst person in the Democratic primary, and apparently, neither does PZ. He’s completely right when he says,
The only ones with a hint of charisma are Obama (who I will not support) and Edwards; the others just put me to sleep. I guess we just wait to see which drone will receive the DNC coronation—and it won’t be the most interesting candidate, or the one who promises to shake anything up—and we pull the lever for not-Giuliani or not-McCain.
I’ll add to that that although Obama and Edwards have the ability to inspire an audience, they don’t even come close to Bill Clinton in warmth and ability to connect to people. Even Feingold, who managed to win in an insurgent campaign, isn’t up to WJC’s standards.
Of course, inspiring an audience isn’t enough. Hitler was probably the most inspiring major politician of the 20th century. My criticism of Obama and Edwards – Obama more so than Edwards – is that as with the Clintons, the product they’re selling is ultimately an annoying mediocrity.
Obama’s shtick is that he’ll make the trains run on time. Much as I appreciate being able to travel to Philly with relatively few delays, it’s not my top concern; that status is reserved for keeping abortion legal, rolling back the Patriot Act, and scrapping the plan to invade Iran and Syria. Now that Bush seems to be preparing for an invasion of those two countries, it’s even more important to have a candidate with a sufficiently firm foreign policy to be able to say “no.”
Unfortunately, Obama is a complete wildcard on most of those issues (I think he made pro-choice remarks, but his speeches to Evangelicals make me suspect he’ll sacrifice that issue to gain the support of the Sojourners). The official exploratory website’s video mentions that in the Illinois Senate race, he was the only major candidate to oppose the Iraq attack.
Now, I appreciate that; I really do. In 2003, I supported Dean’s bid mostly on account of his opposition to the Iraq war. But as I later learned, Dean’s opposition was a sham, a political ploy. In late 2002, his position on the issue was perfectly mediocre, talking about Saddam’s hypothetical WMD. Taken alone it was still alright, but as Joshua Frank notes, he supported every other American war, when he couldn’t use his opposition to carve out a niche for himself.
For someone with background in international relations, Obama talks surprisingly little about foreign policy. He’s said nothing that I know of about Iran or Syria, the next major issues. Getting out of Iraq is important, but not destroying Iran and Syria is even more important. Right now, the only American politicians I can trust not to mess that up are those who voted the right way on Iraq in 2002. Edwards’ “Sorry, I was duped” apology doesn’t quite cut it.
One of the things I appreciate about Lieberman is that I know where he stands on the issues that matter to me. His stances are usually the diametric opposites of mine, but at least I know what he really thinks and have reasonable grounds to believe he won’t flip-flop.
So Obama is an empty suit who’s being deliberately obscurantist about his politics, except that he thinks that God is great. He’s black, but I’d rather have a black President who isn’t a complete political wildcard. Al Sharpton, who I loathe for his race-baiting rhetoric, would make a better President. Even Condi Rice would make a better President.
But as I said, I don’t think he’s the worst person in the race. He’s certainly not my favorite whipping boy, unless “boy” is interpreted in a gender-specific way. Everything I’ve said about Obama here applies to Hillary Clinton, only she voted for the war, and proved herself to be totally unable to create a workable health care proposal. Obama is untested; Clinton has been thoroughly tested and found woefully deficient. Obama might actually not be a mediocre meanderer if he wins; Clinton will be anything but a mediocre meanderer when she sees the back of her own ear.
Personally, the sort of candidate I like the most is the type that combines competence with vision. The only thing that’s worse than a politician whose slogan is “I’ll make the trains run on time” is a politician who can’t make the trains run on time. I could get excited over Feingold and even Warner because they have very concrete, forward-looking visions, and a record of success in their respective elected offices to prove that they can execute their visions. Obama and Clinton have no vision I can discern; even if they had ones, Clinton couldn’t execute it, and I don’t know if Obama could.