Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 November 2007

Who Can Win?

If George W. Bush has taught us anything, it’s that winning a campaign and governing are two very different things. Who would have thought that a man who can barely speak English, who thinks like a caricature of a frat boy, and whose only political experience was six years as governor of Texas could win the presidency?

When it came to governing, he performed about as well as you might expect a man like him to perform. No surprise there. The only surprise was that we elected him for a second term.

For a time, Barack Obama seemed to have the opposite problem. With his extraordinary intelligence and political skill, you know he can govern well. He knows how to solve problems in the real world—as distinguished from the alternate universe of Washington. He has the skill and charisma to bring us together after the deliberate divisiveness of Bush and Rove. Every one of his positions is sensible, centrist and meticulously planned, including his approaches to health care, to so-called “women’s issues,” to war and diplomacy as instruments of foreign policy, and to fighting the real terrorist menace.

If Obama can get to the Oval Office, you know he will give us the type of government we haven’t seen since FDR. But can he win?

That’s always been the question, hasn’t it? A man as bright and thoughtful as he can easily be mistaken for a feckless intellectual. Can he survive the rough and tumble of dirty campaign politics and the Republicans’ computer-driven demagoguery?

After his speech last week at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, there should no longer be any doubt. It’s a must-see.

The Obama in that speech was a different man from the one we’ve seen so far. Gone was the slight stammer. Gone were the hesitation and the intellectual’s thoughtfulness. The new Obama stood revealed as a fighter and a winner—the same guy who organized the toughest streets of Chicago.

As you watch and listen to that speech, it’s easy to imagine him giving his inaugural address in January 2009 or his first State of the Union speech in January 2010. The speech left no doubt that he’s presidential material.

It was not just the tone, which was forceful, serious and hard-hitting. It was substance, too. In gutsy but eloquent language, Obama showed exactly why he can win where Hillary cannot.

Hillary can’t beat Rudy or Mitt because she’s afraid of her own shadow. At heart, she’s still a student of politics terrified of making a mistake. She cringes at hard questions for fear they’ll be “gotchas!” She’s afraid of the polls; she’s afraid of Republican demagoguery; and she’s afraid of her own possible missteps.

People sense fear. It’s not a male or a female thing. It’s an animal thing. Deep down in the parts of our brains that let us survive long enough to evolve are circuits that won’t follow a fearful leader.

If we Democrats are foolish enough to nominate Hillary, her fears will come out. All it will take is once. It may be something like her little dance over New York driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in the last debate. Or it may be something more important. Rudy will pounce, and it will all be over but the shouting. We’ll end up with a two-bit Caesar for president and his chauffer for head of Homeland Security. God help us.

If you don’t think Obama has a better chance of stopping that awful outcome, play his Iowa speech. Play it twice.

What you’ll see is a man with courage, conviction and passion. You’ll see a man who knows what is right and wrong, knows what he believes, and doesn’t have to think about it.

On things that matter, Obama won’t bend or budge. He won’t be caught in “gotchas” because he doesn’t think in those terms. He wants to solve real problems and he knows how to do it. He won’t support a first unjustified war, or provide the excuse for a second, just for fear he’ll be slimed.

Don’t just play the speech. Think about backgrounds, too. From the cloistered halls of Wellesley to Yale Law School and the White House, Hillary has led a charmed and sheltered life. Her only adversity was Bill’s philandering. As a minority in his own country, in Hawaii and in Indonesia, Obama learned to stand up for himself from childhood. On his own accord, he went from Harvard Law School and a plush job on Wall Street to the meanest streets of Chicago. There he survived to win the toughest hearts and minds and eventually the Senate.

Who’s going to be tougher and more resilient when the chips are down, in the campaign or the Oval Office? There is only one reasonable answer.

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