Saturday, January 28, 2006

All Obama, All The Time

Barack Obama is on the cover of the latest edition of The American Prospect. And it's a great article. Here's a snippet:
That he has not pushed through major legislation matters hardly at all, not to him, not to supporters. He is a fledgling in the minority party and, during his first year, 99th in seniority. No matter. Obama has bigger ideas.

Back to the Democrats. The first part of his answer involves some boilerplate about the usual list of issues -- education, health care, energy independence -- peppered with deferential language about wanting to "be a part of the process." Then, he gets to the business about what makes him different: "Where I probably can make a unique contribution is in helping to bring people together and bridging what I call the 'empathy deficit,' helping to explain the disparate factions in this country and to show them how we're joined together, helping bridge divides between black and white, rich and poor, even conservative and liberal." Later, in a similar vein: "The story that I'm interested in telling is how we can restore that sense of commitment to each other in a way that doesn't inhibit our individual freedoms, doesn't diminish individual responsibility, but does promote collective responsibility."

Obama wants nothing less than to redefine progressive values, make them more universal, and unite the country around them. His staggering 72 percent approval rating in Illinois -- a number that reflects strong support not only in and around Democratic Chicago, but from Republican downstate as well -- shows he may be figuring out how to do that. His first year in the Senate suggests a man on a long, ambitious, and intricate journey. It's not too much to say that the future of the Democratic Party, and maybe even the country, could be profoundly affected by where that journey ends.

That quote at the end of the second paragraph, about restoring a sense of commitment to each other, strikes me as money. Too often, the American (and global) social climate seems to be one where we climb all over each other in adesperatee race to get ahead. Very Darwinian, very Adam Smith. But at the end of the day, I don't think most Americans are happy with a social climate that makes us all each other's enemies. We want to have neighbors we can trust our kids with; we want to know that if we run into a hard economic patch, some one will be there to set us straight; we want to be assured that if we get sick, there will be a doctor we can afford giving us the best treatment available. Those aren't liberal or conservative values. They're just American values.

All told, I was a relatively early passenger on the Obama train, beginning to get excited about him even before his stellar Democratic Convention speech. But one of the things the article pressed upon me was how close we were to losing him. In a very competitive 5-way primary, Obama was neither the party establishment's preferred candidate, nor the wealthiest candidate with his hat in the ring. That he managed to take an outright majority in such a field is testament to his incredible political skill. But still, it makes you wonder: What if....

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