But I do think that Obama would be a better candidate, and ultimately a better president, in 2012 or 2016 than in 2008. He will have learned more -- about the world, about domestic policy, about how to maneuver successfully in Washington.
Yes, more years in the Senate offer more chances for individual votes to be deployed against him in 30-second TV ads, but they also offer the opportunity that Obama hasn't yet had: to set out and achieve legislative goals. Teaming up with Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to bring transparency to government spending through a searchable database is nice, but it's no platform for a presidential campaign.
This assumes that a) there is all that much being in the Senate can teach Mr. Obama, and b) that whatever "platform" the Senator can construct through additional years of service will be compelling enough to counteract the negative effect of those inevitable 30-second spots.
Color me skeptical. Obama's great strength as a leader is that he seems able to draw strength without resorting to the normal channels of political discourse and debate. I really don't think more time as 1 in a 100 is going to do much for him, aside from make him seem mundane. Barack Obama, for all he's done so far as "just" a Senator, strikes me as the type who would become a giant if ever was really put in the spotlight position.
Elsewhere on the Obama front, Steve Benen notes that the latest salvo in the "tar Obama" (or, more charitably, the "bring Obama down to earth") campaign is bringing up his past history of drug use. The problem is that he's never hid it--Obama was quite forthright about his history in his first book, "Dreams From My Father." It's not news when he's not hiding anything.
Admittedly, this is more legitimate terrain than the last few go-arounds, which focused on his middle name, his last name's similarity to "Osama," the size of his ears, his Muslim heritage, etc.. But it still doesn't strike me as a winner (for the GOP, anyway). Benen quotes Patrick Hynes, a right-wing blogger, saying that
I am a recovering alcoholic.... [W]e are all flawed human beings. And I think any attempt to use this issue against Obama will backfire badly, whether it is done by one of his Democrat [sic]rivals or by a Republican. Frankly, it tells me something positive about the man that he had the character to overcome his problems and can speak so freely about them now.
It is my considered opinion that we Americans are an exceedingly forgiving people. It is one of the characteristics I love most about my fellow Americans - Lord knows I've had to beg for forgiveness from time to time. Besides, picking on a candidate for his youthful indiscretions - indiscretions he has clearly put behind him - is only one notch on the sleaze meter above using a candidate's troubled family member as a campaign issue.
Nice sentiments, and I hope he's right. I think that the fact that there is no secret here will prevent the story from metastasizing, keeping it on the fringes where it belongs.
On the other hand, Paul Butler notes that American society's propensity towards "forgiveness" tends to--if not evaporate, then clearly diminish when the target is Black. Laws that overwhelmingly target Black men get changed when a highly publicized case catches a sympathetic (White) defendant in the net. I do think that Obama--so far--seems immune to these sort of racial discrepancies. One might argue that White society has accorded him "honorary White status" (interesting to discuss how and why that came about). But still, I don't know if we can count on America's characteristic forgiveness when the issue is Black men. For more on this, see his fascinating article Starr is to Clinton as Regular Prosecutors are to Blacks. 40 Boston College Law Review 705-716 (1999).