Originally published on Jan. 19, 2007

America's baggage is Obama's burden

 

lpitts@miamiherald.com

President Obama?

No, not yet. But, the intention of Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, to move toward that goal seems clear with this week's news that he is forming an exploratory committee to raise money toward a possible White House bid. Count me among those who regard the bid as a foregone conclusion.

Strike while the iron is hot. Isn't that what the axiom says? And whose iron has ever been hotter than Obama's? The man is a rock star, a combination plate of handsome, intelligent and charismatic that has his supporters giddy. On the other hand, the battlefield of presidential politics is littered with the bones of rock stars for whom the giddiness of supporters was not enough. John Anderson and Ross Perot come to mind.

There are two obvious pitfalls facing Obama. One is his lack of experience. His two years in the Senate represent the sum of his federal résumé, though he also has under his belt many years in the Illinois statehouse and as a constitutional lawyer and community activist.

Obama has a ready answer for the experience question. As he told me in an interview in November: "I think the one thing the American people require of their president is good judgment. In most of our lives, we hope that more experience gives us better judgment -- but not always. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had an awful lot of experience, but displayed poor judgment in this Iraq War, in my mind. So part of the measure I have to take is, do I feel I have the judgment to take the toughest job on earth."

Touché. But one wonders if the question will be so easily put to rest this year. While his inexperience at the federal level certainly does not disqualify Obama from the presidency and while we've had politically inexperienced presidents before -- Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower come to mind -- I suspect experience is going to loom large as a factor in the next election, given the mess the new president will inherit from George W. Voters will be more wary than usual of a would-be chief executive who seems to require too much on-the-job training.

MATTER OF RACE

Which brings us to the second potential pitfall, the most obvious one. Race and culture. While mainstream media have seemed intrigued by, but not obsessed with, the senator's heritage, the same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the extreme right blogosphere. There, one seldom reads any reference to Obama that does not make reference to his middle name: Hussein. Then there are those who observe that only a single consonant separates his surname from the first name of the al Qaeda leader who launched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

It is such nakedly puerile slander that your first response is to laugh. Then you remember how that same blogosphere managed to turn the war hero John Kerry into a "traitor" and the Texas Air National Guardsman, George W. Bush, into a war hero -- and it seems much less funny.

A REASONABLE MAN

Barack Obama is an African-American man with a Muslim name who would be seeking the presidency in a historically racist nation currently at war against Muslim extremists. One wonders if there is enough handsomeness, intelligence and charisma in the world to overcome all that.

For my money, though, Obama's signature asset is not his brains, his looks, or his magnetism. Rather, it's this: He seems reasonable. Though unabashedly liberal, he does not come across as a prisoner of ideology. He seems a man who can be persuaded by logic. It's an attractive trait made more so by the fact that we have seen it so rarely in recent years.

The question is, whether it will be attractive enough to offset concerns about inexperience and transparent appeals to xenopobic fears.

Either way, this promises to be a fascinating political season.

And a very long year.

Read more Leonard Pitts on Obama stories from the Miami Herald

  • Originally published on Nov. 12, 2008

    Some blacks forgot sting of discrimination

    Gay people, like black people, know how it feels to watch other people vote upon your very humanity.

  • Originally published on Nov. 02, 2008

    Unity, hope must conquer division, hate

    The killers would have worn top hats. Having already murdered 102 African Americans, 14 by beheading, they would have driven at top speed toward Barack Obama, leaning from the windows of their vehicle, dressed in top hats and white tuxedos, firing guns.

  • Originally published on Nov. 19, 2008

    Don't let fear trump hope

    They'll be back. Don't think for a minute that they won't.

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