Like many Americans, I have been fascinate by the rise of Illinois Senator Barack Obama. While politically, he’s pretty much a standard-issue Democrat (having a reliably liberal voting record in the Senate), on the stump, he comes across as a fresh face with a charismatic presence and a dynamic speaking style.
When I first saw him on TV for an extended period of time, when live-blogging the Logo debate, I wrote that he “looks and sounds impressive . . . gifted with a nice voice and a way with words,” but noted the “he doesn’t seem to be saying anything of substance.” I wondered if we should call him a “hope-monger.”
In my post on Of Bumper Stickers & Political Passion, I noted that when I “talk to his supporters, their faces light up as they outline their man’s qualities, his charisma and eloquence. They believe he has the potential to unite the country.” (Incidentally, since posting that piece last month, I’ve seen the number of Obama stickers skyrocket in the Los Angeles area while only finding a handful of Hillary stickers.)
Enthusiastic as is the Illinois Senator’s base, I’m discovering now a new kind of Obama supporter, those Democrats supporting him because he’s the best alternative to Ms. Hillary. They’re backing him because they just don’t trust his counterpart from the Empire State. (Some seem to be doing so reluctantly as they’re skeptical about his absence of executive experience.)
Right now, it seems Obama is surging ahead primarily based on his comforting presence and the perception that he is “something unusual in American politics” Yet, he seems more a man of style than of substance.
His charismatic presence should serve him well in the abbreviated primary season, but will he be able to withstand the scrutiny of an extended campaign for the White House once his position as presumptive Democratic nominee is secure?
He has been fortunate so far, emerging as the alternative to Mrs. Clinton. We’ll see how he holds up in the fall campaign.
All that said, I’m intrigued about the guy and expect to read one of his two books in the near future. Perhaps his first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance will move me more than it did Bruce Bawer.
Time will tell if Obama can beef up his sizzle with some substance. I’ve printed up the transcript of the speech which helped secure his place in our national consciousness, that to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. As I read it I’ll consider whether or not he really does represent a new kind of politician. Or just another liberal Democrat, but one with the passion of Bobby Kennedy and the presence of Cary Grant.
UPDATE: After writing this post, I realized, I had a little more to say on Senator Obama and as the last paragraph indicates, I intend to read his 2004 convention speech before offering those thoughts. As I researched the post, I came across two interesting votes which belie the notion of this Democratic presidential contender as a “post-partisan” politician. Not only was Senator Obama one of only twenty-two Senators to vote against the confirmation of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States. He also voted against cloture on the vote to confirm Samuel Alito, Jr. to the Supreme Court. That latter vote was not merely a vote against the nominee, but against having a vote on the nomination.
Obama is thus considerably more partisan than two-thirds of the Republicans in the Senate during Bill Clinton’s first term, given that at least thirty Republican Senators voted to confirm both of that Democrat’s nominees to the nation’s highest court, even when the confirmation of Ginsburg would move the court to the left.