This morning I was thinking about Barack Obama. I said to myself, "he will be president. He's the perfect candidate. But he's only the perfect candidate right now." Obama's popularity, high profile and positive unifying message only make sense in the political present, when Dems are down but rising, the GOP is crumbling and the country has been divided by the governing and media elite for the past decade. In other words, Obama might not fit in the political environment of 2012 or 2016, but he would certainly fit in the political environment of 2008 which, I imagine, will be just like today only worse. Having reasoned this out in my mind, I was surprised today to find two articles about Obama 2008 fever in Time and the Chicago Tribune. Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior senator, provided a convincing argument in the Tribune piece:
Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior Democratic senator and a strong proponent of an Obama presidential bid, said his colleague has learned more about international affairs and the workings of the federal government in his brief Senate career than most governors who run for president. Staying in the Senate, Durbin said, will only provide opponents with more targets as Obama continues to cast votes.
"I said to him, 'Do you really think sticking around the Senate for four more years and casting a thousand more votes will make you more qualified for president?'" Durbin said. "The critical element that remains that he has to face is whether he is willing to be separated from his family for longer periods of time and I think he is staring that right in the face."
Exactly. I thought about another relatively short-term (10 years in Congress; 8 in the Senate) senator who became president, Kennedy, this morning and started to see the parallels. Except this time Obama could use his natural popularity in his home state to deliver votes, rather than the well-oiled Chicago political machine of Daley that effectively gave Jack Kennedy the presidency. Those days are over for the Democrats. The progressive politics of tomorrow will not rely on interest group power. It will rely upon a macroscopic message, rather than meticulously micro-targeting districts, triangulating voters, and reaching for that mushy middle. The GOP has fucked this country up, people know it, and are ready to give the opposition party a chance. But not permanently. If the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress in 19 days, it will not be an electoral realignment. It will be a two-year trial to see if Democrats can control the government better than the GOP. Since the Republicans have basically trashed the government's effectiveness and dirtied the works with corruption and sin, the would-be Democratic majority will have a steep challenge to undo the damage. But if they can at least contain the damage and begin to reverse it, they will be in a position in 2008 to offer the voters a chance to double-down: vote a straight D ticket in 2008 and we will solve the problems that were either created or ignored by the GOP for a decade.
And I think that Obama is the guy to pull it off. He will have been in national politics for only four years, so he will not have yet been corrupted by the system. Voters like that. He speaks with sincerity and authenticity. Voters like that. He has a moral message for the country but doesn't reduce it to tribalisitic religious arguments like the fundies on the Right do. Voters like that. Should a different Democrat be nominated in 2008, it will mean a Democratic administration of a different persuasion or another Republican in the White House. Either way, Obama's relevance as antidote to either of those scenarios will be lessened. His time is now. And I think he can win. It can only be speculation today, two years before the 2008 election (and the Time article certainly gives plenty of Caveats, if we can trust the political analysis of Joe Klein), but this is the guy to watch.