The best evidence of Obama’s readiness to lead the nation is the ability with which he has run for president. After all, what is more difficult, complicated, or challenging than getting elected president? What other life experience better illustrates one’s qualification to hold the office than a manifest skill in seeking it. For anyone who has ever been elected president, the race that sent them to the White House was the single most important event in their lives and dwarfs any other experience they might have had before running.
As we have watched Obama surmount the hurdles that lay in his path, we cannot help but be impressed with his judgment. Adam Wallinsky, who served on Bobby Kennedy’s staff, once singled out good judgment as JFK’s most salient characteristic. Obama has faced so many delicate questions and issues and seems always to have the right feel for how to handle them.
At the start of the contest, he chose to avoid ru nning as a black candidate for president and ran, instead, as a candidate who happened to have black skin. He crafted a middle course between the determined rejection of his race and its grievances of a Clarence Thomas and its emphatic embrace by a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. While Hillary invoked her gender at every turn, Obama decided to transcend his race rather than invoke it.
He began his candidacy eschewing donations from PACs and lobbyists, preserving his purity and giving him ground on which to stand in his claim to represent a new kind of politics, rejecting the special interests. When Hillary, whose campaign decisions have been as faulty as Obama’s have been flawless, wallowed in such donations, the Illinois Senator used the difference to paint her into the corner of the status quo candidate.
Beyond simply avoiding special interest money, Obama learned the lesson of Joe Trippi and the Howard Dean campaign of 2004 (even though Trippi was working for Edwards) and used his star power to develop a massive cyber-roots fund raising base which he mobilized again and again by the click of a mouse. He realized the potential of the Internet to democratize campaign funding in a way the other candidates in general, and Hillary in particular, did not. (Mrs. Clin ton invested tens of millions in direct mail instead with all of its costs and limited returns).
When Hillary criticized him for lacking experience, he brilliantly seized the opening she provided by becoming the candidate of change. He realized, as Hillary and Bill did not, that America wanted a change beyond the Bush/Clinton oscillation and grasped the fact that Hillary’s emphasis on experience would play into his hands.