New Hampshire was recently brightened by the presence of Barack Obama, 45, who, calling the fuss about him "baffling," made his first trip in 45 years to that state, and not under duress. Because he is young, is just two years distant from a brief career as a state legislator and has negligible national security experience, an Obama presidential candidacy could have a porcelain brittleness. But if he wants to be president -- it will not be a moral failing if he decides that he does not, at least not now -- this is the time for him to reach for the brass ring. There are four reasons why.
First, one can only be an intriguing novelty once. If he waits to run, the last half-century suggests that the wait could be for eight years (see reason four, below). In 2016, he will be only 55, but there will be many fresher faces.
Second, if you get the girl up on her tiptoes, you should kiss her. The electorate is on its tiptoes because Obama has collaborated with the creation of a tsunami of excitement about him. He is nearing the point when a decision against running would brand him as a tease who ungallantly toyed with the electorate's affections.
Third, he has, in Hillary Clinton, the optimal opponent. The contrast is stark: He is soothing; she is not. Many Democrats who are desperate to win are queasy about depending on her. For a nation with jangled nerves, and repelled by political snarling, he offers a tone of sweet reasonableness.
What people see in him reveals more about them than about him. Some of his public utterances have the spunginess of Polonius' bromides for Laertes ("neither a borrower nor a lender be ... to thine own self be true"). In 2005, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and the AFL-CIO rated his voting record a perfect 100. The nonpartisan National Journal gave him a 82.5 liberalism rating, making him more liberal than Clinton (79.8). He dutifully decries "ideological" politics, but just as dutifully conforms to most of liberalism's catechism, from ``universal'' health care, whatever that might mean, to combating global warming, whatever that might involve, and including the sacred injunction Thou Shalt Execrate Wal-Mart -- an obligatory genuflection to organized labor.
The nation, which so far is oblivious to his orthodoxy, might not mind it if it is dispensed by someone with Obama's "Can't we all just get along?" manner. Ronald Reagan, after all, demonstrated the importance of congeniality to the selling of conservatism.