Barack Obama and his family are vacationing in his native Hawaii, far from the wintry snows of Chicago -- and far from almost every other American politician. There's a metaphor here for how I think Obama is going to conduct himself as president: He's going to try to keep his distance from other politicians, including his fellow Democrats. I see him trying to remain aloof from his party, much as Dwight Eisenhower did five decades ago. Like Eisenhower, I think he's drawn the conclusion that his party needs him more than he needs his party.
What's my evidence for this? Well, for one thing Obama didn't do a whole lot of campaigning for his fellow Democrats this year after he clinched the party's nomination in early June. His monster rallies in the fall resembled his monster rallies in the spring: enthusiastic and adulatory crowds inspired by this unique candidate's oratory, without much attention paid to local Democratic officeholders and office-seekers.
Similarly, after the election Obama chose not to campaign for Democrat Jim Martin in Georgia's Dec. 2 Senate runoff -- the election that, depending on how the Minnesota contest turns out, could make the difference between 59 Democratic votes in the Senate and a filibuster-proof 60. Nor did he devote any significant attention to the two Louisiana House runoff elections Dec. 6, both of which Democrats lost.
There were good practical reasons for Obama's non-participation: One of the Louisiana Democrats is under indictment, and polls suggested that the Georgia race was out of reach. But Democratic politicians know that Bill Clinton campaigned for the Democrat in a similar Georgia runoff just after he was elected in 1992. And they may have gotten the sense that Obama doesn't much care to campaign for anybody but himself.
And remember how Obama first came to our attention. Yes, it was a speech at a Democratic National Convention, but it was a speech that dwelled on what we as Americans have in common, not on how Democrats are better than Republicans. It was a speech that did a lot for Barack Obama and very little for the Democratic nominee that year, John Kerry. And when Kerry let it be known in November that he would very much like to be appointed secretary of state by the man to whose political career he had given a decisive boost by picking Obama as keynoter, there was no telephone call from Chicago. Kerry, for reasons that make a lot of sense to me, didn't suit Obama's needs and so will have to make do with being the junior senator from Massachusetts.