The Obama opening

Posted: Nov 30, 2006 3:35 PM
The Obama opening

There are four words that even the most devoted Clinton haters probably never want to have to utter again -- the Rose Law Firm. And there is one word that, after eight years, even the most committed Bush haters will grow tired of -- Halliburton.

The Rose Law Firm was Hillary Clinton's firm back in Arkansas that was the focus of a little criminal activity and a lot of obsessive right-wing conspiracy-mongering. Halliburton is the former Dick Cheney energy firm that Democrats in Congress will spend the next two years investigating and that has been a swear word for Bush critics all along. Both entities represent, more than anything else, the putrid partisanship and malicious monomania that have characterized the 14, going on 16, years of the Clinton-Bush era.

After all this, who doesn't hunger for a clean break? Thus the energy behind the possible presidential bid of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. He is the only presidential candidate from either party about whom there is a palpable excitement. And that is because everything about him says, "I'm not a Bush, I'm not a Clinton, and can we please talk about something else?"

It will be manifestly good for the country if it elects a president in 2008 who doesn't elicit yowling hatred from the other side. Hillary Clinton probably will, and that's a mark against her. Perhaps there's an element of blackmail here, as if conservatives are saying, "Don't nominate her, because we'll hate her but good." But even on the left there's a certain weariness with Clinton. A liberal friend of mine says when he mentions Hillary in the course of talking about 2008 to audiences, there's always skeptical grumbling in the room. Some liberals don't think she can win; others think she compromises too much.

Hillary would have formidable assets in a 2008 race, but the timing could be against her. Maybe it's too soon for another Clinton in presidential politics. On the Republican side, the most talented and accomplished Republican officeholder in the country, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is sitting '08 out precisely because of the baggage that currently attaches to his last name.

At the moment, nothing but sweetness and light attach to the last name Obama. Skeptics note that he is a creation of the media, as if this speaks badly of him. Most politicians would spend millions and go through every exertion to be so created by the media. The more serious, related objection is that Obama has no record of accomplishment during his two-year stint in the Senate. There's a political trade-off here, though. By the time he does anything in the Senate, he will probably be thoroughly acclimated to the institution, making him just as unappealing as the dozen other senators who consider running for president every four years.

The genius of Obama is that he has a pure liberal voting record -- a 100 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 2005 -- at the same time he appeals to independents and avoids seeming noxiously partisan. No doubt, some of this sheen will be lost the day he were to announce for president. But it also reflects something real. Obama is willing to say that Republicans are wrong, not evil -- a very basic concession that nonetheless takes some bravery in the blog-besotted fever swamp that is much of the left right now. He has shown that he can speak the language of religious believers in a non-focus-group-tested, genuine way. And he has charisma, an invaluable asset that can't be bought or faked.

In the 1990s, the phrase "move on" became a way to try to keep President Clinton from suffering any consequences from the Lewinsky affair. Then, it became the name for the Bush-loathing outfit, which carried the partisan warfare of the 1990s into this decade. Among the public, there is much sentiment in favor of actually moving on, creating Barack Obama's opening on the national stage.