Lost amid the sound and fury of this year’s primary season is the certainty, not the promise, of change. For the first time since 1952, there is no heir apparent to the administration in power.
The stakes have rarely been higher in a presidential election. The question is not if there will be change in American leadership, but what kind.
And the change that is being offered has a focus and intelligence that is kindred to the best American traditions. It is embodied by one candidate in the Democratic Party who is offering a reinvigorated America: Senator Barack Obama.
The New York Observer urges New York Democrats to support Mr. Obama in the state’s presidential primary on Feb. 5.
New Yorkers might ask why they should not pull a lever for our junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton. While Mrs. Clinton is an extraordinary United States senator for New York, we believe that Mr. Obama can be a great president for the United States of America.
Most of the other candidates have absorbed, assimilated or appropriated Mr. Obama’s issue of change. It is a powerful concept. But a great deal of the argument for Mr. Obama’s candidacy is about one great issue in American life: restoring and reinvigorating American democracy.
Democracy is the greatest strength of this still-young nation. Its living enactment is our gift to the world. It is the product of our best instincts and most powerful ideals. But it has been polluted, sullied and compromised by an obstructive administration that seems to have to have no particular regard for its attributes.
It is difficult to remember the last national candidate who has charged and jazzed the democratic system as Mr. Obama has. Partly as a result of his candidacy, college campuses have remembered why they are proud of the United States, kids are going door to door, runners are handing out leaflets on weekends, racial lines have been culturally melted and the electoral approach to presidential campaigning has been reborn.
And, as more than one commentator has said, America is being reintroduced to the world.
Because of who he is and what he stands for, a former constitutional law teacher with few ties to the Washington establishment yet a sophisticated respect for it, Mr. Obama stands the best chance of restoring the essential relationship between power and the American people. He is not flanked and blocked by an existing, entrenched power structure; his words are not muddied by layers of handlers; he still says what he means.
We believe that Mr. Obama’s idealism and fresh ideas would ensure that the end of the Bush era would also mean an end to government by secrecy, Cheneyism, arrogance, oligarchy; an end to mindless armed unilateralism abroad; an end to the blustering, rank partisan disputes of the last quarter-century.
Mr. Obama has found his strength in the generation that succeeded the baby boomers, speaking for the frustrations of those who wish that their leaders would get over themselves, get over the 1960’s, get on with resolving issues that threaten our global leadership. Mr. Obama is an inclusive figure at a time when our popular culture demands that we embrace a new America while still comprehending the lessons of hard-won history—from World War II through the fall of the Berlin Wall—that have brought us to a free world in 2008.
He is also determined to mend this nation. Mr. Obama, as Walt Whitman did, hears America singing, not snarling. Too many candidates have turned opponents into traitors, critics into jackals. Mr. Obama believes the nation yearns to see hope and inspiration and courage emerge victorious from the era’s gauntlet of hypocrisy and lies and false bravado. Imagine, for a moment, any other candidate this year saying what Mr. Obama said at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”
That is a song we have not heard for too long a time. It is the kind of song that can make citizens of spectators, Americans of couch potatoes, patriots of slackers.
Mr. Obama would also be the most formidable Democrat in the general election. He has demonstrated a capacity to energize young people and attract new voters, and is the only candidate in the Democratic Party who attracts independents, who are the fastest-growing part of the electorate. His refusal to demonize the Republican Party as a right-wing attack machine will appeal to those independents as well as moderate Republicans.
Mr. Obama, it is true, is hardly an experienced Washington hand, which surely explains the freshness of his vision and the power of his life experience. His opponents have hit this issue hard. But as far as experience goes, to those Americans who celebrated finding ourselves with our first M.B.A. president in 2000—we can only advise them to look at the $9 trillion national debt in 2008.
And when George W. Bush was driving a bleary, shocked nation into war with bait-and-switch deceptions in 2003, where was our experienced leadership? Meanwhile, in the west, an Illinois state senator—who has since served three years in the Senate, the same Congressional period that a fellow Midwesterner, Abraham Lincoln, had served when he sought the presidency—rose to exhibit courage and public judgment on that deceptive adventure, stating, “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
Now we have paid the price many times over, and there are no clear paths in Baghdad. But there may be one in Washington. Mr. Obama is the emblem of a new America. He has risen too quickly for his opponents’ taste; that fact is nothing less than a recommendation.
His relationship to truth and plain speaking and public transparency is the first step toward reviving democracy in the United States of America.
Barack Obama of Illinois is the future. New York’s Democrats should embrace him.