On a bitter February day, in a city best known as the resting place of Abraham Lincoln’s mortal remains, an African-American Senator announced his candidacy for President of the United States. This is the season for such announcements; rarely does a week pass without word of another addition to the 2008 campaign. But Barack Obama’s announcement in Springfield, Ill., was a powerful moment of poetry and promise amid the leaden prose of electoral process.
Senator Obama arrives on the national stage at a moment when voters are tired of politics as usual, particularly the petty, first-person politics of the baby-boomer crowd that now dominates the debate. Senator Obama embodies the best of the post-boomer generation, a man more interested in finding solutions than in mulling causes or pointing fingers.
He brings to the campaign an admittedly skimpy résumé—he is a freshman Senator with just two years on Capitol Hill. But he has the skill to turn that apparent weakness into a sign of strength. “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington,” he said. “But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
Americans embrace politicians who personify change—when they believe that change is required. John F. Kennedy was younger than Senator Obama when he won the Presidency in 1960. When Watergate repulsed Americans in 1976, we turned to Jimmy Carter, a one-term governor of Georgia, who promised that he would never lie to us.
Other African-Americans have run for President, but none has had the credibility of the junior Senator from Illinois. New York’s own Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, ran a symbolic campaign in 1972. Jesse Jackson’s primary campaign in 1984 captured the imagination of some, but he was never a serious contender. And the less said of Al Sharpton’s campaign in 2004, the better.
There is nothing whimsical or arbitrary about Mr. Obama’s campaign. His soaring eloquence is nothing less than the emerging voice of the next generation of leaders. Win or lose, his quest for the White House is a monumental effort—one that Americans of all political persuasions should be proud of.
The Senator understands that the country has grown weary of politics, but what’s more, he understands that continued cynicism at a time of national peril might yet destroy us. “This campaign,” he said, “has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.”
To those who see Washington as irrelevant at best, corrupt at worst, Senator Obama conjured the memory of a man who once asked that we listen to the better angels of our nature. Abraham Lincoln, he said, showed that “there is power in words; there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.”
Gov. Spitzer: Don’t Get Even, Get Humble
As much as he might like to believe otherwise, Eliot Spitzer wasn’t elected sheriff last November—even though it’s certainly true that Albany is an unruly outpost of hustlers and con artists in dire need of discipline. But Mr. Spitzer is now a political C.E.O., no longer a prosecutor, and the state lawmakers he’s been attacking over the past week are people he needs to work with, not against.
One cannot blame Mr. Spitzer for his outrage over the shenanigans that led to the State Legislature selecting Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli as State Comptroller. Having stood side by side with the Governor in January and pledged to select a comptroller from a list compiled by a panel of former City and State Comptrollers, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno broke that pledge and encouraged their members to select Mr. DiNapoli, thereby ignoring the panel’s qualified candidates, each of whom had the finance experience appropriate to a job whose holder will manage the state’s $145 billion pension fund.
While Mr. DiNapoli is a decent and amiable fellow, he has precious few qualifications for the job. In the Legislature’s eyes, you see, that doesn’t matter. As Queens Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio told The New York Times, “Let’s assume I was chosen to be state comptroller. What the hell’s so hard about it? You go in, there’s a structure, there are people around you.” Fortunately, not all politicians are such fine, upstanding ambassadors of the status quo.
And so the Governor has gone on the attack, declaring that he has no qualms about working to unseat incumbents of his own party if they voted for Mr. DiNapoli. While this may energize and entertain the public, it’s clear that Mr. Spitzer is still relying on a tattered copy of his old State Attorney General’s playbook, behaving as if he were still a prosecutor with virtually unchecked power and a pocketful of subpoenas.
Whether Mr. Spitzer likes the legislators or loathes them, the fact is, they were elected by the people of New York—just as he was. No one doubts that Eliot Spitzer will undo much of the sludge that accumulated during the Pataki years. Under his guidance, energy and extraordinary talent, the reform and revitalization of New York is all but inevitable. But getting into the revenge business is a distraction from that worthy goal.