This article is taken from the July/August 2007 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
ON A CHILLY AFTERNOON in mid-May, with the overcast skies opening up, a crowd huddles outside the doorway of the Rye Elementary School in this New Hampshire seacoast town, waiting for Secret Service officers to complete their sweep of the building. The lucky ones get cozy beneath the entrance’s overhang, while the less fortunate depend on umbrellas and ponchos to protect themselves from the elements. Some have shown up to see the political world’s new celebrity out of sheer curiosity, while others are already smitten. A salesman sees an opportunity to make a quick buck. He paces back and forth holding a sheet of cardboard displaying rows of buttons, most of them the typical offerings you’d expect to see at a gathering of Democrats. One portrays Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld as the Three Stooges, and one reads: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican. “But another button more appropriately conveys the mood of the moment. It’s a photo of the candidate, smiling and waving, with a rising sun behind him, surrounded by the words: “Carpe Diem Barack Obama November 4, 2008.”
Many conservatives have a difficult time believing that at a critical time in the nation’s history, in the midst of the War on Terror, the country would choose a novice like Barack Obama to serve as their commander in chief. For years, the right has been gearing up for another epic confrontation with the Clinton machine, and it’s hard to imagine Hillary would allow a political neophyte to squash her White House ambitions.
But at a moment in history when Americans are war-weary and eager for change, the optimistic, fresh-faced Obama should at the very least be considered a formidable candidate. To those who care about limiting the size and scope of government, the threat of Obama goes deeper than his potential to capture the presidency. In the Illinois senator, Democrats may have finally found a political figure capable not only of winning an election, but of advancing liberalism.
Skeptical conservatives would be wise to heed the words of Kirk Dillard, the Republican minority whip of the Illinois state senate, who worked with Obama for eight years in the legislature. “Obama can be to liberalism what Ronald Reagan was to conservatism, and that’s a friendly face or likable personality that can move the country left,” Dillard told me.
IT IS VERY EASY to dismiss Obama as shallow at first glance, but his writings, speeches, and campaign appearances paint a portrait of a politician who has immense talents and understandable appeal.
The first time I saw Barack Obama speak in person was at a small reception following this year’s gala dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual convention in Washington, D.C. With a photo having surfaced on the Internet of Obama at a 1998 Arab community dinner in Chicago, chatting with leading anti-Israel intellectual Edward Said, many supporters of Israel questioned Obama’s true sympathies. Their concerns would not be assuaged.
“The biggest enemy we have in this whole process,” Obama reflected as he was wrapping up his speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, interrupting himself to acknowledge the presence of young people in the audience. He continued: “One of the enemies we’re going to have to fight, is not just terrorists, it’s not just Hezbollah, it’s not just Hamas, it’s also cynicism.”
My immediate reaction was best summed up by a man I overheard remark to his friend, “I don’t know about you, but I think the enemies are Hamas and Hezbollah!”
Obama displayed tremendous naivete by applying his feel-good liberalism, which may have had relevance when he was a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago, to a complex and intractable conflict with deep historical, religious, ethical, and cultural roots.
Early in May, Obama stopped by an art space in an industrial part of Richmond for a low-dollar fundraiser hosted by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, entering the stage to the sounds of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” As he does during his standard presidential stump speech, Obama recounted the first time he decided to run for office. He joked that people used to mispronounce his name by calling him “Alabama” or “Yo Mama. “Then he recalled that people would ask him why a nice guy would want to get mixed up in politics. This prompted a meditation on public cynicism.p>The superficiality of these remarks were driven home when I went back and read William Finnegan’s 2004 profile in the New Yorker , and stumbled on a description of a speech Obama delivered as a U.S. Senate candidate: br>
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?