RYE/MANCHESTER, N.H — “He’s just too good to be true!” exclaimed one woman who was glowing after meeting Barack Obama following a town hall meeting in the gymnasium of Rye Elementary School.
“I’m already psyched about him, and that just sort of solidified my opinion,” said another woman, Suzi MacDonald, who came to the event with her son.
Given the youth and inexperience of the junior senator from Illinois, it is easy to dismiss him, as many political observers have, as a flash in the pan who will inevitably be annihilated by the Hillary Clinton juggernaut. But seeing the man in action and witnessing the unbridled enthusiasm he generates among his supporters makes it difficult to write off his chances.
It is particularly troubling for a conservative to watch Obama speak, because it is clear how naive his views are and how dangerous their policy implications. At the same time, it is hard to escape the conclusion that in Obama, Democrats may have finally found a leader who is charismatic enough not only to win, but to advance liberalism.
If elected, Obama would replace President Bush’s War on Terrorism with a War on Cynicism. This was apparent in three appearances Obama made in the Granite State on Friday and Saturday.
“As we’re fed this steady diet of cynicism, it’s easy to start buying into it and put off hard decisions,” he told Southern New Hampshire University graduates in a commencement address on Saturday that encouraged them to think about more than just getting rich, to cultivate empathy, challenge themselves, and learn to persevere.
Earlier that morning, he attended a rally in Manchester for about 550 supporters who he dispatched door-to-door to ask New Hampshire residents to urge the state’s Republican senators, Judd Gregg and John Sununu, to change their votes on the Iraq War. Obama has pointed out in recent campaign appearances that, “we are just 16 votes short from bringing this war to a close.” The canvassing effort served a duel purpose, as volunteers were also instructed to ask voters which candidates they were leaning toward and what issues were most important issues to them. Considering it is only May and Saturday was particularly chilly and rainy, the turnout was impressive.
If the Iraq War does not end by Inauguration Day, bringing it to a conclusion would be Obama’s top priority as president, he said at Friday’s town hall meeting. His other top priorities would be creating universal healthcare, improving the education system, and fighting global warming. Battling global terrorism did not make the cut.
“When George Bush steps down from office, the entire world will breathe a sigh of relief,” Obama said.
Obama’s foreign policy would call for negotiations with Iran and Syria, as well as the doubling of foreign aid, taking issue with the fact that “we have come to view security only in terms of military spending, and military action.” He said he has spoken to terrorism experts who have told him that there are only about 10,000 committed terrorists, and the rest are people facing hardship, or being educated in madrassas that teach hate. “That environment allows the hardcore terrorists to recruit,” Obama said.
He said it wasn’t being naive or soft to argue that humanitarian assistance could be used to reduce terrorism, but simply a matter of making a smart investment. “If you spend the money up front, you don’t end up having to spend as much money on the back end on much more costly military interventions,” he said. Obama provided the example of the Marshall Plan as an instance of foreign aid contributing to our long-term security. There is an obvious problem with that analogy. Before instituting the Marshall Plan, we had to defeat the Nazis first.
This is not to underestimate the potential appeal of Obama’s message. With Bush’s approval ratings in the gutter, public disapproval of the war overwhelming, and many Americans sick of the divisiveness in Washington, it is easy to see how voters could find the fresh-faced Obama soothing. This is especially true in a Democratic primary.
Talk to Obama supporters about why they prefer him to Hillary, and they will tell you that he’s authentic while she’s programmed, that he can bring people together while she’s polarizing, that he represents change while she is representative of more of the same, and, yes, that
he opposed the Iraq War while she voted for it.
Brenda MacLellan, an eighth grade teacher from Londonderry, said she was turned off by Clinton after meeting her at a February town hall meeting in Concord. A one-time John Kerry delegate, she is now actively supporting Obama, along with her husband.
“Here I am a woman, who wouldn’t mind a woman president, a lot of my friends are going to vote for her because of Bill, so I was really torn,” MacLellan told me after the Rye town hall meeting. “But when I think of Barack, and where he stood on civil rights, and thinking about the real people, that’s what we need again. We don’t need a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynasty.”