I just read the prepared text of Barack Obama’s foreign policy address in Chicago yesterday, and while I disagree with the policy implications, I think it’s quite effective as a political speech and reinforces my belief that he isn’t just a flash in the pan, but a formidable presidential candidate.
Substantively, the speech was anchored by five main foreign policy points: ending the Iraq War, increasing the size of the military, conducting a international effort to stop the spread of WMD, rebuilding global alliances, and doubling foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012 as part of an effort to combat the “root causes” of terrorism.
Though I did not hear it delivered, the text was not dominated by the type of angry anti-Bush rhetoric that often overwhelms Democratic political speeches. To be sure, he did say: “This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open.” But much of the speech wasn’t about bashing the president or blaming America, but on celebrating the tradition of America’s leadership role in the world. “I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth,” he said. “We just have to show the world why this is so.” Toward the end of the speech he said: “Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story.”
Another thing that Obama has going for him is he is a candidate with a very clear brand–his message of spreading hope and opportunity is integrated into both his foreign and domestic policy, and is rooted in his life story.
By no means am I jumping on the Obama bandwagon, but I think conservatives have largely underestimated him. Conservatives have been so geared up for a Hillary Clinton candidacy, that they run the risk of getting caught flat-footed by Obama. And Republicans cannot hope to win by making hay out of his middle name, connecting him to a madrassa, or assuming he’s a fad that will quickly pass. Clinton may have a powerful political machine behind her, but I fear her less because she doesn’t make progressive ideas sound very good. If she were elected and sought to implement liberal policies, Republicans could portray her as a radical and thwart her efforts as they did on HillaryCare in 1993/94. Obama’s charisma, oratorical skills, and sunny optimism would not only make him tough to beat in a general election, but were he elected, he’d be a much stronger advocate for progressive policies. He has the ability to make liberalism sound appealing in the way Reagan made conservatism sound appealing.
When I talk to conservatives who are dismissive of Obama, I am reminded of that Bob Dylan line: Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.