'Making politics cool again'

That’s one of Sen. Barack Obama’s goals, and he appears to have
already done that for much of the country, media and political
watchers. It’s yet another thing he claims Sen. Hillary Clinton can’t do, while he can.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama raised their battle for
the Democratic presidential nomination up a notch as they traded barbs
over who has the mettle to take on the Republicans and win back the
White House.

“It will take more than just speeches to fulfill our dreams,'’ New
York Senator Clinton, 60, said at a Wisconsin Democratic Party dinner
in Milwaukee late yesterday. “It will take a lot of hard work.'’

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,'’ Obama, 46, said in a speech
following Clinton’s. “If we don’t inspire the country to believe again,
then it doesn’t matter how many policies and plans we have.'’

And so it went between the two.

Obama and Clinton, vying for votes before Wisconsin’s
Feb. 19 primary, have been sparring over accusations of negative
campaigning, style over substance and who would most effectively fight
Washington special interests and chart a new course for the U.S.

She emphasized the need for experience to lead the country, he stressed the need to inspire the nation’s people.

“The most important thing we can do right now is to re-
engage the American people in the process of government, to get them
excited and interested again,'’ he said.

The people of America “want to believe in change again,'’ Obama added. “Don’t tell me hope doesn’t matter.'’

Actually, both are important, and the discussions on the Sunday news
shows were divided over which is more, and what might happen down the
road. The only thing all the analysts seemed to agree on is that Obama
has the coolness and inspiration down, hands down.

But, as The Economist wonders on it’s cover this week, if he won, could he deliver?

Whatever happens, Mr Obama is already that rare thing—a
political phenomenon. It is not just that he has managed to survive the
Clintons’ crude onslaught with grace. He has persuaded huge numbers of
people around the world to reconsider politics in an optimistic way.

The swoon has gone global. Time now to scrutinize more closely.

The immediate focus will be on the horse race: can he
win? But the bigger issue, which has so far occupied too little
attention, is this: what would a President Obama, as opposed to
Phenomenon Obama, really mean for America and the world?

They’re hardly asking these questions here yet. Good to see this rumination by the Brits in the Economist.

The best presidents are like magnets below a piece of
paper, invisibly aligning iron filings into a new pattern of their
making. Anyone can get experts to produce policy papers. The trick is
to forge consensus to get those policies enacted.

But what policies exactly? Mr Obama’s voting record in the Senate is one of the most left-wing of any Democrat.

No, the most liberal, not one of.

And the Obama phenomenon would not always be helpful,
because it would raise expectations to undue heights. Budgets do not
magically cut themselves, even if both parties are in awe of the
president; the Middle East will not heal, just because a president’s
second name is Hussein. Choices will have to be made—and foes created
even when there is no intention to do so. Indeed, something like that
has already happened in his campaign. The post-racial candidate has
ended up relying heavily on black votes (and in some places even
highlighting the divide between Latinos and blacks).

None of this is to take away from Mr Obama’s achievement—or to imply
that he could not rise to the challenges of the job in hand. But there
is a sense in which he has hitherto had to jump over a lower bar than
his main rivals have. For America’s sake (and the world’s), that bar
should now be raised—or all kinds of brutal disappointment could follow.

This has been a fun ride for many people, so the coolness is back. Now, for the burning issues at hand. 


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