Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Burris: Obama Takes Us Higher


The talking heads said Barack Obama needed to win in South Carolina. The Clintons had stopped his momentum in New Hampshire. Nevada was a wash. In South Carolina, the experts said, Obama would need to win by at least 10 percent, maybe 12 or 14 percent.

He won by 28 percent.

And it wasn't just the black vote. He carried one third of the white vote in a three-person race, and roughly one half of white male voters.

It's not just the golden tongue either.

Increasingly, Americans like this man, and what he is saying. Obama makes them feel hope. The Clintons make them feel depressed.

Republicans are moving toward John McCain because they are thinking about electability. Democrats will soon start doing the same.

This means the superdelegates.

This means congressmen and legislators in Connecticut.

These people know politics. They know voters.

They no longer need to fear the Clintons.

They no longer need to fear the machine.

Obama can win.

That sets the politicians free. And Ted Kennedy will lead them.

The Clintons calculated in South Carolina. But for once they calculated wrong. They thought: We will lose here. But there is an angle to play. Let's turn Obama into a "black candidate." It will marginalize him. And more whites will come to Hillary down the line.

It backfired. Big time. The scheme was transparent. Blacks saw through it. So did whites.

The Clintons picked the wrong patsy, the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong party for a Southern strategy.

This will be a fight to the end. Super Tuesday may well be a wash. Ohio and Virginia come after that, and they will be battles. Maybe they will be determinative. There will be a slugfest over superdelegates. John Edwards may indeed be kingmaker. Since he represents Jacksonian impulses rather than Wall Street interests, that could be a salutary thing for the Democratic Party.

But what we are going to see is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

A reaction to the Clintons is setting in. Among voters. Among Democratic loyalists. The feeling is that:

a) These people are no different than Rove and Bush. They will do anything to win.

b) There must be something more to politics than getting and holding power.

Obama really does offer something fresh.

Read his books.

Read his Martin Luther King Day speech.

Social justice is at the core of Obama's public life. Indeed, it is at the core of the man.

Yes, he is careful.

That isn't altogether bad.

Obama wants to be effective -- to actually progress toward justice. Not just talk or rant.

This is why the Clintons loathe and fear him.

He is practical idealist.

He is a competitor, like them.

But he is not a win-at-all-costs guy.

He wants to win for a reason -- a greater measure of justice.

Yes, Obama is young.

So was Kennedy. So was Teddy Roosevelt. So was Jefferson.

Yes, experience matters. But his experience is as complete and as deep as Clinton's or Edwards'. And judgment counts more.

Obama has better judgment than John McCain, who thinks he has made Washington better for the last 20 years; who thinks Washington has made the country better; who thinks we are winning or have won in Iraq; who thinks the answer to terror is all war, all the time.

Obama is an old soul. He thinks. He will have wise heads around him. He will listen and is capable of learning.

He is not a perfect human being. He is a little too cool, too cautious, too controlled. And he is a bit self-righteous.

But the choice is cynicism or practical idealism.

Endless calculation and power lust to no real purpose, or reason, proportion, and justice.

More of the same or a chance to begin anew.

Some people say Obama has no message. But that's not correct. It's just that his message seems too good to be true. And we have grown so very cynical.

Ironically, instead of marginalizing Obama on the basis of race in South Carolina, the Clintons underscored his message: We need a higher politics.

That message has three constituent parts:

-- We are one people.

-- It is the country that matters -- not the party, the ideology, the platform, the tribe, the interest, or the individual.

-- "Come, let us reason together": If we keep our essential unity in mind, and use our reasoning powers, and the tools of compromise and reconciliation, we can deal with our problems.

Again, a reasonable man.

Obama still needs a wave to soar over the machine.

And reason does not usually create waves.

But on Saturday it got a swell.


Keith C. Burris is editorial page editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

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