Barack Obama’s ease in beating John McCain should not obscure the magnitude of this achievement. A one-term Senator who just a few years ago described himself as a skinny guy with a funny name, his election as President of the United States demonstrates tremendous political talent, an American generosity of spirit that is rarely recognized these days, especially abroad, and that necessary ingredient in all greatness – good luck.
The long, $4.3 billion campaign has been quite a ride. When the primary candidates began debating in the spring of 2007, most pundits predicted a general campaign battle between the New York titans, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani – remember them? At the time, waking up at 3 A.M. was more associated with running to the john than proving you could run your country, as a Clinton commercial argued. Joe the Plumber was that guy who took too long to answer your calls and charged you too much, not John McCain’s ideal expression of the people’s voice. And the meltdown most people worried about came from overstimulated and under-supervised children not over-leveraged and under-regulated markets. Back then, the most famous Barak in the world was Ehud , Israel ’s defense minister, and many Democrats revered John McCain as a non-partisan, decent, bridge-building senator.
Barack Obama’s emergence from a cast of talented, experienced, Democrats, including the formidable Hillary Clinton, reflected remarkable discipline and eloquence. Throughout the seemingly interminable campaign he rarely made a mistake and never seemed to panic. This cool was in marked contrast to the disorganized, amateurish efforts of two, far more experienced, chief rivals, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. But beyond simply being calm, cool and collected, Obama’s “Yes We Can” unity vision tapped a wellspring of enthusiasm among demoralized Democrats, often alienated young voters and his core constituency, African-Americans. To those lamenting Obama’s victory, I prescribe a simple Rx: watch his 2004 Democratic Convention speech or the will.I.am 2008 “Yes We Can” video. It is hard to view either without being wowed by Obama’s compelling, healing, nationalist vision.
Obama’s victory also reflects America’s transformation from a divided, racist country as recently as the 1960s, and a much more magnanimous, equal, open country today. The greatest concern about Obama from the start was not that he was black, but that he was too green – inexperienced. In choosing Obama in such numbers Americans showed that most judged him not as a black man but as the best man for the job.
Sealing the deal for Obama was tremendous luck. He was blessed by Hillary Clinton’s incompetent campaign along with John McCain’s erratic search for a strategy. And America ’s misfortune was Obama’s good fortune – when the markets tanked in September, Obama’s campaign soared.
In the classic Robert Redford movie, “The Candidate,” a young, good-looking, come-from-nowhere reformer upsets an older, more experienced pol. The movie ends with the question now facing Barack Obama, as the euphoria of the election dissipates and America ’s sobering economic, military, diplomatic, and social challenges intensify: “what do we do now?”