Commentary Magazine


Barack’s Big Adventure

Barack Obama has formed a presidential exploratory committee, and is expected to announce his candidacy formally on February 10.

There’s a surprise.

Who doesn’t have an exploratory committee? Even Christopher Dodd has one. This is a very rich country, and it seems to behoove many people to give money to politicians for any semi-plausible reason. For the politicians themselves there is virtually no downside: running, becoming a national figure, losing and learning from your mistakes is excellent practice for—next time. Besides, it is so much more fun than being a serious Senator, engaged in the dull business of making policy choices and then making them again when the first set fail in unanticipated ways.

Some might find it offensively arrogant for a neophyte, with two years in the Senate, no experience running anything, and a thin resume to seek the nation’s highest office. But it’s hard to argue with the reception Obama has gotten. At a moment when national politics increasingly resembles a reality-TV show, his breezy, confident manner, good looks, and natural speaking talent all add up to a version of plausibility.

“Running for the Presidency is a profound decision, a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone,” he announced with a straight face on Wednesday. I must have missed the part of the announcement where he revealed the substantive rationale for his candidacy.

Obama is the perfect fresh face, the new “it girl,” on whom the left end of a very disenchanted electorate can project their hopes and dreams for . . . something different. He’s black, but not militant, not Al Sharpton. White mom, absent African dad: almost like Tiger Woods.

But then there’s the Clinton factor. The media are playing Obama’s candidacy as a big “diss” to Hillary on the part of Democratic primary voters who may regard her nomination as inevitable but are not particularly enthusiastic about the prospect. And she seems to be obliging them, by looking worried. But at the end of the day? I’d bet on Clintonian discipline and ruthlessness.

In fact, Obama is a pretty good foil for Hillary. He makes her look experienced, reasonable, mature, serious. And did I mention mature?