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On Behalf of Barack

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With an abundance of intelligence, energy, eloquence, and "audacious hope," Barack Obama has opened a commanding lead over his sole remaining rival, Hillary Clinton. If he captures the Democratic nomination, in the general election he will face in Senator John McCain a shopworn supporter of an unpopular war, tainted with scandal, and despised by the right-wing base of the Republican party. Despite all that, McCain will be a formidable GOP opponent, for he will have at his disposal the Justice Department's coast-to-coast campaign of voter suppression, the financial support of mega-corporations, "black-box" voting machines and compilers, and a corporate media that has proven itself capable of transforming, in the minds of many, an authentic war hero into self-promoting phony, and a deserter into the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. Overconfidence may well prove to be Obama's and the Democrats' undoing. Barack Obama was not my first choice. But John Edwards fell victim to his excessive candor and integrity. His spot-on assessment of economic injustice and his scathing indictment of the corporatocracy was regarded by the media to be outside the realm of "acceptable" political debate. And so Edwards' campaign, starved of funding and media attention, withered and died, a sober reminder of the media's continuing veto power over aspiring candidates for political office. Obama is not the ideal candidate (there aren't any), and many of his Senate votes trouble me. But in the past few weeks, he has displayed qualities of leadership not previously evident to me. Hillary Clinton might well be a good president. Barack Obama, I believe, has the capacity to be a great president. Ironically, the totality of attacks on Obama might, on reflection, add up in his favor. For if these are the best that the opposition can come up with, this must be one fine candidate. With this consideration in mind, I will examine what appears to be three of the more prominent criticisms of Obama: lack experience, "mere rhetoric," and plagiarism. The Experience Issue: Clinton cites her thirty years of experience in public service. Obama, in contrast, is a newcomer. The issue is a non-starter for the GOP for whom "experience" as a Hollywood actor (Reagan, Schwartznegger), or "experience" in business failure (George Bush), are somehow regarded as qualifications for high public office. But tuo quoque ("you're another") is a weak rebuttal. The question remains, what are Obama's qualifications? They are impressive. In addition to his magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, he has taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Because the restoration of the Constitution of the United States must be one of the most urgent tasks of the next president, expertise in Constitutional law must rank high in the list of qualifications. At age 46, Obama can not claim thirty years experience in public service, since he did not begin his career when he was sixteen. Even so, when he graduated from Harvard Law, he did not seek a fortune as a corporate lawyer, but instead practiced civil rights law. In fact, his entire working life has been devoted to public service. However, rather than recite his curriculum vitae (which you can read here), let's focus instead on his management skills and those of his rival, Hillary Clinton, in the current campaign. Frank Rich sums it up nicely:
The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it's a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate's message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.... As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and - talk about bizarre - against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country.
With this contrast in management skills in mind, ask yourself: which campaign strategy is more likely to prevail in the general election? The "mere rhetoric" issue. Early in the campaign, we read that Clinton was a better debater and Obama a better speech-giver. Last Thursday we observed that Obama had closed "the debate gap." He remains the champ at the podium. So Clinton is reduced to belittling Obama's way with words and his extraordinary ability to "make contact" with his audiences. At a campaign appearance at Hunter College in New York City, Clinton said: "It is time that we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions. This is not about a personality. This campaign is about hundreds of millions of Americans who are yearning for leadership again." Sadly for Clinton, Obama appears to be answering that "yearning for leadership." Let's not kid ourselves: It's all about envy. Hillary would sell her soul in exchange for Obama's "rock star" charisma. And it ain't for sale. Clinton supporters frequently complain that Obama's rhetoric is devoid of specifics. "It all sounds nice, but he won't spell out his positions on the issues." Well, he's not hiding his policy positions. Those who desire "specifics" need only visit Obama's "Issues" page at his website www.barackobama.com, where his proposals are spelled out in detail. But if Obama follows the "advice" of his critics by toning down the rhetoric and replacing it with policy "specifics," he will make a serious strategic error. For as Al Gore vividly (and fatally) demonstrated in 2000, the public has little patience for policy-wonk lectures from its candidates. It much prefers inspirational "rhetoric." Obama will not repeat Gore's mistake. The plain fact is that in politics words do matter, as Obama said plainly in that notorious passage "borrowed" from his friend, Massachusetts Governor Devall Patrick. Unfortunately, Clinton's "plagiarism" accusation has distracted attention from the compelling truth thereof:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." Just words. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Just words. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Just words. "I have a dream." Just words.
Add to this, the Gettysburg Address, the Sermon on the Mount, FDR's fireside chats, Winston Churchill's wartime broadcasts which, as Edward R. Murrow put it, "mobilized the English language." Words turn the hinges of history. Words put the reins of leadership into the hands of a politician. And words can be a window into the soul and the intellect of a leader. Those who speak well and write well, also think well. To be sure, most political rhetoric these days is the handiwork of speech writers. Thus the success of Ronald Reagan. And when dimwit politicians stray from the teleprompter, we learn more than we'd like to about their smarts. Witness George W. Bush: "You're working hard to put food on your family." "Is our children learning?" "Fool me twice..." Listen to the extemporaneous speeches of John Edwards and Barack Obama, and notice their performance in debates. These are their own words. As one listens, who can doubt that these are extraordinarily intelligent individuals? The "plagiarism" kerfuffle. Nothing better exemplifies the paucity of criticism against Obama, than Hillary Clinton's attempt to pin the "plagiarism" label on her opponent. When she brought the issue up in Austin, Texas, with a scripted (plagiarized?) quip, it elicited the only booing of the debate. Obama's haymaker reply put an end to that issue. Obama did concede, however, that he should have credited his friend Devall Patrick. So, in the spirit of full attribution, let's review this plagiarism complaint. As I see it, it is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Shakespeare, Macbeth). And the offending "borrowed" remarks?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." (Thomas Jefferson) Just words. (Devall Patrick) "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Just words. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." (John F. Kennedy/Theodore Sorenson) Just words. "I have a dream." (Martin Luther King) Just words.
Silly, isn't it? And recall Ronald Reagan's speech at the memorial service for the Challenger astronauts: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'" To their credit, the Reagan library and the National Review put the borrowed words in quotation marks. But neither cited the source: John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force, who died in 1941 at age nineteen, a few weeks after he wrote these words. Next, compare these two passages:
"The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time." "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country."
The first is by Bill Clinton, in the 1992 presidential campaign. The second is by Hillary Clinton, February 21, 2008. Plagiarism? No more or less than Obama's use of Devall Patrick's words, at the latter's invitation. Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News asked several experts if Obama was guilty of plagiarism. Their unanimous judgment: he was not. Accusing Barack Obama of "plagiarism" is, to put it mildly, a "stretch." As noted earlier, if this is the best that Obama's opponents can throw at him, he emerges as a remarkably "clean" candidate. In sum, I now would judge Barack Obama to be far more qualified for the presidency of the United States, than I did several weeks ago when I was rooting for John Edwards. Obama has, in his campaign appearances, displayed qualities of intellect and moral stature that I failed to fully appreciate before. We will be well-served if he becomes our next president. But if he is to succeed in his quest for the presidency, Barack Obama must continue to display and implement his extraordinary leadership and management skills. For as we have learned from both the 2000 election campaign ("inventing the internet") and the 2004 campaign ("Swiftboat Veterans for Truth"), if the actual words and deeds of the Democratic Party candidate can not be turned against him in a GOP smear campaign, new words and deeds will surely be invented. It's going to be a very rough road from here to the White House. Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge
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Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The (more...)
 

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