Today for the first time in the campaign I take a formal position and support Barack Obama for president, explain why I believe it is good that he lost New Hampshire, and repeat the suggestions I made in my column “The voice of a generation” today in The Hill newspaper.
Why today? Two reasons. First, because he needs it after New Hampshire and I am not one of these Washington guys who plays the angles, and second, I recently co-anchored a show on Air America that included nearly an hour with famed Kennedy aide and friend Ted Sorenson as the star guest, and I found his views moving and persuasive.
In my column in The Hill, I was referring to two voices of the generation. Obama more than any other candidate is the voice for the new generation that will define the world in the post-Bush era. And second, the new generation itself is looking for its voice, especially the wave of political independents, the wave of young people bringing their great idealism to our democracy, and the wave of Hispanics.
Each of these waves is trending heavily to Democrats; each wants a return to idealism and civility in our democracy; each offers the opportunity for a historic political realignment based on progressive centrism as powerful and momentous as the FDR coalition and the New Frontier of the JFK years.
America stands on the brink of a historic and epochal change in our politics and democracy that will unleash forces of idealism and reform that will astonish and amaze the cynics, experts and pundits.
Martin Luther King would be proud of Obama. He is not merely the first African American with the chance of being leader of the free world. He is an African American who aspires to a crossing-over that brings together the country, the races, the best of the past and the potential greatness of the future.
Why might Obama’s defeat in New Hampshire be a blessing in disguise? Because I do not want a coronation of Obama any more than a coronation of Clinton; because Obama needs to be challenged, toughened, and strengthened by the crucible of a hard campaign where he either rises to the challenge, or doesn’t.
We simply do not know how deep, or tough, Obama will be under the pressures of a hard campaign. We do not know whether he will be up to leading the fight for authentic change when up against the mighty forces of the status quo. Nor do we know whether his passions and commitment to reform will remain rock-solid against the temptation to sell out that is a time-honored tactic of the status quo.
I believe he will, but we do not know. I am old enough to be wary, but young enough to believe in the dream, and inspired enough by the incredible outpouring of young people in this campaign, and affected enough by Ted Sorenson comparing Obama to JFK that it is time, for me, to make this stand.
Personally I would never compare any modern politician to JFK in a serious way, not only because of the great line of my old boss Bentsen said to Dan Quayle, but because JFK was special for his times, and we must find our own special leader for ours.
Hearing Sorenson, who is the gold standard with no ulterior motive on the subject of JFK, make this comparison does give credibility to the idea that Obama just might be the special leader for our times. Let him be challenged; let the truth be seen as the battle unfolds; and for now, while we must choose among modern candidates, he is my choice.
What should Obama do, in my opinion?
Let us be honest. First, there are signs that there were white voters in New Hampshire who were reluctant to vote for a black, lied to pollsters, polled for Obama, then voted for Clinton. They could not do this in Iowa, where voters in the caucus would stand up publicly, in front of their neighbors.
Second, as Obama must be transcendent in appealing across the generations and races, he must also promise not only a candidacy, but an administration, and a government, that is proof positive that idealism, judgment and experience can indeed come together.
Obama should reach out to Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Chuck Hagel, former Sens. Sam Nunn and David Boren and the supporters of the national unity movement. He should offer a national unity government. He should state his intention to name in his government leading voices of experience such as Sam Nunn for vice president and Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and speak of these matters before the Super Tuesday voting.
Obama should tap voices of experience who were right in opposing the Bush policy in Iraq, right in supporting our freedoms against the abuses of the Bush years, right in standing for major efforts against global warming, right in supporting economic policies that help all boats benefit from the rising tide and help all boats be sheltered when the economic tides run out, and right in healing the divisions, racial and otherwise, that plague our society.