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I’m Not Totally Sure We Can


9. Two words: Jimmy Carter. Not since John Kennedy, almost half a century ago, has a senator, or a Democrat without a southern accent, won the presidency. (Although both candidates this year are senators, and both drawl-free.) Maybe Obama will be the 21st-century JFK. But maybe he’s the new Jimmy Carter. From national anonymity to the nomination in no time; a Cinderella story the media loved; running against a discredited GOP to turn the page on a national nightmare; a lack of foreign-policy experience; idealism and trustworthiness that congealed, after he won, into irritating naïveté and sanctimony. I tend to believe Obama is wiser and more worldly than Carter, and I relish every anecdote about his stone-cold toughness as he muscled into Chicago politics. My hope is that, as George W. Bush turned out to be no Ronald Reagan, President Obama would turn out to be no Jimmy Carter. But the Carter analogy can’t be ignored.

10. Washington’s hopeless. I’ve thumped for post-partisan fair-mindedness for years. I was hopeful about Bill Clinton—a fiscally disciplined, welfare-reforming Democrat! But as we all saw in Clinton’s first term, Washington may simply be irredeemable. Even though an American majority is purple, Congress and national politics have become structurally, dysfunctionally polarized between red and blue during the last two or three decades. In other words, an Obama administration might simply prove, by its failure, that George Bush and Hillary Clinton’s grisly, cynical, unyielding paradigm is the one we’re stuck with.

There; I’ve confessed. But all that notwithstanding, I’m thrilled that Obama will be nominated, and fervently hope he wins the presidency. As I would’ve—well, maybe not “fervently”—had Clinton been the nominee: On Supreme Court appointments and health-care policy alone, the choice between Democrat and Republican is easy. And on geopolitics, I’m far more convinced that President Obama would summon up the requisite steel and shrewdness than I am that President McCain would become sufficiently nuanced and diplomatic. Like the great conservative pundit James Lileks, I want a president who “does not appear to have a heart ruled by sentiment.” McCain is a hothead and a hot-dogging never-say-die hero, whose conception of himself and America entirely derives, God bless him, from a heart ruled by sentiment. Whereas for all his eloquence and uplift, Obama’s cool, unruffled Spock-like rigor is what makes him, in my view, presidential, maybe even Lincolnian. Unfortunately, it’s this same quality, maybe as much as his race, that will make it hard for him to get elected in November.



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