Like life, politics can turn on a moment.
Blair Hull will not be remembered by many; if anything, he will be a footnote in history. In 2004, Hull decided to seek the Democratic nomination for Illinois’s open Senate seat, vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. Hull, who funded himself with $28 million, had a significant lead early on. Then allegations surfaced that he had threatened to kill his wife during an argument, and that he was arrested for battery, although charges were never filed. Nevertheless, the damage to Hull’s campaign was done.
The chief beneficiary of Hull’s meltdown was a little-known state senator from Hyde Park. His name, of course, is Barack Obama.
And how far Obama has gone since his days in the state senate. He gave a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention; he nearly tripled his opponent, gadfly Alan Keyes, in votes in the general Senate election; he is near the top of the Democrats’ presidential list for 2008; more recently, Oprah has endorsed him for president. And what was the moment that led to all of this? It was when Blair Hull, in the middle of a heated argument, allegedly threatened to kill his wife. In a very real sense, if Obama does ascend to the presidency, he should thank nothing more than Blair Hull’s temper.
Of course that’s not completely true. Obama did give an exceptional speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004; his speech, which in part called for more unity in America, is something that Republicans and Democrats alike should commend. Obama’s robust Senate victory certainly brought him further into the national spotlight, but then again he was facing the histrionic—to put it nicely—Alan Keyes.
Naturally, another big reason that Obama is a front-runner is that—excuse my lack of political correctness—he’s black. This is not to imply that Obama’s success is only because of his race; indeed, Obama’s ethnicity simply complements many of his other appealing qualities. Moreover, the desire by many Americans to have a black president is a laudable one.
Nevertheless, America should settle on the best person for the job, regardless of the color of his (or her) skin. The Democratic party, which has certainly become the party of blacks, doesn’t want the first black president to be Republican, just as Republicans would love to steal some votes from the Democrats by nominating a black candidate. Obama, as the only black Senator or governor currently in office, would essentially be the Democrats’ only hope for a black president in 2008. (Apologies to Al Sharpton and Carol Mosley Braun.)
Furthermore, Obama’s potential candidacy is helped by his status as a media darling. As columnist Brent Bozell reports, in a January 2005 “Who’s Next” edition of Newsweek, both Obama and the recently unseated Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were featured. While the liberal Obama was described as “incredibly pragmatic” and “uniquely qualified to nudge the country toward the color purple,” Santorum was portrayed as a “‘cultural militant’ and a ‘heat-seeking missile’ with a ‘combatively devout approach.’” While Santorum and Obama are on different ends of the ideological spectrum, the former is portrayed a radical conservative, whereas the latter is depicted as a moderate pragmatist. Not only does Obama agree with most traditionally liberal positions (from supporting abortion rights to opposing the elimination of the estate tax), he also votes the party line; as The Hill Monitor, “a nonpartisan vote-tracking group,” reports, Obama was the fourth most likely senator to vote with the majority of his party. Far from a bipartisan centrist as he is depicted, Barack Obama is a party man through and through.
There are certainly a lot of reasons why Obama would make a good candidate; there aren’t as many reasons why he would make a good president. Before supporting Obama, I think one needs to ask a basic question: what exactly has Obama done to deserve being the most powerful man in the world? He gave a great speech two years ago, but is a four-year Senator really worthy of being president? I don’t think he is—at least not yet. All the same, if Obama does become the leader of the free world one day, I know exactly whom to credit—or to blame.