Is Obama For Real?

The last thing I want to get involved in is speculation about the next presidential election, but I think some of the initial reaction to ...
by | December 14, 2006 AT 3:00 AM

Senatorbarackobama The last thing I want to get involved in is speculation about the next presidential election, but I think some of the initial reaction to the prospects of Barack Obama is worth a comment. Not the adulatory response he's receiving, but the skepticism you hear about him here in Washington.

This by now is rote. Howie Kurtz makes the point that Obama hasn't undergone the level of scrutiny he'll receive as a declared candidate. It is a safe assumption that someone will find some dirt that will scuff him up a bit. And there is the fact that Obama is a black man, which is a source of as much guessing about his ultimate prospects as Hillary Clinton's gender. (Here's a contrarian view.)

Finally, there is the point that Obama lacks experience. He was only elected to the Senate two years ago. (His eight years in the Illinois state Senate doesn't seem to count for much in this accounting.) He lacks experience and a record of achievement. Etc.

Well, I wonder whether people who don't follow politics for a living care quite as much about these things.

Voters who supported George W. Bush didn't seem to give much thought to the reality that the governor of Texas has less power than any of his peers around the country. They convinced himself he had the stuff despite his short time in politics.

That's not an argument for Obama, exactly. But what about the other characteristics Bush had that Gore and Kerry lacked? How many times did you read that voters may not have agreed with everything that Bush stood for, but they would rather drink beer with him than with those pedantic Democrats?

This is a point that political reporters often make but don't like to believe -- that voters are casting someone for the part of lead actor in our national life. There are certain personality types they don't want to have to look at every night on TV.

I've barely been able to make myself read any of the coverage about Obama, but It's not hard to puzzle out his popularity. He seems sincere (and remember the old line from Hollywood -- if you can fake sincerity, the rest comes easy).

And his lines about not being a divisive figure certainly play well. Remember that Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider. He failed at that. But in this case, Bush's failings will help Obama. We've had 14 years already under two of the most divisive presidents in American history.

For all the times reporters note that people don't want to dredge up the dirt of the Clinton years, and so might not support Senator Clinton, they fail to note that someone who promises to wipe the slate clean has a real advantage.

Finally, I think the resistance to Obama is rooted in this -- he's popular with the public way before a newcomer to the national scene should be. By which I mean that only political reporters and the people who work the system for a living are supposed to be paying attention and making their judgments.

"The Gang of 500," as ABC's newsletter The Note calls the political insider class, is supposed to weigh and pass judgment on candidates long before voters even in Iowa or New Hampshire have started paying serious attention. At this point, the only stories are supposed to be about which candidate is hiring which adviser, and what that signals about what the smart money thinks about his (or now her) chances.

Obama circumvents all that. He's a star winning the hearts and minds of the people regardless of whatever skepticism the chattering class in Washington may harbor about him. No wonder that class is starting to hate him.