Obama’s personal appeal is made manifest when he steps down from the podium and is swarmed by well-wishers of all ages and hues, although the difference in reaction between whites and blacks is subtly striking. The African Americans tend to be fairly reserved–quiet pride, knowing nods and be-careful-now looks. The white people, by contrast, are out of control. A nurse named Greta, just off a 12-hour shift, tentatively reaches out to touch the Senator’s sleeve. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I just touched a future President! I can’t believe it!” She is literally shaking with delight–her voice is quivering–as she asks Obama for an autograph and then a hug. ~Joe Klein, Time

People like that worry me.  Barack Obama is a good speaker.  Certainly, in the age of the current rhetorically challenged President, anyone who can string together a few sentences with ease and aplomb will seem like a veritable demigod to the folks out in the countryside.  Beyond that, and his “I’m like Muhammad Ali, but better looking” trips to Africa, I have to admit that I don’t get it.  Yes, he’s charismatic.  But so is Harold Ford, and you don’t see legions of adoring fans beating a path to his door to touch the Once and Future King.  The funny thing is that Ford is the kind of “centrist” (i.e., he supports welfare and torturing terrorists), Southern Democrat who ought to be getting all the attention as the next great thing.  Maybe if he manages to win against Corker he will become the new star in the Senate. 

But people still seem to have Obama’s 2004 convention speech (which was effective for a lot of people with all of its harping on “opportunity” and “I believe in America,” etc.) ringing in their ears, so much so that they cannot hear the blaring of the warning: no Senator has been elected President since 1960.  I suppose if we wind up with an election year filled with Senators, one of them will have to win, but so long as there is the odd governor thrown in I will give the governor the benefit of the doubt every time.  There is no really good reason for why this should be so.  As Mr. Bush has demonstrated only too well, being governor does not make you ready for prime time, and there is no reason why governors should continually do better in all different sorts of political environments: Cold War, post-Cold War, war with jihadis, governors frequently outperform Senators in the primaries and the party that does not have a governor as its candidate typically keeps losing.  If Obama runs in ‘08, he will lose.  If he runs in ‘12, he might get the nomination, but he will lose the election.  This has less to do with race (though I won’t kid you that this won’t be something of a factor) and more to do with Obama’s history of being a consistent left-liberal throughout his career.  That may not be the kind of political burden that it once was in the ’90s, but it will make it a lot harder for him to win a general election.  There is also the matter of admittedly limited experience; Jon Edwards ran up against this obstacle, and while he managed to make the VP slot he has become the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the losing vice presidential candidate with the least experience in government?” or the answer to the other trivia question, “Which Southern Democrat thought he was the second coming of Bill Clinton?”  Obama does not want to become the Jon Edwards of the future, and therefore will not run in two years.  He may well run in six years, by which time many things will have changed, but it is difficult to know just what state our politics will be in at that point.

The exuberant response of white people to Obama, however, is something that I really don’t get.  Klein notes that the enthusiasm for Obama is similar to the response to Colin Powell (which I also really don’t get):

The current Obama mania is reminiscent of the Colin Powell mania of September 1995, when the general–another political rainbow–leveraged speculation that he might run for President into book sales of 2.6 million copies for his memoir, My American Journey. Powell and Obama have another thing in common: they are black people who–like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan–seem to have an iconic power over the American imagination because they transcend racial stereotypes. “It’s all about gratitude,” says essayist Shelby Steele, who frequently writes about the psychology of race. “White people are just thrilled when a prominent black person comes along and doesn’t rub their noses in racial guilt. White people just go crazy over people like that.”  

I guess some white people “go crazy” over this sort of thing.  Honestly, I don’t quite understand why “gratitude” would be the response to this.  Relief, maybe, but gratitude?  For what are these people grateful?  That they’re not getting harangued about racism?  I guess.  But then both of the political figures mentioned above (Obama, Powell) are in favour of affirmative action, which is nothing if not the formalised, institutionalied racial guilt-trip.  Now if you’re a white person who supports said guilt-trip, I suppose this wouldn’t trouble you.  But it still doesn’t explain the sometimes nearly hysterical excitement these figures have elicited from white admirers.  What am I missing? 

Take Colin Powell–please!  Seriously, though, Colin Powell was a reasonably competent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a career military politician who was fairly good at working in bureaucracy; the Powell Doctrine was smart and basically sound as far as these things go, and he would have done well to adhere to it when he was allegedly in a position of importance in this administration.  In the intervening years after he retired after the Somalia debacle (a debacle that he helped to bring about by refusing to give those soldiers the necessary protections the admittedly foolish mission required) he did nothing that would have distinguished him in any way.  He wrote a book!  He supports abortion rights!  Okay.  Were he not black, he would have been as unremembered in 2000 as Gen. Myers will be in a few years’ time and Gen. Shalikashvili already was in 2002.  (Say, why are there no Draft Shalikashvili campaigns?)  Then as Secretary of State, while well-liked by people at the department and reasonably capable of doing the basic drudge work of diplomacy, he was present at the creation of one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history and helped make that decision happen.  If I were Barack Obama, I would not want to be mentioned in the same sentence with this unfortunate figure.