I'm endorsing Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate in this year's presidential race.
This probably comes as a shock to long-time readers who know my fondness for quoting the Michael Jordan Rule when it comes to politics. Yet if ever a time existed for breaking my own rules, this is it.
Most of my commentary on politics is both critical and cynical, and in this I am far from alone. But I also write a lot about entrepreneurship, and one thing that all successful entrepreneurs have in common is the ability to sense the critical moment.
There comes a time in the history of a business or a nation, where you reach an inflection point. Where a tiny nudge can make the difference between two radically different outcomes.
Great leaders instinctively understand that when the moment arrives, you have to go all in, because you might never get the chance again.
The 9-11 attacks represented such a moment. In an instant, countries around the world responded with an outpouring of sympathy and emotion. Even sworn enemies like Iran reached out to the United States. For a moment, there was a chance to make that unwelcome sacrifice mean something by finally convincing the world of the fundamental evil of terrorism.
Unfortunately, poor choices and poorer execution on the part of the Bush administration squandered that opportunity. Seven years later, the reputation and influence of the United States are at painful lows, and many lives, American and otherwise, have been lost in a badly mismanaged war in Iraq. Just about the only thing that has gone right has been the "surge" strategy of increasing the American troop commitment to help bring order...and that simply corrected the original mistake of overruling the military's warning that far more troops would be required to keep the peace than Rumsfeld was willing to authorize.
(Side note: No, I am not going to debate whether or not the war was justified, moral, or correct...I may be willing to break the Michael Jordan Rule, but I'm not going to spit into the wind by blatantly defying it!)
The Obama candidacy offers another such inflection point, one that may even hold out the hope of reversing some of the damage of the past seven years.
American badly needs hope right now. And not just our usual hope for a better future, but hope for escaping the past.
Barack Obama exemplifies the American Dream, not just for us, but the rest of the world. If a black man with a Muslim father can become President of the United States, it's much harder for people to hold on to the belief that Americans hate Islam.
Yet those who look deeper than the color of his skin will see something even more remarkable: A viable candidate who actually does seem to represent a break with politics as usual.
He says he wants to appeal to our better angels and bring people together, and you know what, I actually believe him.
After 20 years of fierce partisanship which taught an entire generation of politicians that the best defense was an onslaught of attack ads, sleazy innuendo, and demonizing the opposition, we finally have a chance to, as they say, "Move On."
Even in the face of vicious attacks and crude race-baiting on the part of a former President of the United States, he has remained determined not to drag himself into the mud.
Again invoking the Michael Jordan Rule, I'm not going to even attempt to articulate a comprehensive opinion of Hillary Clinton. Like George W. Bush, she is a polarizing figure who inspires strong emotions, both positive and negative.
What I can say with great confidence is that I doubt you'll find anyone who believes that Hillary will represent a break with the past 16 years, appeal to our better angels, and bring the American people together.
And most importantly, I doubt that she'll inspire hope.
The ability to inspire hope is rare and precious. Only a handful of presidents this century have had this ability...Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, and Reagan come to mind.
At first, I fought against this hope, not wanting to be disappointed.
He's got no chance of winning the nomination, I thought, and besides, he's probably just another phoney who will show his true colors as soon as adversity hits.
When he won the Iowa caucuses, I felt an unexpected joy. Well, I thought, at least he's going to make it interesting.
When Hillary won a narrow victory in New Hampshire, I felt that familiar sinking feeling. Oh well, I thought, it was nice while it lasted.
And then came the blowout in South Carolina, and despite a terrible 102 degree fever and a wracking cough, I felt jubilant. Despite my best efforts, hope had made me its bitch.
The race is far from over. Hillary Clinton holds substantial leads in a fair number of Super Tuesday states. Thanks in part to negative campaigning, she continues to poll strongly among Latinos, the poor, the uneducated, and the elderly.
Yet I can sense that the critical moment is at hand. All the polls are moving in one direction--towards Obama. If not now, then when?
Even Ted Kennedy has sensed it. He and his niece Caroline have endorsed Obama, invoking the two names are that are most sacred to the Democratic Party: JFK and RFK. They know that every vote will probably count, and they have chosen to use their last best trump card in hopes of making a difference.
And while I doubt that this post will sway many voters (and certainly many orders of magnitude fewer than an Op Ed piece in the New York Times), I cannot stay on the sidelines if there's even a chance that I can affect a single vote. (And given that I'm not registered to vote in the Democratic primary, this is my only chance to affect this race!)
I cannot tell you with 100% certainty that Barack Obama is more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton. I cannot tell you that he'll pursue fundamentally different policies than Hillary. Heck, I can't even say that I agree with most of Obama's policies--after all, I'm a hard-core capitalist and talk of bailing out subprime borrowers brings to mind the old adage about a fool and his money.
What I can say is that his campaign has made even this old cynic feel a renewed sense of hope for America. For the first time in a long time, I feel like we've found a guy gives all of us a chance to make our country better.
And that, my friends, is something worth voting for.