Monday, January 28, 2008

The Necessity of Hope

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.


Anonymous said...

As an observer and participant in politics, I have to point out a fundamental flaw (at least from my point of view) in your argument for support of Barack Obama. I can't say it much better than Paul Krugman (see his recent Op-Ed in the NY Times), but I'll try to tell you why the "hope" agenda doesn't carry the day for me. Basically, Bill Clinton said all of the same things that Obama is saying. He arrived with a forward-looking cooperative agenda from a 'red' state. He was attacked mercilessly for displacing the Republicans from power. The 'other side' will similarly not just go along with the hope agenda when Obama is elected. Like it or not, the Republicans and the Righties will attack. Hillary is ready and can fight the fight. She has extended a hand across the aisle in the Senate, so she knows how to work with them, but most importantly, she knows how to parry, duck, counter and win the battles that will come. Her team is also ready to go - to capture the momentum of the election and lead. We don't have time for Obama to get up to speed and allow his 'hands-off' management style to work. HRC knows where to focus and will be ready to go on Day One.

Chris said...

Alas, anyone trying to claim credibility by citing Krugman isn't going to get a warm reception on a blog called "Adventures in Capitalism!"

But let me delve into the issue that you raise, which is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is better equipped to deal with attacks from Republicans.

There are critical differences between the Obama and Bill Clinton situations.

The first is that even when first elected, Bill came with a vast amount of baggage in tow, including suspicious-looking financial dealings and a long history of womanizing infidelity.

If a series of damaging revelations about Obama's honest and integrity come to light, I think the equation changes considerably, but if the Clinton campaign has been unable to unearth anything, I doubt that the Republicans will do any better.

The second is that America is a far different place than when Bill was first elected. 16 years of exhausting partisan struggle have left Americans heartily sick of the whole thing.

The tactics that worked in the past will no longer hold sway. There can be no clearer evidence of that than the failure of Bill Clinton's race-baiting to affect the South Carolina results.

There is a strong consensus among Republican operators that they would much rather face Hillary than Obama in the general election...unless this is truly a far-reaching conspiracy, I'm inclined to believe their assessment.

Rogue said...

I agree whole-heartedly with your post. I think the important thing here is to encourage everyone to do their homework and research the candidates before voting. If you do the research and identify the qualities of a real leader you'll be left with only one clear choice. Then VOTE! I know too many people that were against the current administration that didn't vote on the last election. Like I've told some friends, if you can't decide who to vote for or don't want to do the homework... vote for Obama and then you can blame me if he messes things up.

Anonymous said...

To follow up my prior post and respond to your answer, I have to say I hope you are right but am highly doubtful. (Also, once in a while Krugman makes a good point.)

First, Bill's baggage was not huge - most of it was trumped up by his opponents. Obama has some Tumi too - financial dealings, real estate investments, past drug use, etc. I can tell you that Hillary's campaign would not use such things the way that the other side certainly will. Also, what they don't find, they'll make up -- remember what McCain had to deal with in S.C. in 2000?

Second, America is indeed a different place ... when it comes to politics, it is much, much worse. The armies have been assembled, funded and trained over the last 16 years. They are not going to lay down their arms and quietly get along because someone has "inspired" them from the Democratic side. The public at large may desire that result, but that is not who these people answer to. The next Democratic president is going to face what Bill faced and much worse. It doesn't matter whether Americans are sick of it or not. Hillary is a veteran of the battles and can work within them to find consensus and get things done. Obama's rhetoric won't give him any place to hide. I wish it were different.

Bottom line is: we need Hillary's toughness, insider knowledge, experience and pre-vetted team to hit the ground running on day one. Americans will be inspired by the results her administration achieves; it just won't work the other way around.

Also, don't trust what the Reep operatives say about whom they would rather face ...

gregory said...

a cosmetic difference is all you can hope for...

the party will still be in power...

he is a member of the cfr, aipac loves him, he has no solution for iraq, will be afraid of rocking the boat, is actally quite weak, as you will see.

maybe good pr for america, but no substantial change will come from him

the system is broken, no solutions top world problems can come from the political class, it is impossible

ignore them, do your work, think in a different way, create the interconnected world through your work and your ideas and your human communications, government CANNOT do this

Chris said...


The Republicans are in disarray. The Bush administration pandered too much to the religious right, bungled the war, and infuriated the business conservatives with free spending. The grand Reagan coalition of hawks, money, and family values is splintering.

If anything, the next president faces an extremely attractive situation...the end of an unpopular administration, a tanking economy that should be on its way to recovery prior to re-election, and a sense of palpable joy from all the other countries in the world.


I don't claim that the government is a great solution to many problems (long-time readers would laugh at the thought of my suggesting that government solves problems). But it has reached the point where it is a major problem. Politicians are so reviled and the American people so disgusted, that an improvement would have a major impact on the public mood.

Moreover, the Bush administration has made it clear that the government can do many things to negatively impact our lives; simply not screwing up would be a palpable improvement.

Graham Powell said...

One quick point to anonymous: Bill Clinton was very popular throughout his term, despite the Lewinsky scandal, and left office with some of the highest ratings of any outgoing President. The Republican anger mainly backfired.

Now, I'm a Republican, but the main question I have when I look at the candidates is, "Would this person run the nation responsibly?" I think all four of the remaining major candidates can say that, and I would not be terribly upset if any of them won.

I didn't feel that way about Kerry. I was terrified that he would win.

My favorite is McCain but if the election was Romney vs. Obama I would probably vote for Obama.