Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stop Him Before He Gets More Experience

Frank Rich with a very favorable article in today's NYT:
February 11, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Stop Him Before He Gets More Experience

AS the official Barack Obama rollout reaches its planned climax on “60 Minutes” tonight, we’ll learn if he has the star power to upstage Anna Nicole Smith. But at least one rap against him can promptly be laid to rest: his lack of experience. If time in the United States Senate is what counts for presidential seasoning, maybe his two years’ worth is already too much. Better he get out now, before there’s another embarrassing nonvote on a nonbinding measure about what will soon be a four-year-old war.

History is going to look back and laugh at last week’s farce, with the Virginia Republican John Warner voting to kill a debate on his own anti-surge resolution and the West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd seizing the occasion for an hourlong soliloquy on coal mining. As the Senate pleasured itself with parliamentary one-upmanship, the rate of American casualties in Iraq reached a new high.

The day after the resolution debacle, I spoke with Senator Obama about the war and about his candidacy. Since we talked by phone, I can’t swear he was clean, but he was definitely articulate. He doesn’t yet sound as completely scripted as his opponents — though some talking-point-itis is creeping in — and he isn’t remotely defensive as he shrugs off the race contretemps du jour prompted by his White House run. Not that he’s all sweetness and light. “If the criterion is how long you’ve been in Washington, then we should just go ahead and assign Joe Biden or Chris Dodd the nomination,” he said. “What people are looking for is judgment.”

What Mr. Obama did not have to say is that he had the judgment about Iraq that his rivals lacked. As an Illinois state senator with no access to intelligence reports, he recognized in October 2002 that administration claims of Saddam’s “imminent and direct threat to the United States” were hype and foresaw that an American occupation of Iraq would be of “undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Nor can he be pilloried as soft on terrorism by the Cheney-Lieberman axis of neo-McCarthyism. “I don’t oppose all wars,” he said in the same Chicago speech. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war.”

Now that Mr. Obama has passed through Men’s Vogue, among other stations of a best-selling author’s cross of hype, he wants to move past the dumb phase of Obamamania. He has begun to realize “how difficult it is to break through the interest in me on the beach or that my wife’s made me stop sneaking cigarettes.” He doesn’t expect to be elected the leader of the free world because he “can tell a good joke on Jay Leno.” It is “an open question and a legitimate question,” he says, whether he can channel his early boomlet into an electoral victory.

No one can answer that question at this absurdly early stage of an absurdly long presidential race. But Mr. Obama is well aware of the serious criticisms he engenders, including the charge that he is conciliatory to a fault. He argues that he is “not interested in just splitting the difference” when he habitually seeks a consensus on tough issues. “There are some times where we need to be less bipartisan,” he says. “I’m not interested in cheap bipartisanship. We should have been less bipartisan in asking tough questions about entering into this Iraq war.”


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