Has Barack Obama Lived Up to My 2007 Endorsement Expectations?

Here’s my column from the Oct. 3, 2007 edition of the Philadelphia City Paper:

America is in big trouble. You know it. I know it. The rest of the world — both remaining friends and ever-growing ranks of foes — knows it. The only way to do something about it is to fight for change. A seismic change that only one candidate angling to replace one of our worst leaders ever can deliver.

His name’s Barack Obama and, from this column forward, I’m going to be his blatant, unapologetic Philly partisan. This is because I believe he’s probably the only person capable of restoring our reputation abroad and self-pride throughout the homeland. And, quite frankly, if somebody doesn’t do both of those things with a quickness, America’s going to be in the kind of trouble that crumbles empires.

Granted, he’s not all that different from his Democratic opponents when it comes to most of the hot buttons like getting out of Iraq and health care. But in the big-picture worldview, nobody comes close to offering what Obama does. To me, it’s all about hope. Mrs. Clinton’s husband may have hailed from a place named for it, but that’s not the same thing as being its living, breathing embodiment. Sure, it’s easy to get seduced by his unparalleled rhetorical skills — as I’m sure many have — but look beyond the delivery. Here’s a man who was raised on bareknuckle Chicago politics rather than Beltway incest, comes from a multiethnic background and not Skull and Bones, and doesn’t wield his faith as a shield.

The problem? American politics as usual. The sound-bite culture that precludes serious policy discussions. The propensity for polls to become self-fulfilling prophesies. And yes, the race factor; if some people can’t stomach their NFL team having a black quarterback, how likely would they be to support a black president?

They’re sad realities that must change.

I’m not sure how you go about eradicating people’s deep-seated prejudices; you probably can’t, actually. As for the polls, well, voters should ignore them and go with their hearts rather than for whom they think has a chance to actually win. And the sound-bite culture? Simple.

A couple of months ago, a book arrived in my mailbox. Barack Obama in His Own Words (Carroll & Graf), a paperback that came out in March, is a collection of Obama quotes spread across 166 pages, broken down by topics ranging from abortion, Abe Lincoln and Africa, to voter ID cards, the “War on Terror” and Washington, D.C.

Conceptually simple — pore through every interview and speech, pick out the gems, package and sell it — it’s an approach that offers more insight than any article or speech could provide. It’s the candidate, in his own words. Politics Unplugged, if you will. It’s such a basic approach that it might actually be revolutionary.

Want to do away with a political landscape driven purely by the need to raise enough money to advertise your opponents into submission? Well, if one of these books was written about every presidential candidate, and made available to voters at minimal cost, we’d have a system driven by words rather than dollars.

In other words, the system would once again be “for” the people.

You know, just like how it’ll be after President Obama gets inaugurated.

Well, has he? I don’t know. Hard to tell. But, it sure seems as if my concerns about racial prejudice, and visions of “for the people” government, took a back-seat to class-driven spite and Beltway obstructionism. Those aren’t excuses; those are realities. But at the same time, you gotta wield that bully pulpit instead of sheepishly and listlessly allowing your opponent to steamroll you during a debate. No easy answers here.

Chime in if you’re so inclined.

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