"Take Two" (November 2006)
How Hillary Clinton turned herself into the consummate Washington player. By Joshua Green
In a recent Chicago Tribune interview, Obama said he had no interest in being cast as the "un-Hillary." Nevertheless, that is how he will be cast if, as seems more and more likely, he runs. The contrasts are all in Obama’s favor, it seems to me. Obama writes his own books; Hillary hired a ghostwriter to write her best-selling memoir but neglected to mention it in her acknowledgements. Her speeches are purees of her handler’s words and ideas, and sound it. If Hillary’s last name were Rodham, she would not be in the Senate, much less be considered presidential timber. Her celebrity, like her name, is on loan from her husband. If Barack Obama were Joe Smith, he would be right where he is—indeed, cleft of his exotic name, he might make a stronger showing in the polls. He is a self-made political entrepreneur who has advanced on talent—his ease in communicating his ideas, his empathy not only for people in trouble but for those, like conservative evangelical Christians and Republican politicians, who disagree with him—and what Madison Avenue might call his "Q-rating," or un-analyzable likeability. While not an exciting speaker, Obama is an enthralling one. As she showed in her speech at the memorial service for Coretta Scott King, Hillary Clinton is a boring, flat-voiced, false-gesturing platform speaker. She shouts into the microphone; Obama talks into it. Her borrowed words inspire no trust – they remind us of her borrowed foundation – and her clenched personality inspires little affection. Money can’t buy her love, nor buzz protect her political glass jaw. The question for Democrats is, Who will break it first? Will it be one of her Democratic challengers—Obama, Joe Biden, John Edwards—or John McCain?
The knock on Obama is that, with only two years in the U.S. Senate, he lacks the experience to be president. Asked about that by the Tribune, he sensibly replied: "That experience question would be answered at the end of the campaign…. The test of leadership in my mind is not going to be what’s on a paper resumé." Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld "had the best resumé on paper of any foreign policy team, and the result has been what I consider to be one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in our history." Joe Biden had decades of experience in foreign policy, yet voted for that mistake. So did John Kerry, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton.
And Barack Obama? Addressing an antiwar rally in Chicago in the fall of 2002, the then-Illinois state Senator said he was not opposed to all war; his grandfather had "fought in Patton’s army," and "after witnessing the carnage and destruction" of September 11th he said he "would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again." What he could not support was "a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics." Then came a moment of historic prescience:
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.
On the foreign policy issue of our time, Barack Obama was right, and Hillary Clinton et. al. wrong. Asked by the Tribune editors how he thought the Republicans would run against him, he winningly sallied, "War hero against snot-nosed kid." But the kid was right, not the war hero John McCain—which is a sufficient defense against GOP condescension, and an irrefutable example of Obama’s sound judgment. That, more than experience, is what’s wanted in a president. And like charisma, you have it or you don’t. Barack Obama has both; Hillary Clinton (vide, her politically tin-eared plan for universal health insurance), neither. Run, Barack, run.