Politics & Prose December 2006

Run, Barack, Run

Jack Beatty falls under the spell of a "political talent of a rare order"
From the archives:

"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.

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Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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