Speculation about Al and Hillary led to speculation about Al vs. Hillary in 2008, andI'm sorry, but there is something incredibly boring about dwelling on that until it actually happens, if it ever does. Therefore, as a public service, I am hereby opening a potentially more interesting vein of gossip: Senator Barack Obama of Illinois isn't not running for President.
This is not to say he has decided to run. The effortlessly charismatic Obama has been besieged by people urging him onward and upward ever since his terrific keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 2004, and he has always demurred. But the discussions have grown more serious in recent months as assorted Democrats, especially some high-powered money people, have surveyed the potential 2008 field and found it wanting. Obama has been listening politely to the honchos, his aides say, and telling them his position hasn't changed. But what is his position? "I'm really not trying to be coy here," he said when asked by the Chicago Tribune last December. "I'm not going to speculate." This is not exactly General William Tecumseh Sherman saying "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected." Close friends of Obama's say he really doesn't know yet what he's going to do in 2008. It would be nice if we statesmen of the media gave him the room to think it throughbut, of course, we won't. Washington is buzzing with the possibility of an Obama candidacy; he is about to be seriously pestered for a definitive answer.
The argument against an Obama candidacy is obvious: he is as green as Kermit the Frog. He is a mere 44 years old and has been a member of the U.S. Senate for less than two years. He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he has zero military and national-security experience. He's a very smart guy, a quick learner, but no one is that quick. If he runs and makes a fool of himself, a very promising political career could be suffocated in the crib. But somehow you get the feeling that Obama would not make a fool of himselfindeed, it is far more likely that he would bring a freshness, eloquence and thoughtfulness to Democratic Party politics that have been absent since Bill Clinton was in the hunt. Freshness doesn't last forever. If Obama waits and hangs around the Senate for six to 10 more years, he may wind up sounding like a Senatorwhich is to say he will no longer have command of the English languageand, worse, he may start thinking like a Washington politician, wizened by the accepted limits of the possible.
Actually, the best reason for Obama to run is precisely that he is young and everybody else seems so old. Gore has been the rarest of public servantsright on almost everything, years in advance. He is one of a very few prominent Democrats who were right about both Gulf Wars: in favor of the first, which was conducted with the approval of the United Nations; against the second, which wasn't. Hillary Clinton hasn't always been rightshe picked the wrong universal health-care plan in 1994, and she voted for Gulf War IIbut she is as solid as a rock and works hard to learn the issues before she starts spouting about them. The problem is, both Gore and Clinton have tons of baggage. Gore has been curdled by anger over his loss in 2000; Clinton will always be known as the wife of that other Clinton. The arguments for and againstand betweenthese two honorable politicians have become arthritic with age, debilitating. In fact, most of the arguments that have dominated baby-boom politics are rutted and irrelevant. The perpetual culture wars between Republican and Democrats, the legacy of Vietnam and racial, gender, sexual-preference and religious militancy have all become poisonous diversions from the very serious national conversation that needs to take place. We baby boomers have not proved very adept at running the show. It may well be time for a new generation of leadership.
Barack Obama will travelwith media in towto Kenya, his father's African homeland, in August. He will publish a book about his political views, The Audacity of Hope, in October. And then we'll find out just how audacious he is.