Sen. Barack Obama came to the Valley Monday to stump for fellow Democrats seeking to represent Arizona in Congress. But uppermost in the minds of many who came to hear him was his hinting on national television the previous day about a possible 2008 campaign for president.
Intellectual yet unassuming, the Illinois Democrat rose from working-class parents of different races to earn degrees from Columbia and Harvard. With his gift for oratory, during his short time on the national stage he has inspired those of many political persuasions with a workable mix of idealism and common sense.
Obama joins a short list of American political figures that includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell whom large numbers of people want to run for president, but who have not yet done so.
This raises their stock even more, of course; they become modern-day versions of Cincinnatus, the ancient general who legend says had to be coaxed from his farm to become dictator of Rome.
As has been repeatedly said regarding Powell, when such revered figures actually decide to run they become real human beings — and the intense scrutiny of their records by the media and their political opponents renders them even more so.
In a column published in these pages Wednesday, Ezra Klein of the American Spectator said Obama’s appeal has much to do with his lack of a national record as he has avoided controversial issues since his election two years ago. Klein advised Democrats that Obama is “not your guy. Not yet.”
Indeed, at 45 and in his first Senate term, Obama could spend the next decade or so gaining in stature by amassing a national record and then run for president in his mid-50s. Klein suggested several issues on which Obama “could prove his mettle, not to mention his priorities.” But the way of American politics since Watergate is that the more of a record someone has, the less like Cincinnatus one appears.
Henry Clay, who sought the presidency in 1832 but failed, once said he would rather be right than be president. For those who seek to be both, is it better to run after getting more experience, but also more scrutiny and enemies, as Klein says, or is it better to be, as Obama is now, a relatively new voice with a large following — and on the cover of last week’s Time magazine?
Whatever Obama decides to do, it seems as though he plans in the short term to continue to inspire voters in places far removed from the farms and corn fields of Illinois. Arizona’s relatively early presidential primary in 2008 will help decide which candidates have the momentum and the financial contributions to carry them further in the campaign.
Obama’s intentions in 2008 may become more clear to Arizonans if he decides to return here in 2007.