Tonight, we've seen the state of Iowa, a state with a population that is 95% white, a state that had never in its history elected an African-American to any state-wide office, send a message to the entire country, and the message was loud and clear. Iowans clamored for change, and they saw in Barack Obama not a black man, but a good man, and the candidate they trusted most to deliver that change. His victory speech, an instant classic, delivered perfectly on every note, as he used his time to promote unity and to espouse the notion that this is a watershed moment not just in Iowa but in American history. And if, in fact, he goes on to win in my childhood state of New Hampshire next week and then in South Carolina, I suspect that his march to the nomination will be unimpeded.
(See his victory speech here.)
I have been a strong supporter since I first heard him as he campaigned for the senatorial primary here in Illinois. My third Obama '08 button is very worn out. My car could use a fresh bumper sticker. I believe in this man. I'm no naive schoolgirl; I'm fifty years old and I've been disappointed by enough politicians to redefine the word "disillusionment" a million times over. But I just feel something different here. I feel something like...truth.
Last spring, I wrote this in a blog I attempted to keep on his web site. I thought I would share it now:
The year: 2000
The place: Your Local Newspaper
The Punditry: The wrong guy is at the top of the GOP ticket; Cheney is so much more experienced than Bush.
Everyone was talking about it back then, the experience rift between Baby Bush and his Veep choice, and those who liked him said wow, he's surrounding himself with such great advisors while those who didn't said why don't we flip the ticket? Turns out that the ticket, in either order, was disaster for America: Bush, with his utter lack of experience, had no clue what to do when called upon to act, and Cheney (along with Rumsfeld), who had all the experience in the world, made a complete mess of everything.
As our esteemed Commander in Chief might say, "Fool me once, shame on me...fool me twice...you don't get fooled again."
What can we learn from all of this? Perhaps that all of this talk about experience vs. inexperience isn't worth as much as people seem to think it is. Bush, whose previous executive experience had consisted of running several corporations basically into the ground and then somehow managing to defeat Ann Richards to become governor of Texas (where he distinguished himself as a lover of Big Oil and Big Business and Big Executions), flopped as a first term President until 9/11 handed him a ready-made super-majority of people willing to be led by someone who was at least pretending to lead them. And suddenly, even the most inane things he could utter sounded significant, especially if he wrapped them in the flag and National Security.
But we all know where that one got us, and it isn't pretty.
- Mission Accomplished: 3000+ Americans and countless thousands of Iraqis dead in a senseless, stupid, illegal immoral war that has utterly erased the worldwide sympathy America had earned after 9/11 and replaced it with worldwide antipathy.
- Mission Accomplished: A deficit that is spiraling further out of control every day as more and more dollars are spent trying to shore up Bush's Folly instead of solving the legitimate crises here at home, such as the devastation of New Orleans and the problems with education and poverty and health insurance.
- Mission Accomplished: Somehow managing to make Saddam Hussein look sympathetic as he was rushed to execution after a pathetic farce of a trial while completely forgetting about the guy who actually planned the 9/11 attacks.
- Mission Accomplished: By "bringing democracy" to Iraq, destabilizing an entire region and breeding more contempt for America and more new terrorists than ever before.
And did I mention that the architects of this insanity were the advisors to this neophyte President who actually did have the experience? So what does it all mean? Where does it leave us? If lack of experience caused a disaster and experience caused a disaster, where can we turn?
The simple truth is that neither experience nor lack of it were responsible, and that is where the whole argument blows up. Baby Bush didn't make these stupid decisions because he was inexperienced; he made them because, as a Decider, he was arrogant and stupid and egotistic. Cheney/Rumsfeld did not design an unwinnable war because their experience clouded their judgments; they did it out of hubris and arrogance and, yes, pure greed. (Don't even get me started on Halliburton.)
It isn't experience that makes a great leader. It's insight. And it's foresight. And it's something else, too. Call it integrity; call it moral fortitude, if you will, but whatever it is, these guys simply never had it to begin with. Barack Obama has it to a degree I have not seen in a politician in decades. Just witness the fact that, though he missteps, he quickly apologizes and takes the blame. What politician does that? Where's the spin control? Where are the armies of manipulators telling us what he meant? Maybe they are coming; Presidential politics is a game, after all. But I hope not. I hope that, like Jimmy Smits' character on The West Wing, he can remain true to his own ideals.
Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune wrote of another equally earnest, horrendously inexperienced politician:
He had just turned 50. He hadn't held elective office for nearly 10 years, since finishing his 2-year term in the U.S. House in 1849, and he had failed in two attempts to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
What audacity then to throw his hat into the ring for President? But Abraham Lincoln didn't do such a bad job once he was there, did he?