America's love affair with Senator Barack Obama began at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Standing before the American public, Obama delivered a message that resonated with hope and electrified the nation's imagination. He stressed the country's shared fundamental values and celebrated its racial and cultural diversity. There was something special about the fiery young lawyer that suggested a promising political future and a renaissance for the faltering Democratic Party.
Three years later, Obama has once again come into national prominence. Americans decisively checked and unbalanced a recalcitrant White House with their mid-term election votes this past November. Republicans relinquished congressional majorities in both the Senate and the House and the road to the White House seemed wide open for a Democratic President. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton was touted as the Democratic Party's most viable candidate, with her unmatched knack for fund raising and the surname of America's most popular president, but then came Obama.
All summer long there were buzzings that Obama might be contemplating a run. Then in the fall he cleverly stirred the fires by releasing his aptly entitled book, "The Audacity of Hope." All at once he placed his political platform before the American public and tested the feasibility of a Presidential run without an actual commitment. Little over a week ago, he quietly announced, on his website, the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.
Next month, Obama is expected to officially announce his bid for the presidency in Springfield, Illinois on February 10th. A place and date of incredible significance: the birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln and the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. 144 years ago America emancipated its slaves. Has it progressed far enough in its racial politics to elect its first African American president? Furthermore, does Obama have enough steam to stop the Clinton juggernaut?
Obama's straight-talking authenticity is a refreshing alternative to Clinton's well polished political veneer. Although he is a political neophyte, with a barely established voting record, Americans may be willing to take a chance. In fact his lack of a voting record has been seen as a strength since he has not been in office long enough to alienate moderates or liberals.
His lack of experience and exposure could however prove to be a double edged sword, especially when it comes to international affairs. His membership on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is an attempt to address that lack, but in all likelihood it may not be enough. With Osama bin Laden no closer to capture; a never-ending war in Afghanistan; mounting deaths in Iraq; and mounting national debt, Americans are finally fed up.
In less turbulent times Obama's lack of experience would not be a big factor, but as Americans become more insistent for an end to their involvement in international conflicts, it may count as a major blow.
It's also been said that Senator Clinton is an international affairs novice, but she's got hubby Bill at her side. Unlike Hillary, Obama can rest on his consistent stance against American involvement in Iraq. Where Clinton has failed to articulate a clear strategy for withdrawal, Obama has. It remains to be seen whether that stance will be enough.
Obama is risking a lot in this run for the Oval office. His future political capital and longevity are at stake. A more measured, and oblique, approach would involve a stint as Vice President. A Clinton/Obama ticket would be a force to be reckoned with. Obama would balance Clinton's cold persona with a warmth and integrity that America so craves. Serving as V P would allow him the chance to establish himself as a politician in his own right, build much needed experience in the areas of international affairs, and possibly extend the Democrats' stay in the presidential office from eight to sixteen years. Strategically this option just makes more sense, but only time will tell if pragmatism will prevail over passion.