Thursday, March 18, 2004

“He [Barack Obama] ran a great campaign, he is an unbelievably talented individual,” said Dan Hynes in his concession speech on Tuesday night. Yes, Dan, he did and he is. Of course, the winning style, cadence and focus of the Obama Campaign had something to do with Obama Campaign Guru, David Axelrod. But, it is the talents of which Dan Hynes spoke that define Barack Obama. Dan hit the nail on the head. Barack Obama is an unbelievably talented human being. He so overwhelms you with his articulateness that you fail to see his charm. Or, he so overwhelms you with his quick grasp of the crowd and its tone that you fail to see his substance. Or, he so overwhelms you with his substance that you fail to see his ability to connect. On and on it goes. Just when you think you know the breadth and depth of the guy, he pulls out something new.

Having had Barack on my show seven times, or so, in the last six years, and having seen him speak at numerous forums, debates and endorsement sessions, and having interviewed him numerous times, I am only surprised at one thing: that none of us, except for Blogger Bert Caradine but not excepting Pam Smith, spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, seemed to see this landslide coming. Pam told me on the morning after that Barack’s landslide was not forseen by the Obama campaign. However, looking back, Pam thought Obama’s victory was due to his broad based appeal, which in turn was based on his jobs, health care and education programs. And, she said, television ads [and the 5.5 million dollars in funds raised] were crucial for voters to become aware of Barack’s talents and programs. All of which is true, as I am sure Pam knows her candidate quite well.

But I called Pam because I was trying to figure out why I missed it. Why did I cautiously predict a five-point margin of victory for Barack, with some concern that I could be wrong because who could know the power or the strength of the Machine, on a matter that should be very important to it.

Of course, the answer is simple. I underestimated the ability of Illinois Democratic Primary voters to see and act on (1) what we saw- every time we saw Barack Obama speak, (2) what we learned about his time in the state legislature, especially about the legislation he helped pass when the Democratic Party became the majority in the Senate last year and (3) what we knew about his likeability and charisma.

I also underestimated the desire of voters to seek out leaders who have ideas and understand the impact of those ideas. As Joe Morris, the conscience of Conservatives in Illinois and the President, again, of the United Republican Fund of Illinois, argued to me—Barack perhaps won big because he was the only Democratic Senate Candidate with a current affiliation with the University of Chicago, as a faculty member at the Law School. That is a university that stands for, more than any other, the proposition (and book title) of one of its mid- 20th Century English Professors, Richard Weaver: Ideas Have Consequences.

Of course, none of this has to do with whether I agree or disagree with Barack’s philosophy, ideology, proposals or programs to make this a better society. But, it has everything to do with whether voters in the Democratic Party agree with Barack on these items, and more importantly, whether they like the fact that their nominee for the U. S. Senate is fluent in the world of ideas.

The answer to these questions is not just perhaps. Or, possibly. Or, even, probably. It should have been-- You bet! Mencken was wrong: somebody did go broke underestimating the taste of the Illinois people. Yes sir, I went broke, sort of, because I was part of what Eric Zorn charitably called a “three way near tie for second place,” in his blog bowl (See And, this less than stellar placement was due to my being way too cautious in my projection of a Barack Obama win. Well, at least, now I understand why I was way too cautious. And, to think, I criticized Dan Hynes, and his handlers, for running a too cautious campaign. Well, what do you know; Dan and I have something in common, after all.