Thursday, April 26, 2007

Senator Barack Obama: The Presidential Phenom—Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The guy is uncanny in either picking weak opponents or having people work behind the scenes to weaken or destroy them. Barack Obama runs for State Senate in 1996 and knocks all four of his opponents off the ballot in the Democratic Primary, which in his neck of the woods [South side of Chicago] was the same as the general election. Yet, he acquires a reputation as a different kind of pol. I’ll say.
President Obama? In preparation for tonight’s Democratic Presidential candidate debate [MSNBC, 6:00 pm (CST), let’s review the bidding on Illinois’ favorite son candidate. First, let’s take a look at how Barack got here. Second, we’ll take a critical look at Obama’s foreign policy speech on Monday before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. In future analyses, we will take a look at where Obama is going.
Obama: Matching up to Presidents Reagan and Clinton

The political persona of Barack Obama, albeit with very limited national experience, has a great many positive attributes [See here and here] which make him a plausible, if somewhat surprising, candidate for President of the United States. Should Obama be elected President in 2008, it will be with the grand total of eight years experience as a state senator and four years as a U. S. Senator. It turns out a relatively small amount of national political experience, or at least not having spent one’s life in national politics, is not necessarily a detriment, in modern times, to a Presidential run. Indeed, it may be a plus.

Less baggage. More freshness. More flexibility in approaching problems could be Barack’s argument. And, he is still an outsider to the Washington, DC insider way of doing things. That is an appealing argument to many for Obama relative to frontrunner Hillary, who, in one form or another, has spent the last 15 years immersed in the Washington, DC political culture, and indeed, her initial DC experience goes back to the Watergate era, not to be confused with Whitewater issues.

Indeed, Barack might be smart to invoke the names of Presidents Reagan and Clinton, both lacking in substantial national political experience before becoming President. Most consider Ronald Reagan to have been a strong performer as President, notwithstanding the Iran Contra negative footnote to his otherwise strong legacy, which includes playing a major role in the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. Of course, much of Reagan’s run up to the Presidency was spent as an actor, although he also was the President of the Screen Actors Guild, a quasi political position-- before becoming a two term Governor of California and then President.

Bill Clinton had spent virtually all of his adult life prior to his presidency as a pol, but not in the national arena—and it was as an AG and more than two terms as Governor of the tiny state of Arkansas-- not a way to gain national prominence. Yet, Mr. Bill is also viewed as a strong President, notwithstanding his lifelong womanizing and weakness for the young White House intern, Monica, while President. Apparently, Clinton’s almost fatal attraction to Sex, Lies and Videotape did not interfere with his ability to articulate, and to a lesser extent, to accomplish domestic and foreign policy objectives.

Obama’s strength, perhaps more like Clinton than Reagan, is simply that he is one of the best of the recent Presidential candidates in terms of combining a solid understanding of public policy and politics.
Obama: Just another Pol? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

However, as is so often true with candidates, Obama’s political strength turns out to be a significant weakness, as well. As some of the seamier side of the Obama political connections has been revealed this past week, i.e., a much greater involvement of the now indicted Tony Rezko with Obama’s prior law firm and Obama himself than most had realized, we are reminded that one does not become a Presidential contender without bending a few ethical rules, or at least not always exercising very strong due diligence. [See here and here]

Obama may or may not be just another pol, but he is a pol [See here]. Nationally it may not mean much, but Illinois’ political junkies know Obama has turned his back on reform a few times in the last year, e.g., saying nice things about reformer and Obama friend Forrest Claypool but refusing to endorse the white Claypool over the ethically challenged, pay to play, but black, John Stroger for Cook County Board President in last March’s Democratic Primary.

Not only is Claypool a reformer, but he is an Obama supporter who has worked and is working for Obama in his role as GC and consultant to David Axelrod’s firm, with Axelrod being a longtime key media and message guru for Obama. Axelrod, as much as anybody, is running the strategic aspects of the Obama campaign. Yet, when the chips were down, Obama chose not to risk alienating his black base by endorsing the white Forrest Claypool, notwithstanding his preference for reformer Claypool’s politics to that of Todd Stroger.

Obama stuck his neck out in his flashy endorsement, in TV ads, for the underqualified Alexi Giannoulias in the primary and then general election race for Illinois State Treasurer as payback for the Giannoulias family’s early and substantial financial backing of the Obama U. S. Senate candidacy. Further, Giannoulias was never able to address, fully, the questions of loans made by Giannoulias family bank to mobbed up individuals and entities, and Alexi Giannoulias’ role in same. Again, no diligence by Obama, prompting many to ask of Barack, “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see.”

Looking down instead of up, again, Obama supported whole-heartedly the extremely underqualified Todd Stroger for Cook County Board President in the November, 2006 general election. Todd, known even by his own supporters, as “the toddler,” can only be viewed as the antithesis of reform and the champion of the old Pay to Play, Friends and Family patronage way of doing business in Chicago.

Most recently, Obama surprised even his most faithful supporters,
by getting involved in a Chicago Aldermanc election
, of all things, and supporting pay to play, employer of friends and family Ald. Dorothy Tillman because she had been an early supporter of Obama for U. S. Senate. Even Cong. Jackson, who stayed with Barack in staying neutral on the Claypool race, couldn’t stomach Dorothy and backed her Democratic opponent, Pat Dowell. Dowell, clearly much more of a reformer than the 23 year incumbent Tillman, won the race. Again, the appropriate question to Obama, who claims to be a different kind of pol, “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see.”
Barack Obama, Blessed with weak or non-existent opponents.

The guy is uncanny in either picking weak opponents or having people work behind the scenes to weaken or destroy them. Barack Obama runs for State Senate in 1996 and knocks all four of his opponents off the ballot in the Democratic Primary, which in his neck of the woods [South side of Chicago] was the same as the general election. Yet, he acquires a reputation as a different kind of pol. I’ll say.

Yes, Obama loses to Cong. Bobby Rush [D- Chicago, 1st Cong. Dist.]
in 2000 [got spanked 2 to 1, as Barack put it] in the Democratic Primary. But, Bobby had a machine and Barack was not ready to take it on
. Further, Obama’s charm and debating skills didn’t help him much in the 1st CD—voters were looking for different attributes. Oddly, it may have been easier for Obama to win a state-wide U. S. Senate race than to win a congressional race on Rush’s home turf.

So, Obama learns from his late start and lack of preparation for the 1st Cong. Dist. race and he gets into, unofficially, the U. S. Senate race at least two years before the election, forming a strong political/fund raising organization that brought in five million dollars for the primary and almost triple that for the general election.

His major opponents in the 2004 Senate Democratic Primary are three: (1) Gery Chico, who matches Obama’s intelligence, articulateness—but Chico had no base, to speak of; (2) Dan Hynes, the guy who became State Comptroller in 1998 due to his father’s name and machine organization; The Hynes persona is weak and unexciting-- clearly no match for Obama, and the Hynes family machine is on its last legs; Hynes finishes a distant second to Obama, barely winning over Obama even in the Hynes’ family’s 19th Ward political base (3) Blair Hull, who is ready to spend 40 million dollars of his 350 million dollar net worth; Hull is smart but he lacks the ability to speak or excite in a political or public forum, and no experience even trying to do so. Worse, Hull has a messy ex-wife problem that happens to come out in the last two weeks of the campaign. There is that Obama lucky political timing again. Or, was it bare knuckle politics by Obama's staffers and cronies that greased the road for the disclosure? In either case, Obama wins the primary easily [53% to 24%, over Hynes].

In the general election, Republican opponent Jack Ryan looks like a credible opponent to Obama. Ryan has the money, the looks and perhaps the smarts to take on Obama. Obama himself says “Jack Ryan may be prettier, but I have more depth.” Maybe, but we’ll never find out. Jack Ryan self destructs with a little help from enemies in his own party and some shadowy, flame-throwers outside his Party, as well as the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune spent a million dollars to unseal a child custody file in California, an act which the Tribune never did before, or since. Lucky Barack, again.

Jack Ryan had an ex-wife problem [she alleged in a divorce/child custody battle that he pressured her to go to sex clubs] that comes out with all the sordid details in June, 2004, causing Jack to announce by June 25, 2004 that he will withdraw. By early August, 2004, Jack Ryan drops out officially and the Republican Party in Illinois, if you can call it a Party, replaces Jack Ryan with Alan Keyes, one of the worst candidates, ever, to run for the U. S. Senate in a general election. The Keyes’ campaign is described derisively by Keyes’ own handlers as resembling more of a Pentecostal Revival meeting than a political campaign. Boy, is Obama lucky in the opponents he attracts.
Scroll Forward to today: Obama’s Utopian Foreign Policy

Obama is now running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, primarily against a trial lawyer, John Edwards—and an Ex First Lady, Hillary.

Obama turns to media and message guru, David Axelrod, for advice.

Well, unless he can find an ex-spouse problem for Edwards or Hillary [her current spouse might do] that causes them to drop out of the race, Obama might actually have to win a race, a real honest to God general election, with real opponents. A very first for Barack Obama.

So, they figure they will set up tonight’s debate appearance by going to Obama’s strength. That is the other side of Obama. The good side. Depending on your political perspective, you may, of course, disagree with Obama’s public policy positions. However, few in the business are as well spoken, smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable and eloquent in their off the cuff and planned remarks about public policy, as is Obama. And, Barack is a big time charmer, which serves as a bridge between his public policy skills and his political skills.

Speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Monday, Obama puts his foreign policy knowledge on display. However, as one partisan critic [Republican Campaign consultant and former Keyes handler Dan Proft] noted after the speech: Obama spoke well, but the content was basically on the level of an International Relations 101 college classroom discussion. Obama talks of accomplishing goals by “dissuading,” our opponents from taking actions we don’t like. But, how do we dissuade them, asks Proft?

Is Proft right? Did Obama fall short? Let’s take a look:

1. Double down on getting out of Iraq, says Obama. But for Bush’s crazy decision to go into Iraq [Barack, since October, 2002, has called this a “dumb war,” and in November, 2002, says he would not have voted to authorize Bush to take military action in Iraq], this Country would be much stronger as a world power, says Obama. Because the U. S. invasion in Iraq has made so many enemies, successful diplomacy has been impossible. Obama’s solution: Get mostly out of Iraq. Leave a “limited number of troops there to fight Al Qaeda and other terrorists.” This would seem to be a pretty lame idea, even to Obama’s Democratic activist supporters. What are these troops to do—hunker down until they see an Al Qaeda “uniform,” at which time the limited number of troops would say “OK, boys and girls, let’s go kill a few terrorists.”

2. Build a 21st Century military, says Obama. And, he tells us that means adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 marines. Really, that would be it? the U. S. could meet any eventuality in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea or wherever, with another 92,000 troops. Moreover, this recommendation has already been made and accepted by President Bush. Yet, for that type of suggestion, Obama gets a standing ovation.

3. Let’s stop the spread of WMD. How, you ask? Easy, says Obama, create a fuel bank so countries like Iran will not have “an excuse,” to build their own enrichment plants. This is the utopian world of Barack Obama at his worst. Take away the “excuse,” and Iran will have to capitulate and stop its nuclear program? Obama has to be kidding.

4. Rebuild and construct alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common threats. How, you ask Obama? Easy, he says. Reform the UN and the World Bank. How, you say? Obama: Be more like Truman? What do you mean? Convince others they have a stake a change. You mean like convince Russia they should support strong economic sanctions on Iran? Obama: Stop interrupting and asking questions, Jeff. [Different circumstances, but Obama has used that line on Berkowitz, and effectively so, it should be noted]

5. Double U. S. Foreign aid from 25 billion to 50 billion dollars. That will ensure those who live in fear and want can live with dignity and opportunity, says Obama Really? If so, that would be cheap at twice the price. But, that clearly is not the case. As everyone [and especially World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz] knows, much if not the great majority of development aid is wasted because of the public corruption in the recipient nation. Why would doubling the aid remove the corruption and make sure it reaches the desired recipients? Obama: Stop asking questions, Jeff.

Welcome to the Utopian Foreign Policy of Barack Obama. Any questions? You have some? Sorry, says Obama, no press conference and in fact, no answers to press in general [See here].
Here is a suggestion for Romney, McCain and/or Giuliani. Show up at the next one of these Obama International Relations 101 college lectures. Listen quietly. And, when Obama exits, you stand up and say, any questions, boys and girls? The media will flock to you and you can be on the network news that night. But, you better be smart enough to give good answers. At least, better than the ones given by Barack, above.

The best way for one of those Republicans to show why he is best to take on Obama, Edwards or Hillary is to do just that—take on Obama. Although not leading in the polls, Obama still has Big Mo. If any Republican wants to show his stuff, take on Big Mo, aka Barack Obama.

Heck, it might even work for Hillary or Edwards to do that. Don’t wait for a debate, such as tonight’s, where there will be little chance for follow-up with questions to each other. Hillary, with at least a five point edge in the national polls, might consider this ploy imprudent. For Edwards, on the other hand, down double digits, it might be a wise move. Maybe the U. S. can’t flush Osama out of Pakistan, but Obama’s opponents may be able to flush Obama out of his bubble.

In the words of Governor Blagojevich, one of Obama’s opponents might be wise to show some “testicular virility.” That’s Okay, Hillary, you can do it, too. The former Goldwater girl from Park Ridge, IL has more testicular virility than the rest of the field combined. I know that. Hillary knows that. And everybody reading this knows that. As Rudy told the country yesterday in a somewhat different context. You never win by playing defense. Politics, terrorism, its all the same. Go on offense, boys and girls. ***********************************************
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at