Those are the American ideals Obama talked about in his inspiring speech at the Democratic Convention last month. He said so eloquently the following: ""If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child," he said. "If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties."
That's the America the world can look up to.
Obama Walks the Line
By Jabari AsimMonday, August 9, 2004; 10:12 AM
In a May 31 profile of Barack Obama in The New Yorker, Kirk Dillard, an Illinois state senator, made an admission worth recalling. "In Republican circles," he said, "we've always feared that Barack would become a rock star of American politics."
Those fears were realized July 27, when Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic convention stirred a nationwide audience and dramatically expanded his profile. The 42-year-old state senator's newly stellar status explains the quixotic efforts of Illinois Republicans to draft a candidate whose desperation matches the party's. Who but someone feverishly grasping for attention would agree to challenge Obama in the Land of Lincoln's Nov. 2 senatorial contest?
Jack Ryan, the only Republican candidate who had a reasonable chance to beat Obama, dropped out six weeks ago when embarrassing details of his former marriage surfaced. Since then Illinois Republicans have frantically sought and been spurned by a succession of veteran politicians. In a move that insulted the intelligence of everyone in the state, they pursued Mike Ditka, former coach of the beloved Bears turned buffoonish Levitra spokesman. But even he was shrewd enough to decline.
The Republicans have since moved on to Alan Keyes, a twice-failed presidential candidate who has never lived in Illinois. Keyes, a potentially polarizing figure in the ongoing state party battle between moderates and conservatives, is an overrated orator who is as likely to win as the Cubs are to go to the World Series this fall. He might peel off a few votes in the counties around Chicago that have traditionally been tough nuts to crack for black candidates. But he won't make even a tiny dent in Chicago's solidly Democratic black neighborhoods. Ditto for the "lakefront liberals" whose willingness to support a black candidate helped Harold Washington to his historic mayoral victory in 1983. And let's not even talk about downstate. FOA (Friends of Alan) will be MIA in East St. Louis.
As for Obama, he had been gathering steam long before he mounted the podium in Boston. He has been rolling along quite nicely ever since he bested six other candidates in the Democratic primary in March, coming away with an astonishing 53 percent of the vote. In addition to the nearly overwhelming momentum Obama gained by his star turn at the convention, he's amassed a $10 million war chest. With just three months before the election, Keyes won't have much time to overcome his opponent's sizable advantage in both cash and charisma.
But even as he makes converts, Obama has begun to attract fire from leftist observers who thought his convention speech contained too much Joe Lieberman and not enough Al Sharpton. It's true that Obama essentially offered up centrist platitudes, albeit in ringing, rousing tones. But it's also true that his seven years in the Illinois Senate have produced a record that is consistently left of center.
He successfully fought to expand early childhood education, sponsored a law that is designed to curb racial profiling and pushed through laws requiring the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases in his state. An early opponent of the war in Iraq, he predicted that the invasion and occupation would be "a rash war, a war based not on reason, not on principle but on politics."
Given his consistency on the issues that matter, his wrapping himself in middle-of-the-road sentiments didn't disturb me much. Ultimately, there is little contradiction between traditional liberal notions of social responsibility and Obama's convention-night avowals of compassion. "If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child," he said. "If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties." Can any liberal really object to that?
Besides, common sense and political expediency dictated that Obama's speech play to a cross-section of Americans and not just the folks who might be considered his natural constituency. So far, he has seemed in little danger of crossing that fine line between accepting the pragmatism that politics requires and selling out one's principles.