Sunday, February 17, 2008

Obama: Change for the good


Both candidates would serve their party well as nominee, but in the Illinois senator, there is a potential for change that can only help this country move on and progress.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

There is only the tiniest sliver of daylight separating Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the issues, with the notable exception of health care reform.

Even on Iraq, they end up in much the same place: Steady U.S. troop withdrawal, leaving themselves enough wiggle room in case the situation on the ground becomes so dire that more flexibility becomes necessary.

The similarity of views is, in truth, why the candidates return so much to the themes of change and experience.

Our recommendation in Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday for the Democratic nomination is Barack Obama. That's our recommendation because change and experience are crucial to moving this country forward after what will be eight years of an administration careening from mistake to catastrophe to disaster and back again.

The Illinois senator is best-equipped to deliver that change, and his relatively shorter time in Washington is more asset than handicap.

The Obama campaign has been derisively and incorrectly described as more rock tour than political campaign and his supporters as more starry-eyed groupies than thoughtful voters.

If detractors in either party want to continue characterizing the Obama campaign this way, they will have seriously underestimated both the electorate's hunger for meaningful change in how the nation is governed and the candidate himself.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board on Wednesday, the first-term senator proved himself adept at detail and vision. They are not mutually exclusive.

On poverty, he eschewed the phrase "war on poverty," preferring instead to describe the task as a long-haul effort. No one should launch a program, fight a battle and declare mission accomplished, he seemed to say.

Instead, it will require continuous and unflagging efforts along several fronts - taxation, education, economic development and, yes, personal responsibility - to make progress. He speaks of strengthening the middle class, helping with child care, early childhood education and ensuring access to affordable health care.

In other words, a broad, nuanced approach that recognizes that problems are linked to others.

Similarly nuanced answers came from questions on manufacturing, trade, school choice, the Great Lakes and energy.

He spoke of turning to alternative energy, not just to wean addiction from oil but to spur more technologies that in turn spur more manufacturing possibilities. We can find "competitive advantages at higher value products," he said, adding that rebuilding much needed infrastructure also can create jobs.

He was a realist, recognizing that no one could likely turn the clock back to Milwaukee's manufacturing heyday. "The percentage of manufacturing jobs to service jobs is not going to be the same as it was in the 1950s," he said. "We're not going to get those jobs back."

Yet he insisted that manufacturing still could become more competitive and the service industry better-paying for its employees.

Which is not to say that we are in lockstep. On school choice, Obama does not see as clearly as we do the intrinsic value in and of itself of low-income parents having a choice.

On health care, we prefer Clinton's insurance mandate, though we recognize that more details are needed. Obama would mandate insurance for children only, a worthy goal, but we're skeptical of his claim that it will get to the same number of people insured as Clinton's plan.

But, again, not a lot separates Obama's views from Clinton's. So why Obama?

It is precisely the excitement that we see in the candidate and his supporters in their demands for change. This promises to alter the political landscape and dynamics for the better, energizing youth for service and involvement as we haven't seen in a very long time.

In Clinton, there is the potential for déjà vu all over again. Right or wrong, she is a polarizing figure who excites all the wrong kinds of political passions.

And even if she didn't, her vote on the Iraq war cannot be explained away as not realizing that the president would take that ball (and blank check) and run with it.

Yes, she has been tried. And much of the antagonism she engenders in the right is simply irrational.

But even without this Clinton baggage and on their individual merits, Obama still has the edge. His experience as community organizer, state legislator, U.S. senator and campaigner who took a dream and became a credible contender measures up well against Clinton's experience as poverty lawyer, first lady and U.S. senator.

The party would be well-served with either candidate, and the historical implications are huge with each.

But in Obama, there is a potential for meaningful change that does not exist with any other candidate.

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