2/4/08 DAILY REVIEW (HAYWARD, CA)
IS endorsing Barack Obama the new cool? Not long ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the seemingly inevitable front-runner, Obama was the insurgent.
That's changed. Obama's success in moving beyond the traditional party base -- combined with serious Clinton fatigue -- is leading many seasoned Democratic leaders to rethink their earlier assumptions.
His endorsers are right to see Obama as their party's best hope for 2008. Though skeptics contend that Obama lacks "experience," this concern makes sense only if you think you have to be a Washington insider to be qualified to run for president. In all, he's spent 11 years being directly accountable to voters (that's four more than Clinton).
Is that "enough" experience? Remember that if you never develop good judgment, racking up "experience" just tends to make you older, not necessarily smarter. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were "experienced," and they brought us the Iraq war. Clinton, who's billing herself as the "experienced" candidate, voted for that war.
Obama has good judgment, which trumps mere experience every time. On Iran, he called for engagement and a toning down of bellicose rhetoric. Clinton was instead fanning the flames. Obama's judgment was vindicated when the National Intelligence Estimate asserted that Iran had already stopped its nuclear weapons program. On Pakistan, Obama consistently raised questions about the unqualified U.S. support for Pervez Musharraf -- and was vindicated again.
Obama has solid legislative accomplishments under his belt too. In the sink-or-swim Illinois statehouse, he brokered compromises on politically sensitive issues such as children's health coverage, racial profiling and tax credits for the working poor. In the U.S. Senate, Obama sponsored ethics reform legislation, legislation to ensure accountability of private military contractors and -- with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar -- a successful bill on securing global stocks of conventional weapons. That wasn't glamorous, but it was important. Conventional weapons, not WMD, kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Equally important, Obama's background and message are enabling him to reach beyond any narrow demographic slice of the electorate, and this bodes well -- both for his ability to beat a GOP rival and for his ability to lead effectively and without divisiveness once elected. Obama's high-powered endorsers may also have noticed something the mainstream media seem largely to have missed: If you add up the delegates won in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Obama's ahead, so far, with 63 delegates to Clinton's 48.
True, Clinton still has more super delegates -- those are the Democratic Party elites who each get a vote at the August convention and are not bound by the votes in their respective states -- but that's a vestige of her former status as the "inevitable" establishment candidate. If Obama continues to win real delegates in real primaries, many of the super delegates in Clinton's column may instead endorse Obama.
There's been such a rush to endorse Obama that I'm starting to feel a bit left out. Admittedly, I'm not a senator or a Nobel laureate, but ... I'm starting to think I should endorse him myself. Why should Ted Kennedy get to have all the fun?
Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.