Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Obama should run

For one of the few times in the Chicago Tribune's history -- Abraham Lincoln comes to mind -- its Editorial Board is encouraging a candidate to run for the presidency. Even more surprising: He's a Democrat:

December 6, 2006

There are the polarizing figures: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. There are the candidates who've been here before, such as Sens. Joe Biden, John McCain and John Kerry. There are the little-known politicians whose best hope may be the second spot on the ticket, like Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former New York Gov. George Pataki. There are the capital veterans, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), whose importance inside the Beltway may make them imagine they have electoral strength beyond it.

And then there is Barack Obama. It's safe to say that when he decided to run for the Senate in 2004, he didn't imagine there would be lots of people now urging him to seek the highest office in the land. But ever since his electrifying address to the last Democratic convention, he has been marked for greater things.

To run for president would be a big leap for someone who just a couple of years ago was commuting to Springfield as a state senator. There is a plausible case why Obama should bide his time and burnish his credentials for the future--plausible, but not persuasive. When a leader evokes the enthusiasm that Obama does, he should recognize that he has something special to offer, not in 2012 or 2016, but right now.

What would he bring to the race that others don't? The most obvious is an approach that transcends party, ideology and geography. In his convention speech, Obama demolished the image of a nation of irreconcilable partisan camps: "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states."

No one else has shown a comparable talent for appealing to the centrist instincts of the American people--instincts that often go unsatisfied as each party labors to rally its most uncompromising factions. After the divisive events of the last decade, the nation may be ready for a voice that celebrates our common values instead of exaggerating our differences.

Any presidential race is a long shot, and there is no guarantee that Obama could succeed. But he may never again find such favorable circumstance.

With his unifying themes, he would raise the tone of the campaign. His intellectual depth--he was editor of the Harvard Law Review and taught law at the University of Chicago--and openness would sharpen the policy debate. He could help the citizenry get comfortable contemplating something that will happen sooner or later--a black president. His magnetic style and optimism would draw many disenchanted Americans back into the political process.

He and the nation have little to lose and much to gain from his candidacy.



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