NEW POLL: Do you think Barack Obama is all that?

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2008

There are now, believe it or not, only 100 days until the race to become the 44th President of the United States of America is decided. And there’s no doubt who continues to grab the headlines, and not only here in Europe: Barack Obama’s candidacy has enthralled not just the Democratic party, but much of the western world. But why?

Perhaps for some it is the relief of having a plausible Democratic presidential nominee; that he isn’t George W. Bush; that he claims to represent a ‘new politics’ of change; that he can forge bipartisan consensus; that he is a compelling orator; and that he appears to attach some importance to thinking, a novelty in the White House after the last eight years.

But for many it will be the symbolism that matters most if Senator Obama, a black man born of a white woman and married to a black woman, is elected President Obama in November. As Shelby Steele has put it in his brief and exhilarating book, A Bound Man:

He is decidedly not a conviction politician. His supporters do not look to him to do something; they look to him primarily to be something, to represent something. … Barack Obama emerged into a political culture that needed him more as an icon than a man. (p.133)

Senator Obama is, without doubt, a thoughtful, intelligent, humane guy. To read his book, The Audacity of Hope, is to be impressed by a politician with sublimely attuned communication skills. But what does he stand for: bluntly, what beliefs would he risk his life for?

He is, for example, pro-death penalty , at least for the “most heinous” crimes (mass and child murder, rape). He also achieved the John Kerry-esque distinction of being in favour of the Central American Free Trade Agreement before he voted against it: Obama is at his least convincing when he claims, “I felt it was the only way to register a protest against what I considered to be the White House’s inattention to the losers from free trade” (p.176).

In short, he is a triangulating pragmatist, the contender most likely to argue that what matters is what works.

Such are my views on the most likely next incumbent of the White House. But what do you think of Senator Barack Obama? That’s the question in our new poll, and here are the options – which one comes closest to your view?

* He’s a liberal progressive who will restore pride to the US presidency;
* He’s a moderate pragmatist who will stick to the populist centre ground;
* He’s an impressive communicator with few beliefs who will disappoint more than he inspires;
* He’s a cynical opportunist who has dazzled the media by virtue of who he is, not what he stands for.

Over to you to continue the discussion…