I was Barack Obama before Barack Obama — sort of.
This article appeared in the Providence Journal Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I WAS BARACK OBAMA before Barack Obama — sort of. My strong advice is that he should graciously embrace a “unity ticket” with Hillary Clinton at the top and himself as the vice-presidential candidate. The likely alternative is a McCain victory — and the ritualistic Republican gutting of a once promising politician.
My own "Obama experience" occurred in 1992, when, as a whiz kid, I ran for mayor of what was, then anyway, the sixth largest city in America — San Diego. Like Obama, I was a gifted orator who could stir a crowd. Like Obama, I had a Harvard pedigree and was full of new ideas. Like Obama, I also had a horde of grassroots supporters who could swarm precincts all over the city.
However, like Obama, I had never run much of anything, especially a major city. Like Obama, I was more prone to mistakes than most seasoned politicians. Like Obama, some of my positions were simply too liberal for the mainstream. Nor had I been fully "vetted" politically, which is to say there were yet some skeletons in my closet.
My own election result was what the writer John Barth might have described as a "paradigm of assumed inevitability." As the white knight running against a gaggle of shopworn politicians, I decisively won the primary election and emerged as toast of the town. However, by general election day in November, I was toast.
What did me in is precisely what will do Obama in: Youth and inexperience flying headlong into the Republican meat grinder and spin machine. As a result of the mountain of mud thrown at me, almost half the city hated me by November while even some of my own staunchest supporters were disillusioned. I not only lost the race (albeit by a few percentage points). My once promising political career was effectively over — all because I reached too high too soon.
These same perils await young Barack and are precisely why a "unity ticket" offers the best long-term path for his political career. As the VP candidate, much of what the Republicans can throw at him, particularly on the experience issue, simply goes away, while his running mate Clinton has taken every possible hit they’ve ever thrown at her and remains standing tall.
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