For me, the presidential election of 2008 resonates with more drama than the last two presidential elections, due to the more exposed, intense, and contrasting characters of the two candidates, and the deeply felt needs of our times to resolve war, economy, and environment issues.
I was not a very close follower of the primary races and the candidates until a few months ago, but I did watch all four debates and have been reading and listening carefully to the political news for some months now. And most every time I hear or read comments by Obama, they seem to ring true as intelligent political rhetoric, and as honest statements that just plain make sense. And that is the secret of Obama's success: he appears to be a winner, someone who can manage equally well on a stage of disingenuous politicians (not speaking directly of John McCain here), on a stage of military conflict, or on a stage of mothers, fathers, and other "regular" folks who are counting on good leadership for domestic matters.
If this is all getting TOO serious for you, watch this video (but still, read the article!)
That is not to say Obama is perfect - in the debates, his plaintive requests to say a few extra words outside the rules of the debate, which I saw occur twice, were a sign of his more fallible side, showing itself for a few moments. But overall, here is a man of evolved character, capable of quick but appropriate responses, and a straight talker possessed of a flexible nature.
Now, I owe it to you to show you how I support these claims, i.e. "where the rubber meets the road", as the old tire commercial said.
This morning I was reading one of my local newspapers, the New York Daily News. Yes, I also read the New York Times, but sometimes the Daily News has a flavor that is just unique and worth savoring (and the news stand did not have the Times delivered yet, in any case).
Here is the first quote from Barack Obama that I offer for examination: after John McCain appeared on Saturday Night Live, and among other things did a mock campaign ad showing him selling mementos from the campaign to raise needed cash, Obama commented "John McCain was funny. That's part of what our politics should be about - being able to laugh at each other and being able to laugh at ourselves." Now, this to me has the classic Obama stamp: taking an ordinary situation, responding graciously and appropriately, while at the same time transforming the incident into an observation about life, something that feeds the inner person not just the political person. Indeed, each candidate, and all of us, should be able to laugh both at our opponents AND at ourselves - it is the balance in perception that makes this a thoughtful response. Rather than a comment such as "Yes, Senator McCain showed that he can make us laugh" or some other perfunctory comment, we got a meaningful observation that on a simple level rings true to every person.
The other quote I want to share, also on page 30 of the same Monday Daily News, concerned his aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who may be living in Boston as an illegal immigrant. This issue could have been a hot potato in lesser hands. When asked by a reporter whether his aunt should be deported, Obama's response was spot on: "If she is violating laws, those laws have to be obeyed. We're a nation of laws. Obviously, that doesn't lessen my concern for her. I haven't been able to be in touch with her. But I'm a strong believer you have to obey the law." Even more than the first quote, this shows his political instincts operating but without conflict with his honest and human response to the situation of someone, a relative, who may be in trouble.
OK, that response was probably planned well in advance - and why should it not be? A candidate for president needs to plan as much as possible. And that, in a way, is the point. Intelligent and thorough preparation is a hallmark of a good leader. Isn't it time that the United States had a representative on the world stage, and a spokesperson for times of trouble domestically, who does not embarrass us?
Need I repeat famous Bush disaster-quotes such as "Bring 'em on" said to the insurgents in Iraq, or "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" to the leader of the catastrophic FEMA effort during and after Hurricane Katrina? These examples are NOT the kind of talk we need from a president. Rather, we need speech and actions that bring out the best in each of us. After 9/11/2001, many feel, myself included, that a president saying "Sacrifices will be needed from all of us" would have been more suitable than a president saying "Go out and shop."
All in all, if what we need is strong character in each citizen to withstand and respond to economic crisis and perhaps down the road environmental crisis, I can't think of a better leader right now than Barack Obama. Again, one of the key and often unspoken jobs of a good leader is to inspire the best in those whom he or she represents. We as a nation need clear, strong leadership in the presidency at this time - and strong does not mean circumventing laws and appealing to our intolerance and fears, it means leading by example with forbearance, with good steady judgment, and with respect for human rights as a fundamental principle. I see a good deal of evidence that Barack Obama understands that core lesson for the role of president, more than his oppponent or the current president.
On top of all that, if I had to sit down for some beers with a president, I surely would prefer Barack Obama over George Bush or John McCain in that role as well. And with that said, what more is there to say?