Even I'm rooting for Obama - sort of

Start practising the phrase “President Barack Obama.” It’s not so bad. Except as in “President Barack Obama denied today that his naive and spineless foreign policy has encouraged terrorism.” It’s annoying when pundits intone that it’s come down to Obama v McCain as they easily could have predicted. But I did predict it, on CFRA radio in December. Possibly I hedged my bets, but I said both parties would take their least unattractive option, and both have. Republicans don’t nominate pro-abortion candidates, which only left the Mormon, the creationist, the asleep guy and the obnoxious hyperactive maverick whom they chose. Meanwhile the Democrats are rationally opting for inexperienced over horrible.

Trust me, folks. It’s over. The collapse of Hillary Rodham Clinton has surprised many people including her. But if revenge is a dish best served cold, I’m having ice cream here. Democrats who applauded Bill Clinton’s filthy tactics against Republicans were repulsed when he turned them on his own party in South Carolina, and she’s lost nine straight primaries since. Yum yum.

I certainly worry that Senator Clinton is way further left than she admits, on foreign and domestic policy. But my primary concern is character. Whatever the Clintons were caught doing, however sordid, they always dismissed with “We’ve moved on” or words to that effect. It won’t do. The human mind, like the life of a nation, organizes itself around stories or sinks into chaos. The fundamental truth of our mortal existence, bounded by time, is that it hinges on choices and consequences. Persistently to excuse villainy, even as you pocket the benefits, just because “that was then” is to deny any possibility of moral coherence. That Ms. Clinton should belatedly sit down to a banquet of devastating consequences is delicious irony.

For some of my friends the taste is spoiled by fears that Barack Obama is a far-left babe in the foreign policy woods. He may be. Almost no Democratic presidential candidate since Harry Truman has been fit to serve as commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful free nation. But it is intellectual partisanship to declare any Democrat ipso facto unworthy of office (or any Republican, I remind colleagues on both sides of the border). Besides, many conservatives are too concerned with how the Republicans might win in November and not enough about why we want them to.

I do not consider George W. Bush a total disaster. Journalists and academics tend to describe any incumbent Republican as among the worst presidents ever, from Reagan to Coolidge and beyond. Even Lincoln got some horrible press in his day. Later, commentators tend to give them some credit if only to draw invidious comparisons with their successors, and I suspect this president’s foreign policy will be praised in retrospect, like Truman’s, for its resolve and clarity on basic issues. But not his domestic policy. In early 2000 I asked then-candidate George Bush if there was any area from which government should simply withdraw. In response, I wrote in an April 21, 2000 Citizen column, “he stared at me as though he’d never heard such an idea before, pressed his hand to his temple in perplexity and eventually stammered that he’d have to get back to me. (He didn’t.)” Still hasn’t. And as there’s no reason to suppose John McCain would be better domestically, surely we could live with Barack Obama as an alternative.

Especially since he seems to be an honest, decent man. Oh, and he’s um uh you know ... black. And while I don’t care what colour you are, race can have political consequences and does here. If Barack Obama’s skin tone helped undermine Hillary Clinton’s gender-based appeal to Democrats, well, those who live by identity politics cannot complain if they perish by it. But a black U.S. president would draw positive attention abroad to the marvellous openness of American society. Even more important, his political success with all sorts of voters, as a candidate who is black rather than a “black candidate,” not only symbolizes but actively contributes to healing America’s ancient racial wounds. You could do a lot worse in a Democrat. So why not send the GOP to the minors for a bit?

The answer may hinge on whether you’d elect a president who can’t comb his own hair. John McCain can’t, because he was so brutally tortured by communists as a POW in Vietnam. When Barack Obama debates such a man on national security, a couple of careless cheap shots or conspicuously daffy policy statements would lose him an election that is, at this point, his to lose.

So say after me “President Barack Obama.” And while you’re at it, practice “Carteresque.”

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]