Senator Barack Hussein Obama is a brilliant, charismatic orator.  His gift of eloquence exceeds John F. Kennedy's and approximates that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As I listened to the Senator's acceptance speech on Thursday evening, I mused to myself that "this guy is good."  And he is!  The way in which he turns a phrase was almost too majestic for even the Mile High Stadium.  I was impressed by his command of the 85,000 Democratic soldiers who were there to listen to him.

Yet as the example of William Jennings Bryan, pictured below, demonstrates, oratory goes only so far in presidential politics.  Bryan was nominated for the highest office three different times by the Democrats and lost every time, although he was probably the most notable orator in American history.  His "Cross of Gold" speech is a classic address, which will live alongside the legendary philippics of Demosthenes.

The American people eventually shuffle through the rhetoric in order to take the measure of a candidate's policies. The meat and potatoes of presidential politics are unavoidable. It is precisely this reality that, first, leaves me uneasy about Senator Obama's chances of winning in November and that, secondly, makes me doubt his ability to deliver in the event he is elected.  Let me explain.

Senator Obama claims that he is ushering in a "new politics for a new time."  I did not hear him talking about any "new" programs; did you? He promised to soak the rich and to give tax relief to ninety-five percent of the American working class.  He assured us that the nation's addiction to petrol will have run its course after a decade.  He told us that medical care and a university education should be underwritten by government.  He underscored his support for abortion, gay marriage, and gun control. 

On top of all this, Senator Obama selected Joe Biden, a Washington insider, as his Vice Presidential running mate. Senator Biden, interestingly enough, deemed his own party's nominee unqualified for the Presidency a few short months ago and, additionally, expressed his willingness to join Republican McCain in his bid for the White House. The Delaware senator, while having abundant qualifications in foreign affairs and judicial matters, strikes many as a crass political opportunist, whose reputation for honesty is as checkered as the flags on a package of Purina Dog Chow.  I am wondering whether anyone will ask him about the "F" he received in a legal research and writing course for plagiarizing another's work or about subsequently being caught red-handed cribbing from a speech of British Labor leader Neil Kinnock.

The point is that, except for his racial mix, there is nothing new that Senator Obama's candidacy brings to the table.  The fare is little more than we expect from Democrat politicians, with their "warmed over" socialist ideas, reminding us of every luminary who has graced that party since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I see no difference between any of them and believe that, if one wished to be uncharitable, he might label as fraudulent or, perhaps, even as ludicrous, Senator Obama's claim of a "new politics."

The question remains:  If the Illinois senator is in fact elected in November, what can we expect? His proposals, as I say, will constitute nothing really new.  The ideological divide in American culture, between secularists and traditionalists, will remain, and Congress will therefore be likely to continue in gridlock.  James Bryce, quoting two American statesmen, pointed out the following (and it is as true today as it was in 1897 when it was first published):  "It is not for want of leaders that Congress has forborne to settle the questions [of the day], but because the division of opinion in the country regarding them has been faithfully reflected in Congress. . . .When the country knows and speaks its mind, Congress will not fail to act."  The trouble is that our country is of a divided mind and has been so for decades now.  Issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, the environment, and energy are situated squarely on the cultural divide. To expect Senator Obama or John McCain to forge a new consensus regarding these issues is political fantasy.  While reactive solutions may be at times necessary, proactive ones are highly unlikely.

The Preacher of old once reminded us that "there is nothing new under the sun."  His words provide an apt slogan for American politics in 2008.

August 29, 2008