Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What Makes a Politician Transformative?

The word "transformative" has been dropped a lot lately, in reference to presidential candidate Barack Obama. As Chris Wilhelm, the president of Students for Barack Obama at the University of Maryland, said yesterday: "He is a transformative figure in electoral politics." And it is not just Obama supporters who are acknowledging this. The main premise of Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she is an experienced hand who will be ready to run the government on Inauguration Day. Read: I am not the transformational candidate in the Democratic primary.

So what is it about Obama that allows him to claim the mantle of transformation?

Is it his issue positions?

I don't think so. Obama has received a 100% rating from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group that scores elected officials on their voting records. Clinton's score? 100% as well.

Is it his endorsements?

Perhaps Obama is now bringing together different factions of the country, despite his liberal voting past. Perhaps he is uniting the Democratic party and effectively reaching out to moderate Republicans. I don't think so here, either. Take a look at a list of elected officials who have endorsed Obama:

Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts senator
Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts
Federico Peña, Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton
Theodore Sorensen, advisor to John F. Kennedy
Bill Bradley, former senator from New Jersey
John Kerry, four-term junior senator from Massachusetts
Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Patrick Leahy, Senator from Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee

Looks pretty standard fare to me. Plus, there are Obama's Hollywood endorsements:

Kathleen Turner, actress
Robert DeNiro, actor
George Clooney, actor

But maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, places that are too tangible. Perhaps transformation is a state of mind, a handsome face, a feeling of euphoria in campaign audiences. If this is really what's going on, then I want to suggest that we are inevitably going to be disappointed. It is one thing to campaign this way; it another thing entirely to govern from a position of transformation. In such a scenario, the salient question becomes how far Obama will fall...and how fast.



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