David Cox: Abraham Delano Obama

Column by David Cox

Readers of this column may not be surprised that Barack Obama is my choice for president of the United States. What may surprise them is how long it took me last spring to get to that opinion. But, having made it, subsequent events have confirmed, at least in my own mind, the wisdom of electing him.

Last winter and spring, I supported another candidate. No, not her. Subsequent revelations about the man I’m now too embarrassed to mention have proven how inappropriate he would have been.

Around the same time, I talked with a friend of decades who is now a significant journalist in Chicago. He and his wife ardently supported this eloquent but newcoming young senator whom I thought too inexperienced for the job. Their message: Don’t sell him short. Number of years isn’t the only testimony. (St. Paul said something like that to St. Timothy.)

Fast forward to our current crisis — the economic one, that is. While John McCain shut everything down to rush to Washington, Barack Obama held to his steady course. He stayed largely removed from the fray, which I thought was appropriate: how can anyone campaigning 24/7 master the intricacies of an incredibly complex issue? What he did do, though, was assemble a first-rate team of economic minds to help him noodle it through, which is highly fitting for someone of any age but especially one so relatively young. Likewise with his vice-presidential choice: Joe Biden, despite his mouth, accumulated more expertise in foreign policy than nearly anyone in the Senate. Since no person can master every subject, the wise person surrounds him- or herself with experts in their own fields.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that. He gathered his “Brain Trust” to confront the enormous problems of worldwide Depression and, later, rising totalitarianism. Like our era, his was fraught with danger; but in the strength of principled conviction, and the wisdom of experienced minds, he led the nation through our worst times since the Civil War.

Far removed from Obama in background, Roosevelt was a bona-fide elitist. At least, he was part of the American elite. He grew up in a mansion, never seeing first-hand the hardships that Obama faced, certainly needing no scholarships to glean an education. But he understood the plight of the common person, he articulated the American dream like no one since Lincoln before him, and he expressed the confidence in American hope as no one has since then until — yes — Obama. Roosevelt’s combination of eloquence, compassion, principle, realism, and dream inspired the public at the very moment it most needed inspiration; and he put words into actions with common-sense if daring efforts to save the nation. Not all worked, but enough did, and every one of us benefits in some way from the innovations of FDR.

I believe Barack Obama is the unexpected possessor of similar gifts that address what our nation, indeed our world, need in our own time of danger and opportunity.

I have long admired Sen. McCain — though not for his campaign. He is a good and decent and amazingly courageous servant of our nation, who also happens to be hilariously funny: catch his stand-up shtick at the Alfred E. Smith dinner sometime. Sadly, his campaign did not do him justice. Yet that as well draws an important contrast, for Obama’s was consistent, confident without being cocky, thoughtful, and steady: Note Obama’s unruffled composure during the final debate or, for that matter, at any time. Those are qualities a leader needs, especially in times of crisis.
As for experience, remember the first president who hailed from Illinois: For national exposure, his résumé listed only one two-year term in Congress. But Abraham Lincoln didn’t do so badly.

Lincoln. Roosevelt: lofty comparisons that one dare not make lightly. But with Colin Powell, I believe Barack Obama may be just such a “transformational figure” for our time as those two were for theirs.

Upon election, either McCain or Obama has my prayers and dedication. Our nation demands no less of us for any new president. But Barack Obama has my vote.

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