[Viewpoint]A true, good man‘A month ago, I was an idiot. This month, I’m a genius.” Senator Barack Obama, 46, said those words during an interview with The New York Times on Dec. 14. He might have said those comments because he was feeling good about a recent surge in his approval rating, but it was also the appropriate way to describe the essence of the presidential competition in the Democratic Party.
Obama, a first-time entry in the presidential race, seemed like an “idiot” until a month ago. His challenge to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, 60, seemed rash. He had only half of the nationwide approval rating that Clinton had, and he was fighting heavy odds in the States where the primaries are held early, starting Jan. 3. The election of the first black president in history seemed a premature idea.
However, an amazing change has taken place in the minds of the people in the last month. While Clinton’s approval rating was caught in a falling cycle, Obama’s has surged sharply.
Especially in the states that host early primaries ― such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina ― and thus lend great influence to the rise and fall of a candidate, Obama developed a slight edge over Clinton.
Earlier, it seemed quite certain that the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination would go to Clinton. But it is hard to tell who will be the winner now.
How could such a reversal take place?
First, there is Clinton’s mistake. She had looked complacent, perhaps because she took too much pride in her high approval ratings.
She displayed veteran skills and rich experience in state affairs as her merits, but failed to show executive ability and political insight. She supported the Bush administration, which denounced Iran for having a nuclear development program, when it designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.
When a U.S. intelligence report surfaced saying that Iran had suspended its nuclear program in autumn 2003, Clinton’s judgment was put in doubt.
On the issue of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which was once supported by New York State authorities, Clinton first supported it, but changed her position when she received harsh criticism. These actions left the impression that she is calculating and reminded people of the fact that the experience of a person was one thing, and judgment something else altogether.
In contrast, Obama has succeeded in replacing his image of a person lacking experience with being the standard-bearer of change.
He insists “the lack of experience label means I am not tainted with the party politics of Washington.” He also retorts, “The veterans Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who led the Iraq war, have poisoned the country, have they not? ... What the United States needs is a leader with proper insight.”
He emphasized the fact that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, unlike Clinton.
When Clinton’s camp attacked him suggesting Obama is a Muslim or that he did drugs once, Obama reesponded in a mature manner, saying, “The people have no interest in politics as a blood sport.”
Many people started to trust him. The Washington Post reported, “All of the candidates are shouting out ‘change,’ but the people are attracted to Obama’s words.”
Since the announcement of his candidacy in February, Obama has exposed his political inexperience many times. When asked on a TV debate, “What would you do if the United States were attacked by terrorists?” he answered, “I would confirm the information first, and then make a decision.” He received criticism that he was “naive and weak.” Although he experiences times of crisis because of such mistakes, he has never abandoned his core focus on change and integration. And he worked his way into the hearts of the people by implementing his public pledges, one by one.
His campaign has forged his identity and made him bigger politically. What would have happened if he did not run because he feared Clinton? He probably would have been acknowledged as one of many senators with a bright future. However, he has now emerged as a giant, playing a leading role in the presidential race. One of the aesthetics of elections is finding a good, talented leader like Obama.
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Sang-il