The main objection to an Obama run is his obvious lack of experience. He needs at least a full Senate term before he is taken seriously, the argument goes. On the one hand, each day spent in the Senate gives Obama more experience and stature for his inevitable presidential campaign. But each day also brings with it an accumulation of tough votes, the temptations of bad compromises, potentially perilous interactions with lobbyists, and all the other behaviors necessary to operate as a successful senator. At some unknowable date in the future, remaining in the Senate will reach a point of diminishing returns for Obama. The experience gained by being a good senator will start to be outweighed by the staleness acquired by staying in Washington.
There's no way for Obama to know when he will reach this point. That uncertainty makes 2008 look like his best opportunity. He can be certain that 2008 will be a year with a wide open primary on both the Republican and Democratic sides in which neither a sitting president nor vice president will be running, a rare event in presidential politics that lowers the bar of entry for all candidates. He can have a high degree of confidence that if he waits until 2012, he will face the historically impossible task of unseating the incumbent president of his own party, or the historically difficult task of unseating the incumbent president of the opposition party. The 2016 race would probably be his final chance. But by waiting until then he would have to bet that the Senate has not destroyed his career, or, if he has moved to the safer confines of the Illinois governor's mansion--his next chance would be in 2010--that he has not already passed his political peak.
So there is the objection of a lack of experience. But as we've seen, experience isn't all it's trumped up to be. John Kerry had more experience--as a legislator in multiple legislative bodies, as well as having served as Lt. Governor (and a distinguished war record)--than George W, but lost; Al Gore had far more experience, as a Congressman, Senator and one of the most active VPs ever, than W, who'd been a weak governor for 6 years, with a record of business failures, a AWOL period in his military record and a DUI in his past, but lost; Bob Dole arguably had more experience than Bill Clinton, but lost; George H.W. Bush certainly had more experience than Clinton, but lost; Jimmy Carter had more experience than Ronald Reagan but lost; and on and on. John F. Kennedy had served only a little more than time than Obama will have in 2008 (and his House and Senatorial records were rather indistinguished), yet he defeated the sitting Vice President (with a little help from Democratic Party hacks) in 1960, and turned out to be one of the most capable and exciting presidents we've had in the last 50 years. Dwight Eisenhower had no governmental experience at all, though he did successfully prosecute one of the toughest wars the US has ever entered into. All of which is to say that Obama's lack of experience shouldn't be held against him.
The bigger question for me is: will White voters in the US elect a Black person, let alone a Black Democrat, to the Presidency? At least one Black Republican probably could have won in 2000: Colin Powell. Had he decided not to honor the Republican Party's wishes and let George H.W. Bush's inexperienced son seize the nomination, it would have been his. (We saw what they did to get John McCain out of the way.) Powell would have gotten Republican and Black Democratic votes (as well as those of swing Democrats who'd be willing to vote for a highly decorated general), but for whatever reasons--a sense of debt to the Bush father, caution, fear, a desire not to be the top leader, etc.--he chose to serve on W's staff, and the rest is history. After being tainted by his role in the phantom WMD and Iraq War scandals, he won't be able, as the Jamaican-Panamanian owner of the shop where I got my locks shaped up last night said, "to run for dogcatcher." I also strongly believe Powell would have been a much more moderate presence in the White House than the right-wing hack in there now. As Secretary of State he repeatedly tried to moderate W's actions, but eventually caved in, and though now he complains about the ignominy of his 2003 presentation to the UN (which I and C. criticized as ridiculous at the time), he has only himself to blame. Had he stood up, we probably wouldn't be in Iraq today.
Then there is Condoleezza Rice. I find this dangerous woman so repellant I can barely stand to look at her, and when she talks, it's always clear to me that she's hovering on the edge of her nerves because she's lying. That quavering treble in her voice telegraphs to me more clearly than her shifty eyes, her rigid posture, or her trembling hands how clearly she realizes that what she's up to is just wrong, yet she just lets that mouth yammer away. I also think that for her, because she's gotten a chance to make history and run with the big dogs, she's willing to go with whatever they come up with. Still, I don't think she'd win a Presidential race. Americans seem unwilling still to vote for a woman for the presidency, let alone a Black woman, and she carries so much baggage from her time as National Security Advisor (when she dithered as reports kept coming in about Al Qaeda's plans) to her current post, where she's defending torture and extraordinary renditions, then admitting the government was wrong, then backtracking (lying), that she'd fall apart in a national election.
Obama would be a striking breath of fresh air in the White House. His social activism in Chicago is well known, but he also has a grander progressive vision which would take the nation into what I'd label a post-Clintonian era of liberalism. While Obama has shown in his brief Senate career that he can be cautious, as President I think he would be a bit more daring (particularly with a Democratic Congress), but he could also show considerable pragmatism (especially if he had a Republican Congress). Without a doubt, he'd reverse many of the worst domestic excesses of this administration, on the deficit and fiscal policy, on the environment, on funding for basic human needs and infrastracture, in the war on terror. He is pro-gay, pro-poor and working class, pro-choice, pro-union, and pro-environment. He has an excellent record on education and women's issues. I imagine a much more transparent government than we have now, and one far more willing to explain itself to the American people. I also envision him reformulating our international priorities immediately upon taking office. Rather than preemption and unilateralism, I imagine Obama would push hard for diplomacy and multilateralism, except in the most extreme cases (such as a direct attack). In this he would probably be close to what we might have gotten with Al Gore as president, had SCOTUS not intervened in late 2000. But Obama's record is actually to the left of Gore's, though given his rhetorical skills and public appeal, he might actually be able to enact more than Gore might have had he taken office.
One of the things Lizza dodges, unsurprisingly, is the issue of race: I just don't know if White voters would elect him. Illinois, which does have very conservative pockets, especially downstate, is still to the left of most of the Midwest and the US outside of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Pacific Coast states. Despite having about a 14% Black population overall, Illinois has been elected two Black people, both Democrats, to the Senate (the first, Ambassador Carole Mosley-Braun, in 1992), while no Southern state or former slave state (almost all of which have larger Black populations) or more liberal states in the east or west, except Massachusetts, have done so. (Massachusetts elected the first Black Senator since Reconstruction, Republican Edward Brooke, in 1967.) People often mention Obama was running against a total ultra-rightwing nutcase, Alan Keyes, in the general election, which led to his 70%-30% blowout election, which is true. They also note that he might have had a tougher time against Jack Ryan, who was the original Republican nominee before word got around that despite his pro-family, anti-gay stance, he'd pushed his wife, actress Jeri Ryan, to go to participate in group sex and hit sex clubs "in Paris" and "New York." Yet this assessment overlooks the telling fact that Obama faced SIX other Democrats in the Illinois Senate primary, and received 640,000 votes, giving him 50% of the total. All of those votes did not come from Chicago (his home base) or Cook County. His primary vote total alone was higher than all of the Republicans running together (Ryan received only 230,000 votes or something like that.) And this was in a year in which George W. Bush's popularity was considerably higher, even in Illinois, than it is today. Certainly without the sex scandal Ryan would have received more votes, but Obama would still have won. He appealed not only to urban voters, but to suburbanites outside Chicago, to exurbanites, and to pockets of downstate, conservative voters, even though his record in the Illinois State House was quite liberal. Illinois voters were willing, it was clear, to take the plunge and put him ahead of the Democratic Party's chosen son (Dan Hynes), its multimillionaire dilettante (Blair Hull), and all of the Republicans combined.
But can Obama win outside Illinois