Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Picturing a President

If Barack Obama is sworn in next January, last night's debate may prove to be the turning point when American voters started seeing him as more than a gifted candidate. Hillary Clinton's job was to create doubts about his fitness to be President, but she ended up giving Obama the opportunity to demonstrate he has the qualities for the job.

After a peevish start (citing a Saturday Night Live skit to air her grievances against the questioners), Sen. Clinton worked hard to present herself as Presidential and rattle Obama into appearing less so. But he never took the bait.

In 15 minutes about health care, he defended his position without demeaning hers. When she accused him of wanting to bomb Pakistan, he restated his more nuanced position and pointed out that the Bush Administration had just done what he proposed in taking out an al Qaeda leader. When she criticized him for not "rejecting" Louis Farrakhan's support, Obama pointed out that he had denounced his racist views but would be happy to reject them as well, if there was a distinction.

As the long campaign has gone on, Obama's command and self-confidence have been visibly growing, thereby undermining the arguments about inexperience the Clinton campaign has tried to use against him.

In this last debate before the nomination is decided, he demolished them. In the general election campaign, John McCain will have to work very hard to prove that his years in Washington qualify him to make better decisions about the future than Barack Obama.

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