As someone who has written books on the presidency and worked in the White House, I am painfully aware America has never had a perfect president or a perfect presidential candidate. This is not likely to change in 2008.
We yearn for qualities of mind, spirit, character and experience that are unlikely to be found in one person. We understandably want all kinds of executive, political and military experience, and Barack Obama hasn't had a lot.
Yet experience alone is not always adequate. Ulysses Grant had vast military experience but was a lousy president. Herbert Hoover had a genius for administrative leadership and won acclaim as an all-star cabinet member, yet he also failed as president. Richard Nixon personified political and executive experience.
We should ask a lot of our presidential candidates. But most of us yearn for so many talents and qualities that it comes close to wanting "God on a good day," or at least an impossible amalgam of Abraham Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and the Terminator.
Scholars generally agree it's hard to tell in advance whether a candidate will be an effective president. Who could have predicted such success for Lincoln, Harry Truman or even Ronald Reagan? Voters must look at a range of factors, including present circumstances and problems we are likely to face in the near future.
The times right now call for a new style of leadership, a new spirit for tackling global problems, a redefining of who we are as a nation and a new energy for mobilizing resources to achieve our shared dreams.
Local Democrats backed Obama, 70 to 30 percent. In caucus after caucus, Obama supporters who spoke up were informed, considerate and passionate. Here are some reasons they want Obama:
Obama has a reflectiveness and detachment, matched with social and emotional intelligence, that help him transcend politics of anger, bickering and polarization.
He is a fighter for fairness and social justice and has proven these commitments in New York, Chicago, Springfield and Washington, D.C.
He is a practitioner of inclusiveness and positive politics, and recognizes there are people of principle and good ideas in his party and the other camps as well.
He understands the loss of respect the United States has experienced around the world, and is uniquely qualified to present both a fresh face and a fresh approach to working with new and old allies.
He has had the courage to question the current policy of solving internal Iraqi problems by military means. He is a realist about the challenges of terrorism and health care, immigration, environment, foreign aid and diplomacy.
He has courage to resist conventional ways of policymaking and governing and to imagine a better America and a better world.
He is a splendid listener, writer and communicator.
Obama appeals to Starbucks Democrats as well as Dunkin' Donuts Democrats, and to a growing number of disaffected independents and moderate Republicans.
The energy, optimism and imagination Obama taps into are resources that people here believe America needs. In a sense, they are saying:
Imagine a president who appreciates that a strong America requires a strong presidency and strong citizenry, a strong Congress, strong judiciary and a robust Bill of Rights.
Imagine a president who will fight not only terrorism, but bigotry and hatred in the world, viewing himself as a healer, real uniter and negotiator.
Imagine a nation energy-independent because it has wisely invested in renewable alternatives and has become serious about conservation.
Imagine a nation that helps lead the fight against global warming.
Imagine a world without Abu Ghraibs or Guantanamos, where the Matthew Shepards of Wyoming can live without fear.
Sure, this is a lot to imagine. But imagination precedes actualization. Obama brings the energy of American optimism and imagination to his quest for the presidency. I believe Americans will respond in kind.
Thomas Cronin teaches at Colorado College and has campaigned for Obama in Iowa and Colorado.