Obama ’08?

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

Since he first showed up on my radar, I have always thought that Barack Obama will be, and should be, President of the United States.  I expected him to run in the next decade.  But there is a lot of buzz about hin running the next time around.  And it is convincing a lot of people:

Over at The New Republic (subscription only), Ryan Lizza makes the case for Obama, giving voice to some thoughts I’ve had over the past few months.

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.

Essentially, by running for President in 2008, Obama could overcome the traditional disadvantage of a long career in the Senate. As we all saw in the 2004 election, John Kerry’s decades of votes were easily manipulated and misrepresented by the Republicans.

As Lizza points out, Obama’s been working pretty hard to prove he’s no lightweight. Specifically, he references Obama’s work with foreign policy heavyweight Sen. Dick Lugar on nuclear proliferation issues and his leadership on avian flu preparedness.

One interesting thing about the idea that Obama’s too inexperienced to run for President — and Lizza doesn’t mention it — is that, by 2008, Obama will have a longer political resume than John Edwards did in 2004. Though Edwards had over five years in the Senate under his belt to Obama’s four, that was the sum total of Edwards’ career in elected office. (Similarly, another likely 2008 candidate, Virginia Governor Mark Warner, spent only four years in elected office.) By contrast, Obama served eight years in the Illinois state Senate prior to moving up to the U.S. Senate. That will be twelve years in elected office before a possible Presidential run in 2008. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem too early for Obama at all.

Not at all,  Lizza’s article also invokes the "Law of 14":

My favorite law of American politics is that candidates have only 14 years to become president. That is their expiration date.

Jonathan Rauch takes credit for "The Law of 14," though it was actually discovered by an aide to Dick Cheney: "With only one exception since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, no one has been elected president who took more than 14 years to climb from his first major elective office to election as either president or vice president:

George W. Bush took six years. Bill Clinton, 14. George H.W. Bush, 14 (to the vice presidency). Ronald Reagan, 14. Jimmy Carter, six. Richard Nixon, six (to vice president). John Kennedy, 14. Dwight Eisenhower, zero. Harry Truman, 10 (to vice president). Franklin Roosevelt, four. Herbert Hoover, zero. Calvin Coolidge, four. Warren Harding, six. Woodrow Wilson, two. William Howard Taft, zero. Theodore Roosevelt, two (to vice president). The one exception: Lyndon Johnson’s 23 years from his first House victory to the vice presidency.

So is it time for Obama?

UPDATE:  Kevin Drum thinks about the Obama and the Law of 14 — good post here.