I’ve been hearing that with the Patrick endorsement, Obama is counting on getting help from Deval’s vaunted army of volunteers, the grassroots organization that supposedly vaulted him from naive-upstart-nowhere to the corner office. The scenario goes that Patrick leverages his volunteers’ loyalty into crossing the border into New Hampshire, helping to create an unbeatable ground presence that neither Hillary nor Edwards can match.
Color me skeptical on that happening in any large scale. Patrick and Obama do have many things in common: I think that both can legitimately be seen as outsiders to the dominant political culture; they’re both terrific speakers, and personally charismatic; and yeah, they’re both black guys from Chicago and Harvard.
But analogies are always flawed. Obama has a different relationship to the grassroots than does Patrick. Patrick was an utterly unique figure in 2005, and early on he took bold stands on issues — health care, Cape Wind*, gay marriage — that distinguished him from the other candidates. Obama certainly has claim to being dead-right in 2002 in opposing the Iraq War — indeed, his predictions were accurate right down the line. But, you know, he was a State Senator from Chicago then, not a US Senator with actual power over these things. And while I’m definitely pleased that he’s following Chris Dodd’s lead in supporting a filibuster against telco/FISA immunity … why does he need to be the one to follow? I mean, I could vote for Chris Dodd, after all.
There is ample opportunity for Obama to distinguish himself from both GOP misrule and Democratic weakness, and he of all people has the persuasive power to clearly outline the principles involved and the rightness of his choices. He of all people should fear nothing. And yet, he’s not been as out front as he would have wished, thus ceding his uniqueness to other candidates — Edwards, Dodd, even Hillary (on health care). It seems like there’s been a pattern of the two senators following sentiment on the left in some of these gestures, rather than actively framing the issues and being out front. (This, of course, is a problem for the Democratic Party writ large.)
To be clear: His 2002 thoughts on the Iraq debacle count, a lot. So do his ambitious and worthy plans for climate change. Among the current contenders, those alone makes him worthy of very serious consideration. But he needs to understand that it’s a crowded field, and give us good reason to think that he and he alone is the guy to restore America’s place in the world. The army will follow when it’s found its general … and we’ve got choices. And in some ways, that’s good.