Two More Years


By Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.

For The Sunday Gazette


“Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call them into question.”

                                                                  —Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope


     After a bruising political campaign season that calls for a long national shower, we need something to hope for. The title of the current number one nonfiction best-seller from which I quote uses that word, and its author uses the many additional words inside it better than any politician I have followed since Adlai Stevenson.

     Over three years, now, I do believe that I have written about national politics only once, and then in a historic sense, a necessarily very brief review of the 13 Presidents I have “known” in my lifetime. So today I venture out of my usual local or nonpolitical realm to envision who my 14th might be.

     Unless someone comes riding out of the pack, we can look forward to our first African-American President, our first Italian-American President, our first Mormon President, the oldest President as of the date of his election, or our first female President (whether or not she is also a concert pianist). You can tell the players without a scorecard.

     When I scout out Presidential horseflesh, I look for governors. The only two people who were senators at the time of their election were Warren Harding and John Kennedy. This doesn’t necessarily bode well for John McCain or Barack Obama, but they have few gubernatorial competitors—Mitt Romney, Tom Vilsack, and ex-Governor and current Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.

     My oldest son thinks Romney is a non-starter, not because he’s a Mormon, but because he is (for a few more days) Governor of Massachusetts, hardly the Republicans’ favorite blue state. I think he’s their best choice, but they are unlikely to notice that. 

    Governor Vilsack of Iowa is very well thought of and could be essentially the favorite son of the Iowa caucus, causing others to start in New Hampshire. Evan Bayh could carry his red state if only he could get nominated, but he’s certainly a long shot, as is Vilsack.

     I have had a pretty good record using this system. On the Democratic side, I identified Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton very early in their quest. And two years ago, just when Vermont Governor Howard Dean was ready to win the Iowa caucus, some guy parachuted out of the blue and said “John Kerry saved my life in Vietnam,” and the rest is (bad) history. Down went one senator, the second to lose to the same ex-Governor (although former Senator Al Gore was Vice President at the time, which might explain why he really didn’t lose). And in 1996, Republican Bob Dole, a good and witty man the pundits say “should have been nominated 20 years earlier,” lost another one for the Senatorial team.

    Until he stunned all political junkies a couple of months ago, my Gubernatorial pick was Mark Warner of Virginia. Some day we may learn why a person that so well fit the historically successful mode—a Southern Democratic Governor—gave up a quest that I believe he would have won.

    So perhaps we will have to settle for a senator (or a mayor, or Secretary of State?). The apparent Republican leader is John McCain. But will the Republicans really nominate someone whom Rush Limbaugh can’t stand? Someone who thinks the solution to the Iraq debacle is to send in more troops rather than bring them home? Why, he’s almost as old as I am.

    Rudy? Another potential winner with a nomination problem.

    Most political observers believe that Hillary is sure to be nominated but cannot be elected. I think the reverse is true, but I can’t prove it because you don’t get to the second phase without the first.

    And now, entering stage center, is the junior Senator from Illinois Barack Obama. I do hope you’ve seen TV clips of him on the stump. He’s always mobbed by an adulatory crowd as only Frank Sinatra was in 1940 and George Clooney is now. Or, more important, have you caught him on Hardball or interviewed by Tim Russert?

    What presence. Barack exudes sincerity, wisdom, kindness, calm good judgment, and respect for the opinions of others. He is utterly without guile. He is incapable of deceit of any kind, nor would he ever deign to hide behind a clever mental reservation. He never answers a question with an answer to a different one. Whether the questions be profound or inane, he instinctively answers them with startlingly refreshing candor, and with a clarity and grammatical precision that makes his analyses seem both patently obvious and ingenious at the same time.

     Obama’s new book, “The Audacity of Hope,” cannot possibly have been ghostwritten; it is simply much too literate. Ghostwriters can be literate too, but they are prone to be cloyingly hagiographic, writing far below the level of which they are capable because they mistakenly believe that such style is what readers prefer and will tolerate.

     Let me close as Barack does his book, with a dose of Potomac fever:

    “When I find myself in [a somber] mood, I like to run along the Mall. Usually, I go in the early evening, especially in the summer and fall, when the air in Washington is warm and still and the leaves on the trees barely rustle….Most of the time I stop at the Washington Monument, but sometimes I push on…along the Reflecting Pool to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial.

     “At night, the great shrine is lit but often empty. Standing between the marble columns, I read the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. I look out over the Reflecting Pool, imagining the crowd stilled by Dr. King’s mighty cadence, and then beyond that, to the floodlit obelisk and shining Capitol dome…. And [I think of] those like Lincoln and King who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hands by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams. It is that process that I wish to be part of. My heart is filled with love for this country.”

     Buy the book.


Edwin D. Reilly, Jr., a hopeless romantic, lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday opinion section.