If Barack Obama is as good a politician as he is a writer, he will soon be President

This is not a political blog. I have no interest in politics. But I have been reading a great book that happens to be written by a politician.

The first time I heard of Barack Obama is when I saw his name springing up on those political signs people put in their front yards in election years. I knew nothing about him except that he was affiliated with the University of Chicago law school and he was running some hopeless campaign for the U.S. Senate. I figured the support he was getting in my home town at the time was probably the only support he would get in the whole state. The city I lived in, Oak Park, is left wing to the point of comedy at times. For instance, as you cross into the city, a sign informs you that you are entering a nuclear-free zone. I thought it would take little more than him having a name like “Barack Obama” to win over the folks in Oak Park.

I was not paying any attention to the Senate race when I happened to get called at random for a poll being conducted by the Chicago Tribune. They asked me who I was going to vote for in the upcoming Senate election. Just out of sympathy and loyalty to the University of Chicago, I said I would vote for Obama. That way, when the results of the poll came out, he would have a few percent of the electorate behind him and he wouldn’t feel so bad. I was flabbergasted when I saw the results of the poll on the front-page of the newspaper a few days later: Obama was in the lead for the democratic primary! (This, of course, was well before he got tapped to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention.)

I am not very interested in politics, so I didn’t pay much attention to the Senate race (which eventually was a landslide with Obama crushing — of all people — Alan Keyes). I saw him give two speeches: the Democratic convention one and his acceptance speech the night he won. Both times, I felt like he cast some sort of spell over me. When he spoke, I wanted to believe him. I can’t remember another politician ever having that effect on me. One friend, who knows Barack and who also knew Bobby Kennedy, said he had not seen anyone like Kennedy until he met Barack.

Anyway, all of this is just a long prelude to the fact that I picked up his book The Audacity of Hope and was blown away at how well written it is. His stories sometimes make me laugh out loud and at other times well up with tears. I find myself underlining the book repeatedly so I can find the best parts quickly again in the future. I am also almost certain he wrote the whole thing himself, based on people I know who know him. I have no interest in politics, yet I am devouring this book. If you aren’t giving Freakonomics as a Christmas gift this year — probably you gave it to everyone on your list last Christmas 🙂 — this would make a great gift.

I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised at what a good writer he is because I read his first book Dreams from My Father two years ago and loved that one as well. But unlike that first book, written 15-20 years ago before he had political ambitions, I thought this new one would just be garbage. Rarely does a book so exceed my expectations. Also, I should stress that I don’t agree with all his political views, but that in no way detracts from the enjoyment of reading the book.

If he has the same effect on others as he does on me, you are looking at a future president.

Bruce G Charlton

I am from the UK and have only seen Obama on Youtube - but I totally agree that his gifts as an orator are astonishing. This is a kind of genius which cannot be manufactured.

I see Obama as a test for the Democrats: here thay are presented with a once-in-fifty years candidate to win the presidency - the question is whether they want to win enough to put aside their dissentions and ideological purity to unite behind Obama. The merits of the other possible presidential candidates are irrelevant.

The UK Conservatives also had a truly outstanding potential leader a few years ago - Michael Portillo - but the party was so disorganized that they could not recognize their own self interests, and elected a now-forgotten hardline right-winger as leader, and have endured another half decade in the political wilderness.

If they fail to run with Obama in 2008 the Democrats will show that they do not deserve to win the election.


Raymond Keller

Great orators are scary. They attract many, many sheep that follow their every word. If the orators policies are great, then it is not such a bad thing.

But even a great orator with bad, or even dangerous policies, has many, many sheep following.

Don't tell me how great a man speaks or writes, tell me what he says when he speaks and writes.


He's already cleared the field. The main obstacle left is that he is a threat to the ambitions of many who are less deserving. What will be interesting is: how much money will it take to shut him out, and where will it come from?

Sorry for the cynical slant. I think both major parties will see him as a threat, not just the one he doesn't belong to.


People who see Sen. Clinton, Giuliani, and Obama as potential presidents are really just forgetting the way things work.
Giuliani is divorced. NEVER WIN A PRIMARY.
Clinton is a woman. NEVER WIN A PRIMARY.
Obama is black. NEVER WIN A PRIMARY.
Primary voters' "primary" (OMG LOL) concern is having their party in power. With that as a primary (ZING!) concern it becomes next to impossible for a candidate who doesn't look like every past president to win in a primary. People think that demographically non-standard persons can win because they win individual congressional elections. Those elections are not comparable because they are very often gerrymandered, and/or sample such limited areas that they take very biased samples of the electorate.


Obama is absolutely stunning. I found myself like you - unbelievably mesmerized at his DNC speech. I hope is actions are as transforming as his speeches are. I would vote for him.


As a former liberal (I voted for Jimmy Carter) I have long been fascinated by the emotionalism of the left. A stirring speech and star power seems to short-circuit the reasoning process.

Bill Clinton played a wonderful president on TV. He was glib, emotive and could toss facts off like a musician tossing off a riff. In reality, Clinton was a weak, corrupt man who never met a hard decision he couldn't postpone. He was a leader only in the sense that he would read opinion polls, figure out what the public thought it wanted, then rushed to the front of the crowd and yelled, "Follow me." Yet even today he's greeted like a rock star by the Democrats.

Now we have Barack Obama, the next one to get liberals all wet and mushy. He can sure spin the words, but can he think? Consider what he said on Larry King about Iraq:

"And, I think we also have to start sending a message to the region and some of the powers there, including Iran and Syria that it makes sense for us at this point to pull back, to make sure that they are engaged and have a stake in creating some semblance of order there because right now they're just sitting back I think and watching us flounder but they're not investing in any kind of way to make sure that Iraq has a decent outcome."

Syria, which has been murdering Lebanese politicians right and left and stirring trouble in Iraq, doesn't want a decent outcome. Not decent in any decent sense.

And Iran as a force for decency in Iraq? Where does Obama think Al Sadr gets his funding? An Iraq stablilized by these two evil regimes would pose a mortal threat to Israel.

So, sorry, Obama fails the common sense test for me, regardless of how stirring and charming he might be in person or in print.

Please, subdue your goosebumps and engage your logical faculties.



A reminder: Reagan was divorced. I think he won a primary or two.


The thing that's gonna get Obama is this: Hussein is his middle name. I'd like to see him get past that.


Point well taken. I do think that the cases are very different. Reagan was divorced in 1948, 30 years before he won, not 5 or 6. He wasn't caught cheating on his wife while he was in office. There was never a press conference given by his ex-wife about how he was lacking as a husband. Also Reagan looked good on TV. Giuliana, Obama, Clinton = unelectable at present. Look for McCain v. Edwards with Obama as VP nominee for the dems.


What's up with all of your caveats and qualifiers about politics? Here's the list:

"This is not a political blog.."
"...I have no interest in politics..."
"I was not paying any attention to the Senate race..."
"I am not very interested in politics, so I didn't pay much attention to the Senate race"
"I have no interest in politics"
"I should stress that I don't agree with all his political views"

Pretend your readers have brains and got it the first time. Also, while few people "like" politics or politicians for that matter, many recognize that freedoms and civil rights are not given, they are demanded. And the best way to protect them is to exercise them. For example, by voting and by holding our elected leaders accountable. I hope that the big brains in our society, such as you, have that sense of duty even as they hold their nose at the stink of politics.


A socialist is a socialist.
The fact that Obama is an excellent orator a good looking guy and a light skinned black male make him highly desireable as a politician but his politics will only continue the socialist policies that the Hillary crowd loves.
Sure American whites will bend over backwards to show they are not racists by proclaiming their willingness to give a blackmale the vote but that is not good politics.
That is just letting your emotions rule your decision making.
Very anti -Friedman.


I find it very hard to believe that you have no interest in politics. As an economist, I would think you'd like to see anti-socialistic policies enacted since that's what is best for our economy.


I haven't read his book, but I think he will probably beat out Hillary for the nomination. And if he doesn't, he's a shoe-in for the veep, if he wants it.

If I was going to make a prediction on the nominees and eventual winners it would be Obama vs. McCain. And Obama wins.


The upcoming election will be the first that I am elligble to vote for in my life. After seeing Obama's speech at the DNC, and seeing his appearance on the daily show, I decided to look into him, and found the first politician I've ever truly admired. He is a brilliant orator, and conveys honesty like no politician I've seen. I would be honored to have him as our President, and think that he could restore a good international opinion of America. That said, as much as all of my libral New York friends and I admire him, there is still the rest of the Red country to deal with, and chances are they won't go for a black guy named Obama. : (


let's not forget that obama won (came from absolutely nowhere in fact) b/c the leading democratic candidate was bounced by the media due to a murky divorce proceeding that ultimately was revealed to be that he kicked his wife in the shin when they were in bed and the leading republican bowed out once again under media pressure to reveal the proceedings from his unfortunate decision to marry and divorce a hollywood celebrity.

obama is a creation of the liberal media and one that, unfortunately, will be promulgated by them. how far remains to be seen.


I wonder if charisma itself can actually bring any intangible or even tangible benefits to the nation, perhaps by improving America's international image and "soft power."

Japan's recently retired PM Koizumi seemed to have more charisma than the typical Japanese PMs of the past. It is almost a certainty that postal privatization would not have been possible without Koizumi's charisma.

On the other hand he annoyed the neighbors by visiting Yasukuni Shrine. But that is another issue.


It should be expected since the only other blogs I read are from "scienceblogs" but its interesting to hear a more conservative viewpoint in the comments. I disagree of course (especially the perpetuation of the "liberal media myth") but its still interesting to hear. I live in a fairly self-contained bubble of liberal thought and its always somewhat startling to hear a conservative viewpoint. No real point, just making a comment.

George S

I would feel a lot better about Obama if he had any track record of political accomplishment. He doesn't.
Giving speeches, no matter how mesmerizing, appearing on talk shows, or writing books is no susbstitute for actually leading or getting things done. As an old woman once asked, "Where's the beef?"
In what way is he qualified to lead the country? Charisma? That's not good enough. Yet many people want to give him their vote right now.
I'm no fan of Guliani, but he has at least shown political leadership and the ability to act in a crisis.
The democratic party and most of the MSM will start creating and inflating the myth of Obama soon enough. And with finger raised to constantly gauge the political winds, he will ride along with the myth-builders.


George S:

By those criteria what qualified our current president? Wasn't he elected because he was the one you'd want to have a beer with?
If he had any accomplishments, they were because of his father. Obama at least is more of a self-made man.


So if neither Clinton nor Obama gets the democratic primary, then who will? John Kerry? He killed his chances with his “I support our dumb troops” movement. True, neither a woman nor a black man has ever won a presidential primary, much less the general election. But after Bush, I think America might give this whole non-white-male-evangelical thing a try. In 2008, a woman, a black man, or McCain will enter the White House.
Personally, I want Levitt for President. Then maybe we could get to the bottom of all those little things Washington can't figure out, set up a system of incentives for the common good, and finally have a President with a really cool blog.