With the 2008 presidential hopefuls well out of the starting gate, few public figures have gathered as much attention as Barack Obama. The hype machine's in full swing, especially, I've noticed, among college students. But I'm not jumping on the bandwagon quite yet.
Now don't get me wrong. Obama is a very smart man and is undoubtedly a good politician. You really don't get elected president of the Harvard Law Review or have Time magazine call you "one of the most admired politicians in America" if you're not. Honestly, I like Obama's actions thus far, with work on bills addressing issues like gun control, education, illegal immigration, campaign reform, and the need for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. In the Illinois State and U.S. Senate he's been admired for his ability to compromise, and he had the foresight to oppose the Iraq War from the beginning and to predict what a debacle it would indeed become.
The problem that I do have with him (and most of his supporters, for that matter), is that such an incredible amount of his popularity is based not around his accomplishments as a politician, but around the celebrity status that he was vaulted into after his well-received 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. People support him because they are enamored with his charm, but let's face it: he's a novelty, and simply does not posses the level of political know-how necessary for an effective presidency (look to the White House right now for a prime example of how big a problem that can be).
Simply put, Obama owes it to the American people to finish at least this term of office, if not more. His belief that a mere two years in Washington dealing with national issues far outside the realm of the state of Illinois has truly prepared him to be the leader of the free world shows an astounding level of arrogance. I've heard supporters argue that this is actually a good thing, as less time in Washington has afforded Obama little chance to be corrupted by the stagnant partisan atmosphere there, but this kind of thinking is incredibly na've. Anyone looking to implement their policies must learn to be in sync with the way Washington works, and I find it incredibly hard to believe that someone with so little time spent there would have amassed anywhere near enough understanding and political gamesmanship necessary to get a real agenda passed.
Obama, naturally, has proclaimed that the reason for his candidacy is to shake up Washington's political culture and implement real change, but this is a carbon copy of the same empty rhetoric that we hear time and time again from practically all politicians looking to get elected. The real reason that Obama is running now is that he realizes how incredibly fickle the American public is, and he knows that this is his big opportunity to take advantage of that. Eight or 12 years down the road when his chance comes around again, his celebrity status could very well have waned, leaving him in the middle of the pack.
So I urge you: don't get caught up in the hype. Look for a candidate who supports your views on the issues, but who's also had the opportunity to show you that they can truly be an effective leader. Obama's off to a good start, but in the grand scheme of politics, two years isn't anywhere near enough time to prove it. He could be a great presidential candidate, but not now.