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Brian Till
27 Jan 2010
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Buying into Barack


At the beginning of his campaign for the presidency, the junior senator from Illinois was listless, perhaps befuddled. A week after he announced his candidacy in Springfield, I saw him before a modest crowd on a bright and clear Los Angeles afternoon.

He offered a passionless pitch, a list of problems rather than a vigorous call to action or a poignant criticism of the sitting president.

We should recall that Obama, for all the fanfare, was a reluctant contender off the starting block. It took months for his candidacy to catch on with the public, though moneyed support aligned sooner. The public's hesitancy was partly due to the fact that he, it seemed, hadn't yet bought into the narrative himself.

Then the man that won the presidency emerged. The self-made upstart that beat not one but two Clintons. The candidate that, in moments of uncertainty or malaise, was able to craft a powerful message or address that made us rethink what was plausible in the realm of politics. A young son of captivating cadence with a wide, boyish smile.

But on the last night of the campaign, miles south of Washington in the back woods of Virginia, before 90,000 people gathered beneath a slight drizzle of rain, a third Obama emerged. This incarnation infused the measured, professorial diligence that we often witnessed in debates with the steely resolve of a commander in chief.

America fell in love with the notion that Barack Obama could be a transformative leader, that oratory, for him, was not merely rhetoric or hyperbole, but rather a statement of what was possible. That with a vision bold enough and a leader charismatic enough, we could reassess political stalemate and the bedrock of what we thought politically tenable.

As the climate summit in Copenhagen comes to a close, and the secretary general squawks on that too little has been accomplished on the eve of presidential arrivals, we need that Obama back.

The G77, a bloc of 77 poor, developing nations, stormed out of the assembly last week over questions whether they will be subject to reduction obligations. They were excluded from them in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and now, apparently, expect the same carte blanche.

Chinese and U.S. negotiators have reached an impasse over whether an international monitoring regime is necessary, as we contend, or if the agreement will be resemble more of a self-monitored gentlemen's accord, governed by a handshake and a wink.

In the health care debate, either one of the good senators from Maine or Joseph Lieberman needs to be seduced by Obama's words once more if the Senate is to pass a bill reconcilable with the demands of the more liberal House.

We need that man from November back: a pol drunk on his own righteousness — or at least tipsy enough to sell the majority of us — capable of a bolder, more sophisticated idealism than we had come to expect.

We need the love child of Lyndon Johnson and Woodrow Wilson raised by Bill Clinton. Someone with the brawn and vision and electric human touch to make us reassess, to make foreign leaders agree in principle to loftier targets than they sat down at the negotiating table willing to consider — bolder than their staffs thought to prepare memoranda to accommodate.

Obama's first year has been impressive. The economy has returned from the brink, health care and banking reforms are within sight and America's moral mantle is on the road to recovery. But there's more there than we're getting — and, I hope, this year, we'll see the candidate once more.

Brian Till, one of the nation's youngest syndicated columnists, is a research fellow for the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington. He can be contacted at To find out more about the author and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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