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The Torch Has Passed to Barack Obama

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The past seven years have been like no other in our history. Seven years ago we were a confident, solvent nation that was respected abroad. Today we are staggered by the quagmire of Iraq, an ominous recession and this administration's colossal incompetence and are widely distrusted even among our allies. The nation that rescued Berlin from the Soviets via airlift and sent a man to the moon was suddenly incapable of sending school buses to rescue victims of Katrina. The next president needs to reverse this course.

Fortunately, the Democrats have fielded a bumper crop of candidates this year and, for the first time since 1984, Californians have a meaningful choice on primary day. Among the remaining candidates, John Edwards deserves special recognition for having run a heroic campaign to remind us of the uninsured, the homeless vets and many others abandoned by this administration. Senator Edwards, however, placed a huge bet on Iowa that did not payoff and his sputtering campaign has lost its viability.

Instead, four generations after women were granted the vote and 40 years after the death of Dr. King, the choice is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Senator Clinton stands out in the field based on her breadth of experience from the House Watergate Committee, leading education reform in Arkansas to her years in the White House and Senate. With past Democratic Presidents having had shaky starts as they grew into the job, there is something to be said for having a White House veteran and a seasoned team -- especially in today's dangerous and uncertain world.

Clinton has performed well in the debates, proving she is a skilled communicator and the capable street fighter the party lacked in 2004. She has been battle tested like no other candidate before her and remains steadfast despite unrelenting and often indecent attacks. Having witnessed reporters making cruel comments in her presence in New Hampshire in 1992 (well before she became a national figure), I believe the "divisive" label so often attached to her unfairly blames the victim since she was condemned at the outset merely because she did not "stay in her place".

Sixteen years of these attacks, however, have taken a toll in terms of how Senator Clinton is defined. Her 46% disapproval rate has changed little since she first took office -- although if nominated, she will get an opportunity at the convention and in the debates to change this perception.

Untouched by the "Clinton Wars", Barack Obama has captivated Democrats and independents alike by fusing the pragmatism of post-partisanship with the idealism and eloquence of the Kennedy era. As the Gainesville Sun noted, Senator Obama "resonates the politics of hope and personifies the politics of change."

What distinguishes Senator Obama is his combining the "Audacity of Hope" with the bold daring of leadership. Unlike his opponents, in 2002 Obama had the vision and fortitude to stand up and oppose a war with Iraq recognizing that such a war would "require a US occupation of undetermined costs, with undetermined consequences." Similarly, even though the nearly 50 year Cuban embargo is widely considered a failure, Obama was the only major candidate willing to risk alienating Florida's Cuban population by proposing to reform it. Obama is also the only major candidate to oppose the death penalty.

This may prove to be decisive to the only age group carried by Bush in 2004 -- "Generation Jones". Jonesers were born between 1955-1964 and came of age during the Carter-Reagan era when the left was in full retreat mode and perceived as weak. Jonesers may embrace Obama since by rejecting the politics of caution he demonstrates that he is a different type of Democrat.

The one hesitation many have about Senator Obama is whether he has the experience needed to get elected and do the job. Obama has not endured the volume and ferocity of attacks associated with a national campaign and this week's testiness and attacks on President Clinton heighten this concern and suggests that he may need to toughen his skin.

Senator Obama's 12 years of elected experience, however, is comparable to other recent presidents such as Bush I, Clinton, Kennedy and Nixon who had 12-14 years prior experience (albeit entirely on a national level). Like Kennedy, however, Obama has assembled a seasoned team of advisors that includes national security advisors to Presidents Carter and Clinton and a number of other Clinton administration alums.

Weighing these factors and choosing between Senators Clinton and Obama was no easy task. It is akin to having to choose between JFK and RFK, Tom Brady or Joe Montana or Ginger and Mary Ann. In fact, the candidate I intended to endorse when I began formulating this column just after New Year' Day is not the one I endorsed on Friday.

Ultimately, it came down to a choice between Senator Obama's message of hope and change and Senator Clinton's message of competence and restoration. Clinton '92 versus Clinton '96. Voters in 1996, however, were reelecting the man from Hope they embraced four years earlier as he energized the party with a promise of new leadership that was "not mired in the politics of the past."

Both in light of and in spite of the fact that I am a longtime and ardent Clintonite, it is clear to me that the torch has passed to a new messenger of hope who stands ready to seize this moment and not only lead the Democrats back to the White House but, in the words of Bill Clinton sixteen years ago, to "make it exciting and energizing and heroic to be American again." This torch and this moment belongs to Barack Obama.