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The New York Times Gets It Wrong on Obama

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET

After a series of front-page biographical profiles of Hillary Clinton, in which she is portrayed as the inevitable Democratic nominee, the New York Times ran a piece Sunday about Barack Obama's 2000 challenge against Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush.

The article, written by Janny Scott, plays into the Clinton-scripted characterization of Obama as idealistic, inexperienced and not ready for prime time. The author calls Obama's 2000 run a "glaring episode of political miscalculation."

In fact, Obama's unsuccessful challenge in 2000 played a large part in establishing him as a presence in the Illinois political scene and paving the way for his historic 2004 Senate campaign. Without the name recognition, connections and fundraising ties he cultivated in the 2000 race, Obama would not have been positioned to break out of the crowded Senate primary when he ran in 2004.

Obama took a lot of heat in 2000 when he decided to challenge an incumbent Democrat. Incumbent members of Congress tend to think they have a very un-Democratic right to retain their Congressional seat until they choose to retire (and they usually do, winning reelection more than 90 percent of the time).

It takes a lot of courage and gumption to take on a political favorite. Those who do are almost always unsuccessful. But once in awhile a candidate takes on the political establishment and wins. That is, after all, why we have elections.

The New York Times piece would have readers believe that Obama's decision to challenge Rush was foolhardy and overly optimistic, similar to his decision to take on Clinton. But the media should be careful not to fall into Clinton's carefully scripted plotline - that Obama's optimism is a synonym for naivety.

In fact, the characteristics Obama showed in 2000 -- his willingness to take on an established politician when the odds were stacked largely against him -- are the very things that have led him to where he is today.

In 2004, Obama again took on the odds, entering a primary against two candidates it seemed he could not beat -- one with the party machine backing him, and another with millions of his own money to spend. That time, Obama shocked everyone to win 53 percent of the vote in the primary, a win that catapulted him onto the national scene.

Now, Obama is at it again, running against another politician who many people would have you believe can't be beat.

Clinton, like Obama's opponents in the past, thinks she can ride a wave of inevitability to the presidency. She is running to win the primary of pundits, insiders and forecasters -- a primary that admittedly, often decides who wins among the voters.

But sometimes a candidate actually wins by appealing to the voters instead of the insiders.

The Times headlined the article about the 2000 race "A Streetwise Veteran Schooled a Young Obama." That could indeed be the headline following next year's Democratic primary, but contrary to what Hillary Clinton's press releases might say, that story isn't written yet.

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