Hillary Clinton would make a competent, solid, predictable, progressive president -- and would be a welcome contrast to the dark years of the Bush presidency.
But in 2008, America needs more than a competent, progressive chief executive. We need a movement to fundamentally change how things are done in Washington. That's why we need Barack Obama.
Barack Obama's campaign has demonstrated clearly his ability to inspire and lead a movement of millions of average Americans. The Clinton's eight years in the White House showed just as clearly that leading a movement is not what Hillary Clinton is cut out to do.
For almost four decades I have worked as an organizer and strategist in progressive battles aimed at changing policy in Washington. I believe that the history of the last 40 years has taught us one critical lesson: fundamental change in Washington happens only in response to mass movements made up of millions of mobilized Americans.
Whether it was the civil rights movement; the successful battle to stop the privatization of Social Security; the fight for a cleaner environment; the 1993 battle for universal health care; the years long struggle to end the war in Vietnam; or the current battle to end the war in Iraq -- our experience has shown us that fundamental changes never come from inside Washington. They always come from all over America.
They are never the product of competent, experienced leaders. They are always the result of motivated, mobilized Americans.
And we've learned something else. People don't get mobilized and organized spontaneously. They may get angry. They may become cynical. But organizers and leaders must arise among them to light the spark of possibility -- the belief that, together they can win; to convert fear and anger into energy and hope.
Progressives have plenty of wonderful policies and programs. We know what should be done. What we lack is the mobilized political movement that is required to turn those policies and programs into the future of our world.
The fight over the 1993 Clinton universal health care plan was a case study in the failure of the inside game to make fundamental change. Hillary Clinton negotiated behind the scenes to buy-in health insurers. She created a complicated, Rube Goldberg health care plan that tried to accommodate the health insurance industry. But as soon as the insurance gang wrung out all the concessions they could, they savaged the plan. They convinced Americans it was complicated, risky, unfamiliar and down right un-American. The insurance companies stopped universal health care dead in its tracks, even though we had a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.
The 2009 edition of the battle to pass universal health care will involve reshaping one sixth of the American economy. It will affect some of the most formidable and well financed inside players around. Universal health care simply isn't going to happen as a result of tough presidential talk, or hard negotiations. It's only going to happen if millions of mobilized voters make it clear to their Members of Congress that if they don't come home from Washington with guaranteed, affordable health care for all, they won't be returning to Washington in the next election.
The same goes for pubic financing of elections, labor law reform, restructuring the tax laws to benefit the middle class instead of the richest people in the land, climate change, energy independence, universal access to pre-school and higher education. The same is certainly true of trade policies and the outsourcing of American jobs.
Victory in these struggles to fundamentally change the politics and economy of our country requires more than a competent president and Democratic Congress. It requires a movement.
Barack Obama has the capacity to lead that kind of movement -- to barnstorm the country mobilizing Americans to demand Congress pass universal health care; inspiring Americans to join "Health Care We Can Count On" committees in every small town and big-city neighborhood.
America is familiar with the kind of competent, incremental leadership that the Clinton's provided in the 1990's. It was night and day better than either George Bush -- but it did not involve leading a movement for fundamental change
In 2008 Americans aren't interested in triangulation. They don't want insider deals. They don't want small incremental successes. They want fundamental change.
Barack Obama has demonstrated his ability to inspire -- to call on Americans to a higher, common purpose - to create political engagement, energy and excitement like no other candidate since Robert Kennedy.
We may not know how well Barack Obama will make the trains run on time (although based on the precise execution of his campaign for president, I'd bet he does that pretty well too.) But we do know that he has the ability to lead and organize a movement. That's the kind of president America needs to lead our country into the second decade of the 21st Century.