Obama: Is He Tough Enough to be President?

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Robert Guttman Director, Center on Politics and Foreign Relations (CPFR), Johns Hopkins University

Or to put it another way is Senator Barack Obama too nice a person to fight aggressively against his opponents to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008?

The first term senator from Illinois, who told the New York Times last Sunday that it was "time to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton" did not seem in top fighting form in last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia at Drexel University.

Watching the debate I kept waiting for the zingers from the Harvard Law graduate against his front-running opponent Senator Clinton. Obama seemed too restrained. Or to put it another way he was too polite to the candidate who is widening her lead over him in national opinion polls.

It did not appear at last night's debate that Obama really cut into Hillary's lead. He was articulate and on top of the issues but he has to move more aggressively against Senator Clinton and her positions and her character if he hopes to make any movement in the polls.

While Obama seemed composed -- too composed I would guess for many of his supporters -- former Senator John Edwards was the most outspoken against Hillary in the debate. Time after time Edwards questioned the New York senator's stands on issues from Iraq to the latest resolution on Iran to flip-flopping on Social Security caps to allowing illegal immigrants in New York to receive driver's licenses.

It seemed as if Edwards was the one who had given the interview to the New York Times last Sunday and not Barack Obama. Edwards took a page out of Obama's strategy book and played it to the hilt. Edwards scored some points against Hillary and that is the name of the game at this point as the first caucuses and primaries loom in the background.

Obama's supporters and fundraisers are looking for some fireworks. Hillary is too composed and her campaign too programmed to make a serious mistake so the only other way to cut her lead is for the other Democratic candidates to show some spark, some new ideas, and to attack her for some of her less popular positions.

What has happened to the "rock star" Obama that shot out of the gate so gracefully when he announced for president? It is good to be the candidate of hope but when your opponent is ahead of you by more than 20 points in national polls you have to be more forceful discussing your differences with her.

Obama, take off the gloves and really show you want to win this nomination and that you would be a much better general election candidate than Hillary. Stress over and over how you can win Independent and Republican voters and how you do not have high negatives like Hillary. Continue to show your good sense of humor and your personality that is not so controlled as that of the Democratic frontrunner.

Obama, you still have time to turn things around but time is moving quickly. Stop the train of inevitability that Hillary and her campaign are trying to ride to the nomination. Shout out every day that the race is still wide open and that the New York senator does not yet have it locked up.

Say you are the candidate of change over and over again and do not be afraid to upset Clinton. It is your best chance to win by throwing her well- orchestrated campaign off stride. Try and shake up her composure. The campaign is getting somewhat boring so you need something new and different to change things around or you will lose the nomination.

Kudos to John Edwards for his aggressive stance against Senator Clinton in last night's MSNBC debate. He did what was necessary. He challenged the frontrunner and scored some points.

Also another good performance by Senator Joe Biden. He was clever, blunt and persuasive in his views. He continues to be the candidate who stresses his honesty on foreign policy issues. He needs to be listened to more by the voters.

And, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson must be trying to be the nice moderator of the group by coming to Hillary's defense. Governor Richardson, she can take care of herself and it looked out of place standing up for her and by association knocking down the other candidates for challenging her. You should also be challenging her more if you want to win the nomination.

Did anyone think a debate about the serious issues of the day would end talking about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants in New York State? And, I won't even touch the absurdity of Congressman Kucinich's assertion about seeing a UFO.

A livelier debate for sure than the previous ones but Obama did not live up to his new more forceful challenge to Hillary.

Obama needs to let the Democratic primary voters and caucus goers know that he has the fire in his belly to want to be president. The Democratic voters know Hillary has that fire and passion to win.

Obama, be the rock star you can be... and take off the gloves. You might even capture the nomination. It is not yet too late but the clock is ticking...