01/07/2008 12:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Spare Change

Hillary Clinton should be sending a thank you note to the voters of Iowa. Throwing Obama into the spotlight by making him the caucus winner forced Hillary to clarify her "ready on day one" shorthand. She took a swing and hit the false choice of change versus experience out of the park. Rather than change being mutually exclusive from experience, the former is rarely accomplished without the latter, especially in Washington. Hillary finally found the words to clarify that idea, and Barack Obama didn't have a good answer.

Hillary trumpeted her years of hard-earned experience on issues like winning health care for children and expanding educational opportunity. She said words weren't enough. It was Mondale's "where's the beef?" to Gary Hart's "new ideas" rhetoric. Obama's reaction was to say that words do make a difference, especially words that inspire. Well, sure they do and he's good at delivering them, but as Hillary pointed out, words alone don't make change. Words that turn into action make change.

Hillary argued that the only way to know, not just guess, who can turn their words into action is to look at the candidates' records. On that score, Obama has spare change and Hillary has a few of those five gallon water cooler jugs full. Or as Hillary put it, "I'm not just running on a promise of change. I'm running on 35 years of change." And Obama's running on a whole lot of promises and a few years of, well, learning his way to the Senate cloakroom.

Don't get me wrong. Obama's a brilliant, inspirational man whose leadership potential is clear. I'd love to see him be president one day when he does have the experience to match his soaring rhetoric. He clearly believes deeply in people power and the importance of inclusion. I get it. I'm from Chicago, too. I was raised on the Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, community organizer, move people from where they are and make them part of the change idea. But Hillary and the other candidates make the same promise of inclusion as Obama, even if their rhetoric isn't as polished or passionate. Would Obama be the best Community-Organizer-in-Chief? Maybe. But that's not enough to make him the right choice for president.

I want Obama to run when I can believe that he'll have the savvy and knowledge to deliver on his promises. In the meantime, running this year gives him the campaign experience he'll need in the future. John Edwards has said many times that he learned a great deal from running in 2004. No doubt, Obama will feel the same about this year. He may well look back at the New Hampshire debate as a pivotal moment when the real contrast with his main rival became clear.

On the stage in New Hampshire Hillary finally made her case. She's been a leader with a long record of action for change, and she'll be ready on day one in the White House to continue.