At the time, I called Sen. Kennedy "Jack." He thanked me for helping him try to get the Democratic vice presidential nomination that summer. I said, "Jack, if you are still interested, I think you can be nominated for vice president in 1960." He looked at me with his piercing eyes and replied, "Vice president? Newt, I'm going to run for president!" I was stunned, and said, "Are you nuts? You are only 39 years old." He said, "If I ever have a chance, it is next time." And, of course, he was right.
Fifty years have gone by since that dinner-party conversation. Now we have another young man thinking about running for president. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is two years older than Kennedy was when he became president at age 43. Yet many people wonder whether Obama is ready to assume the responsibilities of the presidency. I believe he is ready, and here's why.
Our country got off to a bad start in the new century. Sept. 11, 2001, the Iraq war, Iran and North Korea working on nuclear bombs, mammoth budget deficits, failure to address problems with Social Security, health care and immigration--all these issues have engulfed our country. We are disgusted by excessive partisanship and ethical lapses in both parties.
We need a calm, reflective president who does not think the other party is driven by bad motives. His new book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," is a thoughtful, careful analysis of what needs to be done to preserve our freedoms in a time of terror. For those who question whether he has enough experience to have good judgment, I remind them that it was Obama who had the wisdom and courage back in 2003 to warn, "Do not invade Iraq." His service in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate earned the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He brings people together to find consensus and to find solutions to our problems. He is a different kind of political leader. He is a peacemaker.
Second, as David Brooks pointed out in his column in The New York Times last week, Obama is not an orthodox liberal. Obama is of a new generation, tired of the arguments about big versus small government. Instead, he wants smart government. He looks for sensible solutions either through governmental action or marketplace approaches, whichever is appropriate for the circumstances. He is the opposite of an ideologue and has no interest in continuing the current impasse between liberals and conservatives.
Third, his unique background can heal racial and ethnic tensions that persist in our pluralistic society. The reason Americans of all opinions liked his famous 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention was that he transcended the usual problems of race and gender and ethnicity and talked about "one America," not blue or red states, but a vision of America's future faithful to our ideals and our Constitution.
Finally, I've been lucky enough to have known the senator and his wife, Michelle, for more than 15 years. Michelle and Barack worked in our law firm in the 1980s. (Indeed, that is where they met!) My wife, Jo, and I kept in close touch with the Obama family for years. To those who wonder about whether he is ready to be president, we can testify that Barack and Michelle are true grown-ups. And that is exactly what we need in the White House.
Barack, Kennedy said 50 years ago, "If I ever have a chance, it is next time." That is good advice for you.Newton N. Minow
Adenda: Depois de ter publicado este post, reparei que o André Abrantes Amaral também recomenda este editorial, juntamente com dois interessantes artigos sobre o Senador Barack Obama. Ficam aqui os links:
The Upside of Obama, por John McWhorter
Obama can win by losing, por Charles Krauthammer