Is He The Man?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 7:48 AM

My fellow Americans, our long national tease is over.

Barack Obama is running.

His theme seems to be, it's not about me, it's about you, I just happened to walking by and thought I'd give this presidential thing a whirl.

I just watched his announcement video online (that, I suppose, is obligatory these days). He talks about "how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics." And laments "the smallness of our politics." And recalls how "as a community organizer in Chicago, I learned that meaningful change always begins at the grassroots." Such rhetoric is certified populism, of the please-join-me-in-this-noble-crusade variety. Remember how Howard Dean used to tell audiences, "You have the power?"

The Obama video also has a reference to not making decisions based on "media hype," as if to show that he gets it and is not high on his own headlines.

And there's this telling line: "We're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged." Perhaps he will find a way to mention that Hillary Clinton voted for the war.

Technically, the Illinois senator is just forming an exploratory committee, but it's obvious that he's explored enough.

My original thought, when Obama first put himself in play on "Meet the Press," was that a guy who hasn't even been a senator for two years was going to have an awful lot of explaining to do about why he's qualified to be commander-in-chief.

But it soon became clear that if he was ever going to run, now was the time. The heavens seemed aligned--wide-open race, fresh face, racial trailblazer, charismatic in a time of cautious politics, loved by Oprah. And, perhaps most important, the beneficiary of one of the biggest media swoons of modern times.

How long that lasts will have much to do with the tone of the campaign's next few months. Will Senator O prove to be a McCain-like schmoozer, turning his charm on all kinds of journalists who will be hungry for access and insight about his life?

Or will the press snap out of its Obama frenzy, start digging into his background, and begin posing hard questions, from his slender experience to exactly what he would do about Iraq? How long will his "look what experience has gotten us in Iraq" line hold up?

Nobody who runs for the White House gets good coverage forever, but if Obama can keep the romance going for awhile, that will be as important as lining up county chairmen.


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