Obama runs, but will Oregonians help decide?

Russell Sadler

It was one of those incidents that cause the videotape of your life to click into fast rewind. You watch your past fly by until the tape slows again and plays some similar incident out of your past. It began when my MacBook chimed announcing one of those “news alerts” I sign up for.

“Moments ago,” said the alert, “Sen. Barack Obama announced he will run for President.”

A couple more clicks and I’m at his website watching his announcement video.

“Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way,” a relaxed Obama intones. “Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions.”

Obama had put into words what is in the minds of millions of Americans, especially the non-ideological crossover voters. “ I just may be looking at the next President of the United States,” I thought.

That’s when my internal videotape click into fast rewind until it slowed to 1960. I was watching an interview with Sen. John F. Kennedy talking about creating a Peace Corps that would allow young Americans to give something back to their country. It was the theme that eventually morphed into one of the most quoted lines from his inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy’s buoying call to duty was a welcome antidote after the name calling and blacklisting of McCarthyism and influence peddling scandals involving Vice President Richard Nixon. Many voters hungered, as they do now, for a more productive and positive politics.

My internal videotape kicked into fast forward again, stopping in the late 1960s and early 1970s and playing speeches by Oregon Gov. Tom McCall. He promised to clean up the Willamette River, calling the mills at Albany, “a festering cancer on the broad, green bosom of the Willamette Valley” and demanding land use laws to rein in “sagebrush subdivisions and coastal condomania.”

Obama, JFK and McCall were successful leaders because they were gifted with the ability to put into words what many people were thinking in a way that produces genuine empathy.

Democratic Party presidential candidates have not displayed this quality in decades. Among the present pretenders for the nomination, Sens. Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd and Rep. Dennis Kucinitch do not display it. John Kerry and Al Gore? Nope. John Edwards displays it, but his base of support is too narrow. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will best serve as Secretary of State if a Democrat wins the presidency.

That leaves Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Unfortunately, her greatest strength is also her greatest weakness -- experience. The Republicans are in disarray. More than half the party is still in denial about why they lost control of Congress. A Clinton candidacy will be a lightning rod that will unite the Republicans, allowing them to paper over their differences to attack an old foe and get back in the game. That will be more difficult to do with Obama, who really represents a different generation.

The Republican frontrunner is Sen. John McCain. He has positioned himself for the race ever since losing the 2004 primaries to George Bush. But McCain has undercut his vaunted reputation for “straight talk” by cultivating support of Christian conservatives and supporting the escalation of the Iraq war, alienating crossover voters who want nothing to do with American mullahs like James Dobson and want to end the war.

The real question is whether Oregonians get to express themselves on Obama and other candidates in a timely way during next year’s presidential primary.

John F. Kennedy’s campaign people said he got his momentum nationally from winning the Oregon Primary in 1960. Most states chose delegates to party conventions in closed door caucuses. Oregon created the first partisan primary and frequently the Oregon voting was the first public indication of the popular support for a party’s candidate. Most states have primaries now and the Oregon primary in May is often too late in the year for Oregonians to have any national influence.

The legislature is considering a bill giving the Oregon Secretary of State the discretion to schedule the Oregon primary anytime during the first half of 2008 at a time when the result might have an effect on the national momentum of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

A targeted presidential primary could give Oregonians a renewed voice in determining whether the candidacies of Obama or McCain have legs or whether some other candidate will become their party’s standard bearer.

  • geoffludt (unverified)

    A good post overall.

    McCain lost to Bush in 2000, the same year Al Gore did. In 2004 Bush was already the President and won his second term over John Kerry's challenge.

    Just my .02


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    The legislature is considering a bill giving the Oregon Secretary of State the discretion to schedule the Oregon primary anytime during the first half of 2008 at a time when the result might have an effect on the national momentum of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

    and this would be bad why? i hope the Legislature sees the sense in this (are you listening, Sara?) and acts. Iowa & NH are desperate to be first first first, and we don't need to try to leap-frog them; but it would be nice to have our primary vote mean something!

    and excellent words re: Obama. maybe an inspirational president is what we need more than a competent or experienced one. (and Obama is plenty competent.)

  • Steiny (unverified)

    Correction: John McCain lost the 2000 Primary election (not 2004) to Monkey Boy...er, I mean George W. Bush, after a vicious smear campaign (no doubt engineered by the "Sultan of Smear", Karl Rove) in South Carolina, after a decisive win in New Hampshire, but he still seems to be acting like the Bush Crime Family has something on him...He is only the "frontrunner" because Bush, Cheney, Dobson, & Robertson are "allowing" him to be...He has disgraced the Senate seat once held by Barry Goldwater, a truly honorable Gentleman who remained true to his values (I didn't agree with him on everything, but I appreciated his honesty) for his entire life- AND, publicly denounced the Robertsons and the Dobsons ("The Religious Right scares the HELL out of me!"- 1998 ABC interview). I had the honor of meeting him on March 17, 1964, when he visited my home town of Paradise, California. To this day, I have had his signed picture on my mantlepiece. Although I respect Mr. McCain's service and sacrifice for our Country, I am disappointed by his capitulation to the very entities so reviled by his esteemed predecessor. Shame on you Mr. McCain, shame on you!

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    The only problem with this proposal is that will unnecessarily place tremendous pressure on the Secretary of State to not hold the election as early as possible (by national interest who don't care about the income this will bring to Oregon or whether Oregonians are engaged in a presidential race or not). The legislature should set a date certain for the 2008 presidential primary: February 5th. Moving it by only a week could cost Oregon millions of dollars.

    The AP did an article over the weekend on this subject, though I can't seemed to find it online in a linkable location.

  • LT (unverified)

    Steiny --- Greetings from someone who actually knows where Paradise is! Didn't there used to be a really great ice cream parlor there? And wasn't there a really nice restaurant around there (a college friend once said it was where Queen Elizabeth would eat if she ever came to Chico)?

    As a 1969 Chico State grad, I remember the place well. But like many Chico State students, I only had a bicycle, not a car, so only could go to Paradise if someone else drove.

    In 1968, Eugene McCarthy came to Chico Airport after winning in Oregon, and a friend drove a carload of us out there to see him.

    One thing Sen. McCarthy and Sen. Goldwater had in common was their willingness to speak up about what they believed and not waffle or use talking points the way too many politicians do today.

  • Kathleen (unverified)

    Yes, it would be nice for Oregon to have more influence in the presidential nomination process, but you are asking the state to spend the money necessary to run an election in which 20% of the registered voters will not be able to vote because of our closed primary system.

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    Kathleen, all voters have the right to change their party registration anytime they like.

    Personally, I'd like to open up the primaries to NAVs, too -- but I think that's a separate question.

  • Kathleen (unverified)
    <h2>It is not a separate question if you are asking the state to pay to run another election entirely for the benefit of the Democrats and Republicans. If they are excited about polling their constituents, they should pay.</h2>

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