Point/ Counterpoint: After the first money primary, how viable is Obama?

By Lee Feder and Dan Mollison

Dan Mollison: Obama is the real deal

Last week, Illinois U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama announced that in less than three months of fundraising, his grassroots campaign has raised an astonishing $25 million in donations, trailing powerhouse rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign by a mere $1 million. He reports that 100,000 Americans have donated to his cause, which is twice the amount of donors that Clinton’s campaign has received. Even more impressive is that Obama raised this money without the help of PACs or federal lobbyists, with 90 percent of his donors giving under $100.

These numbers tell a compelling story and carry a powerful message: In the span of just a few years, Obama has risen to become a serious presidential contender, and he has what it takes to win the White House.

Those who are cynical about Obama’s rise to the limelight aren’t asking the right questions. They’re not asking why he has become a serious contender; they’re asking how. They point to his lack of proposed plans or policies and to the fact that he is generally unproved in national politics. They ask, “How can we stand behind a candidate that, politically speaking, we know so little about?”

There is no concrete answer as to why so many Americans support Obama. The reasons for his popularity are too complex and elusive to be chalked up simply to his “charisma” or to the fact that, as fellow Presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden puts it, he is “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” to run for president.

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Obama is gaining momentum because he embodies the leadership qualities that we so desperately lack as a country right now. Unlike the majority of politicians in Washington, Obama has taken a clear and open stance regarding the ethical responsibilities that he has to all of us, and he has practiced what he preaches every step of the way.

He asks us to assume responsibility for the direction our country takes, rather than asking us to stand by complacently and let him “take care of everything” for us. Most importantly, Obama openly asks that we hold him accountable for his leadership, so that the power to collectively create a better nation remains in our hands.

We trust Obama because he is not simply asking for our permission to lead; he is asking us to be leaders alongside him as active citizens. The “hands-on” nature of his campaign, which encourages supporters to use the Internet to reach out to and mobilize others, reflects this philosophy.

For a nation wounded by generations of self-interested politics that have not always taken the needs of its people into account, Obama’s approach could hardly be more refreshing.

The fact that Obama has received so much support reflects how hungry we are for a leader in Washington who will truly represent the needs of the people. Finally we have a candidate who demonstrates the capability to cement our voice into the political process. Finally we have a candidate who aspires to lead not for the people, but with the people. Finally we have a candidate who has shown that he has the perspective to bring true democracy back into Washington politics.

Finally we have found someone who has the capacity to cross the aisle, stitch our divided nation together and usher us into an era of greater accountability and efficiency in Washington.

Lee Feder: He’s still just a lot of hype

Apparently, Sen. Barack Obama, one of many candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, has raised a significant amount of money during the first quarter of 2007, nearly as much as the junior senator from New York, former First Lady, and current frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Big deal.

While possessing perhaps the most inspiring political story in decades, Obama has yet to morph from a bedtime story into a serious contender.

The common knowledge in politics is that the candidate with the most money has the best chance of winning the nomination, assuming many other factors equal. Nothing is equal among this crop of Democrats. Obama features the best storyline and a great public persona, both of which work in his favor. Unfortunately, that is where his list of attributes ends.

Opposing him are the likes of Sen. Clinton, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, and possibly the man who used to be the next president of the United States, Al Gore.

Despite the various others’ vastly superior experience to Obama, the junior senator from Illinois receives the lavish praise.

He is about to discover that the political honeymoon is over. The news of his ability to raise money means neither the media nor the public will ignore the fact that he has yet to make serious policy proposals.

Edwards rides the praise of his health care proposals while Clinton portrays herself as having the best plan to leave Iraq without negatively affecting America’s future foreign policy. Richardson cites his combination of domestic and foreign policy experience while former-Vice President Gore, if he runs, can easily make his work on environmental responsibility the centerpiece of his campaign.

And Sen. Obama?

He, like Gore, correctly foresaw the inevitable failure of military action in Iraq, but he also voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, a failure of government if there ever was one.

That vote actually carries more weight because his opposition to Iraq had little importance at the time; he was still an Illinois politician and not a federal representative subject to dynamic party and political stress.

As much favor as pulling out of Iraq has with candidates now, at some point they will have to explain how to withdraw without endangering America’s future.

Moreover, Obama is on the cusp of taking on the dreaded role of front-runner. As any student of politics will explain, being the front-runner in the primary is the worst job in politics.

Candidates from the same party allocate resources to assail the pack’s leader while those from the opposing party paste him as either a radical liberal or a reactionary conservative.

The only way Obama can parlay his recent fundraising success into long-term political success is if he begins to meet and exceed his hype.

He needs to draft several signature pieces of legislation and center his campaign around more than just a poster-boy story and a vague anti-war campaign.