Politics & Policy

Goodfellas

Democratic giants rally the Meadowlands.

East Rutherford, N.J. — At the Meadowlands on Monday afternoon, I understood the Obama temptation.

“This campaign is about bringing people together,” Barack Obama said to an enthusiastic midday crowd at the Izod Center in northern New Jersey.

Following a rousing speech from “one of the greatest senators of all time,” in Obama’s estimation — one Edward Kennedy (“Ted-DY!” “Ted-DY!”) — Obama deadpanned: “For me to be able to bring a Patriots fan to the Meadowlands is like bringing the lion and the lamb together. We can bridge all gaps.”

Steps from Giants Stadium, Obama embraced the sports analogy: “Sometimes the underdog pulls it out. You can’t always believe the pundits and the prognosticators.”

Kennedy, for his part, encouraged New Jersey — where Obama is running significantly behind — to “cast the same vote for Obama they cast for John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.”

In what might be an odd opening act if Team Obama weren’t confident in their candidate’s ability to electrify a room (that he does), Robert De Niro went through a litany of reasons “inexperience” is good: “Barack Obama isn’t experienced enough to be president.” As he ran down a litany that included the Illinois senator’s opposition to the war in Iraq, DeNiro said: “The kind of inexperience I can get used to. That’s the kind of inexperience our country deserves. If our next president were based on the quantity of experience, Dick Cheney would be president.”

That, as you might imagine, went over well at a Democratic-primary rally.

And, flanked by a liberal goodfella who has been in the Senate since 1963, Obama’s youth and inexperience comes off as less naivety and more . . . well, “change you can believe in.”

Maybe not me exactly. But if you’re within the sound of Barack Obama’s voice, his “change” doesn’t sound unattractive — even to a right-winger for a moment or two.

I do not mean when he talks about the danger of giving the president “the benefit of the doubt” on Iran — one of his bills against Hillary Clinton.

But take, for instance, the fact that at recent Republican debates, we’ve heard class-warfare rhetoric aimed at Mitt Romney from the party’s current frontrunner, Senator McCain: “I led for patriotism, not for profit.” By contrast, here in the Garden State, Senator Obama announces that “I love the free market” and “I love capitalism.”

Tempting.

Even when Obama talks about bringing the troops home in 2009, he speaks with admiration and respect about the members of the American military and their families. He talks about families of the fallen who “weep on his shoulder.” He talks about how even though he was against Iraq, he wouldn’t hesitate to strike if necessary. On the surface here, he doesn’t sound reckless.

There is the nebulous, feel-good rhetoric, of course: “American people are ready to rise and create a new America. . . . They are ready to create a new chapter in the American story.” He borrows the empty rhetoric that works best for the two he expects to face in what remains of the race: Like Hillary — in the famous “listening tour” of her first Senate run — he’s been listening, having conversations. And, like John McCain, he calls for “straight talk.”

But then there is also the stark reality: If — and it’s still a big if — Kennedy and Oprah power somehow push Obama over the top and it comes down to John McCain vs. Obama . . . will decades of Washington experience and “surge” leadership ever defeat this?

“If I’m running against John McCain,” Obama says, “I’m going to be making the case for the future. I want to be going forward not backward.”

Considering that McCain’s pitch — as significant as what he’s done for duty, honor, and country is — has been backward-looking by design, you really can’t argue.

Obama tells those gathered: “This is our moment. This is our time.” He could be right. And if the change before Democratic voters is to ditch the Clintons, who am I to argue? The question for Republicans, though, this Super Tuesday is: Who is looking ahead with a vision that you’re comfortable with? Is it John McCain? Or is it Mitt Romney, who may not have led on the “surge,” but is a forward-looking, full-spectrum conservative?

The future is now — today, in a big way. Be Right, or the nation’s most liberal senator, Barack Obama, may just be the next president of the United States.

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