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Globe Editorial | WEB EXCLUSIVE

For the Democrats: Barack Obama

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December 15, 2007

THE FIRST American president of the 21st century has not appreciated the intricate realities of our age. The next president must. The most sobering challenges that face this country - terrorism, climate change, disease pandemics - are global. America needs a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world, with all its perils and opportunities. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has this understanding at his core. The Globe endorses his candidacy in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary Jan. 8.

Many have remarked on Obama's extraordinary biography: that he is the biracial son of a father from Kenya and a mother who had him at 18; that he was raised in the dynamic, multi-ethnic cultures of Hawaii and Indonesia; that he went from being president of the Harvard Law Review to the gritty and often thankless work of community organizing in Chicago; that, at 46, he would be the first post-baby-boom president.

What is more extraordinary is how Obama seals each of these experiences to his politics. One of the lessons he took from organizing poor families in Chicago, he says, was "how much people felt locked out of their government," even at the local level. That experience anchors his commitment to transparency and accountability in Washington.

Similarly, his exposure to foreign lands as a child and his own complex racial identity have made him at ease with diversity - of point of view as well as race or religion. "I've had to negotiate through different cultures my whole life," he says. He speaks with clarity and directness, and he is also a listener, a lost art in our politics.

In what looks like prescience today, Obama was against the Iraq war from the start. But his is not the stereotypical 1960s antiwar reflex. "I don't oppose all wars," he said in the fall of 2002. "I'm opposed to rash wars."

When it comes to waging peace, Obama has the leadership skills to reset the country's reputation in the world. He notes, for example, that the United States would be in a stronger position with Iran if it took more seriously its own commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. His bill, cosponsored with Senator Richard Lugar, to add conventional weapons to the nation's threat reduction initiative, became law this year.

On domestic issues, the major Democratic candidates are reduced to parsing slivers of difference. But Obama has been more forthright in declaring his slightly heterodox positions to traditional Democratic constituencies. His support for merit pay for teachers, or a cap on carbon emissions, suggests a healthy independence from the established order.

The first major bill to Obama's name in the Illinois Legislature was on campaign ethics reform. In Washington, he coauthored this year's sweeping congressional lobbying reform law. When he describes his approach to healthcare negotiations, he says, "The insurance and drug companies will get a seat at the table, but they won't get to buy every chair."

Obama's critics, and even many who want to support him, worry about his relative lack of experience. It is true that other Democratic contenders have more conventional resumes and have spent more time in Washington. But that exposure has tended to give them a sense of government's constraints. Obama is more animated by its possibilities.

In our view, the choice on the Democratic side is between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Clinton has run a diligent, serious campaign, and her command of the issues is deep and reassuring. But her approach is needlessly defensive, a backward glance at the bruising political battles of the 1990s. Obama's candidacy looks forward.

Obama's memoir, "Dreams From My Father," is divided into three main sections. The first is a reflection on his youthful search for identity. The second recounts his days in Chicago, which include the first stirrings of a religious life. The third is a roots pilgrimage to Kenya, to better understand his often absent father. It is hard to read this book without longing for a president with this level of introspection, honesty, and maturity - and Obama published it when he was only 33.

"I genuinely believe that our security and prosperity are going to depend on how we manage our continued integration into the rest of the world," he says. Obama's story is the American story, a deeply affecting tale of possibility. People who vote for him vote their hopes. Even after seven desolating years, this country has not forgotten how to hope.

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