The nation needs Obama to bowl a strike


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

During the run-up to Pennsylvania's Democratic primary in April, the campaign carnival freak show was in full swing — babies were kissed, diners were patronized and, famously, bowling alleys were desecrated.

It was during this critical apex of the hotly contested heavyweight bout with rival Hillary Clinton that then-candidate Barack Obama walked into an Altoona bowling alley, laced up a pair of bowling shoes, took off his jacket and proceeded to turn in one of the most pathetic performances in the history of bowling.

The media had a field day lampooning Obama and his score of 37 (albeit compiled — painfully — over seven frames). Even Obama had a laugh.

“;My economic plan is better than my bowling,”; he quipped.

“;It has to be!”; a man in the crowd replied.

Today, in the throes of a paralyzing economic crisis and at the conclusion of a long, intense campaign, that moment seems ever so light, America oh so innocent. It has been quite the roller-coaster ride, as we've gone from clinging to religion to the slinging of mud, from lipstick on a pig to palling around with terrorists, from Honolulu to Hanoi, from a $400 haircut to a $150,000 wardrobe. In this election, we've truly seen it all — even, thanks to Joe the Plumber, the kitchen sink.

But it also has been a somber experience, with the soul searching that comes when a country is confronted with its deepest racial reservations. In March, Obama responded to an endless loop of polemic clips of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright damning America with a personal, nuanced speech on race, a profound statement few have been in the position to make and even fewer to make as eloquently.

“;The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through — a part of our union that we have yet to perfect,”; Obama said. “;And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”;

It is a stunning development that not only has America, for the first time, chosen an ethnic minority to be its leader, but has done so in a time of crisis.

So with the madness of this campaign finally behind us, we can start to figure out what madness lies ahead. Obama will enter office facing heavy problems: an economic crisis of historic proportions and lingering conflicts in the Middle East.

Over the years, presidents have been judged by their crisis management. The commanders in chief consistently ranked highest by historians — Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy — were baptized by fire.

And so it is now. Not since Reagan and the Cold War have American presidents faced such challenges so early on, and had such opportunities for greatness.

Bush, too, faced a historic crisis at the dawn of his presidency. As morbid as it is to say in light of the thousands of people whose lives were lost, the president had an opportunity for greatness after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

How exactly did he respond? He was unflappable in the immediate aftermath. “;Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America,”; he told the country.

The course of his presidency since then, many would agree, went precipitously downhill.

He used sky-high, post-9/11 approval ratings and sold America on an irrelevant war. He failed when the levees broke in New Orleans. He inherited a $128 billion budget surplus and leaves with a $455 billion deficit. And he presided over the greatest economic nadir since the Great Depression. And he leaves us, as of this writing, with Osama bin Laden still at large.

Bush failed his crucible of greatness. And America will have to wait and see if the man it has entrusted its fate to — a man with an exotic background, an inconvenient name and a mixed ethnicity that aptly represents this country's melting pot — will rise to these challenges.

Obama has promised much and avoided specifics. For instance, he failed to discuss in detail what impact the economic crisis will have on his expensive domestic plans.

Offering platitudes like “;hope”; and “;change”; has a great ring on the stump, but it gives voters little indication of whether a candidate can make good on these broad assurances. It also makes it more difficult to deliver, for one who is promised the world can at best be merely satisfied and more likely will be disappointed, no matter what Obama is able to accomplish.

With America at risk of being passed by and world opinion of earth's most powerful nation at alarming lows, there is no doubt much is at stake.

Few presidents have had the pins set up for him like Obama — Bush put them up, Obama will try to knock them down. But it will take every ounce of the cerebral Democrat's self-promoted deliberation and judgment to avoid yet another gutter ball of a performance.