So now the many Democratic Party delegates pledged through that long Primary and Caucus "season" we all went through from 3 January through 3 June finally meet together in Denver, Colorado.
The Iowa Caucuses, in many ways, seem so long ago in my memory-- yet, at the same time, wasn't it just yesterday that I was sitting in front of my laptop awaiting the first returns, followed by the first indications as to who had actually "won" in the Hawkeye State (once more, "won" is in quotes because, first of all, a Caucus- by its very nature- is not really won by a presidential contender in the same way he or she might win a Primary and, second, because- as regards Iowa- no National Convention delegates per se were actually formally pledged that evening)?
Of course, as we now all so well know, it was Barack Obama who "won" Iowa's Caucuses and, as can be seen so clearly only in retrospect, thereby began his long march towards the very 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination he will be formally receiving in the middle of this coming week at this Convention in Denver.
The question of moment is: once Obama has been officially proclaimed his Party's presidential nominee, what's he going to then be able to actually do with said nomination?
More to the point, how will he go about doing whatever he does do with it?
These are questions that simply must be answered at this Convention if Obama expects to win the White House come 4 November. Anything less than this and he well risks losing the 2008 Presidential Election (though, of course, quite a lot will also depend on what Republican presumptive nominee John McCain does- or does not do- on his end: an election can be lost as much as it can be won).
Four years ago, in a Commentary I wrote- along the lines of the one you are reading right now- as a kind of 'Preview' to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I noted how John Kerry's chances at his Party's presidential nomination seemed to be fading as 2003 turned into 2004, only to then turn right around, pretty much at the expense of the fading chances of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, now Democratic National Committee Chairman, as a presidential contender (indeed, Kerry's "turnaround"- as regarded his ability to secure the nomination- was very much like that made by Republican Senator John McCain this time round).
As for Howard Dean's presidential candidacy itself four years ago: he rode quite high for quite a while, before the air came out of his balloon and he fell rather quickly back to earth.
Barack Obama's descent, meanwhile, has been far less dramatic than Dean's was four years ago: it has been one more like the so-called "death spiral" experienced by pilots of private planes who have lost their sense of the location of the horizon while in a cloudbank (depending on one's political Frame of Reference, either McCain has been gaining in the polls or Obama has been dropping- slowly- since this past June), although Obama is still far enough above the ground to "pull it out" and yet regain the proper roll, pitch and yaw. This Convention in Denver will be his best chance- throughout the entire Presidential Election campaign (from Iowa to November's General Election Day)- to do so...
and he had better do so, for there are numerous sharks in the waters below where he is flying!
Obama's problem is that, in far too many ways, he runs the risk of becoming 2008's "Howard Dean"; indeed, about a year ago at this time, '08's "Deaniac" is what exactly what I thought the average Obama supporter was!
For, like Dean, Obama was using the Internet quite effectively as a campaigning/fund-raising tool (although, unlike what had been the case with Dean four years ago, Obama's other competitors for the presidential nomination had also learned the lessons of '04 and were doing pretty much the same thing as regards up-to-date, "hip" technology) and, like Dean had himself once done, Obama was drawing enthusiastic crowds- made up particularly of young people, first- and second-time voters. Indeed- so it seemed to me, back in August 2007- it was as if many a "Deaniac" had simply pasted an 'Obama '08' bumper stick over the old, fading 'Dean for America' one left on a car with a bit more rust on it than it might have had four years previous!
But, as we all now know, Obama (unlike Dean) kept it going into the Primary/Caucus "season" far better than Dean ever did and he benefited much from becoming the inheritor (once John Edwards had dropped out of the race going into the Florida Presidential Primary a week before 'Super Duper Tuesday') of the anti-Hillary Clinton voter, who would now have no one else to turn to. Even while consistently leading in pledged delegates as the Primaries and Caucuses wore on week upon week after 5 February, he could still well play the "underdog" role- for Senator Clinton could never ever shake the inescapable fact that she was, after all, Mrs. Bill Clinton (it is hard to claim to be fighting for your political life when your own spouse remains one of the "stars" of the stage show 'Democrats on Revue'); thus, even while ahead, Obama could still claim he was at a disadvantage.
But what then happens once all the cheering has begun to die away?
Once Obama had firmly sealed his nomination during the week following the final Presidential Primaries on 3 June, it was time for him- and the Democratic Party that would now be nominating him to the Presidency- to face the cold, hard reality that, as the Democrats' nominee-presumptive, a new phase had begun for his campaign, one that was now going to have to be less "I'm not Hillary Clinton" and more "I'm Barack Obama: this is who I am" (not that Obama at all neglected to do this during the Primaries and Caucuses: it's just that his attempts to define himself as a presidential candidate all too often was at odds with what he also had to do whilst still having to fend off Senator Clinton who, despite her failure to win the nomination, ever remains a "powerhouse: within the Party, not just because she happens to be married to a former President but also in her own right as a second-term U.S. Senator from a strongly Democratic State- at least in national elections of late- of still noticeably sizeable population [read: "healthy chunk of Electoral Votes"]).
Although McCain and the Republican Party he hopes to the more firmly unify at his own Convention a week from now have had their own share of distractions (lukewarm reception to McCain's nomination within the more traditional bases of the GOP; disgruntled ever-fervent Ron Paul supporters), they have managed to quietly chip away at Obama throughout the Summer-- and this despite a Republican incumbent in the White House who still remains relatively unpopular, even to a healthy minority within his own Party! It's not that McCain has been all that highly visible; it's been more that Obama seems to have spent the Summer simply being "there"-- though a lot of this was driven by trying to calculate just when would be the best time to name his running mate (turned out to be roughly the equivalent of when McCain was likely to do the same thing: over the weekend before the Convention).
Then there is Georgia-- no, not the U.S. State, but the Republic of the same name (in English) overseas.
One simply has to wonder just how much the recent international crisis that was the subject of my 14 August Commentary (along with my response to a 'vox Populi' to this site) might have played a role in what we see going into this Democratic Convention.
Put another way: had the Democrats held its National Convention at the same time it did so four years ago (late July-- which, this year, would have placed it in the calendar before the strife in the Republic of Georgia first emerged onto the world stage), would Senator Biden (a leading Foreign Policy "wonk") even have been chosen by Senator Obama to be his running mate?
In a strange way, and given that good timing is nearly everything ("It is better to be lucky than be good" [;-)]), the crisis in Georgia and McCain's resultant hammering away at Obama's relative inexperience overall- but especially as regards Foreign Policy- may yet turn out to be the proverbial "blessing in disguise" for the Democratic national ticket (though only if Biden's presence on that ticket does successfully woo many voters that Obama might not otherwise get come November).
Aside from having to present himself, to the Nation as a whole, as a viable potential President of the United States, Barack Obama still has to also use this Convention to the fullest in unifying his own Party (John McCain has the same problem in St. Paul next week):
There are still quite a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who are not all that happy with Obama as the Party's nominee-- and these range all over the political spectrum: from well-right-of-center traditional Democrats (who might vote for the Democratic candidate for, say, the State legislature or even Congress [see: "MISSISSIPPI, State of" ;-)], but will still trend towards a Republican for President) who, while not at all rabid racists, still don't see a guy whose political base is the South Side of Chicago as "one of their own" to quite liberal women who are severely disappointed at what looked like the best chance to finally elect a female to the Presidency... Obama has a lot of frayed nerves to soothe here!
And then there is the simple risk of the very visible role, by dint of the very way the race for the Party's presidential nomination itself played out this past Spring, the Clintons- both Hillary and Bill- will have to be allowed, for political reasons apart from what I outlined in the previous paragraph, to play at what otherwise should be Obama's Convention. There is ever the strong chance here that, however inadvertently (or, or so the conspiracy theorists would opine, not!) this might be, the current Democratic presidential nominee could find himself upstaged by both the most recent Democratic presidential nominee to actually be elected President and his strongest rival for this year's "Big Prize"! How Obama walks this particular "tightrope" will go a long way towards the image- whether positive or negative- coming out of Denver as to how well he can then walk the even thinner "tightrope" stretching towards potential victory in the 2008 Electoral College.
In the main, then, whatever else might transpire at the 2008 Democratic National Convention: the Obama/Biden ticket has to use this opportunity to best overcome obstacles to its ability to win come November, whether said obstacles be internal or external. And, through doing just that, the Obama/Biden ticket has to, somehow, rekindle the enthusiasm for Barack Obama as a presidential candidate that was in evidence as he rose to a position during the early Primaries and Caucuses that allowed him to hold off and defeat Hillary Clinton.
John McCain himself, even as he clinched his own nomination back in March, opined that Senator Obama would prove to be a formidable opponent to McCain's own candidacy. McCain is, indeed, correct and Obama should not be at all underestimated: after all, he won a presidential nomination that few, less than a year ago now, thought he could win; it would, therefore, certainly be foolish to think that the same cannot be said of the upcoming General Election itself.
But Barack Obama has yet to prove this; this week in Denver will well demonstrate whether he even can so prove it!