Monday, November 20, 2006

Obama At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

I went to see Obama at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the Hilton on South Michigan Avenue. The tickets were $60 / each for someone who was a member of the Council, which I recommend because they get a lot of great speakers.

There were 125 tables at the affair and it was PACKED. We were there right when the door opened and still had difficulty finding 2 seats next to each other in a table for lunch. I will write a second post on the loonies I encountered during the luncheon, but this post focuses on Obama and the overall event.

Obama was received by the crowd like a rock star. As many have pointed out better than me, this is for a junior senator with only a few years of experience who hasn't really done anything, yet..

Obama got right down to it. This speech was about Iraq, and he mostly made sense, surprisingly. There was not much Bush-bashing at all, only briefly poking fun at the slogans of "Stay the Course" and "Cut and Run". He was very serious and steadfast throughout, and even said nice things about the troops.

He said that he didn't agree with why we went to war, but that didn't matter, because the issue was how to do the best we can with the situation at hand. He said that there weren't any "good" options, however.

In general, his theory was to have a phased withdrawal. His point of view was that if the Iraqis thought we were leaving they would be pressured to reach a "political compromise", which he feels is the ultimate solution.

Interestingly, he also alluded indirectly to the best solution; the partitioning of Iraq. He said that our forces should be withdrawn "over the horizon" to be available to act as needed; by this he said "in Northern Iraq". Who lives in Northern Iraq? Why the Kurds, of course. And why can we put our forces there? Because the Kurds are friendly to us, because we liberated them from Saddam and punishment from the Sunni and Shiite forces in Iraq. To me, it is a "pipe dream" to imagine that the three groups will ever reach a true "political solution" - it never happened in Yugoslavia, instead you ended up with separate states for Croatia, Serbia and others, via the extremely messy and unfortunately effective tactics of "ethnic cleansing".

Overall, Obama was acting like a statesman. He was attempting to provide solutions, not just knock current policies. He recognized that we are at war, and even specifically noted that we must retain the right to unilaterally strike when necessary, although he said that having our allies help was a "force multiplier".

While Obama was acting like a statesman and taking on tough questions, I was struck by his bio that was provided with the luncheon. His highlights all involve helping people get more moneyh from the government, whether through tax cuts for the poor or helping veterans get disability, with the obligatory reference to the environment.

As always, if you listened to him talk and his achievements you'd never think for a minute that free enterprise drives the success of the United States and its dynamic economy; government is the solution, and re-distributive policies are always the best way to provide "social justice", not growth, hard work, and excellence.

If you read his background you can see why; it cites his work as "a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and leader in the Illinois State Senate". Not a good foundation for economics and market policy...

All in all he definitely knows how to speak and put on a good show. He didn't appear partisan, and he didn't jump on obviously non-productive Democratic party threads. He was on time and seemed respectful of his audience.

He will be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for President, and would be a strong opponent to the Republicans, in my opinion, as long as he ignores his base and focuses on the broad "middle" of the country. His base is in his pocket, anyways.

Interesting to see that this speech was picked up by the national media right away - on the front at the Chicago Tribune and all over the news wires...
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