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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I am excited about when I think about the election, and the inauguration and the prospect of an Obama presidency has so little to do with race that I find it a little reductive to discuss that aspect. One of Obama's principle qualifications for the job, and the tasks before him (and us) is his temperament, of course, and his character was formed in no small part out of his negritude. Race is always relevant in America, and there is no denying that it is an important part of what is happening here, but it goes well beyond that. It is generational, for one thing. Obama is post-boomer, post Vietnam. He didn't live that set of mistakes, but he has been informed by them. Most importantly, he impresses me as being the most intelligent person to occupy the Oval Office in my lifetime. Clinton is a smart guy. Carter is a smart guy. (For some reason Republican presidents do not seem as intellectual-- post Nixon, at least.) When you consider the presidents of the past fifty years though, what jumps out is that the brightest of them were all brought up short, Othello-like, by a tragic flaw that we all recognized as being the force that drove them. Nixon's desire for respect, Clinton's yearning for affection, Carter's inability to let go of detail. Hard to say what Bush pere's tragic flaw was; perhaps, like Ford, he lacked one, and this is what kept him from achieving greatness. Reagan and the last Bush were affable boobs who were maneuvered into the office. One got lucky-- the tides of history were running Reagan's way, and although it pains me to admit it, I'd say that for the most part the people who surrounded him were probably both smarter and more principled than the thugs that we've endured for the past eight years.

And here's the thing-- I don't see any of this in Obama. He impresses me as self-aware, stable and secure in who he is. He is a seems to have a balanced personality. He is happy in his family life. He is hard-working. He knows how to have fun, and seems to have a sense of humor. We are, it seems to me, extremely lucky to get this guy at this time. The fact that he's black is just extra.

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