Newsweek’s online edition recently featured a piece by former White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan. He, along with Jody Powell, Jerry Rafshoon, Pat Caddell and others engineered the come-from-nowhere victory of Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential contest against Gerald Ford.
Jordan wrote in Newsweek: "I consider the Obama operation the most brilliant political campaign of my lifetime."
I take issue with Jordan, if for the ironic reason that I consider Carter’s victory in 1976 to be the most brilliant campaign in modern history.
I recognize how amazing it is that Obama, a young African-American, is taking on the Clinton political dynasty and beating it. Still, Carter’s ascent to the presidency was at least as equally impressive, regardless of how his time in the White House turned out.
In 1976, Carter was a one-term governor of Georgia. While that state today is the nation’s ninth-largest by population, it was nothing of the sort back then. In fact, many Americans then looked (ignorantly) at Georgia as a home to unlettered bigots who were cultural distant cousins to "real" Americans elsewhere.
Unlike Obama, Carter had no potentially powerful demographic, be it racial or generational, that was likely to gravitate his way. He had not written a best-selling book, nor had he in tow the policy platform and political status that comes with being an incumbent U.S. senator from one of the nation’s largest states, as Obama is in Illinois.
Carter was given far less a chance of so much as "getting on the scoreboard" as Obama has been given. And Obama hasn’t had to enter the presidential race with most in his party totally unaware of his name. For Carter, the constant, joking refrain going into the days before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary was, "Jimmy who?"
But for a moment, let me defer to the mind of Hamilton Jordan, who I consider a political genius.
Jordan recommends that the Obama campaign turn to moderate and veteran politicos to provide him with a needed dose of gravitas experience that could turn his team into one that can win the big prize in November. He specifically names New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Georgia-based U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn as examples of savvy and reasonable key players whose involvement should be sought as soon as it becomes clear that Obama will be the Democrats’ nominee.
That’s good advice that I doubt Obama will fully embrace. That may be unfortunate for him — and for John McCain — before all is said and done.
Because of Hillary’s name, prominence, and familiar personality, the national media has roasted her — and former President Bill Clinton — over the coals. This has provided Obama with a virtual halo to light his way. He’s been generally portrayed as a movie star, even as Sen. Clinton has been lampooned and lambasted for everything from what she wears to how she asks questions to her supposed mood swings. This has all bordered on being at least sexist, and probably absurd.
You may hate Hillary and even Bill Clinton. But surely no one with half a brain could have couched the former president as a racist for noting nothing more than the press’s failure to more closely examine Obama.
After Carter won his party’s nomination, the press turned on him. He was suddenly an "outsider," and once he and his team reached Washington, Carter went from being a fresh new face to being a redneck with a backwoods family and an incompetent staff. I may not have agreed with his policies, but I certainly could see the bias of a D.C. elite looking down with undisguised disdain on the new Southern crowd in town.
For Obama, his time to be vetted will likely come sooner rather than later. It will be a test by the media elite to see if the candidate they love has the stuff to make them proud. That test will be tame by most standards of the past.
For McCain, it will come later. It will be vicious. And it will be designed to make Obama the next president of the United States. Those who will attack McCain may not themselves even realize or admit their true reasons for hitting him so hard.
And if Obama wins in November, he then should be prepared for the very same ride that Jimmy Carter enjoyed, deserved or not. No matter how unique any novel political figure in Washington may seem, if he or she is capable of bleeding, then blood there eventually shall be.
If I were Obama, I would want the savvy individuals that Jordan suggested to help me survive. If I were McCain, I would seek strong and early political advice, no matter how much experience I already have.