I was wondering if somone who has been paying more attention to politics than me over the last couple years could tell me what they think of this article I found in the economist this week? (does it seem fair) http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11959309 Spoiler : EIGHT YEARS ago Barack Obama was thoroughly humiliated at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. He had recently lost a congressional primary in Chicago, and both his political and personal bank accounts were empty. The rental car company rejected his credit card. He failed to get hold of a floor pass and ended up watching the proceedings on a big screen in a car park. He returned home with his tail between his legs before the week was outand left the celebrations to the people who mattered, not least the Clintons, who took every chance to seize the limelight from the Gores. This year Mr Obama is the Democratic convention. The Pepsi Centre in Denver will be chock-a-block with people cheering about hope and change. On August 28th Mr Obama will deliver his acceptance speech at a local football stadium, Invesco Field, before an audience of more than 70,000. The man who could not get a floor pass in Los Angeles has a better than even chance of winning the presidential election in Novemberthe current Intrade market odds are running 61 to 38 in his favourand thereby becoming Americas first non-white president. Mr Obama has gripped Americas imagination, and indeed the worlds, like nobody since the last Democratic senator to win the presidency, John Kennedy. Across the country, from freezing Iowa to hotter-than-hell Nevada, huge armies of Americans have queued for hours to listen to his speeches. Few have been disappointed. Mr Obama looks too frail to bear the weight of all the expectations that have been loaded upon himlike a gangly graduate student rather than a political titan. But frailty is the last word that comes to mind when you see him in action. One conservative compared his reaction to seeing Obama on stage to that of the hero of Jaws when he sees the monstrous sharkWere gonna need a bigger boat. Obamamania has inevitably produced a backlash: anti-Obama books are currently riding high in the New York Times bestseller list. But his achievement remains extraordinary. George Bush was the son of a president and grandson of a senator. Mr Obama is the son of a Kenyan student who abandoned young Barack when he was only two. Mr Obama enjoyed a career which puts his born-in-the-purple predecessor to shame: he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, the author of two good, if narcissistic, books (which, breaking the political mould, he wrote himself) and a senator by his mid-40s. He has thriven in post-September-11th America despite the fact that his father was a nominal Muslim and his middle name is Hussein. Mr Obama seized his partys nomination from the most powerful machine in Democratic politics: a machine created by the first two-term Democratic president since FDR and inherited by a woman who combined the clout of an insider with the promise of becoming the first female president in American history. (Women make up more than 50% of the population, blacks are a mere 12%.) Mr Obamas supporters argue that he demonstrated both judgment and character in coming out against the hugely popular Iraq invasion. He predicted that the war would be of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. They also argue that his magnetic appeal to young people offers his party the chance to win over an entire generation, much as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s. Mr Obama thus represents extraordinary opportunities for the Democratic Party; but there are huge risks, too. He lost a succession of big swing states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, during the primaries. Some of the most important swing groups in the country remain deeply suspicious of his arugula-flavoured politics. Exit polls show that in the primary season Mr Obama won only about a third of Latinos, Catholics, whites without college degrees and whites over 60. This is doubly worrying for Democrats given the appeal of his Republican rival, John McCain, to independents, blue-collar types and older folk. Many Americans remain to be persuaded, and are still full of questions. Eating snake Who is Barack Obama? The best clues to that riddle can be gleaned from his two volumes of autobiography. He spent the first half of his life in search of a stable identity. He looked black. But he was the son of a white mother from Kansas and an African, rather than an African-American, father from Kenya. He spent four years in Indonesia, where he attended local schools (including a Muslim one) and ate local delicacies such as dog, grasshopper and snake, on which his stepfather fed him. He eventually ended up living with his white grandparents in Hawaii. The young Obama flirted with the blackness of the inner-city, growing an Afro, skimping on school work and experimenting with marijuana and a little cocaine. But he eventually pulled himself together and joined the American meritocracy, attending Occidental College, Columbia University and, later, Harvard Law School. Mr Obama found the answer to his search for identity in black Chicago. He started his career as a community organiser on Chicagos South Side, the largest black community in the country. He joined one of the citys most prominent black churches, Trinity United, and abandoned his youthful agnosticism in favour of Christianity (Trinitys Afrocentric bent, with its African visitors and women dressed in African robes, may have particularly appealed to the son of an African). He married a black woman with deep roots on the South Side, and had his two daughters baptised at Trinity. The rootless cosmopolitan now had roots for the first time in his life. But Mr Obama was determined not to be trapped by black politics. This was partly a matter of generational change. Mr Obama is part of a new wave of black politicians such as Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, and Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, who have embraced post-racial politics. But it was also a matter of raw ambition. Hes always wanted to be president, admits Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest advisers. Mr Obama realised that his post-racial identity was a golden ticket to the White House. Personality partly explains how he has risen so far, so fast. But he has also enjoyed a charmed political career. His Republican opponent for the Illinois Senate seat, Jack Ryan, self-destructed when it was revealed that he forced his wife to attend sex clubs with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Mr Ryans replacement was one of the standing jokes of American politics, Alan Keyes. All I had to do was keep my mouth shut, Mr Obama confessed, and start planning my swearing-in ceremony. There remains a mystery about his politics. David Mundell, his most thorough biographer, refers to his ingenious lack of specificity. One Democratic activist has called him a kind of human Rorschach test. Mr Obama himself confesses that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. So what does Mr Obama stand for? There are two well-rehearsed answers to the first questionone popular with his supporters, one popular with his opponents. Both are wrong. The pro-Obama answer is that the young senator is a reformer without parallel, a change-maker and mould-breaker. Mr Obamas campaign has been based on the twin promises of change and hope. The American political system is broken, the argument goes, dominated by special interests, divided by political hacks and disfigured by an unnecessary civil war between red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) America. Mr Obama promises to dethrone the lobbyists and reach out to people of goodwill, of whatever persuasion, who want to take back control of their country. The problem with this argument is that Mr Obama has never pursued a serious reform agenda in any job he has held. He eased his way into his first job in politics, as a state senator in Illinois, by using a petitions guru to challenge the signatures his rival, Alice Palmer, had obtained to qualify for the ballot, an extraordinary move for a man who had made his name trying to get poor people to vote. He had a see-no-evil attitude to the Chicago political machine, one of the most corrupt in the country. (John Kass, a columnist on the Chicago Tribune, described his record as that of a man who wont make no waves and wont back no losers.) He had a disturbingly close relationship with Tony Rezko, a Chicago property magnate who made his career doing favours for politicians who could open doors to real-estate contracts, and who is now in prison. Mr Rezko contributed $250,000 to Mr Obama over his career, and bought a lot next to his house. How far to the left? This go-along-to-get-along attitude continued once Mr Obama had made it to the Senate in Washington. He supported the farm bill and the override of the presidents veto, despite the fact that the bill sprayed money at agri-business and raised barriers against farmers in the developing world. A raft of pork projects, including Alaskas bridge to nowhere, received his support. He used his star power to raise money for his political action committee, Hope Fund, and then disbursed nearly $300,000 to Democrats who might be useful in his election bid. The man who promises to reform Americas political system is the first presidential candidate ever to reject public funds for the general election. The anti-Obama argument is that the Illinois senator is a stealth liberal: a man who talks inclusive talk but is bent on advancing hard-core progressive policies. Mr Obama is a disciple of Saul Alinsky, an activist who expanded the labour movements agenda to include a wide range of grievances beyond the workplace. His friends in Chicago included Jeremiah Wright, his long-time pastor, who believes that September 11th represented Americas chickens coming home to roost, and Bill Ayers, a former member of the terrorist Weathermen. The National Journal rated Mr Obama as the most liberal senator in 2007, to the left of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy. This ignores Mr Obamas essential pragmatism. At every stage of his career he has calibrated the balance of political forces and adjusted his behaviour accordinglyembracing big-city liberalism when he was a Chicago politician, moving to the centre when he won his partys presidential nomination. His personal style, too, is conciliatory. Everybody who has worked with him comments on his ability to forge relations with Republicans and conservatives. He prefers compromise and conciliation to confrontation. Mr Obamas most impressive achievement has been his outmanoeuvring of the mighty Clinton machine. There, too, as in his Senate race, he was greatly helped by outside factors. His ascent was the culmination of a shift in the balance of power in the Democratic Party that began with George McGovern in the late 1960s: the rise of the knowledge elite. Mr Obamas political base lay in what John Judis and Ruy Teixeira have called ideopolisescities such as San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin, which are rich in academics and professionals. He encountered the stiffest resistance among blue-collar voters in rural Appalachia and in the decaying manufacturing towns of rustbelt America. His best trump card Mr Obamas mixed-race ancestry helped to supercharge his liberal base. His hard-core supporters regard him not just as a change agent but also as a transformational figurea man who, simply by dint of who he is, can repair Americas global image and, more important, make amends for the countrys racist past. His ancestry also provided him with the solid support of one of the partys solidest non-elite constituencies, people who have done much of the partys grunt work, black America. His other trump card has been a talent for organisation. The Obama campaign, directed by David Axelrod (see article), has been the best-run in recent Democratic history, strikingly free of the personality clashes and general chaos that doomed Mrs Clintons efforts. It also outperformed the seasoned Clinton machine by every possible measureraising more money, understanding the importance of the caucus states and mastering momentum. Mr Obama understood from the first the power of the promise of change when two-thirds of Americans said the country was heading the wrong way. He made better use of new technology, such as social-networking sites, than any previous candidate. He also struck the perfect balance between central direction and popular enthusiasmbuilding support from the bottom up but also giving his volunteers clear goals and tough standards. This will set him in good stead for the November election. Karl Rove, Mr Bushs former strategist-in-chief, has frequently argued that the president mostly owed his re-election in 2004 to the fact that the campaign had recruited 1.4m volunteers. According to Ron Brownstein of the National Journal, the Obama campaign thinks it may be able to turn out four times that number, with local organisations in all 50 states. These volunteers will act both as grass-roots organisers and as local validators, working to persuade their friends and neighbours to vote for a man who, in his words, does not look like any of the other presidents on the currency. What sort of president will Mr Obama make if he wins in November? His preference for avoiding specifics makes it particularly difficult to answer this question. As a senator, he has few legislative achievements to his credithe has been running for the presidency since arriving in Washingtonand no executive experience. But some things are clear. He will have everything going for him. The Democrats are likely to pick up another ten to 20 seats in the House and five to seven in the Senate. The defeated Republican Party will also be torn apart by a civil war over what it stands for and where it should be going. The press will swoon over Americas first black president. Much of the rest of the world, particularly the Europeans, will be captivated by the idea of the rebirth of good America after the disastrous Bush years. Illustration by Matt Herring Mr Obamas talent for organisation suggests that he will create a smooth-working White House. One foreign-policy grandee was struck, in an early meeting with Mr Obama, by his interest in making things run efficiently, and particularly by his concern that the National Security Council should operate more effectively than it did under Condoleezza Rice. He is also likely to make a virtue of his reasonableness, trying to reach out to the opposition and listening, as Mr Bush seldom does, to all sides of the argument. But his propensity for being all things to all men will inevitably produce disappointment. Mr Obama has presented himself as a business-friendly fellow, for example, frequently visiting the funding wells of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. But he will also be massively indebted to a labour movement that has devoted huge resources to getting him elected. Not least because of inexperience, Mr Obama will probably pursue a cautious foreign policy. Paradoxically, the success of the surge in Baghdad, which he adamantly opposed, makes it more likely that he will be able to deliver on one of his central promises, to shift the focus of the war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan and its lawless border with Pakistan. The Obama administration will introduce a revolution in Americas attitude to climate change. It will also make a virtue of working through multilateral institutionssomething that Mr Bush never regarded as anything more than a necessary evil. But recent events, particularly Russias invasion of Georgia, suggest that he will spend most of his time swatting away crises and trying to extricate America from Iraq, rather than forging a new foreign-policy doctrine. On the home front, Mr Obama is likely to devote much of his political capital to health-care reform. He wants to provide near-universal coverage through a combination of expanded government coverage, subsidies for the poor and regulation for companies and insurance providers. He is unlikely to be as hostile to free trade as his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric during the campaign suggested. But his tax plans will redistribute wealth from the rich, who have done fabulously over the past couple of decades; and his combination of expanded government activism and middle-class tax cuts will exacerbate one of Americas biggest structural problems, its horrific budget deficit. An end of dynasties Whatever happens in November, Mr Obamas candidacy still marks an important turning-point in American history. The upper reaches of American politics have recently begun to look both plutocratic and incestuous: Mr Obamas chief rival for the nomination was the wife of George Bushs predecessor. Post-September-11th America was also gripped by a patriotic frenzy that threatened to degenerate into Muslim-bashing jingoism. Mr Obama is a genuine meritocrat who climbed the greasy pole on the basis of his own grit and determination. He is also the descendant of African Muslims, whose first name means blessed in Arabic. Most of all, Mr Obama is a black man in a country that denied black people the vote as recently as 1964. Across the South, elderly black people who turned up to vote for Mr Obama in the primaries told stories of how they were once denied the vote on manufactured technicalities. Mr Obama will deliver his acceptance speech in Denver on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther Kings I have a dream speech. That, in itself, is an extraordinary comment on how far America has come over the past half-century. It basically is an overview of who Barack Obama is and what he wants to do in office. Discuss!