By Bertram de Souza
Had you been asked two years ago to name a woman qualified to run for president, one of the first that would have come to mind, regardless of your political leanings, would have been Hillary Clinton.
Likewise, were you to name a black man with the credentials to occupy the highest office in the land, Colin Powell’s would have rolled off your tongue before your brain even had a chance to engage.
It is unlikely, however, that Barack Obama would have received honorable mention by anyone other than some Illinois residents.
And yet today, Obama is on the verge of winning the Democratic nomination for president.
There has never been a black or a female presidential nominee of a major political party, which is why the Democratic primary is so intriguing.
And results thus far reveal a stark reality about national politics in this country: Résumés don’t matter.
Obama’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president is the political version of “American Idol.”
To hear him speak is to make you swoon. It’s Big Tent revival, college pep rally and the call of the Pied Piper all in one.
Don’t muddle the message with details. Just feed the masses one-liners and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.
Thus it has been, in state after state, that Obama, whose three years in the U.S. Senate have been inconsequential from a national standpoint, has captured the imagination and the votes of the young and not-so-young, of blacks and whites and shades in between.
Never mind, that many in the audience don’t have a clue what he’s talking about when he takes aim at Karl Rove or Scooter Libby. It’s how he says it that counts.
His message of change holds out the promise of a bright tomorrow. How we get there is another matter.
Ask an Obama supporter to name one of piece legislation that he has sponsored in Congress, as TV talk show host Chris Matthews did during an interview with a congressman from Texas, and the answer will be a blank stare.
By contrast, ask a Hillary Clinton supporter to name an issue that has become her signature, and he or she will say without hesitation, affordable health care for all Americans.
Clinton has spent seven years in the Senate and eight years as First Lady battling insurance and drug companies and other special interests determined to maintain the status quo. Never mind that more than 40 million Americans still do not have health insurance coverage.
A comparison of Obama’s and Clinton’s records spotlights the differences between the two candidates, and yet the Illinois senator has the advantage.
Why? Because his basic message is one that resonates with a frustrated electorate.
In 2000, George W. Bush had a similar message when he railed against the partisan politics of Washington. He promised to bridge the divide between Democrats and Republicans. He failed.
On a local level, the people of the Mahoning Valley heard the Washington-is-the-enemy song many moons ago.
In 1984, then-Mahoning County Sheriff James A. Traficant Jr. succeeded in his bid for Congress by running against Capitol Hill and the White House. He accused federal legislators of being owned by lobbyists and special interests and charged that the administrative was the captive of large campaign contributors.
He promised to go to Washington and fight to give the federal government back to the people. The people are still waiting.
Despite his rantings and ravings on the floor of the House of Representatives, the system did not change. Indeed, it captured him, and thus today, Traficant is serving an eight-year federal prison sentence for using his public office for personal gain.
Obama’s words may be different, but the melody is the same.
If Obama’s qualifications matched those of Sen. Clinton’s, his candidacy would be much more appealing to this writer, who shares his East African roots.
Obama’s father was from Kenya; this writer was born and raised in neighboring Uganda.
Even the candidate’s ties to Kansas — his mother’s home state — resonate with this journalism graduate of Kansas State University.
But such similarities can’t overcome the fact that in a matchup of résumés, Hillary Clinton wins hands down.
The Democratic voters of Ohio should keep that in mind as they go to the polls March 4.