Time: Joe Klein: The Obama Surge: Will It Last?

Time: Joe Klein

The Obama Surge: Will It Last?

If Barack Obama is elected president of the United States on Nov. 4 — a prospect that is beginning to seem likely now — it may turn out that he closed the deal with a simple answer to a not-so-simple question posed by Tom Brokaw in the second presidential debate: “Is health care in America a privilege, a right or a responsibility?” This is familiar territory for Democrats. The question was framed many years ago by Senator Ted Kennedy, who must have been smiling up on Cape Cod. “Health care should be a right, not a privilege,” Kennedy would say, so often that it became a cliché. But it was unfamiliar turf for John McCain, who responded by wandering through his answer — halfheartedly, it seemed — saying it would be his responsibility as President to provide affordable health care to those who needed it.

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Barack Obama is. We are witnessing something remarkable here: Obama’s race is receding as he becomes more familiar. His steadiness has trumped his skin color; he is being judged on the content of his character. But there is a real challenge — and opportunity — inherent in his success. Obama has taken some inspired risks in this campaign. His willingness to propose more governmental control of the health-care market is a prime example. But he has also been very cautious, a typical politician in many ways. The most obvious is in his resolute unwillingness to deliver bad news or make any significant demands on the public. Neither he nor McCain had anything but platitudes to offer when asked what sacrifices they would ask of the American people. Worse, when Brokaw asked if he thought the economy was going to get worse before it gets better, Obama flatly said, “No. I’m confident about the economy.”

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