Obama's Tough Haul

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Here's one piece of unsolicited advice for Barack Obama: It will never get any better than this. Right now, you're the rock star, the guy who could possibly give Hillary Rodham Clinton a run for her (big) money, maybe even the first African-American president. And if elected president, there's one more first: the first president to be born after the inauguration of JFK, which was in 1961. Obama is 45 years old.

In many ways, his bid is more about the generational divide than it is about race: After all, he's half black, or half white, whichever way you want to see it. But he is definitely young, and that's what counts. He's running as a pass-the-torch kind of guy, saying the baby boomers have, well, messed it up–and they're relitigating old fights that we ought to just get beyond. He'll very likely portray both John McCain and Hillary Clinton as trapped in the politics of the past, while he'll be the fellow to stop the partisan bickering and unite the country.

He's impressive, no doubt about it. But he's also going to face a really tough haul. First, he's in the Senate now (and has been for just two years). Now he's going to have to actually vote on what to do next in Iraq. (He has always been opposed to the war, unlike Clinton, but he was still in the Illinois state legislature when the Senate voted to authorize it.) Does he vote to stop funding, cap troop levels, or something else? He's up against not only Clinton–but also Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, all of whom are foreign policy mavens. That's not Obama's strength.

Then there's the fact that he hasn't been through this maw before. As smart and accomplished and impressive as he is, he has no idea what he's in for. Clinton does (through osmosis); so does McCain. But in this YouTube world of politics, there is no off-Broadway anymore–so Obama has to be ready for prime time on the day he announces, which will most likely be February 10.That's tough.

And the Hillary machine isn't going to be easy to stop, either. She's got tremendous support within the black community that she has been working to shore up; she's got big money, and she's also got Bill Clinton. That's a very, very tough competitor. And one more thing: She's got foreign policy cred, after serving six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee. She may be older, but she's going to make it clear she's wiser, too.

Watching this play out in the Senate should be illuminating, at the very least.