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Published: Friday, 2/29/2008

Obama, for change

THE Blade has a long-established principle of seldom endorsing a candidate in any primary election. It's easy to see, however, that this isn't a typical year. For the first time in history, the outcome of the Ohio primary may well determine the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

We are not yet ready to say who we will endorse in November. But we wholeheartedly agree with something our editorial board heard on Sunday: 'We have to have a government that works for ordinary people. We've got to be able to bring the country together so we have a working majority for change. We have to break down some of the ideologically driven polarization that prevents us from taking practical steps to make the country more competitive and to get opportunity to people.'

We urge Ohio Democrats to vote on Tuesday for the man who spoke those words, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. It has become clear during the year-long primary campaign that he eclipses Sen. Hillary Clinton as the strong est possible candidate to run in the general election against the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, we believe that Mr. Obama's inspiring life story, keen intellect, strong but quiet confidence, ready grasp of public policy issues, and his fresh and optimistic world view are what America needs after eight years of an administration that repeatedly has shown open contempt for the American people and for the Constitution.

Mr. Obama offers a breath of fresh air and new hope at a depressing time in the life of this nation. His selection would send an unmistakable signal to the world that America really may be living up to its promise of a just and truly pluralistic society.

The offspring of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, young Obama grew up partly in Hawaii, partly in Indonesia. Were he to become president, we have no doubt that he would be seen more than any previous occupant of the White House as someone who is comfortably at home in the wider world. Yet his is the quintessential American story, that of the self-made man.

Those who object that he is too young overlook that he would, at 47, be a year older than Bill Clinton was when he was elected, and four years older than John F. Kennedy. Those who say that he is inexperienced in international affairs overlook that he sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The last two Democratic presidents, Mr. Clinton and Jimmy Carter, didn't have a day's service in Congress, much less foreign policy, before they took office, and it certainly hurt them.

Additionally, Mr. Obama, a younger and more physically vigorous man, will be in a far better position to push Americans into solving one of the biggest problems we face: that of an unhealthy, morbidly obese generation of young people, a health crisis that is costing the nation billions. We applaud the fact that, urged by his talented wife, Michelle, he has quit smoking. That alone should be an inspiration to millions.

There are those who resent Mr. Obama's relatively rapid rise on the national scene and link his growing support to ingrained bias against putting a woman in the Oval Office. Certainly there may be some misguided prejudice against women. But that isn't what is going on this year. We agree the nation is more than ready for a female president. But Hillary Clinton is handicapped by her own baggage, and it has to do with her character, not her gender.

Voters during this primary process have come to know the real Hillary Clinton, and many have not liked what they've seen. Try as she might to project a warm personal image, she has come across mostly as a coldly calculating individual.

Moreover, her candidacy reminds voters of how the Clintons in effect looted the White House of expensive china, furniture, and other items when they left in January, 2001. And, if that weren't enough, they set up a gift registry to furnish their new home in New York. In contrast to such political royalism, Mr. Obama, his wife, and their two daughters live much closer to the reality of ordinary people.

America is badly in need of something new. We need this election to mark, at last, the end of the Vietnam period. Hillary Clinton is a product of that era and is, in a sense, still fighting its battles.

Barack Obama would be, figuratively if not literally, the first president of the 21st Century, much as John F. Kennedy was the first president born in the 20th century each necessary to his time, and each able to see the world with a fresh, clear view.

Again, this endorsement does not mark our final verdict for November. John McCain, the all-but-certain GOP nominee, is a far more admirable figure than George W. Bush, although his policies on the war and the economy merely mimic those of the incumbent.

We will be scrutinizing the candidates very carefully as the general election campaign progresses. But at this point we feel free to break with tradition and enthusiastically recommend that on Tuesday, Ohio Democrats cast their primary ballots for Barack Obama.



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