My mother, an incurable Democrat, God forgive her, adored Adlai Stevenson.  To her mind, he and Richard Nixon offered the extreme and opposite poles of spiritual reality, like Saint Michael and Lucifer.

Among today’s politicians, Sen. Barack Obama inspires the same rare kind of devotion.  I am not suggesting that this passion is warranted; on the contrary, I think it is, sub specie aeternitatis, ridiculous.  Obama is a reflexive liberal who was reduced to absurdity last summer by a simple question.  He had just delivered a tirade against dogfighting when a member of his audience asked why, if he is a professing Christian, he finds dogfighting more outrageous than legal abortion.

Obama, of course, had no answer to this.  Rather desperately, without his typical aplomb, he muttered the usual formulae of his party about women, “choice,” and so forth, but he had nothing even slightly illuminating to say about the actual subject: the deliberate killing of innocent human beings before birth.

His duel with Hillary Clinton and her husband came to a head during the annual obsequies for Martin Luther King, Jr., an exercise in vacuous piety I have never been able to understand.  King’s courage commands my respect, but his words, now quoted like Scripture, are offensive to reason, quite apart from their hypocrisy.  I found them irritating long before the sordid sides of his character were revealed.  I felt disappointed in Obama when he seemed to assent to King’s apotheosis without reservation.  It seemed an abdication of his intelligence and a surrender to social pressure.

Still, Obama undeniably has that magical appeal to millions.  Why?  Much of it is because of his fine racial ambiguity.  He is technically “black,” in the sense that he has from his Ken­yan father an African genetic endowment, but he was reared by his Caucasian mother, and his style and bearing are utterly “white.”  He has no family history of slavery, segregation, sharecropping, the ghetto, adverse discrimination, and all that.  Racial resentment seems entirely alien to him.  He attended Harvard Law, for Pete’s sake!  He seems as reassuring to whites as a “black” man can possibly be.

Obama has become a symbol of the old liberal dream of integration and the color-blind society.  He looks black, but sounds white.  He dresses immaculately, looks “clean” (as Joe Biden so explosively observed), and has the manners of an Ivy League prof.  His skin color is as superficial as liberals have always wanted to insist that race is.  If he were your neighbor, you would have no impulse to burn a cross on his lawn, even if you were the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

Not since Colin Powell has a man of African lineage exerted such a powerful tug on the hearts of white Americans.  And Powell, too, had no ancestors owned by white masters.  That was a key part of his appeal: He was a free man and the son of free men, rather than a victim to whom whites felt they owed groveling apologies.

In the silly squabbles politely miscalled “debates,” the Democrats have inanely called for some unspecified “change,” never mind from what, or into what, though one assumes that they mean at least relief from George W. Bush, a prospect even most Republicans surely hunger for.  We have seen plenty of change since 1861: The original constitutional order of 1789 has been turned into exactly the kind of polity it was supposed to prevent forever, a single “consolidated” state capable of usurping any powers it chose to grab.  None of the presidential contenders realizes this, except for the magnificent Ron Paul, whom the others agree is quite irrelevant to the great issues we are said to face in 2008.

Against this background, Bill Clinton chose to assist his wife’s presidential campaign by attacking Obama.  This appeared a disastrous miscalculation—first, because it seemed an act of weakness (did she need her husband to do her fighting for her?); second, because it confirms the Clintons’ reputation as a pair of unscrupulous old political cynics (ganging up on the younger man is unseemly); and third, because it will leave lasting hard feelings among two classes of Democrats (the blacks who have adopted Obama as “one of us” and the romantics who see him as an angel, an Adlai; and after all, it is ill advised to kick Adlai in the groin).  On top of all that, the tag-team approach served to elevate the quick-witted Obama, who proved more than capable of taking care of himself.

Besides, the Clintons have become tiresome; and who wants to be hectored by her raucous voice for the next four years?  Like so many American women, Hillary is very attentive to her looks, but quite unaware of how grating she sounds.  Her election would be punishing to our ears.

But would she be any worse than any of the other hacks who are now begging for our votes?  They all agree on the great legacy of centralized power that has supplanted the original plan since the days of Lincoln.  It would be as hard to get rid of entitlements now as to restore constitutional government, though it would amount to the same thing.  For the foreseeable future, we are to be burdened with what our forebears would know to be tyranny; what difference does it make who administers it?