O + O = Passion

Why Obama and Oprah matter. Plus, Menino’s do-nothing approach to “fixing” the fire department
By EDITORIAL  |  December 12, 2007

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Obama and Oprah are the new power couple, supplanting — at least for the moment — Hillary and Bill.

America is a restless nation. And the voracious media machine that feeds our collective attention deficit disorder is chewing over the newest kids on the block with glee.

Hoopla aside, the Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey coupling packs political punch. In the simplest of terms, all an endorsement — even one from Oprah — does is focus the sights of those who respect (or adore) the endorser on the endorsee. What’s significant is not that Oprah’s candle power is so strong. It’s that her audience has substantial overlap with Hillary Clinton’s would-be constituency. Votes that come to Obama via Oprah, then, most likely will come from Clinton. Obama’s gains will be Clinton’s loss. Things rarely get that cut-and-dry in the murky world of primary politics.

Whether the Oprah factor will be sufficient to propel Obama ahead of Clinton in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina remains to be seen. The fact of the matter is that Clinton is the front-runner because she can afford to lose those states and still go on to win the Democratic nomination. Obama cannot.

In a larger sense, Clinton, Obama, and Oprah, considered in any combination and from almost any angle, suggest something bigger, more important, and affirming: the possibility of change for the better.

A look at the field of Republican candidates reveals a pack of geezers, goofballs, and snake-oil salesmen. Hard though it may be to imagine, any one of the Republican candidates has the capacity to screw up even more than President Bush has. That Darwin-denying, Bible-thumping, red-state America has a soft spot for political idiocy is, alas, all too true.

To put the Clinton candidacy aside for a moment, what makes the sight of Obama and Oprah together so encouraging is the sense of positive energy it engenders. That may sound hopelessly New Age, but not when you consider the suffocating toll that Bush’s lies and ineptitude have taken. In fact, the idea of a “new age” is rather appealing. Whatever the political consequences, the passion and optimism exhibited by Obama and Oprah are welcome ends in and of themselves.

The boundaries of gender and race are tested and expanded by the candidacies of Clinton and Obama. But this latest chapter belongs to Oprah and Obama.

More mush from Menino
In the hands of Mayor Tom Menino, inaction has become an art form. Faced with warning signs, reform recommendations, and public outcry, the mayor deftly appoints commissions, issues statements, and shuffles personnel, while avoiding any steps toward actual change or reform.

The latest example is the Boston Fire Department, two members of which had impairing substances in their blood when they were killed battling a fire in West Roxbury earlier this year, according to leaked autopsy reports. Despite this tragedy, we are apparently not any closer now to passing the sort of substance-abuse reforms that Menino has resisted implementing for almost the entirety of his more than 14 years in office.

For more than a decade, Menino has received reports recommending that the city implement drug and alcohol testing for firefighters, as well as other reforms to the badly bureaucratized and miserably managed department. Nothing has been done. But, in typical Tommy fashion, Menino has thrown up a lot of activity to distract from the lack of real action.

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