One of my favorite books to read my children is Duck for President. It’s about a duck who holds an election to replace the farmer. Then he runs for governor. Then he runs for president. He wins easily, but, at each stop, he is dissatisfied and immediately begins his next campaign.

As I was mulling over the idea of voting for Barack Obama, that children’s book came to mind. Obama is Duck. Each stop on his political career has just been a stepping stone for a higher office. And that, I realized, is one of the things that has made judging the man a difficult task.

When I look at Obama’s record, I don’t always know why he made the choices he made. How do you separate his political calculations from his personal convictions? Did he vote “present” so often in the Illinois Senate because he lacked conviction, because that’s how the Illinois Senate works or because he knew it was smart politics not to have a record on certain issues? In the U.S. Senate, is he really its most liberal member or did he simply make a series of calculated votes designed to win the admiration of the Democratic base? And now, has his campaign been a reflection of his priorities or a reflection of what he believes it will take to win?

It’s not that I’m concerned Obama has some secret agenda or is dangerously inexperienced. I just have trouble judging him because his political record is difficult to interpret. The question for a skeptic like me is: where does the calculation end and the conviction begin? This is a question to be asked about all politicians, but it’s especially appropriate to ask about those who’ve amassed slim public records during a fast ascendancy.

I would have liked to see Obama finish out a term in the Senate so that we could better judge his political priorities and instincts. The longer someone serves, the more sense you get as to what’s important to them and what isn’t. Without that record, we are left judging Obama primarily on what he says, on his “life story” and on what he’s written in his two memoirs. That may be enough to take the measure of the man, but boy do I wish he had paused more during his quest for higher and higher office.

Politics Obama and the Duck