As Forest Park heads into an election period that promises to have more smoke and sparks than any campaign in recent memory, forgive me while I indulge one last opportunity to say something I believe crucial to the eventual healing of our national politics.

Barack Obama can be elected president and should run in 2008.

Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign literature read, “A chance to believe again,” foreshadowing his best selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Well, I’m one who’s quite ready to believe again, willing to hope again. I just need a reason, and Obama would give me one.

I don’t believe Barack Obama is some infallible savior who walks on water and will save us from ourselves-merely a highly intelligent, caring and capable man willing to factor in the best interests of all citizens. He is a man whose genuine and demonstrable religious faith informs his public behavior, rather than simply cloaking personal failures. A man who has already shown the humility needed to offer a sincere and specific apology, rather than wallow in petulance and stumbling dissembling in the face of endless and tragic mistakes.

There’s been much comment about Obama’s purported lack of experience, to which I say, nonsense. The demonstrable fact is that Barack Obama’s qualifications tower over George W. Bush’s, then and now. The problem in dealing with the bar Bush has set as president isn’t getting over it-it’s avoiding tripping over it.

Strange, but I recall little or no concern regarding George W. Bush’s paucity of experience expressed by Republicans back in 1998 when the just re-elected Texas governor and recovering alcoholic announced his White House bid. But then Republicans routinely use well crafted but hollow political arguments as weapons of opportunity, to be quickly discarded when they’re no longer convenient. Heard anything about term limits lately? Unfunded mandates? States rights versus federal power?

Bush, a ‘C’ undergraduate student, failed miserably in the business world, costing his daddy’s investors more than $2 million. He ran for Congress in 1978, lost, and went on a two month self pity/drinking binge. After being basically handed a stake in the Texas Rangers baseball team, he became an affable figurehead who glad-handed with fans but was kept clear of anything important.

In “The Lords of the Realm,” author John Heylar asks a high Texas Rangers baseball team front office official about Bush’s role in the organization. “‘Does he (George W. Bush) know that he doesn’t really run this team?'” he asks. ‘No, no, and don’t you dare tell him,’ the official replied.”

Sufficiently sober, and wealthy after selling his stake in the Rangers for millions, Bush sought political office again with a resume so meager that it listed the fact that he was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He was elected governor of Texas in 1995, a state that has the weakest form of governorship in the country, the plural executive system, which denies its governor direct authority over officials in his cabinet and allows no veto power over a Legislature that meets in session for four months every two years.

Based on that experience, Bush was elected President of the United States-despite receiving fewer votes than the other guy.

Obama, meanwhile, graduated with honors from college, earned a Harvard law degree and edited the “Harvard Law Review,” had a career as a civil rights lawyer and constitutional law professor, dedicated himself to public interest work and community organizing, served eight years as a state senator, and will have been a U.S. Senator for four years in 2008. He’s also written two books, most likely two more than Bush has read in the past six years, despite the PR spins we’ve heard.

By the time Obama ascends to the presidency, he’ll have a total of twice the elected public service Bush had, and 1.5 times that of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. That’s inexperienced?

As he considers whether to run in 2008, I suggest Obama study the model of Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, who ignored conventional wisdom back in 1991 and ran a widely perceived “hopeless” campaign against the first President Bush.