Political genius is a term that is thrown around freely and widely devalued, and it can also be difficult to define. But Obama, D-Ill., already has displayed strategic and organizing political skills that no president has exhibited since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Obama's greatest disadvantage at the start of his primary contest with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was not the fact that he was African-American, but that he was a freshman senator going up against the acknowledged front-runner who had been a leading figure in the Democratic Party for 16 years.
Clinton proved to be an energetic, determined, resilient and tough campaigner who showed far greater strength in key industrial states and core Democratic constituencies than Obama did. Yet he out-organized her and out-strategized her throughout the campaign. Obama also showed cool nerve and decisiveness in refusing to be pressured or panicked by Clinton into putting her on the ticket as his running mate after she finally conceded defeat.
President Bill Clinton and his chief political strategist, James Carville, got the reputation of being geniuses after Clinton defeated incumbent President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992 and went on to become the first Democratic president to win re-election and serve two full terms in the half-century since Franklin Roosevelt himself.
But H. Ross Perot handed Clinton both the 1992 and 1996 elections on a platter with his powerful third party candidacies that took an estimated twice as many votes away from Republican candidates on both occasions than from Democratic ones.
Clinton and Carville were also hugely aided by conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, whose presidential runs within the Republican Party on both occasions weakened the standing of the eventual GOP candidate.
Current President George W. Bush and his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, got the reputation for being political geniuses in their four-year run of successes from 2000 to 2004, and there is no doubt that together they showed exceptional tactical ability.
But it isn't political genius to lose the popular vote in a presidential election by a half-million votes, especially when you are up against a candidate who was as self-destructive and ham-handed as then-Vice President Al Gore was in 2000.
The midterm successes of 2002 and Bush's decisive re-election victory of 2004 can be attributed to a booming economy, a sense that things were going well in Iraq and a still-widespread popular perception that Bush was handling the war on terror well. Most of all, Bush and Rove were exceptionally lucky in 2004 that the Democrats could only come up with their weakest and most inept presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis in 1988 -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
In contrast to both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama does not depend heavily on a political mastermind or Svengali in crafting his strategy. While he has a high-powered inner circle of advisers with whom he communes often and fruitfully, he is very clearly the captain of his own ship and charts his own course.
So far, Obama's broad strategic calls have been flawless and he has repeatedly shown a cool political head and great resilience in dealing with every kind of challenge and setback, from Clinton's comeback wins in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to the revelations about his 20-year pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
These achievements would be impressive coming from a twice-elected governor of New York state like Franklin Roosevelt, a twice-elected governor of California like Ronald Reagan or a five-star general of the Army and former Supreme Allied Commander like Dwight D. Eisenhower. Coming from a 46-year-old first-term junior senator, they are amazing.