Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Buffett's Crystal Ball

by Kyle Michaelis
With Warren Buffet's track record at prognostication, it's hard not to take what he says seriously when, as he did Monday after a charity event with the always impressive U.S. Senator Barack Obama, he called the odds on the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

It's SO early to make any such prediction, but in many ways this is how the man made his tens of billions. Note how Buffett's taking the safe bet and going with conventional wisdom reflects the generally practical investment style that has made him such a success. Whether you like what he says or not in this Michael Kelly column from the Omaha World-Herald, we'd probably be fools not to pay Buffett some heed.
In national politics, Barack is a rock star. He could almost go by one name, like Sting, Prince or Madonna.

His charisma and clear speech patterns call to mind John F. Kennedy, elected president at 43.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., born in the first year of the JFK presidency, turned 44 on Aug. 4 and is still in the first year of his Senate career.

He says he is not running for anything in 2008. But someday? How could the Democrats not run a smart, well-spoken guy like Obama?

He spoke well Monday in Omaha, where he enjoys the unabashed support of the town's most famous family. Susie Buffett put it plainly.

"I want him to be president," she said. "And my dad is a huge fan of his."

Dad is Warren Buffett, the famed investor and second-richest man in the world. He met Monday morning with Obama before the senator spoke to 1,500 people at a Girls Inc. luncheon at the Qwest Center Omaha.

The meeting was at Susie's house, where about 25 people attended a private fundraiser.

"He's a natural leader," Warren told me Monday afternoon. "He really wants to find solutions to some of the country's problems, and he listens. He's very smart and articulate."

Buffett said chance plays a large part in politics, and 2008 is a long way off. Odds are, he said, that Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York will get the Democratic nomination for president. The Oracle of Omaha, though, sees Obama as presidential timber.

"I hope I'm around when he's running," said Buffett, 75. "I'm as enthusiastic about him as I am about anybody in political life."

Seemingly high praise for Obama, depending on the esteem in which Buffett holds most politicians. I don't think Buffett really intends to show personal favor here for Senator Clinton, but I could be wrong. Talk about Clinton raising 60-80 million dollars just for her 2006 reelection campaign has to make people think the sky's the limit....assuming the American people can stomach another 4-8 years of the dueling Bush and Clinton dynasties.

Personally, for all Hillary's strengths, I would like to see a new era in progressive politics that I don't think the name Clinton can provide. But, dare I question Buffett's undiscussed reasoning? Someone had better. One needs to remember that it was only 2 years ago Buffett was pushing Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. True to form, he picked a winner....but Schwarzenegger's been a real loser for the people of that state ever since.

I'm not suggesting Buffett has lost his touch - just making a friendly reminder that there's no such thing as a sure bet. Besides, politics is a different sport than investing...even if it is increasingly played on the same field of dollars and cents.

Do we want "the next Clinton" (the name) or "the next Clinton" (a leader who can win)? I have a hard time believing they are one and the same, but I'll keep my ear to the ground and would be more than happy to be proven wrong.


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