Remember Why Obama Was Going To Win?

Remember that scene in Home Alone, where Catherine O’ Hara, after having fought against all odds to get her super large family on the plane, rests in the knowledge that she has succeeded but then suddenly realizes that she had forgotten something – her son. The horror infuses her face and she abruptly screams her son’s name in a terrific panic.

Well after having spent a week gleefully mocking McCain’s pick for Vice President Democrats are experiencing that same face of horror and that very same panic i.e. after feeling that Obama’s ascent to the Presidency was fool-proof Democrats may just lose again.

When I first heard about the choice of Sarah Palin my immediate reaction was of visceral admiration for Republican strategists. They took a huge risk by co-opting Obama’s strategy during the primaries and essentially stole the excitement rug from under the Democrats. And although it is certainly true that Obama’s star has been on the wane for a couple of months he was always still able to claim the change factor as his mantle. On the presidential platform he was accompanied by two older white men, and so could back up that idea of change without policies that would actually lead to substantial change. Not so anymore. Palin’s nomination has reshuffled the deck relegating Obama to somewhere in the middle, while most people cannot tell the difference between Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.

The choice of Palin really was a stroke of genius on the part of Republicans. Unlike Obama who since his meteoric rise has fudged many issues, some irrelevant (lapel flag pin) and some highly consequential (votes for FISA, The Farm Bill, and a no-show for a vote on tax credits for utilities grade alternative energy), Palin has less than two months until election day and come the end of October her star will still be rising. She has no need to water down any of her positions in that time and so, easily sustains her current image as Walmart Mom. And however unlikely it might be that she will amend her stance on abortion in the future, it will not matter to Republicans because they will have already won the election.

The enthusiasm gap is very real, and on this major front McCain/Palin are winning handily, and will win unless Obama addresses that. But what props up the enthusiasm gap is the leadership gap and Obama also loses on that front. Fairly or unfairly McCain and Palin are seen as leaders by default – patriotic war hero, and reformist governor. Obama simply doesn’t have that. While Obama’s capitulation on some core progressive issues has diminshed the magic that drove his base earlier in the year the greater impact on the election will be how these changes will play out with independent swing voters. To me it is largely irrelevant whether or not issues such as the fourth amendment or corporate welfare have much traction with the average independent. More important for that swing voter is that after seeming to fudge on important issues, Obama has shown, time after time, an exceptional lack of leadership.

Let me explain myself here. Unlike many I believe that the vast majority of the electorate neither fully subscribes to a leftist or rightist ideology. And lets be honest, not many pay that much attention and rather than adhere to any kind of doctrine, most are guided (and pardon the expression), by gut reaction with the notion of fairness as its compass e.g. corporations ripping me off – BAD, giving welfare to lazy people, also BAD. So although the issues are important I think the electorate respond far greater to strong leadership, leaders who take a stand. And as long as that stand isn’t diametrically opposed to those individual viewpoints, leadership and a common uplifting vision trump issues if, indeed, that leadership is  seen as strong enough. Obama already has the opaque vision, but there is a gaping void where leadership should be. This is what Democrats are picking their brains about just like Catherine O’Hara on that plane in Home Alone. What was it that we forgot? LEADERSHIP!!! Just like every other election.

I think it is pretty safe to blame risk averse Democratic campaign strategists for losing the last two elections by watering down Al Gore and John Kerry. They were well versed in professional campaign etiquette and apparently told not to stand out too much and run on the party platform as opposed to the individual. There is no doubt that they were both seen as weak leaders because of this. Admittedly, Republican smear tactics had much to do with the losses but they were merely exploiting the weaknesses that were already apparent. The ironic thing is, of course, is that I saw Kerry speak a few months ago and it was almost heartbreaking in a Greek tragedy kind of way. I couldn’t believe he was the same man. Honestly, he was electric. Honestly. And as for Gore, he took the idea of leadership and truly ran with that one.

It is time for the Democratic strategists to learn from these mistakes and give the green light for a candidate to take leadership on an issue. Obama’s color alone cannot represent the change he proposes anymore, and I for one will be sick as soon as I see Obama two years from now speaking out clearly and passionately and taking a stand simply because he is unfettered from campaign managers who feel it is safer to dilute an issue than it is to lead on it.

So what does Obama do now?

Lay claim to an issue, just so long as it doesn’t interfere with his vision of a ‘better Washington’. It would invigorate his lethargic base, capture media attention and start chipping away at that swing voter block.

And everyone knows which issue is begging to be led on: the economy, the mainstay of Democratic politics and exactly where Americans want leadership. Now my point isn’t that Obama hasn’t been right on the economy. For the most part I agree with his analysis and his solutions, but he has yet to claim ownership of the economy. In 2004 Bush owned national security at a time when the majority were most concerned with terrorism and the war. His disastrous leadership after 9/11 sadly, was, still, just that: leadership. He owned the issue by making much of the the electorate feel safe. This year though, people are losing their jobs and losing their homes, and to win the election Obama not only needs to present clear and comprehensive solutions to the economic crisis he needs to embody those solutions. He cannot do this by simply attacking Palin and McCain and equating them to Bush. He will get no traction there because Palin has successfully represented change for the Republicans.

If Obama is to avoid the political post-mortem in November he needs to lead, a quality Democrats have been missing for a long, long time.


~ by oddlyamerican on September 10, 2008.

4 Responses to “Remember Why Obama Was Going To Win?”

  1. crazy… I read this, then hop onto Yahoo News, and what do we have?

    I like where it says “leave the Palin fight to Biden.” I agree. Obama is going against McCain, not Palin.

    On another note, I was a bit frustrated with the Obama campaign the other day when I saw its attack ad. If you’re going to stand on a pedestal and say attack ads are bad, don’t come out with your own and call it a “truth revealing ad.” Attacks are attacks, and nobody likes a hypocrite.

    Have you been watching the joke of an interview on Bill O’Reilly? What a tool that guy is. Its like a car wreck, I can’t not watch.

  2. Hey, to be honest, I don’t think you need to worry all that much about the democrats. Palin’s nomination is very clearly tokenism, and I think just maybe the US electorate is smart enough to understand this. Maybe. What Obama does once he’s in power, however, is another issue. I think you should worry about that a lot.
    I’d like to see some of your analytical skill turned to issues beyond the presidential election. A piece on the poor shape of US financial regulation perhaps, or exit strategies for the iraq war? Hope you’re well.

  3. While I conceed that I am writing some time after this post was written I have to say that I utterly disagree with the thought that the choice of Palin as running mate to McCain was “a stroke of genius on the part of the Republicans”.

    From an outsiders point of view (I’m a British citizen!) it always smacked of desperation from a party that knew its No1 candidate lacked the charisma, vision and rhetoric to touch the hearts of a nation, lead them to a new vision and most importantly, make them feel good about themselves again. Instead they opted for a “good ole girl” who while appealing to a sense of familiarity and representation in blue collar working types has shown herself to be utterly incompetent even under light and informal questioning. True she dealt with the vice presidential debates with more aplomb than the GOP may first first feared, but simply getting through a debate where questions and answer times are strictly controlled is not exactly ovewhelming proof of qualification for one of the highest posts in the land. Unfortunately I’ve seen little other evidence from her time on the road that she could offer to the role of Vice President or even the role of the President. Lets face it, if McCain were to pop his clogs, and that wouldn’t be out of the question at his age, would we really feel comfortable with Sarah Palin at the helm?

  4. Sponky – In retrospect you are totally right, but you have to remember that when she was chosen none of her ignorance was apparent and her good ol’ girl had yet to be established especially considering her record in Alaska. It was her record in particular that gave me false reassurance. She had governed without any kind of ideological bent and also rooted out corrupt politics and worked with many Democrats. And then she spoke on TV. Funny how the twists and turns work themselves out.

    Sorry for the late reply.

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