Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Reflections, and a Mea Culpa

Earlier today I was reading a great diary called "I Was Wrong About Barack Obama" by Scan, a MyDD Hillary supporter who has "come around," as they say. This led me to engage in some reflection of my own about how we got where we are today and how my feelings about Barack Obama have evolved over the course of this campaign. Below, I'll repeat the lengthy comment I left in Scan's diary:

I always said that Obama had a bigger upside but also a bigger downside. I was doubtful about realizing the upside, but guess what, here it is. Hillary Clinton could have won this election, sure, but I don't believe she had the potential to win a mandate of the size that Obama is poised to achieve (knock on wood). I was right about one thing - the Republicans would have no problem whipping up Obama-hate just like they'd whip up Hillary-hate - but I failed to foresee a more important point: for whatever reason, Hillary-hate was perceived as mainstream and acceptable in a way that Obama-hate simply isn't. Maybe this is a function of the media liking him better but whatever, it's to our advantage.

There were two big turning points in this campaign: the choice of Sarah Palin, and McCain's erratic response to the economic crisis. To some extent, these were fortuitous from Obama's perspective since both were outside his control. But the important point is that they were not unforced errors. If McCain felt he could make a safe VP pick and win, he wouldn't have gone with Palin. It was because Obama had a great convention and seized all the momentum that McCain felt he needed a game-changer. Similarly, McCain's "suspension" of his campaign was a gimmick that he pulled because his back was up against the wall thanks to Obama. These mistakes by McCain don't happen if Obama doesn't run a strong campaign.

Two things I'll say about Obama, things that others saw while I remained a skeptic. First is that I always felt his primary campaign was sort of gimmicky. When he won Iowa, I was impressed like everyone, but I seriously questioned whether his model was capable of repitition. Sure, if you get six months to set up shop in a small state, you can shake every hand and ensure massive turnout, but no way could he pull that off in every state, or on Super Tuesday where it's impossible to focus your resources in the same way. Even after he met this challenge during the balance of the primaries, I had my doubts that he could translate the success into a GE model, because you need a broad base of support and not just a super-enthusiastic one. Well, he met that challenge too. My hat is off.

I credit Obama's generally excellent campaign not just to the smart people who ran it, but also to the guy at the top who quite clearly had a vision and an understanding of the nuts and bolts of a successful campaign. If you look at McCain, you see a guy who doesn't have a clue as far as what states to focus on or what groups to target or any of that, and he basically lets the handlers tell him where to go next and what to say. The result is that when you don't have strong views of your own, you basically have these disparate factions within the campaign yanking you in several directions at once. Hillary suffered from a similar problem; as great a campaigner as she was, she didn't take sufficient charge of the management of her campaign and it showed. And can I mention that the overall lack of leakiness from the Obama campaign is an incredibly new and exciting thing to see from Democrats?

The second thing about Obama is what gets me truly excited and optimistic, because this relates more to governance than campaigning. It's become clear to me that Obama really does have an understanding, based on his background and studies, of how change actually happens in the real world. The best historical example of someone who "got it" in this way was Dr. Martin Luther King. If you read up on him, he wasn't just a guy making eloquent speeches and engaging in random acts of protest. When he had a cause, sometimes he'd organize a protest march, or maybe it would be a boycott or a sit-in or whatever, but in all cases it was a calculated act designed to apply pressure at exactly the weak point where it was needed. He wasn't just out there in the street, waving a sign so he could feel good about himself for having gone on record against something. This is why 99% of protests have no measurable impact on the real world but MLK was someone who got stuff done.

You can tell Obama gets this, from the way he talks about why movements failed in the past, from the way he stays cool and keeps his options open when things don't just happen overnight. It's obvious to everyone that we face serious challenges in this country and that just because Obama ran a good campaign, we have no guarantees about how the next four or eight years will go. But it's clear that he has the potential, at a minimum, to make a big difference in the future of this country. I see the assets he brings to the table in a way I simply didn't before. Who would have imagined it, I guess I've come to Obama.


LakersFan said...

Obama has done a great job proving us skeptics wrong and made all the right moves to win us over. This will benefit the Democratic party in this election, and for many, many years to come.

atdnext said...


How very true! All those who suggested that "Obama can't win" are being proved WRONG! I can hardly wait to see the look on their faces next Tuesday night. ;-)

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