Barak Obama’s message is deceptively simple:
It’s not about me; it’s about you.
That’s a hard idea for the worldly-wise commentator to swallow because it sounds too glib. Even so, it is a message that resonates with Obama’s audience because he possesses that rarest of political commodities: authenticity.
To the cynical eye, Obama embodies the superficiality of American presidential politics. He is seen as the kind of candidate that Hollywood would dream up if concocting a modern-day JFK: good-looking; brimming with confidence and charisma; multicultural; a black man who sounds like a white man — the perfect star for an all-American blockbuster. As an icon, he makes the perfect contrast to Mitt Romney who, as Michael Kinsley wrote the other day, “radiates conventionality, with his ‘Leave-It-to-Beaver’-and-then-some family and his good looks straight out of ‘Mad Men,’ the TV series about Madison Avenue in the early 1960s.”
To the outside world, Obama represents a passionate yearning for America to redeem itself — for an end to the nightmare of the Bush era; for reconciliation and forgiveness; for the hope that the United States will once again resume an honored place within the community of nations.
To his supporters and an increasing number of other Americans, Obama has captured the hope that he can reclaim the possibility of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
In the world of a televised presidential contest, the primaries bear a disquieting resemblance to so many other TV games of elimination. Who’s going to get the prize? Who’s going to get bumped off the stage? Who scored points and who took the hard hits? As a game contestant, Obama’s performance has been mixed — but this isn’t why he’s winning.
He’s winning because whereas his opponents appear to be promoting themselves, he conveys a compelling sense that he’s rooting for America. This is quintessential populism but the unique distinction that Obama lends this is that his appeal to the collective is credible.
September 11 brought Americans together, but this was a unity forged through fear. It was the solidarity that comes from facing a common enemy. It was not and could never be sustainable. It was from its inception, ripe for abuse.
The unity that Obama has tapped into and is eager to cultivate comes from recognizing a common purpose and collective interests. It’s not about for-us-or-against-us; it’s about us.
While American democracy might be cursed by a poorly informed electorate — especially in the arena of international affairs — America’s voters are not lacking in the canniness that judges character and ultimately makes democracy work.
For many months, Hillary Clinton’s popularity was sustained as much by the expectation that her nomination was a foregone conclusion, as it was by her political acumen. But as soon as Obama upturned the equation, the zeitgeist shifted.
The prosaic questions facing the voters used to be, which among these candidates is capable of winning the election, of guiding the country in the right direction, and “appears presidential”?
The question then became, is it possible that the United States could have a president who actually places the country and not him or herself at the center of their vision of leadership?
Clinton said of herself when interviewed on CNN today, “I am so other-oriented,” yet as sincere as she might be in making that claim, she is running a campaign in which she places herself squarely at the center. In contrast, Obama puts the country first, yet if this was merely for rhetorical effect, it could as easily be imitated — just as the campaign theme of “change” has of late been universally adopted. What cannot be mimicked is authenticity.
When Obama says, “we are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come,” this resonates with his audience not simply because they like the message, but because they hear in this declaration the voice of a genuine catalyst for something much larger than himself.
“a president who actually places the country and not him or herself at the center of their vision of leadership”
We live in a “post-heroic age,” I’ve heard. From now on, teamwork.
Meanwhile, what would an Obama presidency look like?
Interesting thoughts! I have supported Obama in Iowa. While I am not in support of all his positions (though I am of most), it seems to me that presidential leadership is about much more than positions alone.
Someone once said, “If you want to know if you’re a leader, turn around and see if anyone’s following.” Your examples illustrate that Obama seems to have a catalyzing effect, both in the US and around the world, that no other candidate has. Of what use is a President who de-motivates half the nation?
And he is known for listening well. Before his candidacy began, David Brooks said that “even if you disagree with him, you come away feeling like he’s heard what you had to say.” I have thought, “My, what a transformation would happen in world politics if, say, Arab leaders could say, ‘I don’t agree with the President of the United States on many things, but I am confident that he understands the needs of my country.'”
The two combined: catalytic leadership and careful listening, are so uncommon in politicians as to make this seem like an opportunity not to be missed. I’ll take “pretty good” on policies from someone I think will move us in a positive direction. And I’ll be in his inbox about the policies with which I don’t agree.
Why is Obama in such a divisive battle if he is supposed to be the unifying leader of the pack? Why don’t the news organizations show how his wife is campaigning and using the race card? I don’t feel that he listened at all in SC or anywhere else. He has a gift. A gift of looking like he is listening and sounding like he is going to give every person he connects with what they want. Something like a lobbyists dream politician. If only. If only we hadn’t chosen GWB. If only Obama could have waited 4 or 8 more years. He would be the perfect running mate to Clinton, gain experience, show that he had, in fact, listened and cement the next presidency with a wonderful running mate like John Edwards. Clinton does not de-motive half the nation, she energizes the other half with hope. Hope that a strong leader with a proven background will lead the nation through one of its most pivotal moments in history. I have watched the debates and wonder why no one is hearing the clear difference between Clinton and Obama. Clinton gives fact after fact and Obama gives us airless platitudes. I would want to say to Obama supporters to listen to him better. Be better informed. Know who is playing the race card and who is being divisive now. Obama’s wife. Find out what she is saying. Know the difference in their characters. Hillary’s is closer to JFK’s than an unproven Senator who calls on Kennedy’s name to younger people who don’t even know what he stood for. I would urge all of these readers to listen as never before to the candidates and do your research. All the things no one did in the last election.
What I would really like to hear Obama talk about is what is the ” change ” he keeps talking about? Most of his ideas are from the Democratic Party’s playbook and have been on it for years. I heard him say that one of the first things he would do is stop the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy but Democrats have been talking about that for years. When it comes to preserving Social Security the only idea I’ve heard him mention is raising the cap on how much wealthier families pay into it and not taxing Social Security The first idea has been discussed many times before and the conclusion always reached was that it would help but not anywhere near as much. The second idea though it would be somewhat beneficial for older adults would serve to decrease Federal Revenues and put no money into Social Security so when the government needs to balance their budget they just go back in and raid Social Security money again just as they have been and no gains made. Gore made a campaign promise to put Social Security money into a ” lock box ” and everyone from mainstream journalists to talk show hosts ridiculed him, but that idea of keeping Federal revenues and Social Security money apart would be essential to preserving Social Security. The raiding of Social Security money to make up for tax cuts for the wealthy must end for Social Security to survive. Yet has this man for real ” change ” has never even mentioned this. Choose your words carefully though because many of those journalists and talk show hosts etc., now make millions and they do not want their tax cuts to go just so the old folks can eat something other than peanut butter. Obama says he is a man of ideas so where are these new ideas? Reagan’s so called ” new ” idea of ” trickle down ” economics was not new and it helped usher in an era of disaster for America but it certainly was ” bold. ” Where are the ” new, ” progressive, ” bold ” ideas of Ovama when it comes to Social Security and the economy.
Spengler at Asia Times Onlinehas a very different take on Obama’s message: Snake oil for desperate voters. I have to agree… the “audacity of hope” is no substitute for realistic programs to confront climate change and the collapse of financial markets.