The Thinker


I was one of those people watching the Obama infomercial last night. I didn’t actually watch it live. I was buying a rug at the time. After it was hauled home and laid out over our new wood floor, I took the time to watch it online. Man, that was one slick infomercial!

Frankly though, I have come to expect slick from the Obama campaign. If Obama wins the presidency next Tuesday as all but a handful of polls suggest, the credit will have to be shared equally between Obama, who is a uniquely compelling candidate, and his campaign staff which is running probably the best run political campaign I have ever seen.

It helps to have tons of cash, of course. Many of us older Americans are still in shock from learning of his $150 million haul in campaign contributions in September. In fact, I still cannot get it through my brain that Democrats, mostly through grass roots efforts, are raising more money than Republicans. Until recently, one thing you could always count on during a presidential campaign was that the Democratic nominee would be at a significant financial disadvantage. Typically, Republicans with their fat checkbooks raised and outspent Democrats two to one. It is my belief that this money advantage more than anything else explains why Republicans have disproportionately held the presidency for the last fifty years or so. Money buys access in the form of commercials, flyers, pollsters, number crunchers and data miners. Moneyed people, who are disproportionately Republican, also tend to either be or have more influence with powerbrokers.

The Obama team though changed the game. It starts with a compelling candidate. Clearly, Obama was not the ideal candidate, particularly when it came to experience. It would be easy to say Obama simply has charisma, but he is blessed with so many talents as a politician and speaker that it is hard to number them all. Among them is his natural eloquence, both spoken and written, as well as marked intelligence, sincerity, people skills and general niceness. I am sure there are Obama haters out there. You may loathe his policies, but you have to be part Grinch to dislike him as a person. Most politicians like, say, John McCain, paste a phony smile in front of a crowd. It is obvious that John McCain is not a happy man. That is not Obama’s problem. He smile is downright beatific. It projects the soul of a man who is at peace.

Obama’s problem though is not his liberal position on many issues. His real problem throughout the campaign has always been his race. While most Americans are not overtly racist, a sizeable minority remains reflexively racist, and an even smaller amount is overtly racist. Many of us are not even aware of our inner racism. I too sometimes have to fight feelings of wanting to walk on the other side of the street when a group of African American males is about to pass me on the sidewalk. I have to assume that a certain amount of racist feelings are hardwired into the primitive parts of our brains.

Thus, it is no small matter for us white Americans to turn off that part of our brains. Yet, for the most part, Obama has succeeded. Obama though had another unique advantage: having a black father and a white mother. He is not so much black as he is multiracial. Having grown up in predominantly white neighborhoods, he understands white America. He has spent his life traversing through it. In many ways, black America is more unfamiliar to him than white America. After graduation, he moved to Chicago specifically to get the African American experience that largely passed him by growing up.

Obama’s campaign is amazingly well managed. John McCain is getting (he hopes) some mileage by saying Obama is already measuring the drapes for the Oval Office. Here’s the thing: that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. It’s not that Obama is taking his election for granted, although the polls suggest he is a shoe in, it’s just that in a well managed campaign these are exactly the sort of activities you should be doing during this part of the campaign. If John McCain is not doing the same thing, he is inept at managing his campaign.

While it remains to be seen if a President Obama will be as successful a manager of the federal bureaucracy as he is with his campaign, his slick campaign can be taken as a very hopeful sign by us disgruntled citizens. It’s been a while since we’ve seen government work in any meaningful fashion. Obama seems to intuitively understand how to walk the fine line between leadership and management. The trick is to know who to pick to be your managers and exercising the right strategies to empower and police them.

With a few notable exceptions, the Obama campaign has been classy and always three steps ahead of the competition. Reporters following him on the campaign trail are a bit disgruntled because they too are being well managed. A well-managed campaign knows how to use the press to its advantage. This means many reporters have limited access to the candidate.

Running a presidential campaign is a huge project. It spans all fifty states and even goes abroad at times. Just the logistics of managing rallies would be intimidating enough, but there is also a huge, interconnected ground game underway. Since I have given the Obama campaign money, I too have been contacted, once a week lately, to see if I will attend rallies, or canvas my neighborhood, or call undecided voters. Obama is smart enough to know that at the grass roots level, people have to feel vested in the outcome. So to the extent possible the campaign staff is letting committed activists in neighborhoods take the lead on local canvassing.

One of the major reasons that Hillary Clinton lost was because she was out managed. The Obama campaign was always several steps ahead of her, and that was because they ran a better organized and more sophisticated campaign. While Clinton was worrying about winning primaries, the Obama campaign was caucus savvy and working both the grassroots and the Netroots ruthlessly. Obama runs a proactive campaign. Only a few times in this long campaign has his campaign suffered serious distractions. The only problem that turned out to be a major problem was his relationship with his incendiary pastor Jeremiah Wright. Even so, in time Obama was able to assuage most of these fears.

Yesterday’s final Obama infomercial was a brilliant conclusion to a meticulously well-managed campaign: well produced, heartfelt, pragmatic and timed to seal the deal. It moved us past the election to let us envision very clearly what an Obama Administration would look like. The vision was both pragmatic about the challenges and hopeful. It was a message I have not heard in a long time: a call to mutual service. In exchange for us stepping up to our civic and family duties, he would bend our recalcitrant government to make it work to meet the needs of ordinary citizens.

Sounds like a fair exchange to me. Well done!


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