More Advice For Obama

by | October 29, 2007

That L.A. Times piece Mike linked to earlier had a couple more useful nuggets. First, a theory of Hillary's support that sounds both interesting and plausible:

"When he talks about representing change, women who are considering Hillary look at him and say, If this is about change, she represents greater change than you do, simply by being a woman," [pollster Dick] Bennett said. "That has kept her up in the polls, and all the men -- basically husbands of the women who have supported her from the beginning -- are coming around and saying, 'Yes, I'd vote for her.' " [emphasis added.]

The husbands, Bennett said, are comforted knowing that Bill Clinton will be in the White House with her, "and times were good when he was president."

Going into this race, both Obama and Hillary both had a certain level of prejudice to overcome, and it wasn't entirely clear who faced the bigger hurdle. But maybe Hillary has the advantage after all: Everyone has a wife or a mother or a sister who can both make them okay with the idea of a woman as president and actively lobby them on the issue. Needless to say, not everyone has a black relative or partner, or even a friend.

Second, we've heard a lot about Obama's difficulty translating celebrity into political support. This passage nicely illustrates the phenomenon: 

Outside afterward, retired social studies teacher David Hunt was charged up. "I have never seen as much excitement generated by a candidate as by Obama!" said Hunt, a John Edwards supporter who was surprised to see several Republican neighbors in the room.

The afterglow, however, was short-lived.

"I am not necessarily going to switch over to Obama," Hunt said a few days later by phone. "But I was really impressed."

Third, this is nothing new, but the piece raises an issue I've been meaning to address for a week or two, basically since I promised I would share some thoughts about how Obama should have run his campaign. Here's the relevant graf:

The mantra of change makes its way into every Obama speech. On a chilly evening outside a United Auto Workers hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, he told the crowd that people "want to feel we can still rally together as Americans around a common purpose, a common destiny; that we can solve big problems here in America; . . . that we can put an end to the gridlock and go about the business of changing America. But what we realize is we can't do that just by changing political parties in the White House; we've got to change our politics."

As I said in that earlier post, I think Obama's changing politics theme is too ambitious, since there's nothing in his resume that obviously suggests he'd be able to pull it off. (That's not to say he couldn't; just that it's not obvious that he could.) The more I think about it, the more I think the way to run would have been to spend a lot of time taking on Bush and the Republican Party--i.e., just worrying about "changing political parties in the White House." Imagine if Obama had directed his soaring rhetoric and youthful energy at the GOP. It would have a.) played to the partisan mood among Democrats, b.) actually been pretty hopeful and forward-looking, because once he got done indicting the other guys he could easily have pivoted to what he would do differently, and c.) actually showcased the contrasts between him and Hillary pretty effectively, since her critique of Bush is more pedestrian and small-bore than his. Here, for example, is how Obama made the case against Repulicans during his 2004 Senate campaign:  

One of the things that I have discovered in my years of service and in this campaign, and it has been confirmed again and again - and this is the leap of faith I took when I ran - is that the American people at their core are a decent people. And they get confused some times. They watch Fox News, they listen to rush Limbaugh. Or they read president Bush's press releases. But mainly they're just busy and they're tired and they're stressed and they're worried about how to raise their families and to pay the bills, so they're not paying attention to politics. But if you sit down with them and you ask, you know, what do you expect out of your government. And what do you expect out of life, turns out their expectations are extraordinarily modest. They know they've got to work hard, to raise their families. They know that nobody's going to do it for them. But what they do expect is, if they're able and willing, they should be able to find a job that pays a living wage. That they shouldn't be bankrupt when they get sick. They should be able to send their child to a school that is comparably funded, and when that child is old enough, and they've done the work, they should be able to go to college, even if they don't come from a wealthy family. And they expect that every senior citizen should be able to retire with some dignity and respect. That's it. That's not a lot.

And, when you tell them, that we could be delivering those things, just with a slight change in priorities, if we stop just cutting taxes for the wealthy, and try to put that money to expand opportunity. You tell people that there's no reason why working people should be cut out of overtime. When you tell them that we can make better choices, and give a little bit of help to working families, all across this country, and we can make sure that every child in America gets a decent shot in life, if people are vulnerable, somebody's there to give them a hand up, not a hand out, then people respond. They want to hear the truth. And they'll even hear it from somebody who's name they don't recognize. And that's what this race was about. ...

 

We have one candidate in this race who stands four square with George Bush on every single economic policy, who thinks that outsourcing is good, whose main economic idea for saving jobs is cutting and eliminating the capital gains tax, more tax cuts for people who don't need them, and weren't even asking for. And we've got a candidate in this race, myself, who thinks that we can play a role in ensuring that working families get the help they need to raise their families...

I think the Obama campaign has figured out, correctly, that you want to invoke a certain number of general-election themes in the primary, since part of what Democrats are looking for is someone who'll have general-election appeal. Where Obama goes wrong is his choice of general-election themes. I think the 2004 approach--making the case against Bush-style Republicanism--is much better suited to the current moment than the hopeful, new-politics theme.  

Not that Obama needs any more advice at this point...

--Noam Scheiber

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