Obama's empty message

Jay Cost:


Its message often seems to be: this great man will unify a divided America around himself.

This is not entirely bad. A message of unity could be effective, even though it is tricky to sell in a partisan campaign. The trouble comes with the part about Obama himself. His campaign's emphasis on his greatness is creating three political problems.


If Democrats are wondering why Republicans have taken to sarcastically calling Obama "The Messiah," this is a good indication. On nearly every page, we are greeted with a picture of an illuminated Obama issuing a challenge from the clouds: if you believe this special man can change Washington, rally behind him.

This is a shaky foundation for a voting coalition. Most voters will be skeptical that Obama is so grand. So, why should they vote for him?


The second problem is that this narrative might be keeping him from doing things that winning Democrats have typically done. Strong Democratic candidates like FDR, Truman, Johnson, and Clinton made "average folks" feel like they were one of them. Each connected with average people in his own way, but each connected. Most of them could do this because they had typical backgrounds themselves. Obama doesn't, but neither did Roosevelt (though of course Roosevelt's background was quite different from Obama's). And yet FDR could talk to average people better than anybody.

The common touch is not a trifling quality. Most voters are not policy experts, and they lack detailed political information. Yet they must still make a choice. In that situation, what should swing voters (i.e. those not guided by partisanship) do? It makes sense for them to vote for the guy with whom they can relate. That's a candidate who can be trusted to do what the voters would want him to do.

Obama's narrative seems to preclude this quality. The claim of greatness carries with it an implication of distance. If Obama is great, and the rest of us are average, how can we identify with Obama, or he with us?


The third problem is that it can diminish his greatest political strength - his rhetorical skill.

This was the conclusion of his June 3rd speech:

[G]enerations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment - this was the time - when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.

I have read through this speech many times, and I am not entirely sure what "this moment" actually is.


The latter certainly feeds into the characterization of Obama as arrogant.

But it is the first theme that is so hollow. Here is the unity candidate who can't get those closest to him to drop their goofy idea that the government created the AIDs virus to inflict genocide on blacks what chance does he have of getting adversaries to agree with him?


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