Welcome to 44thPOTUS. On this blog I am looking to piece together a few coherent strands from this extraordinary race, and point you towards some of the reasons why we are at this moment in history.

I will look back on the election season and look forward to the priorities of the 44th President of the United States. I will analyse the issues, the money, the media, the distractions, and mostly the strategies of both campaigns.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Analysis - Even if he loses, he’s won: Part 1

Accentuate the positive

This is the first of a series analysing how Obama, in four years, changed the global political landscape.

Obama knows how to campaign. His campaign’s professional, work-harder-than-everybody-else attitude has shone a light onto competing campaigns that have seemed amateurish and petty in comparison. One of the key elements to his success is the motivation of his supporters. This is based on the mutually beneficial relationship his supporters have with the campaign and the candidate himself.

Ten months ago, in December 2007, Obama was on the ropes, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. He had already created a large grassroots movement through his website, and crucially they were talking to each other, at a time when, as Deepak Chopra said, the only people supporting Obama were either dreamers or intellectuals. (I could never quite decide which of those I would want to be more!) Obama’s supporters had their chant, and knew the Fired Up story [http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rsLp59Bn9ng] that went with it, Obama was getting better at the debates and speeches, and he was keeping his cool, but there was a sense that he needed to do something to change the dynamic. He then gave this speech [http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=tydfsfSQiYc] at the Jefferson Jackson dinner at Iowa (the first Democrat primary.) This tub-thumper did what it had to do – it pumped up the activists on the ground, leading to the Iowa Get Out The Vote effort which propelled Obama into first place. Winning in Iowa – or, more importantly, the way he won - showed that his candidacy was not a pipe dream or an air balloon – he wasn’t testing the water, he was going to fight hard for the nomination. A string of positives continued; the Yes We Can speech, [http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe751kMBwms] the $55 million raised in February, the iconic images – like the Newsweek cover above - and his insistence that "your voice can change the world." These moments were used by the campaign and the supporters, feeding off each other; the campaign picks up on the enthusiasm, packages it up and sends it back out to them - this video is a good example. [http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=AmUUYo9o9eg]
It was not all smooth sailing of course; the Yes We Can speech came after his failure to clinch the New Hampshire primary and the race speech came after Reverend Wright’s stupid remarks. Every time Obama is on the ropes without fuss he directly addresses the issue, and he asks his supporters to do the same.

Each of these elements allow Obama’s supporters to feel as if they own the campaign, a feeling rooted firmly in reality; without their money, their knocking on doors, their phone calls, their caucusing and getting out the vote Hillary would be the nominee. Obama asked for their active participation in his candidacy and in return the campaign constructed itself around them – they got in on the ground floor at a mass movement, with its own aesthetic, its own cast and supporting cast, its own songs, its own stories, its own superstitions. It was widespread and open to satire, critique and jealousy. On March 2nd, in response to criticism of the motivated Obama crowds, Denise from Saratosa, Florida said; “If it comes across as cult-like, then the cult is called America.”

Obama has changed presidential politics for ever; even if he loses, he’s won. He has reconnected, in a tangible way, the offices and kitchens and beauty parlours and school yards to the highest office in the land. His biography has flattened the distance from the street to the Avenue, but his campaigning never forgot that the presidency taps into the American psyche for big events, for being a part of something you believe in. Only in the last two months, a week before the Democratic National Congress did Obama’s slogan change from Change we can believe in to For the change we need.

While watching the astonishing firework display at the end of Obama’s outdoor acceptance speech (seeing the upbeat and positive message in the stagecraft of the fireworks, an MSNBC commentator noticed how the fireworks were going up, as opposed to the usual end-of-speech balloons, that fall down) millions of viewers loved the spectacle, and asked “when, if not now, will we ever see this in politics again?” It is an indisputable fact that the US presidency is more important than, say the Beijing Olympics. If they can have their celebration, why can’t we have ours? Yes I am very attracted to the spectacle, partly due to the sheer unBritish over-the-topness of it, but also because Obama’s nomination is historic, and that night was imbued with historic and symbolic significance. The moment needed to be marked by a first. The speech and subsequent fireworks sparked off a night of celebration, pause and remembrance across the world. His supporters knew that they were a part of this, an indispensable part of the primaries like never before, and that the night belonged to them too. They remembered how far the US has come, and perhaps for the first time they allowed ourselves to imagine Obama delivering his next big speech, on election night, as President-Elect.


Mark said...

"Deepak Chopra said, the only people supporting Obama were either dreamers or intellectuals. (I could never quite decide which of those I would want to be more!)". Classic! :) But I have to ask of your last paragraph, how does this compare to Tony Blair and New Labour, when everything was all fresh in this way?

Peter Harrison said...

Yes, its interesting, having lived through 1997, the bliss of that morning, and then seen things slip away so badly -

Blair's insistence on WMD in Iraq, on supporting Bush come what may has tarnished him forever. Bush is the most unpopular president in history. It took the American public about two years more than the European public to come around to the view that the war was a mistake (no huge surprise, considering Bush's repeated insistence that 9/11=Iraq.)

There is a possibility that the cahnge Obama promises will not come around, but here are three things he said he'll do in his first term -
1 - universal healthcare for all. at the moment 45 million don't have it, sso its pretty important (my flatmate recently was in hospital with salmonela for 9 days - she's okay now - and every American I've spoken to about it firstly thinks of the bill it would have cost them)
2. End the war in Iraq (speaks for itself)
3. Put in place an energy policy that addresses climate change and importing oil. Its this point that is crucial for me - in Britain under Labour the goal is 60% by 2050.

If he gets these three done, it will truly transform the US and its relationship to the rest of the world.

Mark said...

Well I didn't know all this and that's why I'm here, for the education.

I'd say I had 'a good feeling' about him and that he's known as progressive among the 'dreamers and intellectuals' which 'I could never quite decide which of those I would want to be more!', as you say.

But then I only hear the news from the BBC website and a few tech-centric others, where you click only the items you are explicitly interested in.