Leading from the Left

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama's Great Night

Obama had a great night last night in Iowa. Not only did he beat Edwards and Clinton by 8 and 9 points, respectively, but he gave one of the best political speeches of the decade. His victory speech was soaring, inspiring, passionate, and infused with vision.

Now that I think about it, Obama has given the three single best political speeches of the decade: at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 (view Part 1 and Part 2), at last Fall's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, and last night's victory speech. This guy's got magic.

From here, this becomes a two person race between Obama and Clinton. (Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before John Edwards is forced to leave the race; he's not doing well in New Hampshire and can't survive two back to back losses.)

So far, Obama is out campaigning Clinton. Presidential races are always about the future: Where will a candidate take the country? What is his or her vision for the future? How will he or she lead us? Obama's talking about his vision, about the future, about making this country whole again.

Clinton, regrettably, speaks more about the past than the future: her experience as First Lady, her 35 years working arm and arm with Bill Clinton, and her experiences taking incoming fire from Republican political operatives hell-bent on destroying President Clinton by destroying her.

You know, all of that is important but it doesn't answer the question voters ask themselves before pulling the lever for a candidate: How will my life be better if she's elected? What is her vision for the future?

The second mistake Clinton is making, and one that Obama has instintively (and correctly avoided), is that she's too narrowly targetting her message to her 'base.' Clinton's campaign focused very heavily on women voters in Iowa, while failing to make a broad appeal to ALL voters. In the week leading up to the Iowa caucus, men there were quoted in press accounts as stating they felt ignored by Clinton's campaign. Too much of her message seemed to be targeted to one group and one group only, thereby missing a large segment of the population.

Obama, on the other hand, has always gone beyond his base. When running for US Senate in Illinois and now for the presidency, Obama directs his message to everyone, not just what some might consider his 'base,' African-American voters. Some commentators have described him has being a transcendent figure, transcending race in much the way Oprah, Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan do. I agree, and believe that his ability to connect with a broad cross-section of voters his is greatest strength just as Hillary's narrow focus is her biggest weakness.

Finally, Hillary won't win this thing unless she stands alone. I love Bill Clinton, but this race isn't about him nor is it about his presidency. Hillary has made a mistake by binding herself too tightly to her husband. This race is about what she will do for the country, not what he did. For Hillary to win, Bill needs to step off-stage and be quiet while she finds her voice. She can't win this thing unless she finds a way to connect with the American people. And that connection must be created between the candidate and the people, not the candidate, her husband and the people.

It's an open question as to whether or not Hillary can revamp her strategy and tactics and, finally, begin to connect with voters in a meaningful and emotional way. But what we do know is that we Democrats have two exceptionally talented candidates still in this thing. Either one of these fine people would be extraordinary leaders for our country and either one would bring much needed change to Washington.