Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama in 2004 vs. Obama in 2008

Just for a point of reference I went back and reread Barack Obama's keynote speech before the 2004 Democratic Convention. In all honesty, it all standard stuff. Sure, his delivery may have been more dramatic than many other speakers, but the actual content was not exemplary in any way that I could detect. The one thing that did stand out was his prediction in the final paragraph:

America, tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do, if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president. And John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president. And this country will reclaim its promise. And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.

Hmmm... that is rather problematic. He has a bunch of ifs in there and assures us of a positive outcome... if all of these things are true. Well, we know that there was not a positive outcome, so what does that say about Barack's ifs? Was his intuition and analysis of the requirements for success off the mark? Maybe, maybe not. Was his assessment of how people feel off the mark? I would say that must have been the case. Even assuming that Barack himself felt the way his said he did, he may have been making the mistake of projecting his own feelings onto broad classes of sovereign individuals who in fact had a wide range of their own feelings that were clearly not in complete alignment with his own. Sure, maybe all of the delegates at the convention felt the same as him, but that says nothing about how the voters felt or would feel come time for the general election.

The point of all of this is that even if you truly believe that Barack is "right" and is the "right" person for the job of president of the U.S., we really do need to ask whether he is truly in alignment with the needs, interests, and will of a sizeable majority of the American people.

I am not sure how much has really changed since 2004. The economy feels softer. Is health care really much different? Is education really much differnt? Is Iraq really much different? All of these are debatable. To me, the net feels about the same, with the big difference being the weakness in the economy. The point is that his views from 2004 should be just about as relevant today as in 2004. So, what of these prerequisites for success that he postulated in 2004:

  1. if you feel the same energy that I do
  2. if you feel the same urgency that I do
  3. if you feel the same passion that I do
  4. if you feel the same hopefulness that I do
  5. if we do what we must do
"... then I have no doubt that all across the country... the people will rise up in November, and <you-know-who> will be sworn in as president..."

Barack himself and his team and his core supporters may well feel all of those things, but I seriously question whether the average American citizen voting in 2008 feels:

  1. full of energy -- what fraction of Americans are anything other than very tired and exhausted
  2. a sense of urgency -- Bush and Cheney, et al are gone in 2009 no matter who gets elected
  3. the passion of a politician or their gung-ho supporters
  4. any sense of hopefulness about the future
  5. any sense of having the get-up-and-go to expend much more effort than they already are forced to in their daily lives

To be sure, Barack is a great speaker, but I seriously question whether great speeches at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. are going to be any more effective than speeches that he has or could have given at his current end of the same street in the U.S. Senate.

Barack may well "win" the Democratic nomination, but unless he comes up with a stronger message, we will have a new president in 2009 who does not have a deep and broad mandate to govern, no matter who wins in the 2008 general election in November.

The passion and energy of Barack's supporters notwithstanding, he needs to offer the vast majority of average American voters something more substantial than hope and a vague promise of change.

-- Jack Krupansky


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