Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Democrats' Different Strategy

Al Gore's endorsement last night in Detroit drew a fresh batch of sharp parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy and played up Gore's environmental credentials. This, in and of itself should come as no surprise to anyone. Prior speeches have seen the Senator from Illinois bill himself as a cross between Abraham Lincoln and JFK, with a smattering of other Democratic superstars thrown in for good measure. In a different candidate, I'd see this as empty chest-pounding, but Obama's earnestness and charisma make this characterization seem plausible.

One also can't help but notice that Obama's massive rallies have the character and the makings of a sporting event, right down to the cheering, chanting, and booing the opposing team at all the right moments. Gore and Obama both had to interrupt their speeches once or twice to set a somewhat unruly crowd straight a few times. Clearly both enjoyed the intensity of the rally, and the degree of passion and enthusiasm that the people in attendance felt strongly.

The strongest point in the roughly fifteen minute endorsement speech occurred when Gore invoked a litany of complaints and condemnations against the Bush administration, all bookended by the phrase, "Elections matter". Additionally, Gore also made a point to directly label Obama "young", effectively a direct challenge to the McCain campaign, who has been eager to paint him as naive and inexperienced. This struck me as unusually bold and taking the fight to the GOP, rather than the other way around.

Gore shot back, as if to say, "Yes, he's young. And so what?"

I give Obama all the credit in the world for going on the offensive and forcing McCain to play defense. For years, the strategy of whomever the Democratic nominee happened to be seemed to be a kind of hypervigilant damage control and an almost obsessive effort to draw in as many of the traditionally Democratic voters as possible, seeking not to offend any of them along the way. Walking on eggshells is a rather uninspiring method of leadership.

For starters, it's a weak negotiating point which has contributed to years of Republican victories. Many Americans would rather pick strong and wrong rather than weak and right. This in and of itself is one of the many miscues which led to John Kerry's defeat in 2004. The contrasts between that election and this one are so marked that four years ago seems like some distant parallel universe. Perhaps this time around, with the tide having turned so strongly against the Republican party, such a clearly ramrod and forceful strategy seems less risky. If this degree of putting the fight to the opponent had been utilized by prior Democrats, one almost wonders if more Presidential elections would have turned out for the party.

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