By: Brian Sikma
On the evening of Thursday, August 28th, nearly 1 in 10 Americans watched as Senator Barack Obama officially accepted the Democrat Party’s nomination to be the next President of the United States. The freshman Senator and community organizer from Illinois gave a 45 minute speech that, regardless of his intent, set his campaign’s tone for the final sprint to the November election.
Among the thousands of people gathered in the stadium to watch the event live, throngs waved American flags and signs emblazoned with the word “Change”. Since the start of his candidacy at the old Illinois state capitol last year, Senator Obama has styled himself as a new style of candidate, a post-partisan era figure who appeals to all people because of a shared feeling and belief that politics has become nothing but the sport of special interests bent on destroying the lives of all hard-working (though not necessarily God-fearing) Americans.
The central theme of this new age feeling campaign has been Hope and Change. When not wanting to emphasize substantive policy positions this theme has been echoed over and over again in the declaration “Yes we can!” Presumably there is someone or some group out there shouting to us “No you can’t!” and it is in defiance to this nefarious cabal that we raise this hopeful hue and cry.
But the problem with running on lofty rhetoric not meant to be attached to any particular ideology is that pretty soon you get tired of beating imaginary enemies without naming what specifically needs to be done to solve the problem. A campaign premised on the existence of a problem must, if it is to succeed, identify the root cause of the problem and then identify a specific solution, or at least a set of guiding principles that will lead to a solution.
The problem with solutions though is that one must get specific. It is hard to get specific while selling yourself as above the fray and larger than the normal give and take of a rock-’em sock-’em national political campaign. Getting specific requires one to roll up the sleeves and get dirty.
At his acceptance speech Senator Obama got very specific and it cost him his credibility as a post-partisan candidate of change. How many of his supporters will notice this is not clear but a solid guess would be that many won’t notice because deep down they were never really on board with the idea that a good campaign must tip-toe around the failings, perceived or real, of the administration it seeks to replace.
Viewers of the Senator’s speech probably noticed that after the nice introduction and acceptance of the nomination, Senator Obama laid it all on the line against his Republican rival, Senator John McCain. For a good period of the speech Mr. Obama bashed the Bush Administration and painted a scene of how a first McCain term would be a third Bush term. But as he did all of this his anti-partisan aura began to fade and we saw that Senator Obama is as simply the latest in a line of Democratic presidential nominees stretching back to Walter Mondale and running through Michael Dukakis and Al Gore and, more recently, John Kerry.
Community Organizer Obama’s rant against Lt. Commander John McCain reveals the truth of that saying from the Good Book that there is nothing new under the sun. Instead of continuing on the path of vacuous statements, Senator Obama revealed that he is just another politician. Instead of campaigning against politics and politicians in the name of a vague idea, he should have understood that politics per se is not the problem, but rather that poor ideas and flawed politicians are the problem.
The American people may want change, but it would be good for them if it didn’t come packaged as something it is not. It is possible to run a campaign on change, but it is impossible to honestly do so if you deny the existence of the basic ground rules of representative self-government.