Which Way Should He Go?

An interesting question regarding the Obama campaign has risen and in fact, Mark of Publius Endures and I discuss it a little bit in the comments to this post here.  In short, there are two Obamas, and the question he and his campaign face right now is which one is best suited to win the White House?

Obama first became a super star within the party when he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  His words easily overshadowed those of the nominee that year, John Kerry, and one could make an argument that he also outshone Bill Clinton who delivered a powerful speech in his own right.  But that was all that we really saw of Obama on the national stage prior to his announcement that he would be running for President of the United States.

What is curious now is that in the beginning of his campaign, Obama was criticized for being too professorial, and not emotional enough.  There are accounts of Obama rambling off into a kind of academic, wonkish drone as the townhall crowds around him kind of went into auto pilot.  For West Wing fans, think Martin Sheen in the flashback scene in Nashua where he tells the farmer he got screwed on milk.

The point is, what I suspect happened in the beginning is that people were expecting to see the 2004 keynote speaker, that guy who could tear the roof off of a building with his words but instead what they got was, well, this guy who was kind of a geek.

Somewhere along the line, the Obama camp shifted a little, and Obama started giving the people what they wanted.  He started delivering the big speeches and drawing the huge crowds.  He did that which seems to come so naturally to him in inspiring scores of people, and I have to agree with Mark, it worked.

It was the inspirational Obama, not the professorial Obama, that energized the young vote, that packed venues to overflowing, and ultimately led Obama to carve out his first real lead in the race for the Democratic nomination.  But of course, this opened him up to what has become essentially the only attack that anyone seems fit to launch at him now; that he’s all style and no substance.

As you all know, the style vs. substance argument is one that sets my nerves on edge, primarily because the argument itself rarely has any kind of substance to it.  It is possible to have a candidate that knows how to work a crowd but can’t tell his head from his ass, but for the most part when the old s vs. s line is dropped, it can usually translate to, “It’s not fair the other candidate is better at talking then me!”

Now, for anyone willing to spend a little time doing research, and as I’ve maintained throughout this nomination race, Barack has plenty of substance to him.  On the night of the Potomac Primary, an NPR analyst was refuting the idea that Obama had no substance when he mentioned that here’s a guy who has over three hundred policy point papers out there, 50 hours of substantive footage from debates, over a hundred public policy speeches, and a plethora of other resources that show where he stands on the issues and what his proposals are.  To add on to that, you can run through his website to get a good grasp on his platform, or you can read the 64 page book that goes into even further detail (pdf).

My point is not to defend that he has substance, though.  That is merely a necessity to frame what is ultimately the question.  There is the rousing public speaker Obama that got him where he is, and then there’s the policy wonk, constitutional professor that fails to inspire crowds, but has all the substance to counteract the attacks of Hillary and McCain when they say he has none.

Which one should he choose to continue the race?

We already know that he has retooled his speeches to be more policy based in Wisconsin, and I saw a little bit of it here in Virginia at the Virginia Beach rally.  On one hand, Mark could be right, going back to the more policy based campaign for Obama could be the equivalent of playing prevent defense, and as John Maddon will tell you, “The only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning ball games”.  In this frame of mind, one would have to think that Obama’s best bet is to keep on keepin’ on.  Keep on packing the arenas and don’t stop to worry about the style versus substance attacks or the accusations that he’s some creepy cult leader.

On the other hand, I am of the mind that no direct attacks should go unanswered.  This was the fatal flaw in the 2004 Kerry campaign in that they seemed so afraid of getting in the mud that they wouldn’t even defend themselves, and the mud eventually began to stick.

At some point, Obama’s going to have to find a way to address the charges that he’s all talk without necessarily toning down the level of his rhetoric, after all, that is what brought him to the dance.  If he can manage to keep up the hope and change themes and show off his wonky side at the same time, he will effectively neutralize the number one weapon used against him, and then his opponents, both Hillary and McCain will have to answer the question that has so many pols stacked up against Obama worried in the first place.

What’s wrong with inspiration and hope and change?  How can you attack and put yourself on the opposite side of such things?

That’s a battle no right thinking strategist wants to be on the wrong side of.

3 Responses to “Which Way Should He Go?”

  1. well if the democrats act up at the end, after the MI and FL situation, it will be like running into a brick wall

  2. xranger says:

    Interesting column in the Wall Street Journal today, regarding how the election could be about taxes (and raising them):

    “Mr. Obama’s wish list for just one term? Some $260 billion over four years for health care. Another $60 billion for an energy plan. A further $340 billion for his tax plan. A $14 billion national service plan. A $72 billion education package. Also, $25 billion in foreign assistance funding, $2 billion for Iraqi refugees and $1.5 billion for paid-leave systems. (I surely forgot some.) Mr. Obama says he’ll pay for these treasures by stopping the Iraq war and taxing the rich. But both Democrats have already spent the tax hikes several times over, and even a Ph.D. would struggle with this math.”


    The national election should be clearly defined on old Democrat and Republican lines, and I’m thinking the elctorate will have clear choices.

    One thing to remember: the election always boils down to who can influence the middle-of-the-roaders, or the “swing 20” as I call them. Roughly 40% of the population is either solid Dem or Rep, and the middle 20% always dictates the winner.

    If the economy is in recession by November, or even if the people think it is, will they agree to a tax-and-spend Democrat?

  3. He should talk about his 64-page platform, and put it on his website. Keep the speeches the same, but reference WHERE people can get specifics.

    “Now, if you want the specifics, I urge you to check out barackobama.com and read my 64-page plan for change. Take some time, read it, it all there…”

    In Canada, the Liberal party ran a very successful election campaign with their “little red book” of ideas, which they urged people to read.


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