Tuesday night, my family and I attended a get-together in Highland Village hastily arranged by local Barack Obama supporters. I think you could have knocked me over with a feather; I was so shocked at the turnout. After being active in the Democratic Party for a couple of years now, I’m somewhat used to knowing most of the people in the room as “the usual suspects”. More and more lately, and especially the other night, it just isn’t so. Out of about 50 people in attendance, I knew 2 people there, other than my family. Although attendance at Democratic events has been growing steadily over the past couple of years, it would have been damn hard to get that many of our regulars to turn out like that.
There were young, very young, and old. There were white, black, and Asian. There were men and women. There were Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians – all there because something in Obama’s message struck a chord with them so much that they would get out on a Tuesday night to have dinner and drinks with a bunch of strangers with very little notice.
These are by and large, people who are enthused about becoming active, and who are looking for ways to help. They are people who self-organized. This wasn’t an effort of the local party or the Obama campaign. In fact, the Obama campaign representatives who showed up were impressed that the ground game they were charged with organizing had already begun to organize itself.
As I lay in bed that night, replaying my conversations with these voters and my discussions with my wife about what we had witnessed, my thoughts began to solidly congeal around the notion that Obama’s momentum is more about a movement than a campaign. Let me begin my explanation by stating what I believe those words, “campaign” and “movement” to mean:
A campaign is where a person or a group decides what they think would be good to do. They then do their best to convince a constituency that their idea or candidate is the best idea or candidate, given the real or perceived alternatives.
A movement is where an idea has already taken hold of a constituency, but a lack of leadership or willpower or courage has kept that idea suppressed. When critical mass of vocal support for such an idea is perceived, a chain reaction begins, and people stand up to be counted.
Obama’s candidacy is being pushed by a movement. Yes, of course he has a campaign to do all of the typical machinations that are required. But the enthusiasm is coming from the movement.
In order to understand the movement, I think you need to understand what it’s not: It’s not about Barack Obama, and what he can do for us. Look at his campaign logo. Look at his signs. Often, his name is not even on them. Think of the words “Hope” or “Change” and it is Obama, his campaign, and our movement that comes to mind. It is also not so much about policy, or you would see the same type of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, who has very similar policies, with what many argue are “more specifics”.
Of course I understand that saying “It’s a movement” is pretty meaningless without saying what the ideas are. And when I speak of ideas, I’m talking more about guiding principles here, not policies. What I mean is that I think Obama is communicating, and the people are hearing, a fundamental shift from conventional politics: (And note: this is not a comparison of Clinton and Obama, per-se)
|Conventional Ideas||“New” Ideas|
|You want a candidate with experience in Washington.||You want a candidate with vision for how it should be in Washington.|
|Choose the candidate who will give you what you want.||One man is never going to make it happen. We, the people, must take responsibility for seeing that our government does what we want.|
|Bad government in the past is to blame for where you are. If you elect this person, they will fix it.||We all bear some responsibility for where we are. If the solution were easy, it would already be done. If you elect this person he’ll do his part if you do yours.|
|Choose the candidate that you agree with on all of the issues.||Choose the candidate that mostly agrees with you, but doesn’t take your agreement for granted, and is not afraid to make his case, even if it’s not something you want to hear.|
|If you want to fix a societal problem, you have to have motivation for the big corporations to get behind the fix.||Sometimes, the big corporate interests are the problem. Corporations don’t vote, and already have too much of a say. Fix it, yes we (collectively) can!|
|Our side is right, theirs wrong.|
We are good, they are evil.
We are smart, they are stupid.
|There is no time for this bickering, and it gets us nowhere. We will make a consensus and we will move forward on the things we can agree on.|
|Vote for the candidate who holds the most promise to your specific demographic constituency.||Vote for the candidate who holds the most promise to the broadest constituency.|
|Vote for the candidate who seems most certain and unequivocal about their positions||Vote for the candidate whose values and judgment you trust, and who you know will listen to arguments of reason.|
|Vote for the candidate that can drive the hardest bargains with the other side.||Reject positional bargaining in favor of principled negotiation.|
Of course what I have in the “new” column is nothing new at all. It’s the original plan for how this nation was supposed to be, before big business figured out that playing politics was easier than competing in the free market on the basis of price, quality and service. It is how it should have been before politicians decided that hanging onto their jobs to enrich themselves and their close family and friends was easier and more rewarding than making tough choices for the long-term betterment of their constituencies.