During his Presidential nomination campaign Senator Barack Obama was repeatedly cast as a "new" and "different" politician and Presidential candidate.
There were political pundits, media political analysts, and journalists, and especially among those in these categories who did not like him, who scoffed at this depiction, and who sought to pen the label of "typical" or "ordinary" politician and Presidential candidate on him.
They got some fuel for their counter depiction, when Senator Obama was forced to engage in some counterpunching to combat spins on his statements, misrepresentations of his positions, assaults on his character and integrity, or denials of his patriotism.
He was actually condemned for fighting back, with people saying that it wasn't consistent with the image he presented of himself, or that the media was floating about him. Senator Obama used to retort that he was from Chicago and Illinois state politics, and that he knew about rough and tumble politics, and indicated that he was pretty good at them.
But it was also true that he did not like the hard nose politics of calculating, maneuvering, cutting up opponents, or making undesirable, expedient allies. During years in Chicago and Illinois state politics, he determined within himself that if he had to engage in hard nose politics, he would try to do so with some moral constraints so that they did not become ends in themselves, or expressions of rank ruthlessness and brutality.
This was the kind of balanced and purposeful thinking he did in fighting off the various spins and chafing charges during his Presidential nomination campaign, with the thought always of moving back to political highground as quickly as possible, where he preferred to be and where he wanted to keep his campaign.
This kind of thinking, and gut-determined efforts to implement it, enabled him to get through the spiked sparring without being seriously marred, and with his image of being a new and different politician and Presidential candidate strongly intact.
Former mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, had it right when he said: "Senator Obama is a political 'phenom.' He does not conform to the model that is used to evaluate politicians and Presidential candidates."
What is that model? It was fashioned by political pundits, media political analysts, journalists, and politicians over a period of years, and has been in use for several decades. This model has six component parts. The politican or Presidential candidate 1) must not be very intellectual, 2) has to think in absolute either-or terms, so that he or she can be described as simply a Republican or Democrat, or a liberal, moderate, conservative, or radical, 3) has to be partisan and pragmatic in a limited political party sense, 4) has to be able to spin, i.e., to distort, misrepresent, or lie abut an opponent's political thinking, or political proposals, 5) has to master the soundbite response, and 6) has to be willing and ready to separate morality from political thinking and politics.
Senator Obama showed when he launched his Presidential nomination campaign, that he not ony did not fit the political model, but that he fast rejected it.
He was very intellectual and also very thoughtful. He thought in holistic and not absolute either-or terms. He was broad coalition-minded, and espoused broad coalition pragmatism. He detested political spin, and the soundbite response, preferring to give explanations, rather than provide terse phrases or comments. He also believed that moral values should guide political thinking and politics.
This is Obaman political thinking. He gave the American people an introduction to it even before he became a Presidential candidate. He did this in the speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and where he also provided a glimpse of his conception of politics that was broad coalition and nationally oriented. There he talked of America and Americans, about America being one country, and Americans being one people, about the unity of the American people, about the American people taking responsibility for each other, and coming together around a common cause to promote change, progress, and freedom in the country for all.
The Senator remarked in one of his writings: "I'm not somebody comfortable with liberal-conservative labels. What the American people are looking for are commonsense solutions. To me the issue is not are you centrist or are you liberal? The issue to me is, Is what you're proposing going to work? Can you build a working coalition to make the lives of people better? And if it can work, you should support it whether it's centrist, conservative, or liberal?" (Barack Obama in His Own Words).
This is Obaman political thinking, and also an expression of Obaman politics. They refute the traditional political model's notion of singular political thinking, and narrow party partisan politics, and puts the lie to anyone endeavoring to attach a singular political label to him.
Senator Obama has never been and is never likely to be this kind of political thinker or politician. He does not see any political party or political position, liberal, conservative, moderate, or radical with a monopoly on ideas, proposals, or programs. He is open to new ideas and programs, and is even willing to listen, and perhaps adopt, what even his political adversaries have to say, or policies or programs they proffer.
For instance, he has said that he will promote the faith based initiative program that President Bush has put in place, because he thinks it's a good idea, and also because he feels he can make it a better program.
This kind of behavior befuddles, and even angers many political observers. They immediately, owing to the traditional political model they work from, blast the Senator for being "ambiguous," "wishy-washy," or "flip-flopping," from previous thinking, or positions, confirming for them that he is a typical or "run-of-the-mill" politician.
Since the political model decries being too intellectual, or complex, and sanctions only the simplistic soundbite response, politicians or Presidential candidates, will be accused of "walking away from", "back-tracking", "waffling", or "flip-flopping", from their initial limited statement, if they sought to give a fuller view of their thinking or positions.
The soundbite constriction also penalizes a politician or Presidential candidate, if he/she changes their minds, even when it is owing to compelling evidence to make the change to establish a better position. This should be something lauded, or considered reasonable, or intelligent behavior. But under the model's soundbite constriction, it is interpreted as being devious or manipulative, not being truthful or straight forward, and it is viewed as behavior that merits an individual being called unreliable or not trustworthy.
"Flip-flopping" can and does occur, as when a politician or Presidential candidate switches to a position previously criticized, without an explanation for the switch, or a clearly phony explanation for it, or evidences an expedient reason for switching.
But clearly, no usual or typical politician could have accomplished what Senator Obama has. He was a relatively obscure politician eighteen months ago. But in that short time he used his intellectual capability, his community organizing skills, his oratory, charismatic leadership, good political advisors and campaign managers, youthful volunteers on the ground, and the internet to build a national political organization from scratch.
The Senator's cohorts were also involved in helping him establish a very fruitful way to publicly finance a Presidential nomination campaign (and even a Presidential election campaign), to build a broad national coalition, and a national political movement, and against all odds, to help him become the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. It was a case of achieving the impossible.
It also all signaled the appearance of a different and unusually capable politician, something that many political pundits and media political analysts did not want to acknowledge, or accept, or engage in assessing what this incredible achievement said about Senator Obama, his abilities, his character, or about him as a person, or what valuations thereof might portend for an Obaman White House, and for the country.
What presently preoccupies these people, and numerous other political observers, and which shows how all are driven by the traditional political model, is their focus on the assertion, and for them, truism, that Senator Obama has to abandon his movement, and like other Presidential candidates, has to move to the political center and become a centrist or moderate on all major issues. And they are saying that the Senator--with some saying that he, in typical fashion--is making this move.
But the truth is, Senator Obama is not giving up his efforts to build a broad national coalition, or a national political movement, as indicated by the 3600 youthful volunteers that have been dispatched to 18 (swing or battleground) states to register voters, and to bring new people into politics and into the Democratic Party.
The Senator is also drawing on these same people and others, including Senator Hillary Clinton, some governors, and eventually, former President Bill Clinton, to try to bring those blue collar men and women, and small town white voters into his broad national coalition and national movement that he had not been able to bring in during the primaries and caucases.
The Senator also continues to reach out to disaffected Republicans and Independents to make them part of his broad political fold, and is still using the internet as a major means to finance his comprehensive political operation and objectives, raising $52 million in June.
What is necessary to note is that political observers have not discerned that Senator Obama has his own political center or grounding. His preference for principled political thinking and political action, and providing people with knowledge and explanations, his holistic, flexible political thinking that enables him to draw on diverse ideas or programs, his national broad coalition, and his national political movement constitute his center or grounding.
Something else that is a part of it, is his thought that as President, he would establish a strong working relationship with his broad base of supporters to draw on them as additional clout to help him get his agenda passed in Washington and implemented at the state and local level.
All the political features just alluded to also constitute Senator Obama's political model that he, with help, has created over the past 18 months.
Political observers have perceived neither Senator Obama's own political center or grounding, or the political model that he, with the aid of others,has fashioned, which can be of use to individuals in the future who might wish to run for the White House. The observers are tied to the old model in trying to view him, and they keep coming up short in their observations.
Senator John McCain, his surrogates,and the Republican Party are also showing their difficulties trying to deal with Senator Obama, and even mounting a campaign against him. They keep trying to attach a single political label to him, namely, the label of liberal, but it does not work effectively, because Senator Obama is complex in his political thinking.
He often talks like a conservative, indeed, a Republican conservative, when he emphasizes the themes of "the American people," and "American values," patriotism, family values, and argues that politicians should not be afraid to express their religious beliefs, or regard them as a source of moral guidance for their political thinking and practical politics.
Senator Obama has no more difficulty adhering to and expressing these conservative ideas, than he has difficulties embracing and expressing the liberal idea that the U.S. government should help needy and poor people in the country, or the liberal idea that there should be government mandated health insurance for children, or the liberal idea of increasing the minimum wage, which he says he will do annually as President.
The Senator easily accepts the moderate idea that the Constitution legitimizes individual ownership of firearms, but that there should be some legal restrictions on the kinds of weapons that can be owned, and the ability to gain access to weapons. He accepts the moderate idea that the U.S. government has to find a balance between protecting the rights of American citizens, and gathering intelligence on terrorists. Also, the moderate idea of maintaining a balance between the use of military force and direct and effective diplomacy and negotiations in conducting U.S. foreign policy.
In addition to having to deal with this Obaman complexity, Senator McCain, his surrogates, and the Republican Party have the daunting task of trying to confront the Senator on the hot-button issues of the day, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, national security, the economy, health insurance, taxes, and other issues. They actually don't feel comfortable, or confident about being successful here because of Obama's capabilities with dealing with these matters, but also because Senator McCain sounds too much like President Bush on all of them, whose popularity rating presently stands at 28%.
The Republicans are increasingly showing, despite their ready public denials, that they are going to rely heavily upon the traditional Republican tactics of lies, distortion, character assassination, misrepresentation, inuendo, smearing, i.e., guilt by association,belittling, and stroking racist fears to combat Senator Obama, and hope that white American voters especially are amenable to this behavior; this corrupted and unethical method of trying to get John McCain into the White House.
In short, they are increasingly showing that they will make extensive use of the sixth component of the traditional political model, which calls for separating morality from politics, which would also lead to separation in a presidential administration, that would occur in the conduct of domestic and foreign policy.
Senator Obama has already been depicted publicly, in commercial items, as a monkey, which is akin to the blatant racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He has been the butt of racist jokes, one dished out by the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, before a National Rifle Association meeting.
The Senator and his wife Michelle have been accused of not being patriotic and loyal to the United States, a racist slur against Black people that also goes back to the nineteenth century. The Senator's wife has been portrayed as "the mean Black woman," replacing the racist image of "welfare queen," that Ronald Reagan himself had devised and employed in Presidential campaigns.
Senator Obama is the butt of the lie that he is a Muslim, even though Republicans criticized him in a severe manner for months for being a member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Christian church in Chicago, and thus, a Christian for twenty years. How can one be a Christian for twenty years and simultaneously a Muslim during the same time period?
The Senator is portrayed, as another lie has it, as a "secret terrorist." Indeed, just recently, a political ad ran in Florida saying not to vote for a Democrat, with the twin towers burning. What Democrat could this ad be talking about other than Senator Obama, the Party's presumptive Presidential nominee, who has the middle name Hussein, and which insinuated that he was an Islamic terrorist, and that this is what the American people would be electing to the White House?
This is also the message conveyed when Senator Obama is referred to as Osama Bin Laden, or when he is shown in a picture along side Bin Laden with both draped in Islamic garb, with such a picture recently circulating in South Carolina, exhibiting the tactic of guilt by association.
These are all instances of blatant, unethical acts, and also gross attempts to stroke racist fears, similar to the way Republicans stroked these fears with the Willie Horton ad to help get George Herbert Bush elected in 1988.
The Republican Party, an overwhelmingly white party, with a strong southern White base, shows that it still has a significant racist orientation, and that it seeks to preserve, and perpetuate, as best it can, the lingering racist orientation of the South and country, and it obviously, or apparently, feels that Senator McCain, as President McCain, will help it do these things.
These realities have to become a concern of political observers and American voters. They both have to be monitors to ensure that the Presidential election has integrity. They have to decide whether or not they will tolerate the Republican Party (or its 527 surrogates) conducting a Presidential election on a significant racist basis, that not only separates morality from politics, but which inescapably shows disdain for American ideals and values, and equal disdain for democratic politics and democratic elections, and which can only add to the damage of America's image in the world.
And while this introspecting, soul-searching, and public scrutiny is occurring, Senator Obama and his surrogates will have their challenge before them, that of spelling out very clearly and forcefully, for political observers and the American people, what Obaman political thinking and Obaman politics are, and what both portend for an Obaman Presidency, for the fortunes and future direction of the country, and regarding the latter's relationship to the world.