If...

By Al Giordano

 

Amanda Paulson of the Christian Science Monitor publishes a profile of Obama strategist David Axelrod today, but it's really more of a story about the power of staying on message and marching to one's own drummer:

...last fall, Sen. Obama was down 33 points in one national poll, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the presumptive nominee, and Obama's campaign staff was under enormous pressure to shake things up and try a different tactic.
They didn't.

...since Obama announced his candidacy on a frigid Saturday in February of last year - telling the crowd of an "unyielding faith that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it" - that core message has remained largely unchanged. Axelrod "had the initial vision of how this campaign might succeed," says John Kupper, a partner at Axelrod's firm...

Still, the success of that message was tested over the months, as Obama continued to trail in the polls and many pushed the campaign to increase attacks on Clinton or to shake up the campaign.

Both observers and those inside the campaign give much of the credit for resisting that pressure not just to Axelrod, but to the team that he and Obama built up...

Many credit... (Obama campaign manager David) Plouffe, who is a partner in Axelrod's firm and a longtime friend, with the ultimately successful decision to eschew traditional wisdom and focus on rural and caucus states.

The seamlessness of the operation bore a stark contrast to the constant bickering and shake-ups within the Clinton organization, a far more typical model for presidential campaigns.

"Oftentimes, presidential campaigns are organizations of ill-fitting pieces jammed together by competing power centers," says Mr. Claypool. "That results in rivalries, turf wars, backbiting, intrigue, and drama - all the things missing from this campaign."

 

In these Internet-driven political times, everybody, it seems, is an armchair campaign manager and strategist: TV news and newspaper pundits, talk radio hosts, bloggers, their readers, listeners, callers and commenters. And, no doubt, all the ebb and flow of free advice has its democratizing benefits for those capable of listening. An idea can shoot out of an unlikely corner and suddenly find itself embraced and implemented on a national scale. (Think of how the term "Chicken Little" has come to be so widely used in so short a time.) That's part of the narrative of our times: from your modem to God's ears.

But with the decentralization of analysis, some of the dysfunctions of traditional political campaigns - the aforementioned "rivalries, turf wars, backbiting, intrigue and drame" -  have spread throughout the national coliseum, too. Everybody, it seems, knows best, or thinks he does, when it comes to how to elect a president of the United States. As part of that, ideological arguments are now so often framed as strategic ones.

Ariana Huffington today resurrects her June 30 "Memo to Obama: Moving to the Middle Is for Losers" - in which and notes that the media has taken an entirely different narrative from it:

[I've] looked at the Obama campaign not through the prism of my own progressive views and beliefs, but through the prism of a cold-eyed campaign strategist who has no principles except winning. From that point of view, and taking nothing else into consideration, I can unequivocally say: the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake.

 

Fair enough, but she did title her first piece as a narrative about "moving to the middle." And what happened? The media added its own spin based on that (and her experience, having her message misinterpreted in the media, exactly parallels what has generated her misimpression, and that of others, that the candidate somehow has shifted toward the ideological center).

Yet if we look at the Obama message from a year ago through to the present, most of the matters that many have framed as a move or a change in stances merely involve the reiterations of things the nominee has been saying all along - about faith-based initiatives, about the responsibilities of fatherhood, about getting out of Iraq "as carefully as we were careless going in," and especially about process: the openly stated shift from a politics of permanent partisan confrontation to one of reaching out to adversaries and, gasp, even forging compromises. All these things were basic to the Obama message before the Democratic primaries and caucuses began - and had so much to do with why he won the Iowa caucuses and most of the contests that followed - and all of those things have remained unchanged.

In that context, the nominee has not "moved to the middle," and even his vote last week on the compromise FISA bill did not surprise those that paid close attention to the Obama candidacy since last year or earlier. A guy who talks so much about his willingness to listen to rivals, to meet with shunned foreign leaders, to not demonize members of the opposition party, and to seek workable compromises in governance - at such open contrast with two decades of Bush-on-Clinton-on-Bush-II polarization - doesn't shock the careful observers when he does exactly what he's repeatedly said he would do.

And so, just as a year ago, when Obama had not yet gained traction against an "inevitable" nominee and so many were shouting that he had to change his message and strategy, Rudyard Kipling's sage advice, titled "If...," comes to mind:

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too...

 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

 

The narrative is, in fact, inverted: Those that try to prod the Obama campaign to "not move to the middle" (and such advice pours out daily from friend and foe alike) are in fact asking him to move off his original message. And those that try to pressure him to do so with public threats or pronouncements that they've withdrawn, or will withdraw, support, would, if his campaign followed such advice, cause him to do exactly what they are claiming he shouldn't do: shift off his original message, capitulating to pressures. (Some just want him to bow to their pressure, it seems, which is fine until they claim that they oppose bowing to pressure in general.)

It seems to me that Axelrod - the Christian Science Monitor story refers to him as "Keeper of the Message" - and team are keeping their heads when all about them are losing theirs and blaming it on them.

And that's why so many previous media-generated crises and outrages-of-the-day over the past seven months, especially - two Clintons, two reverends, some gaffes that were gaffes because they were errant, other that were called gaffes because they were not - so many millions of words on blogs and in the media that portrayed every moment as if history would be decided by that one loud distraction - floated back out to sea and aren't even remembered in much detail today.

To study the 2008 campaign is to receive an advanced course in how to keep one's head in a permanent media storm when all are losing theirs. For that's the main problem or weakness for aspiring leaders of today, on public and private stages, large and small. And best of all, this crash course is free to any and all of us that want to take that class.

 

 

 

 

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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