Barack Obama: What He Represents
Why is the entire country swooning over a 45-year-old freshman senator who’s less than two years into his first term? Is it something he said? A promise he made? His overwhelming charisma?
Or does he represent something, an archetype of some sort? He comes across as a real person — something almost unheard of in this endless parade of blow-dried cardboard-cutout politicians whose every word is scripted and orchestrated.
This columnist — Ron Fournier — thinks America’s mass swooning is not about Obama himself. Instead, it’s about “the public’s desire for a change from the polarization and paralyzation of American politics.”
Obama himself said “I think to some degree I’ve become a short-hand or a symbol or a stand-in, for now, of a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represents. It’s a spirit that says we are looking for different. We want something new.”
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows how cynical and jaded the American public has become. 60% think the country is on the wrong track. 70% think there’ll be little or no change in the country’s direction even with the Democratic victories last month. 72% think partisanship will continue or get even worse during the next two years.
The government’s paralyzed helpless response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that government incompetence and unaccountability can have fatal results. Iraqmire has caused a nationwide sinking feeling.
The electorate is yearning for — demanding — something different in 2008 and beyond. A Republican strategist said there is a big opening for a “can-do centrist” in 2008. “If there is a person who can not be from the left or the right, who has a track record of solving problems and making things work, he or she would have a huge market for a third-party bid.”
A Democratic strategist said “I definitely think that we need to think literally about who might run outside of politics and the traditional spheres, someone with a sense of leadership and public service.”
Another possible outside-the-box candidate is New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a 3-way poll with Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, 10% chose Bloomberg. And most people haven’t even heard of him.
Ron Fournier says “Even mouthy sports figures like former NBA player Charles Barkley are capable of connecting with voters better than most politicians.” Barkley is considering running for governor of Alabama in 2010. He once said “You get two rich guys arguing over who’s conservative and who’s liberal and … they just argue for an hour, and nothing gets solved.”
Fournier says “Obama, if not the next president, is a living example of the voters’ desires; people are projecting in him the values they want in their next president.”
A Democratic strategist said “They’re looking for someone who is a uniter. They’re looking for somebody who has their best interests at heart. They’re looking for somebody who is accountable, authentic and relevant. The reason they are excited about Obama, is they’re looking for somebody to inspire them, to make them feel good.”
This strategist was asked whether the excitement was about Obama himself or just a sign of the times. She answered “It’s the times. It could be somebody else. But, right now, he’s filling the gap.”