Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Obama Won - By Sherwin Hughes

I've been playing this game for a long time. I have never seen an offense like this one. The formations they used were simply unorthodox. As the plays began to unfold this team marched down the field and defeated each of their opponents one by one—including the previous national champion Clintons (John Edwards ultimately penalized himself out of contention). Election by election, they took state championships in places no one ever imagined. Iowa is one huge political football state—the string of victories started there. Those states, now marked by the hue of blue, were enough to crown a new champion in this game that can only be described as larger than the super bowl.

The Obama presidential campaign was nothing short of a phenomenon. This "Obamanon" will be the subject of study for political professionals for many years to come.

It is impossible to describe this campaign without the mention of the very basic intrinsic value of hope. It was the overarching theme throughout the campaign. When a charismatic figure is able to do more than talk, but inspire, you have the trappings of something incredible. Bill Clinton, also a charismatic figure, did little to kindle the American spirit in the same ways as Barack Obama. There are things that are simply intangible about Barack Obama as a man.

He is the combination of what divides America. He is as black and he is white. He stands a man in, and of, racial contrast. Ultimately, nothing can unite more than the very things that divide. He is, remarkably, every American. In his books he reveals his angst, his uncertain identity, and even his drug use. There is little about this man that people can't relate to. For those who tout "he's not black" or "he's not black enough" I offer you Michelle Obama and his beautiful daughters. These black women are the final and ultimate justification of this great man.

In the universe of campaigns, the candidate, sometimes, is of the least importance. For it is the organization and the message therein that will assume the momentum. Obama had the luxury of both.

The selection process to be a paid staffer in the campaign was unlike any I had ever before witnessed. In democratic presidential campaigns, we often start with the usual suspects. Individuals from organized labor, the slue of activists, (women's rights, environmentalists, GLBT, etc.) after that, campaigns are usually honored to take whoever else is willing—and sympathetic.

This campaign was exceptionally different. Not just seasoned political professions (only of a specific pedigree) but lawyers, PhD's of all sorts, master degreed professionals, and graduate students alike surrendered their lives of upward mobility and academia to join this movement.

This campaign was damn smart, Ivy League smart by design. I mean that literally.

Some of my most seasoned colleagues in campaign politics, people who do this to feed their families, people whom I worked and trained side by side were not paid staff of the Obama campaign. That was on purpose.

Some of us, like it or not, represented the old way—politics as usual. That Clinton way, that Kerry way was not how this thing was going to work.

I can recall the days when GOTV was a campaign bedding down in a minority community three weeks before an election with a big bag of money (clearly before the party-pooping McCain-Feingold Act). The "Obamanon" stood in antithesis of such antiquated ways. Instead of political professionals who expect payola, some of us were replaced with ordinary people. Ordinary people who were so inspired that they sought to volunteer. Imagine that. A campaign made overwhelmingly by people who were so inspired that they willingly walked their own communities, talking to their neighbors, friends, and family about the message of hope and change. The longer you think about it the more apparent the genius becomes.

Then of course, there's the money.

I liken right-wing conservative donors to gamblers. These poker players, drunk on their own hubris and wealth, are sitting down to a game of presidential stud, hold 'em or betting on horses at the track. The max buy-in is a cool $2,300. Their hands contain a peculiar set of face-cards—which include: Joe "The Plumber's", Sarah "The Palin's", and John "The McCain's". Those who previously held Rudy "The Giuliani's" and Mike "The Huckabee's" folded pretty early.

Those hands would ultimately be trumped. Millions of ordinary people sat down at that high stakes presidential poker game. The same people who haven't been invited to play for the last 8 years, and arguably the last 200, seated themselves with confidence at this exclusive backroom game. They pooled their $5 and $10 chips, raised, re-raised and splashed the pot. The cards were dealt face up and revealed a beautiful royal flush which consisted of the face cards of disenfranchised Americans, war veterans, and jobless individuals.

There were great complexities that existed within this campaign—the details of which we will be sorting for the next two decades. To the dismay of some, Obama was not farmed, and exclusively cultivated by the Black community. However, everything seemed to work. From NOT picking Senator Clinton as VP, to unleashing Biden only where his off the cuff style would be prudent, was the work of intellect and intention and not ignorance.

This was an airtight, largely gaffe-free campaign. So slick in its rhetoric, that the critics of Jeremiah Wright disappeared into obscurity.

The organization was foxy, cunning, and mostly free of missteps. The many financial contributions were obtained from a wide and exceptionally diverse constituency, making them seemingly unlimited. Most importantly, this campaign inspired us so much and kindled our spirits. In fact, the hope spilled out into the entire world. From goat herders in Africa to the cobblestone streets of Western Europe, we heard the world simultaneously shout "Yes We Can".

On a fateful day in November, America matured from her adolescence and blossomed into a woman. She now stands a beautiful woman who has begun overcoming her previously prejudicial ways.

There are some who are so obstinate to change that they only consult their grandmothers for advice.

They lost this time.

Then there are others whose sun was replaced by an "O" rising at dawn. They, this time, were the victors. God bless our new president and God bless America.

Do you agree or disagree with Sherwin? Be sure to leave a comment!

Sherwin Hughes is the Principal and Chief Strategist at STH & Associates, LLC - a political consulting firm in Milwaukee, WI. He is also a former Chair of the Wisconsin State Elections Board and has directed several community organizations.

No comments: