The 2008 presidential election has been one of fearless prognostications – ‘conventional wisdom,’ as it were – almost all of which have been laughably, jaw-droppingly wrong. This is especially the case with respect to Sen. Barack Obama.
The American media have, at one point or another, predicted that Obama would not possibly defeat the Sherman Tank that was the Sen. Hillary Clinton campaign, that he was too shallow and too inexperienced to compete in a field of veteran pols. That he would lose the black vote, the white vote, the male vote, the female vote, the Hispanic vote and the Jewish vote. With the benefit of hindsight: Wrong, wrong, dead wrong, newly wrong, nearly wrong, fairly wrong, extremely wrong and’hellip;well, you never know about those elderly Floridians.
I’m talking about the man’s temperament. Obama has garnered a reputation by his supporters and the media alike (or is that a redundancy?) for always keeping a cool head and for never losing his temper. ‘No drama Obama’ is the mantra around the campfire in O-Land, and it has been adopted by everyone from his campaign managers to running mate Sen. Joe Biden, who has been uncharacteristically restrained throughout this endeavor. Among Obama’s many virtues as a man and a politician, his temperance is extremely crucial in selling his candidacy and his capability of governing the most important nation on the planet. If Obama wins this election, his demeanor will be the reason.
Last week’s Newsweek cover framed the current state of the race perfectly: ‘Mr. Cool vs. Mr. Hot,’ with Sen. John McCain as the latter. Politically, the conundrum that was late-September’s federal bailout brilliantly showcased the distinction between Obama’s cautious restraint in dealing with a major crisis and McCain’s reactionary fire.’ In a world consumed by fundamentalist suicide bombers and a looming environmental catastrophe, this is no time for more fire.
Consider the great leaders of this country: Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Kennedy and Reagan. What did they all have in common? More than anything else, they all held the weight of the world on their shoulders and remained absolutely composed under the most turbulent circumstances. Through one calamity after another – Kennedy’s actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis is a good place to start – they had the confidence to harness the power of the presidency and temper the anxiety of a waiting nation, while resisting the urge to go completely bonkers. They had passion, to be sure, but their passion was rooted in diplomatic prudence and the political realities of the time.
For a parallel to Obama on the campaigning side of the equation, look no further than our own governor’s ascent to office in 2006. In terms of broad imagery and Boston Globe headlines, Deval Patrick’s Democratic primary and general election campaigns were races between Patrick and a bunch of guys who wanted to bite each other’s heads off. Patrick’s opponents spent all their time flinging mud, barking like manic pit bulls and Patrick stood back, rising above the fray, biding his time, waiting to be the last man standing. He oozed assertive stability without even opening his mouth, and he won.
Obama has found himself in virtually the same pickles as Gov. Patrick throughout this long cycle, mostly against pit bulls armed with lipstick, and has essentially succeeded with a similar approach. His strategies against Clinton and McCain are mirror images of each other. The ‘Twilight Zone’ of the last month – i.e. the appearance of Sarah Palin – has been so distracting and all-encompassing that it’s easy to overlook Obama’s steady stewardship of his enterprise during that time, but it’s true. His campaign has experienced no leaks, no infighting, no disgruntled staff members walking off the stage, no drama.
Indeed, with such obvious similarities in narrative between Obama’s primary fight against Clinton and now the general election against the McCain-Palin ticket, I’m amazed by how predictably the GOP has fallen into the same traps as the junior senator from New York, unsuccessfully attacking Obama in ways that failed the first time. (Obama’s association with William Ayers – a current McCain talking point – was one of Clinton’s final arguments, too.)’
Undoubtedly, Obama’s own campaign is guilty of baseless personal attacks as well; ridiculing McCain’s ‘Bomb, bomb Iran’ joke was not exactly high-minded criticism. But when the Pennsylvania GOP calls you ‘a terrorist’s best friend’ – a blunt re-working of Palin’s line from last weekend – how can you not appear to be taking the high road?
Yesterday morning, Obama lead McCain in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll by 11 points, the biggest margin he has ever owned. Statistically speaking, he will almost surely be the next president of the United States. McCain ended Tuesday night’s debate by saying, ‘When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller.’ Wise words, no doubt, and Americas seem to agree. It’s just that the steady hand they’ve found belongs not to the fire breather from Phoenix, but rather to the smoothie from the South Side.
Dan Seliber, a junior in the College of Communication, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.