I've thought long and hard about how to begin making my argument in favor of Barack Obama for President here on Dailykos.
I'm not going to engage in flowery rhetoric to try to prove my point. (If you want to read some waxing about Barack Obama try this piece from September, 2004.)
Instead, I thought I'd try to follow the lead of Chris Bowers, who wrote a great piece today, and focus on the core rationale that underlies my support for Barack Obama's campaign for the Democratic Nomination in 2008.
The core reason I support Barack Obama for President is simple. Senator Barack Obama best represents the politics of our grassroots/netroots movement in 2008 in ideology and methodology. Barack Obama exemplifies what we are about, the heart and soul of the party.
Like Howard Dean and most all of you, my overarching concern is the battle for governance and Democratic values in all 50 states. I want our ideas and our candidates to win; the two things, in fact, go hand in hand. Barack Obama is the best candidate to lead the Democratic ticket so that our Democratic challengers can best compete in the House, the Senate, for Governorships and in State Legislatures across the land. Barack Obama can claim this mantle because he is the best candidate to effectively advance our ideas on the campaign trail and in Washington. He proved this in 2006, travelling all over the nation to work on behalf of our Democratic challengers.
Ask local bloggers. They know. Barack Obama is a map-changing candidate. He is a 50-state candidate. There is a reason that 2004 supporters of Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are more likely to support Barack Obama. There is a reason Barack Obama has won, since New Hampshire, the endorsements of leaders as wide-ranging as (links all to local newspaper coverage of these endorsements)
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska
Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri
Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts
Congressmembers George Miller and Zoe Lofgren of California
Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
and Ned Lamont of the Connecticut Democratic Party
These endorsements mean something. Every last one of them was made after New Hampshire. None of them was an easy call. Why did Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont add his name to this list just today? All of these esteemed Democrats share the view that Barack Obama represents our best hope to change our party, to reform Washington and build a working majority in Congress. He is our chance to turn the page as a party and a nation.
Senator Obama is a candidate who brings new voters in on all sides. Young people. Liberal activists. Independents. Disaffected Republicans. Barack Obama is our best vehicle to break out of the tired "Red State / Blue State" dynamic, to help us compete in Virginia and Kentucky, in Colorado and Missouri, and, yes, in Iowa and Ohio and New Orleans.
We can see that in the results of the first two primaries. There was record turn out in Iowa and New Hampshire. And when new voters came to participate, they were more often than not supporters of Barack Obama.
There is a reason for this and I'd like to express it in clear terms.
In early 2006 I wrote a diary called, Crossing the Chasm, in it I wrote:
We don't lose elections because the voters don't know what we think; we lose elections because of the totality of how we communicate.
The brutal truth is that Democrats will not even in the most favorable political climate build a majority without breaking out of our current communication patterns. To create a tipping point for the Democratic party in 2006 we have to translate our activism into consistent language that can be understood from the majority's point of view; we have to build bridges to the "early Majority;" we have to gain the ability to join in coalition with voters who agree with us but don't necessarily share our style or all of our convictions. We have to "lose" our old ways of mixed messages, and find and cultivate "connectors" who are skilled at bringing our message to the majority outside our core base.
Barack Obama is that connector par excellance.
I was talking with my father, a retired professor of history, who is, as far as I know, uncommitted in the primaries. He had a great, wry line about communication skills and leadership. He said, "Charisma and the ability to move people through speeches are not exactly qualities we find lacking in great leaders of the past."
I think you get his point.
Let me give you an example of the contrast between connecting and failing to cross the chasm.
Watch Senator Clinton's victory speech in New Hampshire. Notice how, there's one small moment that begins at 3:30 of the clip linked to above:
I've met families in this state and all over our country who've lost their homes to foreclosures, men and women who work day and night but can't pay the bills and hope they don't get sick because they can't afford health insurance, young people who can't afford to go to college to pursue their dreams...[cheers]...too many have been invisible for too long, well, you are not invisible to me.
That is classic Democratic rhetoric. We list a set of societal problems that we all face. We direct our rhetoric at targeted groups. We provide a list of programs to fix those ills. That is also a classic example of how we FAIL to communicate with the rest of the country.
Now take a look at this overlooked speech that Barack Obama gave at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa: (Passage begins at 3:25)
What's next for America? We are in a defining moment in our history. Our nation is at war. The planet is in peril. The dream that so many generations fought for feels as if it’s slowly slipping away. We are working harder for less. We’ve never paid more for health care or for college. It’s harder to save and it’s harder to retire. And most of all we’ve lost faith that our leaders can or will do anything about it.
We were promised compassionate conservatism and all we got was Katrina and wiretaps. We were promised a uniter, and we got a President who could not even lead the half of the country that voted for him. We were promised a more ethical and more efficient government, and instead we have a town called Washington that is more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before. And the only mission that was ever accomplished is to use fear and falsehood to take this country to a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.
It is because of these failures that America is listening, intently, to what we say here today – not just Democrats, but Republicans and Independents who’ve lost trust in their government, but want to believe again.
And it is because of these failures that we not only have a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of great opportunity. We have a chance to bring the country together in a new majority.
Can you hear what I mean about being a connector? Do you see the substantive difference? Hillary Clinton is giving the same speech Democratic politicians have been giving for decades. It is a message that does not cross the chasm. It is, of course, a liberal message, a message of compassion and justice, but that is not how the rest of the country hears that message. What they hear is a group of well-to-do liberals applauding when a candidate talks about how bad things are for people who are victims of our economy, they hear a laundry list of concerns. At the end of the prototypical Democratic speech, our candidates implore voters to vote for them because we "hear them" and "see them."
That's not how Barack Obama communicates. He crosses the chasm and connects with voters on their terms. He talks about this nation as if all of us are in it together. He says what he means.
A friend of mine who is an astute observer of politics made this point to me when I asked him to explain what was distinctive about Senator Obama's debate style. He said this: Obama answers the questions. He thinks about the questions and then he answers the questions. That's what people want. But more than that. When Barack Obama opposes George Bush, or proposes a political alternative to the GOP, he gives a rational explanation of his position and brings people into his thought process. Too often Democrats go "red meat"...we oppose George Bush reflexively, we talk as if everyone already agrees with us. Barack Obama is careful not to do that. He always gives us a reason to support his viewpoint. Far from being a dreamer, Senator Obama always makes an appeal to reason.
I think that's a pretty profound insight. Barack Obama is about us. About participation. And even in his rhetorical style, he invites us to participate in his reasoning. That's how you truly communicate across the divide in America. It's something the GOP has understood (and abused) and we have neglected for too long.
It is in the interest of Barack Obama's opponents to belittle that ability to communicate and to connect with voters of all backgrounds. In a Democratic primary, the base controls who gets the nomination and traditional Democratic rhetoric has a powerful appeal. But who is truly our best choice for crossing the chasm and communicating with all Americans? The answer is clear and has been since Barack Obama's convention speech in 2004.
That ability to communicate, more than anything, is the core of why I support Barack Obama for President, and why, if nominated, I think he will make our best candidate in all 50 States.
Looking out at that new generation, the Democratic Party has a choice to make.
In the days to come I will post diaries with policy discussions (like this one from Brad de Long on Obama's stimulus package) and links to interviews (like this one with David Cutler, Senator Obama's health policy advisor) and links to discussions of Obama's Blueprint for Change (like this one assessing Senator Obama's technology program, or this one assessing his environmental record.)
We should debate the issues and the substance of policy. That's part and parcel of the debate that goes into the nominating process.
But the core of my support for Barack Obama can be expressed in a phrase that should resonate will all of us in the netroots. It was the phrase that introduced me to State Senator Barack Obama in 2002.
I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.
That speech, from October 26th, 2002, epitomizes what is right about Barack Obama: his judgment, his communication skills, his sense of history. Too many have used this speech as a cudgel to argue the politics of the present day. What I would suggest is examining this speech as an example of Barack Obama's rhetoric long before he knew he might ever run for President or succeed in his campaign for United States Senator from Illinois. I'd offer an excerpt from it for rereading as an example of what is best about Barack Obama.
It is, I think one of the the best arguments anyone could make for his candidacy for President:
I don’t oppose all wars.
After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income – to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.
That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.
---State Senator Barack Obama, Illinois, Oct. 26th, 2002
I support Barack Obama as a netroots and grassroots activist. I support Barack Obama as a blogger. I support Barack Obama, because, on that day in 2002, he spoke persuasively and presciently about the war in Iraq using words that stand up to this day.
Since that time, whether at the Democratic convention in 2004, or on the campaign trail fighting to win a new Congressional majority in 2006, or in 2007, crossing this nation running for President, Senator Obama has only proven that initial promise in his actions and his words.
I look forward to sharing more about my rationale for supporting Senator Obama in the days and weeks to come and, whether you agree with me or not, hearing your thoughts about how we best can work together and win victory for our ideas and candidates in 2008.