Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Big Picture

It’s the Republicans who have given new political meaning to the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  So it was particularly striking last night to see the contrasting images projected by John McCain and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  McCain made his victory talk standing before a small array of aging politicians.  Clinton in Texas and Obama in Wisconsin were enveloped by thousands of bright excere uited and mostly young faces.  Some younger voters were present at the McCain event, but they were out of the picture, separated by the stage from which he spoke. Clinton and Obama, while also on a platform, spoke from within their midst.  It was a stunning snapshot of where we’re headed in the months ahead, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination.

2004 seems a distant memory, but many of us pointed to a highly motivated and expanding electorate, thinking that we could recapture the White House.  The flawed candidacy of a wooden standard bearer, and a message that was more against than for anything, left us both disappointed and bewildered.  Those 2004 expanded numbers pale in comparison to what we are experiencing today.  150% more voters came to the polls yesterday in Virginia than turned out the last time around.  That is an astounding statistic.  Both Clinton and even more so Obama are drawing huge crowds – 18,000 with another 2,000 outside for him last night in Madison.  An extraordinary percentage of primary voters are first timers.  All of this bodes well for the country.

It wasn’t only a difference in image that separated yesterday’s winners John McCain and Barack Obama.  The Arizonan couched his remarks in a “time of war” cloak, standing ground against the enemy.  It is of course his perceived strength; a reflection of both his resume and primary interest.  His vocal cadence last night was subdued and serious, if not dour.  This is no “Happy Warrior”.  Apparently convinced that he will face Obama in the fall, he characterized the message of “hope” as a “platitude”.  Some Democrats also feel it lacks sufficient specificity.   But McCain has hung his hat on what the vast majority of Americans see as a failed policy in Iraq.  It is driven by much greater conviction than Rudy’s hanging his candidacy on Florida, but perhaps no less flawed.  The fact is that the majority of Americans, regardless of party, want out.  More importantly, I think McCain misses the underlying mood and yearning of his fellow citizens.  In the most recent polling 71% thought we were on the wrong track, a number that has fluctuated little (never below 68%) for well over a year.   In the context of a country governed by the platitudes of claimed victories (including McCain’s own with regard to the surge), voiced hope takes on profound substance.  Just ask a seemingly blind sighted Hillary Clinton about its power.  Those faces around both Democrats last night were full of hope and they are our future.

Barack Obama insists that the central issue in this campaign is not so much about any one policy but about clinging on to the past verses embracing future — a new mindset and a new direction.  He has maintained a laser like focus on his “can do” message just as did Bill Clinton with the economy in 1992.  Past and future: think about his first televised debate with John McCain and the image you’ll see on your screen.   Make no mistake, that will be a picture which truly speaks louder than a thousand words.

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