Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Long Run

We pause from our obsession with possible VP candidates to offer a thought about the P candidate. There are lots of ways of looking at the past month or so of the campaign, but here's something that occurred to me: Obama spent lots of time outlining his programs and explaining them to voters, mostly in town hall and small settings. In the past week, he's faced at least two potentially hostile audiences, at a rich Orange County Evangelical church, and the VFW convention. He's lately gone directly at John McCain more than he has, but still within the context of his basic message, as when he told the vets Tuesday: "I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America, you served the United States of America.”

Those lines got applause from the VFW, the membership of which is older and more conservative than veterans in general or other vet organizations, several of which back Obama. A followup story to the Saddleback Church forum that interviewed churchgoers on Sunday indicated that while the overwhelmingly Republican membership was still overwhelmingly for McCain, they liked Obama and his values.

As a newcomer to the national scene, and of course as a black man running for President, Obama has to present himself to voters as authentically as he can, so they will become comfortable with him. Of course a large part of the intent is to sway undecided voters to vote for him in November. But that isn't all.

Even with polls tightening at the moment, Obama remains ahead, and could very well be elected President. And after that, he will have to govern. He will have a Democratic Congress to work with probably, but his plans to transform Washington and to meet the substantial challenges that face him, require a lot of consent of the governed, as well as wide participation.

So even people who did not vote for him, like the VFW folks and Evangelicals, have to like him and respect him well enough to accept him as their President. So he may not have won a lot of votes so far. But I think he's been doing that. It's going to help him govern.

Now we're entering the real campaign, and we're going to see an Obama who engages McCain directly. McCain's campaign was fairly skillful in attacking Obama when he was trying to lay out his policies, and his choice was to step on his own message and thereby cede control of his campaign to McCain, or to let McSlur rail against him. But from now on, Obama will be making the contrast with McBush. And now some people who probably wouldn't have listened to him before, just might. And even if they wind up not voting for him, they may accept him as President more easily than they might have before.

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