[Note: See my original Daily Kos post here.]
Obama isn’t so much running for the nomination in the sense of reaching out and taking it. He’s trying to show us how marvelous he is (and this isn’t snark, he’s really pretty marvelous) so that Democratic voters will recognize it and give him the nomination.
But that’s not how it works in this country. I don’t know if it really works otherwise anywhere else. But you have to really want it, come out and say it, take it. I thought about qualities that describe what is at issue. ‘Toughness’ seems to bound up in meta-national security mumbojumbo. ‘Ruthlessness’ sounds too, well, ruthless. You have to want it enough that you reach out and take it. Which isn’t always pretty and admirable. But that’s what it takes.
I disagree that Obama has to somehow seize the narrative now, and then struggle to keep control of it over the next three months. Follow me over the jump and I’ll explain my reasons why.
It’s funny, because these entreaties to “take it” are just as vague as observers accuse Obama of being on the campaign trail. Now, I don’t disagree that Obama needs more traction, but when it comes to tangible specifics about what Obama has yet to do, his critics fail to offer any.
But let’s presume that by “take it,” these observers are referring to sharper sound bites and more direct attacks on the Washington establishment and Hillary Clinton.
– John Edwards has trying to “take it” and break into the MSM narrative by more pointedly attacking Clinton. Where has that gotten him, either in the national or state polls, financial resources, local activism or endorsements?
– Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt tried to “take it” in 2003, and we see what happened on caucus day. Others may differ, but I would say Dean failed because he peaked too early and couldn’t close the sale by looking and sounding presidential. Gephardt was punished for his negativity in the closing days of the race.
– John Kerry and John Edwards ran more positive campaigns (at least compared to Dean and Gephardt who were at each other’s throats), and it gave their campaigns new life when it came time for voters to actually make a decision.
This time around, Democrats know that the Republican opponent will be much less formidable than Bush in 2004, and are much more likely to fall into the column of the “hope” candidate than one who goes nuclear. That’s why I think Edwards’ attacks on Clinton won’t necessarily benefit him.
Obama is right in the thick of things in Iowa, with by far the best organization there and the most energetic supporters. It is mistaken to assume his campaign needs to panic now over national polls that reflect little other than name ID and general popularity.
Is the clock ticking? Yes. Obama needs a better sound-bite quality to his criticisms of the Washington establishment, and he has to make clearer the stark choice that lies before the voters as they choose between himself and the rest of the field. But I’ve learned to be more patient with the campaign after the beautifully timed and very strong energy plan he unveiled, just as Al Gore is set to make a splash on climate change. It shows his campaign knows what it’s doing.
The mainstream media wants a contest, and come November they will be looking for a reason to bring Clinton down, just as they did with Dean. Once Obama starts to hit hardest (my guess is late October), he’ll need to ride that wave to the caucus. If he ‘attacks’ now, the MSM will be looking for a new story by the end of the month.
My bottom line: Obama is perfectly positioned now, and late October into November will be the best time to pounce. He will peak just as people turn their attention to the holiday period, hopefully receiving Al Gore’s endorsement in December. In the meantime, I like that he’s staying in the headlines with bold policy proposals while remaining financially and organizationally strong.
Sounds like a great strategy to me.