Thursday, January 17, 2008

Selling Transformation, Not Platforms

Barack Obama, Henderson Town Hall. Click for LARGE image.

People Buy Emotions, Not Facts

I don't know that what Obama is selling is genuine transformation.

To me, he seems of all three major candidates, clearly closest to the middle.

Obviously, he intends to be elected, and selling transformation may just be his means. Or he may mean it all the way down, and the skeptics who point at his lack of specifics are only seeing his need to take the center with him, and their own fear of being conned (or having been seen to have been conned.)

We may not know one way or another till years into an Obama administration.

But he has the language of change down cold. The other candidates do not. Obama is way ahead of both Clinton and Edwards in terms of the distinctions he is using, in terms of their power to sway people and change the entire debate.

Obama's language of change is defining the battlefield of the Democratic primaries. The other candidates are being forced to play his game.

From the music and rhythm of the black churches, which underlie his big speeches -- so he's getting through to the African-American community even as he's not explicitly speaking to them -- to the declarative language, which some people have referred to as "The Presidential Voice." The West Wing aside, it is not true one must be the President in order to use The Presidential Voice. To make declarations, the language of a President (or leader), one simply has to have the permission of a community of listeners, as any rock star knows, and Obama in this moment is a rock star ascendant.

Obama is careful to limit his declarations to those which the people listening to him will buy, those which generate a relentless momentum for change. While Clinton keeps promising what she will do once elected, and Edwards... well, hell. I can't tell you what Edwards is doing. The media has his ass blacked out. But the last I saw, it was still, "elect me and then I will," a conditional request. Promises and requests are the language of legislators and lobbyists, respectively.

Edwards may have the most liberal platform. Clinton may well be best able to deliver. And Obama might be corporate in his heart and in his advisors.

But the fight as I listen it will come down to, not who has the best platform, or who is closest to the center.

Will Clinton's well-honed ground game --the Clinton political machine -- be sufficient to beat out Obama's passing -- the sense (and be clear, he is both the beneficiary of this sense, and in many ways, his speaking is a prime cause of it) that the United States needs fundamental change and he's the man to bring it?

I would never bet against a Clinton in a political fight. Ever.

But this fight is going to be fought in the listening of America over change, over transformation, over who is a leader.

And there, Obama leads.