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Obama wins for majority who want change

I remember one of my political science professors, almost 25 years ago, teaching me an important lesson about candidates and campaigns: Image matters more than issues.

It’s a lesson I would forget nearly every election cycle, as I paid close attention to the candidates’ positions on the issues of the day. An idiot with a good image would beat the issue genius every time, and I kept betting on the geniuses.

When I look at the current presidential campaign, all the candidates, the polls and the issues, one thing stands out. The American people really, really want a change in direction for this country. Poll after poll shows voters are very unhappy with the path we are on. Even a majority of Republicans want something new.



And of all the candidates, there is only one who really portrays that image.

Barack Obama.



He doesn’t have to say a word for people to get that he is something new, something different, someone who can bridge those chasms of race and cultures, someone whose very presence signifies the new direction people are asking for. That’s a powerful image.

And when he does talk, he truly inspires people to follow him. That’s the kind of leadership that can’t be taught, nor earned through experience. Some are born leaders, while others could collect a résumé a mile long and still not command a following.

The people of Iowa last week confirmed that Obama is the candidate of change. In polls of caucus participants, 51 percent said that change is what they wanted in a candidate, while only 20 percent cited experience. Those who wanted change broke heavily for Obama, leaving the more experienced Hillary Clinton and her vaunted political machine in the dust.

Obama’s ability to inspire is what put him in this race. The fact that a black man who was unknown four years ago, and who has the misfortune to have the name Barack Hussein Obama, would be a front-runner to be the next president speaks to how inspiring he is. He is drawing new people to the polls, a fact borne out by the tremendous turnout in Iowa, doubling that of the Republicans. That’s a 180-degree change from the past.

Think about the other candidates. Clinton and John Edwards represent a call back to the Democratic past. As much as they try to tell voters they are in favor of change, even big changes, they can’t escape their images.

What made me take Obama seriously was when I started hearing from Republican friends who liked him. His message of changing the way Washington works and reaching across the political spectrum is being heard.

The fact that some Republicans like Obama is not going unnoticed on the far left. Some say that after eight years of trampling the Constitution under the feet of President Bush and sidekick Dick Cheney, we need an equally partisan president from the other side to push the country back to the middle.

But if partisanship is what put us in this mess, then more of the same is hardly the answer. What is more important than the immediate restoration of the system of checks and balances is to put an end to the partisan tug-of-war that created the atmosphere that allowed this to happen.

Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com complained the other day that Obama has made a cottage industry out of attacking the left in this campaign. What Moulitsas doesn’t get is that sometimes the left needs to be criticized. We don’t need another president who blindly ignores the misdeeds of his own party while attacking the other side. Look what that has done for Bush and the GOP.

Politically, Obama would be better off not criticizing his own kind. But that speaks to the kind of character he brings to this race. When he sees something wrong, he speaks out.

I don’t agree with Obama on all his campaign issues. In fact, I probably agree with the other Democratic candidates more than with him, and I’ve been critical of Obama’s issues in the past. But we also must note that issue details in a campaign rarely make it into legislation. Remember, we are living in the era of Bush, the “compassionate conservative” with the “humble” foreign policy. What Obama represents is someone moving in the right direction.

It’s still early in the process, and these kinds of candidates have failed to come through in the past. But it does seem that all the stars are aligning for Obama to win it all in November.

– Kirk Caraway writes weekly political columns for Swift Communications, Inc. He can be reached through his blog at http://kirkcaraway.com.


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