In The News
The secret weapon in Obama’s victory
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Barack Obama’s campaign was built on the values and lessons of positive community organizing.
These are hardly the confrontational tactics derided at the Republican Convention. Real community organizing requires a temperament that Sarah Palin doesn’t have – and that, candidly, most media pundits left and right also lack, since they live on sarcasm, sly winks and skeptical derision of those who don’t agree.
The organizing that Obama and his team embodied emphasized invitation and tranquility. Be peaceful and non-threatening, invite people in, make them feel part of achieving noble goals.
All that resonated in the corners of quite a speech election night, 90 minutes north of where Milwaukeeans echoed what was simultaneously happening in D.C., Seattle, and probably invisibly in country lanes where there were no cameras.
When TV or the Internet about 10 p.m. Central Time announced the victory, people erupted on residential blocks, in dorms, at hotel parties and just in living rooms with cheers, weeping and even amazement – and yet also, as in Grant Park, enforcing upon themselves the avoidance of boos and mockeries of the defeated. It was a demeanor of civility that Obama had insisted upon for his campaign, not discounting his knack for throwing a sharp elbow when needed..
Boos and derision have been a hallmark of American politics for the last eight years. Somehow Obama and his campaign imposed discipline on hundreds of thousands of hires and volunteers -- stay calm and focused, greet hatred with ideas and patience, deflect personal attacks.
The GOP dismissed all this as fantasy, but today they know how well it worked. The campaigners were so successful around the country that it became a news story when one showed temper or got physical.
Grant Park concluded the best campaign in my memory. Surrounded by family and his faithful, knitting together in loops, but with new hints, the themes of change he represents and the hope he knows he brings, Obama was doing something else. Certainly he moved fast after that momentous day at the polls, and even as we went to press was dealing with a remarkable list of names and supporters to draw upon
Was I alone in detecting impatience? A warning not to expect instant results and yet an eagerness to put campaign fever behind him and get on with governance? As he said, he has to hurry: "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change."
There are some caution flags needed in the Obama enthusiasm. What has been suggested for two years in the Labor Press seems true. Obama is nowhere near as liberal as the McCain forces painted him. His progressive style lacks the showiness of many groups that support him. It is a preference to work behind the scenes on reform.
News reports now reveal several occasions when Obama may have listened to his advisers but then went his own way, sometimes dangerously. Against advice he directly addressed religion. He cut off the sort of media shopping channel use of his wife and children that many networks offered.
He is capable of bold moves when needed, but he prefers to make sure of his support before he jumps. If he is not comfortable, he will wait until he is. Nowhere was this clearer than in the economic crisis, where he immediately laid out several conditions that must be part of any economic package and tried to get McCain to mutually agree (they were all put in) -- but he let the experts work out the details. There was no grandstanding, nor pretense of bolting into the room and saying, “I am in charge!”
(One bureaucrat I spoke to in D.C. wondered if this finally meant “a president who wouldn’t call a meeting for show but to actually get something done!”)
Obama has an affinity for technology, for educators, for cities and for the Rust Belt but mainly for the working class which we now describe as the middle class. The election unfolded to support his strengths. Democrats wanted even more, but what he has is strong but not dominating power in Congress. Both the House and the Senate are Democratic, but not filibuster-proof, and some of those Democrats are quite conservative while some Republicans are quite open to his platform.
Here and there he has the votes to demand agreement, and he can expect some of his stronger supporters, including unions, health care advocates and anti-war advocates to push him to enforce those demands. But he doesn’t have that Bush-style temperament to insist without consensus.
That will affect the pace in which he solves health care, energy needs, infrastructure rebuilding, majority sign-up (the Employee Free Choice Act), the realities of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the pace of immigration reform, action in the Congo, fair trade and other issues that are seething in the background of our policies.
By voting for him, Americans had better be ready for a president who thinks and measures. The people gave him an enormous victory. Now they have to give him the patience to maneuver.