The media in America simply does not understand the Obama phenomena. Indeed the media in general, are conflicted and confused when describing Obama, and not without good reason – because Obama is a political anomaly that has never appeared on the American presidential scene. So “understanding” him is without precedence, and surely is not easy. As is commonly described, many of Obama’s campaign characteristics are “out of the box” and somewhat unique.
Opinion: The Obama phenomena
Two significant qualities that differentiate Obama are his race, and his eloquence. One may inhibit his election, while the other, though unusual, has in the past, proven not to be insurmountable. Taking race first, what the major media fail to factor in is they have never experienced a candidate who was a community organizer from the South Side of Chicago. Instead they still view Obama from the prism of conventional candidates. Their fascination with the Reverend Wright is a metaphor for this lack of understanding.
Let’s face it: Obama knows what Reverend Wright stands for (and has answered him twice now). He has heard his sermons. The danger here in not that he has been “infected” with some lack of love or patriotism for America, but rather that he is coming out of a milieu different from Hope Arkansas, or Independence, Missouri, or Boston, Massachusetts … or wherever former presidents have typically emerged. No other candidate before Obama has “walked the walk” of this environment; and if Obama is to be elected and accepted, this component comes with the package. In my view, it is precisely because of these experiences that Obama can better unite and bring about reconciliation of the races. And, it is these same factors that can allow him to present a more diverse face to the world for America. If he can successfully communicate this to the voters, it will be a major plus to his election, and a huge benefit to our country.
A more formidable obstacle will come with a large chunk of white voters – of both parties – who still cannot accept the idea of an African American in the White House. This truly is a challenge, and one that can only be overcome if the discontent with our current malaise is great enough to push added votes to Obama. It remains the silent and yet untold story in this election, yet it will almost certainly emerge as the new “Swiftboat attack” in the upcoming election, in a variety of ugly forms.
In regard to Obama’s supposed lack of patriotism, his failure to wear a flag pin another point of misunderstanding. We have had a bellyful of these false symbols is the past few years, and the insincerity they project. To judge electability by such transparent behavior is totally disingenuous. The public almost surely understands this, as much as they understand a giant sign on an aircraft carrier touting “Mission Accomplished”. It is also a manifestation of a story-hungry press. I doubt Obama’s patriotism will be judged by his jewelry.
Obama’s acknowledged eloquence is another “out of the box” characteristic, which has branded him with “intellectual and ideological elitism”. To me, this confuses being articulate with arrogance. It is impossible to deny that Obama is eloquent, but that is not necessarily a death knell for election. True, he may be the finest speaker to run since Stevenson (who, of course, did lose); but we have had outstanding presidents who were equally eloquent and were elected. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts are four that come to mind; and Jefferson and FDR were socially “elite” as well. I’m not sure America would reject a candidate who speaks well, inspirationally, and with creative panache. Indeed, this is a time when America needs inspiring rhetoric to help us out of the social, economic and war-weary funk we are experiencing. Kennedy proved that this component of the presidency is just as important (and possibly more) than writing legislation. Can Obama bring us another Camelot, only with a different skin color? That would be nice.
The media has also focused on Obama’s lack of rapport with working class whites. A good share of this disconnect is the result of his bruising battle with Hillary Clinton, who has driven this point home relentlessly. Once she is out the picture (and/or actually provides him with support to these groups) the challenge will be lessened, and that should be soon. Meanwhile his own modest roots can be emphasized to strengthen that connection. Frankly, Obama has confronted the issues of typical working class Americans, but working class families seem more comfortable listening to the siren songs of the trite and old politics, which they better understand, because Clinton and McCain know that song so well. It is apparently a song to which Obama – to his credit – prefers not to learn the words. When the final choice becomes Obama vs. McCain (himself now wealthy and elite), working class Americans may well choose the man who pulled himself up with his bootstraps. And, while both Clinton and the Republicans — as well as the media — try to paint Obama as a far left liberal, the fact is his positions are reasonably moderate, and his thrust has been as a unifier not an ideologue, a point most Americans of all classes now seem to desire. Again, the media portray him wrongly.
Is America ready to elect a president who is “out of the box” in so many ways, including his race and eloquence – or will they again turn to the illusion of a “safe harbor” of past presidential models, and elect an aging war hero who will leads us backwards on the path to the past? Much of that decision rests with the media truly understanding, and reporting, who Obama is… why he is different than more conventional candidates…and how his election can effect real change in our country. Thus far, the media has failed on all three counts, and this seems to me to be a case where it is the media – not the messenger — that lacks comprehension of what this election is really about.