This past spring, I read an article in the March 20th addition of Rolling Stone for a paper that I was writing about Barack Obama as the hero of American politics. The cover of the magazine showed Barack in a sort of supernatural portrait against a bright, almost holy, cloudy background, with a headline that read “Barack Obama: A New Hope” followed by, “Exclusive: inside his people-powered revolution.”
The article, “A Machinery of Hope” by Tim Dickinson, offered a comprehensive account of Obama’s unprecedented commitment to grass-roots campaigning. It opens with a brief account of Adam Ukman, a campaign organizer who has helped Obama to victories in both the Iowa and Utah primaries.
“Our job is not to run in here to tell you how it’s going to be,” Ukman said to a group of campaign volunteers in San Marcos, Texas. “This is your campaign. Not our campaign” (qtd. in “Machinery”, 36). Democrats have heard that it was “their” campaign in previous elections, but this time Obama is literally handing them the reigns, as David Axelrod, Obama’s chief campaign strategist explained:
"When we started this race, Barack told us that he wanted the campaign to be a vehicle for involving people and giving them a stake in the kind of organizing he believed in. He is still the same guy who came to Chicago as a community organizer twenty-three years ago. The idea that we can organize together to improve our country – I mean, he really believes that." (qtd. in “Machinery”, 38).
In the time that has since passed, Obama has secured the Democratic nomination, and he has not faltered in his promise to run a campaign of the people. In an email about a week ago, the Obama campaign wrote that they would send a text message to announce the VP pick. Unfortunately I deleted the email, but again, the gist came back to the people. “This is your campaign, you’ve worked for it, you deserve to know first…” something like that. It is this sense of involvement that Barack offers that I am so drawn to. He has stirred something among America’s youth that really hasn’t been seen from a Democrat since the Kennedys. As I wrote in my last entry, my fundamental faith in democracy lies in the people, and that is a sentiment that Obama has clued into.
But the true brilliance of Obama’s campaign lies in his strategy of involvement, and this is how he has so successfully glued himself to the youth. When I learned of the VP pick, I simply turned on my new 3G iPhone, ran a quick email check, and boom: “Carlos – I have some important news that I want to make official. I’ve chosen Joe Biden to be my running mate.”
This unwavering faith in the general public has changed the face of politics. Those who assail Obama’s campaign as empty promises of change need look no further than the current success of his campaign, which has brought a very real change to the political sphere, leaving old politics behind. “We’re seeing the last time a top-down campaign has a chance to win it,” said Joe Trippi, the mastermind behind Howard Dean’s 2004 Internet campaign. “There won’t be another campaign that makes the same mistakes the Clintons made of being dependent on big donors and insiders. It’s not going to work ever again” (qtd. in “Machine”, 42).
Combining the modern networking capabilities of the Internet and cell phones, with a loyal belief in everyday Americans, Obama has created a political climate in which the individual can get involved, and they have. “That’s the magic of what they’ve done,” explained Simon Rosenberg, president of New Democrat Network, a political group that supports progressive Democratic candidates. “They’ve married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We’ve never seen anything like this before in American political history” (qtd. in “Machinery”, 37). Dickinson explains that this marriage “has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s” (“Machinery”, 37).
Attributing Obama’s success to a “stylish appearance” and a “flattering” of the youth is selling his achievements short. He has built his campaign around promises of change from the status quo – the divisiveness and ineffectiveness of partisan politics, big money campaigning – the politics of cynicism. Through his campaign he has looked to the people to help introduce a new brand of politics, a politics of hope, a grass-roots politics that asks every American to work for change.