As most people know, I've been a supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for president since he gave his announcement speech in Springfield, IL. (http://www.barackobama.com/2007/02/10/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_11.php). It was a speech that spoke to the disillusionment that myself and my generation feel towards the political status quo, and an invitation for all of us to work together to remake the world we live in.
However, I'm not speaking purely as a supporter in this post. I'm merely making some observations about what some see as an odd phenomenon of a campaign. A few of my family members have called recently expressing amazement that Obama has been able to overtake Hillary Clinton in the early primaries. A few have caught his soundbites, a few have even watched highlights of his speeches and they often say that his rhetoric is too lofty and non-specific. They question his chops and experience. They wonder why he's not more specific in his pronouncements, but I think this is precisely why he is succeeding...
There is a place in politics for establishing the grand themes of an election. These create the narrative and backbone of your candidacy. Campaign speeches are not policy speeches. Campaign speeches are meant to inspire, provoke, and allow you to connect with a candidate on an emotional level. They are not meant to be laundry lists of policy ideas. They are meant to encourage your support for a given candidate. To make you feel like you have a part in this process that so often seems removed from the reality of our every day lives.
It seems interesting to me that at the point in which Obama's campaign sagged (especially in media attention) was during the summer. This coincided with his emphasis on policy specifics and issue-based pronouncements. His speech to automakers in Detroit regarding fuel consumption, and his speech to the Council on Global Affairs in Chicago regarding his vision for a Foreign Policy & Security -- while detailed and important got limited coverage.
The truth is that politics is much like advertising. First you must establish your message and your brand. Barack Obama's message is that he wants to unite Americans to tackle the difficult problems were facing and transcend partisan gridlock. His brand is hopeful, energetic and most importantly authentic. My generation (those under 35) have grown up in an age of inauthenticity. We've been blasted with advertising since we were out of the womb and have a sixth sense for pandering. So when we see someone who is honest about their past (even the unflattering aspects), who takes stands on unpopular issues despite the potential consequences (eg. Iraq War circa 2003) and who avoids the standard political gamesmanship of attack politics -- we take notice.
This approach has also created a mobilization of volunteers that is unprecedented. Thousands log on to his website every day and use his online phone banking system to call their local peers to keep everyone informed of the campaign. Speeches and articles are distributed, events arranged and a community is built. As we saw in Iowa, the result of this mobilization is unprecedented turn out.
People under 35 were never lazy. They were merely disillusioned with a poll driven politics that smelled of political calculation, and reeked of inauthenicity. They needed someone to organize them under a positive cause and teach them how to reach out and organize their peers.
Who better for this task than a former community organizer who had to overcome the hardcore disillusionment of the poorest communities in Chicago and convince an alienated populace that they could make a positive difference in their lives if only they were willing to stand together united as one.
While the pundits act suprised and others just now take notice -- this is not something that happened over night. This is a movement that was built through the hard work of thousands of volunteers and inspired by a Candidate who has never forgotten who he is or how hard the challenges are that stand before us.