There are several reasons why Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. But let me tell you in one simple sentence why he triumphed. Barack Obama will become the next President of the United States because he defined himself early with a clear message of change, centered in a maturity and calmness in which he never got knocked off stride. Plain and simple. Now he will go down in history as America's first black President, an historic achievement that will no doubt have Americans of all colors weeping with tears of joy. I know Obama's critics may be weeping different sorts of tears but sometimes there are nights to put politics aside. Tuesday November 4, 2008 is one of them.
In political campaigning, it is critical that you be able to define your opponent. Hillary Clinton tried by saying Obama was not ready to be President. It didn't work. John McCain tried by saying Obama was too scary. It didn't work. Barack Obama was able to convince the majority of Americans throughout the last two years that he has the even temperament, intellect and policy proposals to effectively lead this country. The majority of the country was crying out for change. Obama fit the bill.
So much has been made about the suburb organizational skills of Obama's campaign. There is no doubt that the team he assembled performed magnificently. Without a sound structure and top notch professionals, he would have been doomed. But let's remember that it all starts with the candidate. Obama's critics try and lampoon him by saying that all he can do is deliver a great speech. Please. Sure he did that. Time and again. But Obama was so much more than that. Throughout this campaign, he displayed an intellectual, calming, coolness. He crafted a message that did not come across as typical liberal fare. Instead, it came across to the majority of Americans as inspiring, hopeful and bi-partisan. Whether Obama governs the way he speaks will be a key focus of his first 100 days.
As I look back on this very long presidential campaign, I come up with four crucial moments that really defined Obama and helped propel him to victory. I'm sure others will have their turning points but let me suggest my top four (not in any particular order).
When Barack Obama won Iowa, it changed everything. Specifically, it made skeptical African-Americans in this country, especially in the upcoming South Carolina primary think differently about Obama's chances. Obama's numbers in South Carolina started to increase dramatically and of course he won in a landslide in that state. But Iowa was not won without very hard work and phenomenal organizational structure. It was that team work that would be on display in not just Iowa but all across America.
Race Relations Speech
With Jeremiah Wright about to implode Barack Obama's campaign, Obama made one of the smartest calls of his campaign. Within four days of the Jeremiah Wright videos controversy, he realized the high stakes of what could happen to his candidacy and gave a speech on race relations and Jeremiah Wright. This was not just any speech. Politically speaking, it was a speech that quickly and decisively distanced himself from Wright's rhetoric but it also gave Obama an opportunity for a teachable moment on race relations in this country. Obama's critics will say the speech was all about politics. Even if that were the case, you can argue that Obama acted quickly and decisively to head off the controversy. (Granted, Wright wasn't through as his National Press Club speech gave Obama further headaches) Here's the bottom line though: With those American flags behind him during the speech and the nation's eyes fixed squarely on him to see how he would handle adversity, he came across as presidential; calm, smart and using the Wright controversy to make a loftier point. We saw Obama grow up right before our eyes.
The Bailout Crisis
While John McCain was suspending his campaign and rushing back to Washington (though he really didn't rush at all), Barack Obama was able to display a more calm, reasoned approach. Politically, he used the bailout crisis as a way to explain to Americans that sometimes you have to do more than one thing as President. Whether you agree with Obama or McCain on this isn't the point. Instead, the reason this was a key moment was because we saw a HUGE difference between the candidates during this "suspension of the campaign" crisis. Americans had a close up look at how both candidates would respond in a crisis. Clearly, Americans liked the way Obama responded. It appeared that he didn't over-react where as John McCain came across as someone who appeared more aggressive and tenacious. (Obama's campaign called him erratic)
Look, at the end of the day, there was just too much for McCain to overcome. The economy, the anti-GOP mood in the country, President Bush, the media, Obama's money flow, etc.
By all accounts, most pundits and people thought the debates were pretty boring. You know what? Boring helped Obama. Why? In all three of the presidential debates, Obama was so even keel, you felt like you had to take his pulse. The guy was simply unflappable. McCain could not rattle him. Obama showed himself to be very presidential in those three debates by remaining calm, talking sensibly and smiling. He conveyed hope, optimism and a steady influence. McCain tried to do the same but it felt forced and negative. Once again, Americans were able to compare and contrast and they liked what they saw in Obama.
President-elect Obama now prepares to enter The White House, the first African-American President in our nation's history. That's something we as all Americans, whether you voted for Obama or not, should be proud of. You may not agree with Obama's politics but surely the historic nature of this event is something all of us can share in.