Barack Obama: A Manner of Thinking

The Obama Campaign: In Retrospect

The Obama Campaign: Now Looking Forward

Three days after claiming the nomination, Senator Obama, who makes infrequent visits to the campaign’s Chicago headquarters, offered his gratitude by way of a motivational pep talk. “I want everybody to catch your breath. Do what you do to get your ya-ya’s out – that’s an old ’60s expression – and then understand that coming back we’re going to have to work twice as hard as we’ve been working,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to have to be smarter, we’re going to have to be tougher, our game is going to have to be tighter.”

Before finishing, he included a self-assessment, saying, “I am going to have to be a better candidate.”

From that point forward, the 2008 presidential campaign plainly will be different from what American voters have grown accustomed to. Senator Obama’s status as the first African-American nominee of a major party is only the most easily recognizable difference. However, there are a number of other important distinctions, such as style, scale and the silence of the leading journalistic voice in contemporary political culture. The style contrast is based upon Obama’s clearly more accomplished eloquent presentation of his speeches during the campaign primaries, delivered to huge audiences all across the country.

The scale difference flows from Obama’s record-shattering ability to raise money. If Mr. Obama casts off the constraints of taxpayer financing in the general election, as strategists in both parties expect, he’ll have an unprecedented range of options for communicating with voters by being free of the spending limits that accompany public financing.

The silence is the absence of Tim Russert, who died last week at 58. As the leading political analyst in the American media, he played an arbiter’s role that echoed beyond the viewership of Meet the Press on NBC. This general election will be the first since 1988 without Russert as the moderator of that program.

Senator Obama Reflects on the Loss of Tim Russert

The Initial Focus Upon Broader Visions: Public Statements and Policy Announcements

Like most presidential candidates, Senator Obama has been developing his executive skills on the run, while at the same time being under intense media scrutiny. The evolution of his style in recent months suggests that he is defining new procedures to confront a challenge that he has not faced in his career: managing a large organization.

That skill will become more important should he win the presidency, and his style is getting added attention as the country absorbs the lessons of President Bush’s tenure in the Oval Office. Mr. Bush’s critics, including former aides, have portrayed him as too cloistered, too dependent on a small coterie of trusted aides, unable to distinguish between loyalty and competence, and insufficiently willing to adjust course in the face of events that do not unfold the way he expects.

Mr. Obama’s earlier style was marked by an aversion to leaks and public drama, and he had assembled a small group of advisers who exhibited discipline and loyalty in carrying out his priorities. He has always read widely and encouraged alternative views in policy-making discussions, but earlier he liked to keep the process crisp. During the primaries, Obama delegated many decisions, and virtually all tasks, to a core group that oversaw a sprawling, yet centralized operation in his Chicago campaign headquarters, which going into the general election season now is absorbing many political functions of Washington’s Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Obama stays connected to advisers and friends via a BlackBerry, sending frequent but unsigned messages that are to the point. A discussion that cannot be conducted in a sentence or two is likely to be finished by telephone. A night owl, Mr. Obama is known to send e-mail messages well after midnight. In interviews with more than two dozen senior advisers, campaign aides and friends, a portrait of Mr. Obama has emerged as a concerned but not obsessive manager. By now, his associates have learned, there is no need to deluge him with unnecessary details, so long as someone knows them.

On policy issues, Mr. Obama can have a photographic memory of intricate details. Earlier, most high-level gatherings involving Mr. Obama were held either in his kitchen or at an office away from campaign headquarters, and were expected to unfold in an orderly manner. Written agendas and concise briefings were preferred. His style has usually been to not stir up dissent simply for the sake of dissent, but he often employs what some have called a Socratic method of discussion, where aides put ideas forward for him to accept or reject.

Defining Details That Support His Broader Visions

If a presidential campaign is intended to be a test-run for the presidency, during the campaign primaries Obama’s chief priorities had been the words in his speeches, messages in his television advertising and policy pronouncements. On other matters, even if he disagreed, he often allowed himself to be overruled.

But now, Obama has clearly picked up the reins in his campaign, quickly moving to take control in defining some of the more precise details that support his broader visions for America.

Obama Elaborates Specifics Central to His Broad Visions

An Appeal for People to Embrace Personal Courage and Responsibility

Senator Obama made what may have been one of his most influential presentations so far in the post-primary campaign, when he spoke at church on Father’s Day. In an address that was striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it, Mr. Obama directly addressed one of the most delicate topics confronting Black leaders: how much responsibility absent fathers bear for some of the intractable problems afflicting Black Americans. In his speech, he was strongly critical of the failure of so many African-American men to live up to their responsibilities in raising their children, citing that dramatically growing numbers of them have simply abandoned their families. His words were crucial in once again attempting to recast the image of the Democratic Party.

For too many years, Democrats have been increasingly perceived as controlled by a host of liberal special interest groups, from labor and teachers’ unions to women’s and gay rights groups. But none of those groups have been viewed as more influential, and in many respects, as damaging to the party than African-Americans. Obama’s address strongly confronted African-Americans with the view that their failure to succeed in America begins with the increasingly debilitated core of their families, rather than constantly displacing blame onto racism, using it as a crutch to explain away their failures to make progress in America’s political, educational, cultural and social institutions.

The broader issue is whether social problems exist because of flawed individuals or flawed social systems. Cognizant of the fact that entire universities of Ivy-league sociologists, radical Leftists and many Democrats have opted for the latter, Obama wisely drew our attention to the boot straps. Praising God, he said relatively little else about religion, but more importantly he paid tribute to women, lauding women in general and single mothers in particular. Obama listed some of the many heroic things that single mothers do, and illustrated his praise with reminiscences about his own mother.

Speaking at Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God, Obama said that more police on the street and job training programs are essential for a safe and sound society, “But we also need families to raise our children.” Admitting that he has been “an imperfect father,” Barack Obama spoke of the need for African American men to live up to their responsibilities during the Father’s Day sermon. Saying that too many Black fathers are “missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Obama said these men “have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

I say this knowing that I have been an imperfect father, knowing that I have made mistakes and will continue to make more; wishing that I could be home for my girls and my wife more than I am right now,” said Obama, as his daughters Sasha and Malia sat with his wife, Michelle Obama. “I say this, knowing all of these things, because even as we are imperfect, even as we face difficult circumstances, there are still certain lessons we must strive to live and learn as fathers, whether we are Black or White; rich or poor; from the South Side or the wealthiest suburb.”

Describing his own experience of being abandoned by his father at the age of two, Obama said he was fortunate to have his grandparents aid his mother in his upbringing. “Even though my father left us when I was two years old, and I only knew him from the letters he wrote and the stories that my family told, I was luckier than most. I grew up in Hawaii, and had two wonderful grandparents from Kansas who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me, who worked with her to teach us about love and respect and the obligations we have to one another,” he told the audience. “I screwed up more often than I should’ve, but I got plenty of second chances. And even though we didn’t have a lot of money, scholarships gave me the opportunity to go to some of the best schools in the country. A lot of kids don’t get these chances today. There is no margin for error in their lives.”

A Call for Personal Courage and Responsibility

The Evolution of Obama’s Political Thoughts and Positions During the Campaign

Barack Obama’s strong appeal earlier in the presidential campaign was largely based upon his commanding oratorical skills. His speeches enthralled huge audiences all across the nation, speeches that were eloquent, emotionally uplifting and powerfully resonating with particular broad themes: unity, hope and change. Obama’s early appeal quickly was met with criticism from opponents who claimed that what he was offering was “just words” and that instead an effective presidential candidate needed much more than that, it called for a strong background characterized by a lengthy history of political experience at the national level.

Since becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Obama’s campaign stance has moved to one that elaborates many of the more particular issues upon which his broader visions for America rest. Further, as Obama has begun to present his positions on the details of the major issues of the 2008 campaign, some of those positions appear to have an increasingly centrist quality. The latter development, of course, opens him up to a myriad of potential criticisms from members of both the polarized far-left and far-right political groups.

On the other hand, one might view the early phase of Obama’s campaign, during the primaries, as one in which he was engaged in introducing and teaching Americans about his major broad visions for America. Subsequent to becoming the Democratic nominee, Obama’s speeches about the details supporting his visions have revealed much more about his thought processes, and certainly a great deal more than is captured by the naive “centrist” political label. They have revealed a mind that is deliberative, flexible, sensitively responsive to ever-changing contextual issues, and capable of actually recognizing the reality of other people’s perspectives, as well as to consider that their perspectives might be just as good as his own or even better. Perhaps by nature, Obama’s manner of thinking might be described as social-constructivist or, more specifically, dialectical social-constructivism.

Thinking of criticisms that Obama is destined to receive from members of polarized far-right and far-left political groups, I am reminded of a reply that Samuel Beckett offered to a renowned progressive German philosopher who was enduring harsh rebuke from political extremists in 1969. About those fierce attacks, Beckett retorted:

Was ever such rightness joined to such foolishness?”

Barack Obama: On the Meanings of Change

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The Austin Debate: Clinton’s Attack Unveils Her Vulnerability

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: The Austin (TX) Presidential Debate

Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met at the University of Texas in Austin (TX) last night for a 90-minute debate, the 19th in their periodic series of debates and forums that has ranged from highly civilized to highly personal and hotly confrontational encounters. The first half of this first Austin debate was a relatively civil meeting. The two candidates agreed that high-tech surveillance measures are preferable to construction of a fence to curtail illegal immigration, disagreed on the proper response to a change in government in Cuba subsequent to Fidel Castro’s resignation and sparred frequently about health care, a central issue of the campaign.

The Austin Presidential Campaign Debate

Clinton had gone into last night’s debate knowing that she needed to somehow change the course of the campaign. She appeared to wait patiently like a fox for an opening to try to deprecate Obama, who was sitting just inches away from her on the stage. As the second half of the debate began, Clinton said, “I think you can tell from the first 45 minutes Senator Obama and I have a lot in common.” Hardly pausing to take a breath, she went on to say that, on the other hand, there were differences. In a moment that Clinton had clearly planned ahead, she raised the issue of Obama’s use in his campaign speeches of words first uttered by his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

If your candidacy is going to be about words then they should be your own words,” she said. “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.” Her charge had a perhaps unexpected response, drawing jeers and boos at her from the debate audience. When Obama dismissed the charge out of hand, he turned the catcalls to applause by replying that, “What we shouldn’t be spending time doing is tearing each other down. We should be spending time lifting the country up.”

Clinton Charges: Obama Copies His Words

That exchange marked an unusually combative moment in an otherwise generally respectful meeting. By the end of the debate, Clinton offered a comment of unprompted praise about Obama, saying that, “No matter what happens in this contest, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama.” A remarkable moment of Clinton vulnerability. She has revealed the paradoxical dilemma which confronts her: she still thinks that she can win the nomination, but at the same time she also knows that more likely than not, she won’t.

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Obama, Stop this Nonsense: No, You Can’t!

No, You Can’t is a satirical music video that responds to Barack Obama’s political message of Hope, as well as to the acclaimed Yes We Can celebrity music video. It stars a look-alike for the infamous Republican neo-conservative, Vice-President Richard Cheney.

Obama, Stop This Hope Nonsense: No, You Can’t!

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Obama Makes Clean Sweep: Solid Wins in All Democratic Contests

A Katrina Survivor Cries While Listening to Obama in New Orleans

Barack Obama won landslide victories in the Nebraska and Washington state caucuses, as well as in the Louisiana primary Saturday night, adding more delegates in his historic race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He won with a 2-1 margin in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana. Senator Obama also won the caucuses in the Virgin Islands. In all, the three states, plus caucuses in the Virgin Islands, offered 161 delegates.

While Senator Obama had been expected to win the contests on Saturday, the margin of victories were surprising, particularly in Nebraska and Washington, which offered the day’s biggest trove of delegates. In both states, he captured 68 percent of the vote in caucuses, compared with Clinton’s roughly 32 percent. Obama celebrated his victories in a rousing speech to his supporters at the the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond, Virginia. “We won in Louisiana, we won in Nebraska, we won in Washington state,” Mr. Obama proclaimed. “We won North, we won South, we won in between. And I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you’re ready to stand for change.”

Earlier on Saturday, with the contest seeming to be so close, excitement ran high, as did turnout. In Nebraska, The Omaha World-Herald reported that organizers at two caucus sites had been so overrun by crowds that they abandoned traditional caucusing and asked voters to drop makeshift scrap-paper ballots into a box instead. In Sarpy County, a suburb of Omaha, traffic was backed up on Highway 370 when thousands of voters showed up at a precinct where organizers had only planned for hundreds. In Washington, the Democratic party reported record-breaking numbers of caucus-goers, with early totals suggesting that the turnout would be nearly double what it was in 2004, itself a record year, when 100,000 Democrats caucused.

Obama is now going into a month when the Democratic nominating contests are expected to favor him. The presidential campaign is turning to important primaries in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Senator Obama is considered to be well positioned in all of those states. Further, Obama’s stunning victories came just as he is building a strong advantage over Clinton in raising money, providing important additional fuel for the nominating contests ahead.

Obama’s Rousing Speech at the 2008 Jefferson Jackson Dinner

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The Celebrity Music Video: “Yes We Can”

Josh Groban: You Raise Me Up

Obama Sweeps to Victory in February 9th Contests

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Photo of the Day: Heartfelt Tears

Josh Groban: You Raise Me Up

Photo of the Day: Heartfelt Tears

Julia Collins, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, cries as as she listens to the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, speak at Tulane University on February the 7th, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Louisiana presidential primary is being held tomorrow, on February the 9th.

Barack Obama in New Orleans

Senator Barack Obama’s latest presidential campaign video focuses heavily on New Orleans. While neither the city nor Hurricane Katrina are explicitly mentioned, viewers are shown images of Mr. Obama with his sleeves rolled up, standing in front of debris and talking to folks whose homes had been demolished.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Mr. Obama lent his hand to New Orleans evacuees in Houston. Mr. Obama is the only candidate still in the race to campaign in Louisiana. On Thursday, he addressed a crowd at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he pushed for F.E.M.A. restructuring and toured the city’s most heavily damaged Ninth Ward.

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Obama and Clinton Celebrate Super Tuesday Primary Victories

Senator Barack Obama’s Super Tuesday Speech

Surprise Update :

In a surprise shift after the topsy-turvy voting on Super Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama passed Hillary Clinton in the more recent network tallies of the number of delegates that the candidates picked up last night. The Obama camp now projects topping Clinton by 13 delegates, 847 to 834. Clinton had been portrayed in many news accounts as the night’s big winner, but Obama’s campaign says he wound up with a higher total where it really counts, the delegates who will choose the party’s nominee at this summer’s Democratic convention.

NBC News, which is projecting delegates based on the Democratic Party’s complex formula, figures that Obama will wind up with 840 to 849 delegates, versus 829 to 838 for Clinton. With the delegate count still under way, NBC News said Obama appears to have won around 840 delegates in yesterday’s contests, while Clinton earned about 830, “give or take a few,” Tim Russert, the network’s Washington bureau chief, said on the “Today” show.

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Celebrity Music Video: “Yes We Can”

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Obama Gets His Mojo Back: Trounces Hillary in South Carolina

Barack Obama Trounces Hillary in South Carolina Primary

Senator Obama’s Victory Speech

Senator Barack Obama won a commanding victory over Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday, building a coalition of support among African-American and white voters in a contest that sets the stage for a state-by-state fight for the party’s presidential nomination.  Obama’s convincing victory puts him on equal footing with Mrs. Clinton, with two wins each in early-voting states, and it gives him renewed momentum as the contest heads into a nationwide campaign over the next 10 days.

Nearly complete returns showed Obama with 55 percent of the vote, Clinton at 27 percent, and Edwards at 18 percent.  In his victory speech to supporters in Columbia (SC), Obama emphasized his message of change, referring to “this country’s desire for something new….Tonight, the cynics that said what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina,” Senator Obama said, referring to his last major victory in the Iowa caucus.  “After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates and the most diverse coalition of Americans we’ve seen in a long, long time.”

In the South Carolina contest, more than half of the voters were African-American, and surveys of voters leaving the polls suggested that their heavy turnout helped to drive Obama to victory.  Exit polls showed that Obama, who had built an extensive grass-roots network throughout the state, received the support of about 80 percent of the African-American voters.  He also received about one-quarter of the white vote, with Clinton and Edwards splitting the remainder.

In The Atlantic Magazine, Andrew Sullivan has described Obama’s South Carolina acceptance speech as the best that he has given so far in the presidential campaign:

“I’ve now listened to and read dozens of his speeches, on television and in person and in print.  Tonight was, in my judgment, the best.  He was able to frame the attacks on him as a reason to vote for him.  He was able to frame his foes as the status quo – beyond the Clintons or the Bushes, Democrats or Republicans.  He was able to cast his candidacy as a rebuke to the Balkanization of the American public, a response to the abuse of religion for political purposes, a repudiation of the cynicism that makes all political commentary a function of horse-races and spin.  It was an appeal to Democrats, Republicans and Independents to say goodbye to all that.  It was a burial of Rove and Morris.  And it was better than his previous speeches because he kept bringing it back to policy specifics, to the economy and healthcare and, movingly, to this misbegotten war.  The diverse coalition he has assembled – including an ornery small-government conservative like me – is a reflection of the future of this country, its potential and its irreplaceable, dynamic cultural and social mix.

This is the America we all love.  He is showing us how to find it again.  That‘s leadership.”

Update:

Today, Caroline Kennedy announced her endorsement of Barack Obama for President:

Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president.  This sense is even more profound today.  That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.”

You can read the full version of her endorsement in today’s issue of The New York Times.

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