Maybe it's a little early yet, but I'm trying to get a little head start on figuring out how Obama won the Democratic nomination and ultimately became our first black president. What was his real strategy - and why did it work?
If you're not ready to concede Obama has won, that's okay. Heck, I'm not convinced either. If he does win, I'll be forced to reconsider the laws of political physics. So, let's just say he won for purposes of this discussion.
He certainly didn't follow the strategy I would have suggested (or you would have, if you'll permit me to speculate). Lord, no.
He didn't play to the real liberals. He didn't give the us the red meat we crave. He hardly put any meat on the bones at all. His health care plan was flaccid. His talk of fixing social security just freaked us out, bringing to mind the image of another black politician near and dear to all our 9th District hearts. (Not.) And all this post-partisan, reach-across-the-aisle talk freaked us out, too. No specifics, just "lofty platitudes" (to borrow a McCain talking point).
Instead of campaigning to his base during the primaries, he played to the general election audience. Why? I'm making a list of theories.
(1) No strategy. There's no secret strategy at all. He simply isn't the liberal we audaciously hoped he was. What we see is exactly what we'll get. We'll not know the answer until 2009, I'm afraid.
(2) Forrest Gump. He's stupid, and does things bass-ackwards. But he's really, really lucky, like Forrest Gump. We'll know if that's the case soon enough, because after he wins the nomination he'll start showing all of us how liberal he really is. Some might argue that this is a non-strategy.
(3) The Messiah. I put this theory out there for the sake of completeness - not because I put much stock in it. You know, there's a lot of people looking at all the shit that's been happening lately and convinced that Jesus is coming soon. If the Messiah theory pans out, the good news is we won't have to figure out the ramifications for future contests. Politics. Won't. Matter. [Note: This is not the cult strategy; see #5.]
(4) Vegetarian plan. He's deliberately withholding the red meat because he knows every bit of it will be used against him in the fall election campaign. On balance (his strategists might believe) it's better to risk frustrating and pissing us off now, but minimize the ammunition the Republicans can use in the fall.
(5) Movement/cult. He's got big plans once in office. It's not good enough to eke out a narrow 51% victory, face bitter opposition every day of his term, and end up accomplishing little. He's trying to build the largest possible popular mandate (or movement) for (unspecified) "Change" so that, once elected, he has the broad support to go for some really big changes. As pointed out in the comments, this is the strategy he claims to have. [Note: The Cult theory is merely a cynical spin/variant.]
(6) Acceptable black. He's got to do it this way mainly because he's black. He needs to convince the electorate that he's really Morgan Freeman (i.e., the magic negro, the archetype of an acceptable, admirable - and virtually colorless - black person, often with mystical powers).
Okay, that's six theories for now. I'll mull it over some more. If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments.
Work-in-progress, with updates below.
(7) Pop culture. He was ordained by pop culture. A high-rated pop TV series and at least two movies have presented black presidents as major characters. I'm sure there are more examples. I'm kidding on the square when I suggest this. I've long felt that TV and movies have a profound effect, good and bad, on our values and politics. Note: This is different from Theory 6, which says that he is deliberately adopting the persona of a pop culture archetype in order to avoid racial bigotry and get elected. Here, I'm saying that pop culture paved the way for him, and he is smart enough to see it and merely has to ride the wave. If he doesn't screw up, he gets elected because we all now yearn for a black president. Note 2: Apparently 24 will be featuring a woman president in the upcoming season, which bodes well for a Hillary comeback in 2012 or 2016.
(8) Right brainy. According the current meme, Obama is running a right-brain strategy, appealing to our gut and feelings more than to our logic and thirst for objective facts (left brain). Notably, this is the same approach that the Republicans have been successful with since at least Reagan (as Obama himself has noted). We assume Obama is right-brained himself, but that needn't be the case if he has good