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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Moulting Hulls: A New Way to Campaign

How Barack Obama is Changing the Conversation of Political Campaigning

Picture a beach. Large, with windswept dunes, tall, dry grass spears from it as sparsely as the hair on John McCain's head. Scattered across the sandy hills are old bunkers, built by Nixon, Reagan and Bush 1 and 2, and even JFK, LBJ and WJ Clinton. There old fart politicians wait for the new politicians that dare to challenge their turf. They have survived by keeping their big guns sighted on the sea.

When the new ships carrying hopeful politicians attempt to cross the narrow bay, the old guard opens fire. They don't aim to sink the approaching boat - merely to make it list a little. That way, they can bring it in to shore in the guise of offering assistance.

"I don't know who shot at you," they say. "I just heard an explosion and came running. But you're lucky. We just happen to have a plan, er, I mean a shipyard where we can make the repairs for you and you can be on your way. Oh, don't worry. We've been doing things this way for years."

The fresh faced politician looks forlornly at this unwelcome handler.

"Oh, don't worry about the money. You're one of us. As long as you need your ship patched, we will be here for you. Now off you go."

Sure enough, a couple of days later, the new politician's ship is ready to set to sea. Indeed, it is repaired, and though a couple of planks, some nails and some pitch don't make it too attractive, it is seaworthy. So off he goes, charting a course to success on unpredictable surf.

But the people on other islands, who need him to give them a lift, see the poorly dressed gash in his ship's hull, and don't trust the repair. They definitely are hesitant to get on board. Then they look around at the other ships making their way to the harbor and shudder. Everywhere they look, on every hull, is an equally nasty patch.

The town crone hobbles up to them and, seeing their concern, says "Don't worry, dearies. This always happens. Just pick the boat you hate the least and climb on," and up a gangplank she waddles.

A lot of the other older folks do the same thing. Some of them even convinced their neighbors and family to join them. "Hurry up or you'll be left behind! You won't have a say about the ship's course," they shout from the deck rails.

Then, from the direction of the bunkered beach island, they see something miraculous. A smoldering ship begins to list, but instead of heading for the old shipyard, it turns and makes a heading toward them. They all gasp as they see it begin to list, smoke pouring from its side. They all see the smoke and they all know what happened. Those who haven't chosen a boat shake their heads in disbelief. Those on the old decks cackle with laughter and point at the fool coming towards them.

Suddenly, as they are all watching, the smoke stops, and slowly, the ship begins to right itself. "Look at that," says a young girl standing at the harbor, pointing. There, in the wake of the ship, the old smoldering hull is sinking. The boat now wears a shiny new hull, a confident one, and the people on shore rush to meet it. They cannot wait to climb aboard and meet the captain.


Somehow, Barack Obama has found a way in politics that doesn't involve putting a patch on controversy and hoping you don't see it. He's found a way to turn attacks into gold because it's not about the ship; it's about commitment to a destination. Instead of standing up like a petulant child and saying, "I'm not bad. They are," he stands firmly and says, "This is what the real issue is. It's racism. It's divisiveness. It's dismissiveness. But if we confront that, this is what's possible. We maintain our ship because we are committed to our course."

His biggest challenge will be going back to the bunkered island, his ship constantly renewing itself under their fire, and seeing if he can get the old farts to get on board.

-PBG
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