Can Barack Obama Win the Presidency With Emotion?

Mar 15 2008 Published by under Featured News

Barack Obama continued his campaign based on the promise of emotional renewal for both the Democratic Party and the United States. Obama retold the story of Bobby Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis shortly after the death of Martin Luther King.

“Some of you were alive when this speech was given… He was in a crowd mostly of African Americans. And he delivered the news that Dr. King had been shot and killed. And he said, at that moment of anguish, he said, we’ve got a choice… in taking the rage and bitterness and disappointment and letting it fester and dividing us further, so that we no longer see each other as Americans, but we see each other as separate and apart and at odds with each other. Or we can take a different path that says we have different stories, but we have common dreams and common hopes. And we can decide to walk down this road together. And remake America once again.”

Obama then tied the thoughts of Kennedy into the current campaign, “And, you know, I think about those words often, especially in the last several weeks – because this campaign started on the basis that we are one America. As I said in my speech at the convention in 2004, there is no black America, or white America, or Asian America, or Latino America. There is the United States of America. But I noticed over the last several weeks that the forces of division have started to raise their ugly heads again. And I’m not here to cast blame or point fingers because everybody, you know, senses that there’s been this shift…We’ve got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding. But what I continue to believe in is that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of divisions. That this country wants something different.”

One of the most intriguing elements of this Democratic campaign is that the two Democrats still running have very different styles. Hillary Clinton is stoic, low key, and focused on ideas. In contrast, Obama’s campaign is built more on emotion, and concept of changing America. Many Clinton supporters scoff at this idea, and the candidate herself has frequently taken aim at what she sees as the empty rhetoric of her opponent. However, I wouldn’t be so dismissive of the idea that a candidate who is appealing to voters based on emotion can win. Does anybody remember Ronald Reagan? He was able to win in part because he vowed to restore America’s honor and prestige after the Iran hostage crisis.

The idea that presidential candidates win the White House based on policy ideas is a nice fantasy, but not true. Presidential elections are personality contests. Voters tend to support, not the candidate with the best ideas, but the one they personally like and identify with. Ideas do matter, but they are a secondary concern. FDR and JFK weren’t elected only for their ideas, and is there any doubt that Al Gore was the more intelligent candidate in 2000? Ideas aren’t as important to most voters as having a president that they like and believe in. So before you dismiss Obama as a lightweight, never underestimate the power of emotion in a presidential campaign.

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