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Jeffrey Feldman Headshot

Obama and the 'Balance' Frame

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Iowa picked Barack Obama out of all the Democrats running for President and by doing so, they endorsed the 'balance' frame that Obama used to define the election and, potentially, the future of the country.

While all three top tier candidates campaigned for change, only Obama framed the election through a logic of overcoming imbalances: in our economy, foreign policy, and in our politics.   Clinton's 'experience' frame held the terrain briefly.  Edward's 'economic justice' frame gained real momentum in the last week. But it was Obama's narrative about striking a balance that resonated the most. 

Obama's use of the 'balance' frame is a significant development, but one that the media has largely overlooked.  Pundits talking about Obama's victory in Iowa mostly tossed around the vague concept of "change," claiming that Obama represented "change" more than Edwards and Clinton (despite the fact that every candidate in the election was talking about "change").  "Balance" is the frame that Obama has used effectively, however, whether journalists are able to see it or not.

The story does not stop there.  Obama's 'balance' frame had the most appeal with young voters who turned out overwhelmingly for him on a cold night in Iowa.  This development defies the common stereotype of college students.  When we think of political activists on college campuses, we think of passionate idealists, holding signs, protesting.  The Obama followers are passionate and they hold signs, but they are clearly driven by a desire to move beyond the politics of discord.  Young people following Obama find in his message of 'balance' a 'hope' for the future that holds the greatest possibility for them.

On the right, Mike Huckabee won Iowa with a combination of Christian morality and economic populism.  But Huckabee is a very good campaigner.  His message is not what the GOP power structure claims.  Huckabee has a gift for connecting to people.  He is the most 'authentic' candidate of them all.

If the general election becomes a contest between Obama and Huckabee, Americans will see something they have not seen for decades.  It will be a campaign between a man calling for economic reforms and evangelical norms competing against a man calling for national reconciliation and social justice.  It will be 'authenticity' vs. 'balance'; 'awe shucks' vs. 'let's sit down together'; 'I am one of you' vs. 'if I can do it, we all can do it.'

A brave world that would be.  A brave new world, indeed.

But for now, it's just Iowa.  New Hampshire is five days away and after that Nevada, then South Carolina.  The GOP candidates may be too far behind Huckabee to catch him, but Clinton and Edwards have plenty of steam left in them.

Congratulations to the Obama and Huckabee camps.

Next up: The Granite State.

Cross posted from Frameshop.