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Roderick Spencer Headshot

Everybody Just Calm Down

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I just watched Barack Obama's latest campaign ad. It's him, talking straight to the camera, mainly about the economy, for two minutes. Compelling and reasonable, he says nothing we haven't heard him say before, while looking and sounding, 'presidential'. In a normal year the ad may have been criticized or ignored because of its' lack of pizzazz, but to me it is thrilling, and I suspect that it will work extremely well, especially among that most eagerly sought after group; the undecideds.

There is a consistent story out of the Obama campaign. It goes like this: an attack is launched by one of his opponents. The attack appears to be working. Poll numbers change. A gap widens, or narrows. Dismay starts to surface as the candidate and his closest advisors don't seem to be doing anything. Eventually, there is a meeting, or a conference call. Suggestions of how to respond come in thick and fast. Voices clamor to be heard. Then, through the noise comes this directive, "Okay, let's everybody just calm down. Here's what we're going to do." The conversation quickly goes from clamorous to orderly, from strident to strategic, and the campaign moves forward. Since Iowa, remember Iowa!?, this has been happening. Yet it seems that with each new punch thrown by the opposition, his most avid supporters, especially those on the chattering Left who supposedly know better, seem to forget... that Barack Obama is GOOD AT THIS.

When he finally called the McCain ads examples of "Phony Outrage", even I had begun to worry that his silence was a sign of the old Democratic strategy called 'how to lose a presidential election by being nobly high-minded', which was employed so gosh darn effectively by Kerry and Gore. Instead, what he did was the following: He paused to think about it. Then he paused a little longer to let the electorate think about it. And then he paused a little longer to build some suspense, before giving it a name: Phony Outrage. Wow. Simple, cool, and true. And actually "phony" is a much better word than 'lies' or 'distortions' or 'smears', because it is dismissive, without being contemptuous. It's mature, authoritative, and reasonable. And it made McCain look immature and silly. Not bad for a man young enough to be his grandson.

I don't know how long it took Obama to come up with that phrase. Maybe it was on the tip of his tongue as soon as he heard the attack, (maybe he even knew the attack was coming!) but he understands something that so many people on the Left can't seem to get their heads around; most Americans, Democrats, Republicans, even swing voters, are moderate, reasonable people.
They -- check that -- We, are not poised in front of the TV listening for ideological buzzwords that confirm our ironclad beliefs. We are actually listening for something beyond politics: confidence, reassurance, leadership, in language that we comprehend and appreciate.

Obama knows that the stridency and dismay coming from the Left, is as phony as the outrage and mean-spiritedness coming from the Right. Sarah Palin is a dreadful candidate, chosen for cynical political reasons. But, that doesn't mean that anyone who listened to her speech, and found reasons to like her, had suddenly taken leave of their senses. Can we please admit that, for a fairly long time, Obama himself was (intentionally-ssshhh, don't tell anyone) pretty light on substance, and those people that dared to say so had not been sent to the surface by Beelzebub! They were simply listening, and had not yet been convinced. Let's also try to admit that the women who remain angry at how Hillary Clinton was treated are not crazed harpies with fangs. Nor are Undecided Voters sub-literate morons more interested in choosing America's Next Top Model than the leader of the free world. This is a politically moderate, idealistic, and instinctively non-intellectual country. But as one not-too-shabby president once said, "..You can't fool all the people all the time." A good way to alienate them, however, is to be scornful and impatient.

Obama seems to understand this better than John McCain, and he has demonstrated extraordinary discipline through the many provocations and distractions he has had to answer. That discipline will be put to the ultimate test in the next 49 days, so it might be a good time for everyone who wants him to win, to "Calm the f*** down", and take a long steady look at how this candidate does politics. There are swing voters out there. They are still deciding, and that doesn't mean there's something wrong with them.

Here's my list of best guesses regarding how Obama got where he is. 1. He listens (or at least appears to be listening, which is a very reassuring quality). 2. He finds common ground(or at least uses words that make him seem reasonable and empathetic). 3. He works toward consensus(which means that, heaven forbid, he sometimes makes overtly political decisions, kind of like -- gasp -- his opponents). 4. He chooses moments and words carefully(could McCain have been right about his use of "Lipstick on a Pig"? Was our Barack actually setting a trap!? Hmmm.). 5. He points out differences while emphasizing commonality (and he means it, the man is a Centrist, only in America could Obama be described as a Liberal). And finally, this is just a guess so it doesn't get a number; I strongly suspect that he would prefer his supporters to stop asking exasperated questions that make them sound like snooty limousine liberals, or wild-eyed kooks. It is neither helpful nor fair to question the sanity of anyone who hasn't yet made up their mind.

A case in point: The man that lives next door to me, in the house with the McCain/Palin yard sign, is the only person in our neighborhood with a key to my front door. I trust him. We hang out. We even talk politics. He and his wife watched both conventions, thought about it, and made a decision. I think I can persuade them to reconsider, but either way, I'm not going to ask for my key back. We're neighbors, after all.

Everybody, just calm down.

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