The Obama Revolution

‘Revolution’ may be too strong a word for many. After all, this election was about change and, every four or eight years, we hear about the necessity of it. Besides, Barack Obama has given every indication that he is a moderate, pragmatic and prudent politician. His cool temperament was on display both the night of his victory and two days later when, surrounded by his economic transition team, he displayed the very methodical approach to problem solving that is emerging as his managerial style. His appointment of Rahm Emmanuel, himself a smart and promising politician, is hardly the stuff of revolution. And yet, when you examine how Obama won and how he conducted himself,you know politics as practiced in the past 40 years is in for transformational change.

His elaborate and sophisticated use of the Internet, the power of the words he delivered in a truly inspirational tone, and the appeal to unity and the better nature of mankind is something that we have not seen since Bobby Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis the day Martin Luther King was killed. Back then, we expected politics to be a force for change and progress in the noble sense of the word. In those days, the rhetoric was uplifting and appealed to the idealism of the young. Aging baby boomers remain nostalgic about those heady days of transformational change.

But forty years after the death of Kennedy, we have become accustomed to politics as a bloodsport, one in which tearing down the opponent, distorting the meaning of opposing ideas, and polarizing blocs of voters has become the rule. Despite polls that were favourable to Obama, many had the lingering doubt that the president-elect would somehow be denied his rightful due. The McCain-Palin campaign was straight from the political playbook of the 90’s and Karl Rove. It was divisive and mean and, for a while, it appeared to be working. McCain’s concession speech may have redeemed the man, but his campaign did nothing to elevate politics.

By first winning against the redoubtable Clinton political machine and then the Republican attack machine, Obama was able to demonstrate his superior organization skills and his capacity to once again make politics a force for change. Most importantly, he made them an instrument for inclusion. Over 66 per cent voted–a throwback to 1950’s numbers. We witnessed many new voters from all walks of life engaged in all kinds of related political activities to advance the cause and ideas of their chosen candidate.

Analyses are emerging daily about why and how Obama won, though the definitive account has yet to be written. Was it a compelling idea that won the day? Was it the candidate’s obvious oratorical skills that successfully mobilized a new generation of voters? Or was it just the winds of change? That is, was it the end of a Republican era whose policies had run their course?

Maybe it is a bit from all of the above. Still, Obama showed respect for the voter and the democratic process, and he elevated the importance of ideas in the political marketplace. His basic decency, coupled with his unflinching desire to bring the American people together, attracted a new generation and made it dream. These new voters were led to imagine an America that can change for the better. Obama gave meaning to the “fierce urgency of now” that King so eloquently wished for in his day. He did it through innovation and technology; he did it without trying to divide voters and destroy his opponent; and he did it by appealing to “the better nature of angels.” On the night of November 4 and the morning of November 5, Americans and non-Americans, conservatives and liberals, young and old, white and black, and the rest of American mosaic felt better. Tears of joy and pride flowed in Grant Park on victory night and way beyond. In my book, that’s a revolution!

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.