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Gagflex: Obama’s Political Tightrope

There will be no liberal revolution in 2008. This might be a bitter pill to swallow for those who consider themselves liberals or passionate Democrats, but Barack Obama will not be leading the charge for liberal causes.

Obama is currently attempting to position himself as the moderate candidate in an attempt to capture the vote of the mythical average American, and to head off anticipated attacks on his “liberalism.” Campaigning for a national office is a rigged game from the start. Republicans have successfully manipulated the playing field to make it appear that their ideals represent the average American, and the definition of the word moderate has been shifted a few degrees to the right to where it basically means conservative. The Republican Party has done a terrible job of running the country, but it sure can run a good marketing campaign.

The error that Obama is making is that he’s attempting to make himself more appealing to folks with differing viewpoints by stressing the small commonalities. But the fact is that many of these folks won’t see those slight commonalities because their minds have been engrained with the broad-stroke differences that separate them. The people who question his patriotism with the flag lapel pin garbage and send out mass e-mails about him being a Muslim are not going to suddenly vote for him because he’s against late term abortions some of the time.

He’s trying to convey to these voters that he’s not some crackpot liberal, and running a campaign by stressing what you’re not instead of what you are is never a good idea. Liberal voters know that he’s not a liberal but that doesn’t mean they’re going to flock to John McCain because of Obama’s attempt to ride the political fence. What he does have a chance of losing is the word of mouth excitement and contributions that come along with that.

The “Yes We Can” strategy has worked so far. It’s brought new blood and interests into the political mix, and many people are excited to donate money to the man with the audacity to hope. The ability to reach across the aisle has been a highlight to his campaign, but he can’t expect to politically pander and maintain the status as a politician of change.

His gamble is that by presenting multiple sides and opinions of his diverse personality that he can draw in some of the independent minded folks who used to like McCain when he was still a maverick. It’s a gamble that has a lot riding on the ability of voters to recognize that politicians can be more than just one-dimensional party hacks.

The rational side of my brain recognizes Obama’s political intelligence, but the inner cynic says that he’s having way too much faith in both sides of the aisle. It’s difficult to imagine the media and many supporters interpreting a break from his party rule book as anything but pandering for votes. If he can pull enough votes from both sides to change the electoral map and wipe away some of the political animosity that we’ve built up, then he’ll be more than a candidate of change; he’ll be the candidate of miracles.

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