Dressed in blue jeans and a black jacket, Obama braved the cold rain falling in Pennsylvania today, and held his scheduled rally – outdoors. “A little bit of rain never hurt anybody,” he said to the thousands who showed up as he embraced the weather conditions.
“I just want all of you to know if we see this kind of dedication on election day – there is no way that we’re not going to bring change to America,” he said as the soggy crowd cheered.
Obama delivered his “closing argument” speech in full – even though his teleprompter seemed to give out midway due to the rain. Glancing down at a hard copy of the speech on the podium, he began the speech, summarising and contextualising the themes of his campaign since it began 21 months ago.
Obama’s remarks drive home one of the under-appreciated aspects of this amazing campaign: The similarities between Obama and Bill Clinton, and between their respective readings of the electorates each man sought to win over.
The speech showed, again, that Obama rivals (and perhaps surpasses) Clinton as one of the great public communicators of the last few decades. But their similarities run deeper. Obama’s success – like Clinton’s – is rooted in an uncanny sense of the electorate’s mood, and of what it’s looking for in its next leader. Crucially, Clinton sensed that the electorate was looking for a clear signal from its next President on just how the nation would be moved from the 20th Century to the 21st at a time of rapid global change.
As his speech makes clear, Obama’s reading of the electorate is in some way very similar today to Clinton’s 16 years ago. In the speech, Obama revisited his decision to run for President against tremendous odds, and alluded to the drift he sensed – as did Clinton – among voters.
“We weren’t given much of a chance by the polls or the pundits, and we knew how steep our climb would be,” Obama said. “But I also knew this. I knew that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics. I believed that Democrats and Republicans and Americans of every political stripe were hungry for new ideas, new leadership, and a new kind of politics – one that favours common sense over ideology; one that focuses on those values and ideals we hold in common as Americans.”
“Twenty-one months later, my faith in the American people has been vindicated,” Obama added.
If Obama should win he will have outworked McCain in a similar fashion to the way Clinton outmanoeuvred Bush Sr. Like Clinton, Obama has sensed that the electorate is looking for something larger than a set of policies or personal attributes. Unlike McCain, who has proven utterly incapable of grasping the public mood on so many levels, Obama has sensed that the electorate wants to know how we will remake our politics – domestic and international – for the next century.
Clinton famously envisaged his presidency as a “bridge” from the 20th to the 21st centuries in terms of keeping America at pace with globalisation. Obama is presenting his presidency as Act II in that drama – now that we’ve crossed Clinton’s “bridge,” he is promising to transform politics in kind. In essence, Obama is promising a true 21st Century politics.
“As I’ve said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn’t just about new programs and policies,” Obama said. “In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe.”
Obama has sensed this state of affairs for years. Today’s message, really, hasn’t changed much from the vision Obama articulated in his famous 2004 convention speech. It just took a while for Obama to come within real striking distance of implementing it.
In what is likely to be his final campaign event in Pennsylvania, Obama urged his supporters to be as resolute in the coming days as they were today, braving the elements and keeping their eyes firmly on the possibility of victory next week.