The surest sign that Barack Obama is running for President? ABC News says it is an appearance tonight on “Monday Night Football,” right on the heels of a superstar-worthy visit to New Hampshire over the weekend.
With the anticpation of an Obama ’08 run at a fever pitch, largely fueled by his own making, there’s little doubt that the Illinois Senator will have trouble rounding up a following, not just around the country but in the entertainment industry. Arianna Huffington claims that David Geffen already has declared for the Obama camp. Hollywood heavyweights like Haim Saban are firmly for Hillary Clinton, but following a recent Obama visit, in which he did a meet-and-greet at the home of Ari Emanuel, several industry donors called Obama’s reps anxious to throw him a fund raiser.
What is it that makes him so appealing? Several commentators, including Slate’s John Dickerson today, write that Obama has what Clinton does not: a coherent “narrative” that can guide his run for President. Voters can easily respond to the storyline and its overriding message if they understand what it is. It’s something that the GOP has mastered (George Bush: “You may not agree with me, but you know where I stand”), but the Dems have largely failed to do in recent elections. In 2004 John Kerry was starting to create one before he was swift-boated, and in 2000 Al Gore suddenly went from Clinton legacy to roll-up-your-sleeves populist.
“Obama was calling the country to a new sense of purpose but he also seemed to be offering a preview of his campaign narrative. The audacity of hope, as he described it, is a calling to use your will and imagination to take on impossible tasks. He traced that spirit through America’s history, arguing that it animated the founders, the abolitionists, and the immigrants who came to the country looking for a better life. Those causes were ennobled because they were carried out against great odds and when cynical voices said nothing could be done. This narrative will serve two political purposes if Obama runs. It makes his inexperience a virtue—he’s not a part of the cynical system he’s uprooting—and it gives Obama historical gravitas by linking his attempt to change politics to those sweeping social changes he cites.”
The prospect of an Obama race certainly changes the dynamics, and there is much speculation that his “audacity of hope” candidacy would hurt other potential contenders, like John Edwards with his “one America” message, more than it would hurt Clinton. That is why potential candidates are spending the holiday season fielding potential donors, and even raising money under the guise of their exploratory committees or PACs — they want to be taken seriously as a “Hillary alternative.”
But it is still very early. After all, only one candidate, Tom Vilsack, has officially said he would run. Obama even says, “I am suspicious of the hype.” And a reality check came into play over the weekend when one influential donor, Norman Lear, declared his intention to wait and see. He’ll spread his wealth among Clinton, Edwards, Obama and Vilsack. He writes on Huffington Post: “It comes from the naive belief that those members of the electorate who tend to lean or drift or blink to the left just enough not to be deemed centrists, might have something to gain from a vigorous discussion of issues and policies.”