More self-questioning needs to accompany political discourse
This past weekend I returned to my hometown, Milwaukee, Wis., to cross an item off my bucket list that’s been there since 2008: Watching President Barack Obama, the first African-American president and one of the best campaigners in recent history, speak in person.
My journey started last Thursday when I stood in line at the Obama campaign’s Madison headquarters on State Street. I waited in line for an hour and a half for a ticket to see the president speak.
I waited another two hours in Milwaukee Saturday to get to the gate of the Summerfest grounds, where the president was speaking. Finally, the moment I was waiting for was here. President Obama stepped on stage and was greeted by a thunderous roar from the crowd. After his characteristic iterations of “thank you,” and “thank you very much,” the president also thanked local dignitaries. He continued by saying, “Just to prove that I am determined to bring everyone together in moving this country forward, I am proud to have a couple of Green Bay Packers in the house; we’ve got Jermichael Finley, we’ve got Desmond Bishop” (President Obama is a Chicagoan and a devout Bears fan).
The president wasted little time before diving head first into outright campaign mode, saying, “We’ve got a very big choice to make in this election. And it’s not just between two candidates or two parties; it’s a choice between two different paths for America, two different visions for our future. Now, my opponent, he believes in top-down economics.”
When the president mentioned former Gov. Mitt Romney’s economic vision for the country the crowd reacted with a resounding, “Boo.” In response the president said, “Don’t boo—vote!”
For the past five years I have been unable to find an answer to a seemingly simple question: What makes President Obama such a good campaigner? Not too long into the president’s speech in Milwaukee, I found my answer. When he speaks, he’s speaking to you. Sure, Mitt Romney appeals to a wide range of constituencies when campaigning. But he seems aloof, even disingenuous at times. What makes Obama such a great campaigner—and a great orator—is not just the fact that he’s a masterful political tactician, but also his ability to earnestly communicate that he does care about us, and he lays out how we will work to make a better America.
What’s more, the president sermonizes his message in a way that ensures every American can understand his plan for America’s future. In sharp contrast with Mitt Romney’s oft-monotone stump speeches, Obama clearly conveys his emotion in speeches by manipulating the way he speaks. The deftness with which the president executes his campaign speeches has helped him throughout this election season. Polls show most Americans find the president pretty likeable; many Americans have a more negative feeling about Romney than a positive one.
Maybe I’m late in the game. Maybe it’s obvious to everyone else that that’s what makes this president such an effective campaigner. Ultimately, what will decide the outcome of this election, like every election, is who can connect with the electorate. And President Obama does just that.
In total, the president spoke for a little over 50 minutes; overall I had waited almost four hours to watch a 50-minute speech. It was certainly worth it. But at the end of his speech, I realized that what makes President Obama so inspiring, and his campaign so effective, is not just his candidacy but also the movement his candidacy and his presidency have created.
As I looked to my left while Obama was speaking, I watched a man who seemed to be a first- or second-generation Indian-American immigrant lift his daughter on top of his shoulders so she could catch a glimpse of the president. Maybe one day she could become president. The Obama presidency represents the immense social progress that America has made in recent decades and provides hope for even greater social progress in the years to come. It was just seven years before Barack Obama was born that the United States Supreme Court ruled de jure segregation in public schools unconstitutional in its Brown v. Board of Education decision. It wouldn’t be until three years after Obama was born that the federal government outlawed most major forms of discrimination through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And another year would pass before the Voting Rights Act, which protected against the disenfranchisement of African Americans across the country, was enacted. 43 years later, Obama was elected as the first African-American president of the United States.
As the president proved in his speech in Milwaukee Saturday, he’s still the best campaigner and most inspiring candidate in this race.
Michael is a freshman majoring in political science. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter