After 21 months of the most improbable campaign, “yes we can” became “yes we did.” What seemed to lumber along at a painful snail’s pace day after day suddenly skyrocketed to warp speed as Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain in the campaign to be the nation’s 44th president.
No words can do justice to this election event, but we can reflect a bit on how it came to pass. Here, then are some of the factors that contributed to the outcome:
Organization—from the discipline at the top to the ground game across the nation, the Obama campaign marched much like a well-honed military juggernaut. Methodically and consistently, the campaign leaders moved forward step-by-step, always making sure that the last step was firmly planted before the next step was taken. At all times, the campaign spoke with a single voice, making crystal clear to participants and observers alike the essence of the mission.
The Internet—Creative use of the Internet gave the Obama candidacy the look of the nation’s first truly 21st Century campaign. The Internet was an outreach tool for the campaign message, an invitation for citizen participation, and a magnet for contributions. Most campaign sites are draped with the call for money, money, and money. The Obama site solicited people to help define and achieve their dreams. The site brought a sense of political intoxication to growing numbers of Obama supporters.
Conditions—Nothing makes changes more necessary than bad times. Bookended by a war without end and a falling economy without a bottom in sight, the political climate grew more desperate by the day. Both Obama and McCain seized the change mantra, but Obama’s was the more genuine claim, given that he had been arguing for fundamental change from day one. McCain the maverick came to the change theme very late in the game, giving voters reason to doubt his sincerity as a reformer. That loss of credibility undermined his candidacy.
In the coming days, countless assessments will parse the 2008 presidential election results in countless ways, focusing on the candidates, the strategies, and the opportunities—taken and missed. But it’s hard to imagine any analysis ignoring the factors mentioned above as part of the calculus. Yes he did, and whether you voted for Obama or against Obama, this is a moment in history.