November 4, 2008 was a historic day. The election of Barack Obama is an event of our lifetime. While he ascended to presidency on his strength of character, integrity, powerful oratory skill, ability to connect with diversity of America (and the world!), calm and persuasiveness, there are a number of other aspects – much based upon his team doing their homework (read research) – that contributed to his victory.
A Tired/Frustrated Public & Appetite for Change: With the election of Obama and a Democratic majority in the Senate, Americans effectively voted for a “regime change.” With the economy tanking, a massive bail-out package financed by taxpayers, the invasion of Iraq lingering, the anti-education agenda and the shenanigans of the Bush administration, the Republicans were always going to playing defense after eight years in power. This was the Democrat’s election to lose. And they held steady.
Strategy: Obama never wavered and steered the course from the primaries right to the White House. He stayed on message, approached each challenge head on with strength and calm, and reinforced his strength and ability to connect with his constituency. Further, they divided the states to focus their efforts to ensure that they had more than enough to take him over the finish line. A clear and concise strategy with nearly pitch-perfect execution – business leaders can learn much from Obama’s victory.
Organization: The Republicans have remarkable machinery for getting their constituency to the polls. The Democrats tore a page out of the Republicans, and re-invented the book. It was evident early in his campaign that Obama’s team mastered the Internet and Web 2.0 tools for connecting with their supporters (and especially youth and first-time voters), fundraising and getting the vote out. But more importantly, their organization connected with supporters at an emotional level (where else could “Obama Girl” have come from?). Obama brought his experience and know-how from his post-Harvard days in Chicago’s Southside and expanded his palette across America. Sarah Palin should have known better than to make fun of his background of being a “community organizer.” By the time the Republicans realized how well organized Obama’s “community” was, they began abandoning states and got walloped in the election.
Money: Successful campaigns are well financed. While some may question Obama’s abandonment of his campaign financing “agreement” with McCain, he managed to raise more money than any other candidate in history. And he built his war-chest from a number of traditional sources (such as corporations) but also massive amounts of piecemeal $5 and $10 contributions via the Internet (a technique deployed and mastered by Howard Dean). Obama realized that money was critical to his sole objective, and the machinery he developed from his community organization experience ably supported the mission. He focused his spending on key battleground states to deliver and reinforce his message, so much so it lead to McCain retreating and pinning his (now futile) hopes on carrying Pennsylvania.
Global Equity: After the Clinton years and the events of 9/11, the U.S. had tremendous equity in the geo-political bank. With the invasion of Iraq, ethically bankrupt practices (including the arbitrary powers and accountability of the Executive Office) and the on-going appeasement of religious right, the global community has lost its respect for America. This was a sad situation, given the greatness of the country and the will of its people. Global leaders and the international community did not hide their support for Obama – he epitomizes the new “global citizen.” They view his election as America “turning the page,” looking forward and open to intelligent dialogue once again.
Re-establishing Faith in Democracy: After “hanging chad” became part of our lingo and the world watched the Florida debacle that awarded George W. Bush the necessary Electoral College votes to win the 2000 election, the question of the legitimacy of the U.S. federal electoral process has been in question. Many observers – partisan and independent alike – waited to see if the electronic voting system delivered an accurate and plausible result. With the election of the forerunner, voters and global observers feel that democracy is alive and well in America.
Removing the “Race Card”: Always the proverbial elephant in the room, Obama tackled it head-on late in the primaries prior to his confirmation as the Democrat’s presidential candidate. By American classification, he is black. To others, he is like Tiger Woods, bi-racial. Whatever he is, he is not white (or using another term – Caucasian). Many felt that chances of someone of colour ascending to the American presidency were slim to none. However, with the growth of the Hispanic population, the Black vote mobilized, a younger “colour-blind” population and a constituency more focused on the economy rather than racial tensions, the circumstances evolved to capitalize on race, render it a non-issue and tame the elephant. And to ensure that Obama captured a solid majority.
Class & American Dream: As much as the Republicans attempted to paint Obama as an elitist and tarnish his image among working-class voters, it failed. Obama and his wife are truly the result of living the American dream. She from a lower middle-class family that valued education and he raised by a single mom who had to resort to food stamps to feed the family. The two demonstrated that through sheer application and having a vision, they can attain the highest office in America. In this day and age, this is remarkable. It is also symbolic. Symbolic for a constituency who felt disenfranchised and who now feel that there are new opportunities and possibilities open to them.
Overall, America has awoken to a new era. We applaud Obama’s hard work, thoughtfulness and acumen that propelled him to the U.S. presidency. In troubled times, America needs a leader whose intelligence is valued, is a thinker and stays calm under pressure.
There is no doubt that he has inherited a mess. Now Phase 2 of the hard work begins.
America and the world are watching, President Obama. Invest and use your equity wisely.