Thursday, February 21, 2008

Campaign Strategy Watch - Ms. Obama's Real Purpose in Her "Pride" Comment

Ned Barnett (c) 2008

Michelle Obama made what the media quickly began characterizing as a "minor gaffe" - but instead of a gaffe (minor or major), her "first time I've been proud of my country" was a shrewd and calculating PR exercise in Realpolitik - the fine art of winning by taking whatever pragmatic actions need to be taken to win. She knew exactly what she was doing, and what she did was nothing short of brilliant.

Michelle Obama is indeed a brilliant woman. Princeton undergrad, with honors, and Harvard Law. Prestigious Chicago Law firm. Beyond that, whe's got quite a career: Associate Dean at the University of Chicago; Boards of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Tree House Foods; and Vice President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

Independent-minded, she goes her own way. When Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, she chose to stay in Chicago ("for the children" - but also to keep her lucrative job) - instead of Michelle uprooting, Barack commutes. In short, she's comfortable with a political marriage - and having been through the mire more than once (Chicago politics is nothing if not rough-and-tumble), so she knows how to campaign.

So ... when Michelle said - twice - that for the first time in her life, she was proud of America (for embracing her husband's candidacy with a minimum of racism), she knew EXACTLY what she was doing. She was sending a very deliberate message to the Left that she and Barack are "one of them," and in doing so, she effectively and persuasively reached that half of the Democratic Left who tell pollsters that they're not proud of America.

Michelle knew there would be flak - and she gambled that the short-term benefits of reminding liberal Democratic primary voters that Barack Obama is farther left than Hillary would outweigh the long-term risk in a general election.

Realpolitik time - to get to the general election, you've got to first win the primaries.

If Barack Obama can nail down the nomination by sweeping the next Super Tuesday (March 4th), he will have eight full months to "fix" the impression this "gaffe" - which was a calculated PR move and no gaffe at all - with the general public.

But Barack is facing a formidable opponent - Hillary - who all the pundits believe will do anything to win the nomination. In the face of that implacable opportunism, bold actions are necessary.

Yet because Barack Obama has concluded - probably correctly - that he needs to retain the public high road to be seen as a real "change" from traditional Washington. So he turned to his wife. Thanks to rampant political correctness among the mainstream news media, Michelle - because she's both black and a woman - is more than a bit "invulnerable" from really strong media criticism. This means she is able to take stands he dare not take.

So she sent a strong, controversial PR-driven message to the far Left electorate - "like you, we're not proud of America - but Barack's candidacy, and Presidency, will change that for you, as it's changed that for me."

Michelle Obama knew exactly what she was doing - and strategically, her PR stunt was nothing short of brilliant.

Remember, you heard it here first.