THE OPPOSITE

The True Story of
How the Candidacy of Barack Obama Began

The remarkable thing about Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy is not that it appears to be on the verge of victory.  The remarkable thing is it got started at all.

It violates everything political professionals–like all those political “strategists” who proliferate like rabbits until there are enough to populate every political discussion on every program on every channel on broadcast and cable TV and the Internet—thought they knew about picking successful candidates.

In fact, based on the transcripts of closed-door conversations whose existence I have intuited, that is exactly how the Obama candidacy started.  Not with the idea that he had all the qualifications and characteristics that would lead to victory.  But with the idea that he had none of them.

With this revolutionary strategy—call it “The Opposite;” you’ll see why in a minute—so close to success, I have obtained permission to reproduce excerpts from the transcript, redacted, of course, to omit any information that would identify the participants.

The conversation starts in a miasma of gloom, shortly after the defeat of John Kerry in the 2004 election.  The participants, all seasoned Democratic political operatives, trade baffled observations.  How could they have lost in both 2000 and 2004, how could Al Gore and Kerry have lost?  Both were mainstream types, with mainstream-type names—nothing that would put off any important voting blocs.  Both began their campaigns as well-known and respected public officials.  Both had long careers in elective office, seasoned candidates, with victories against formidable opposition.  Both had military service on their resumes.  Both had extensive experience in and understanding of foreign policy, seemingly a prerequisite in the post-9/11 world.

They had everything, exclaims one operative.  They were perfect, and yet they lost.

At this point, the transcript takes over.  “Maybe that’s the problem,” says one of the younger strategists.

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it.  Maybe they were too perfect.”  Here we hear unintelligible sounds of puzzled skepticism.

“No, I mean it.  Look, remember that episode of Seinfeld, where George realizes that everything he’s ever done has been the wrong thing?  And then Jerry says, ‘Right.  If only you had done the opposite of what you thought was the right thing, maybe you would have gotten the opposite results—good results.”

Here we hear a voice we haven’t heard before, a younger voice:  “Yeah.  Actually that was the title of the episode, ‘The Opposite.’  Jerry says, ‘If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.’”

Another voice, laced with sarcasm:  “How do you know this stuff?  Do you have any kind of life, or do you just watch Seinfeld reruns?”

The previous voice:  “DVDs.  I have the complete set.  All nine seasons.  But what does this have to do with picking a winning candidate?”

Now we hear the voice of the strategist who moved the conversation in this direction.  “No, I know what he’s talking about.  It’s like Jerry says:  ‘If every instinct we’ve had is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.’  I mean, if we’ve lost with guys with years of political experience, maybe we could win with…with…”

Another voice: “Right!  With someone with hardly any experience.”

New voice, excitedly: “And especially, you know, with the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and Iran, and North Korea developing atomic weapons—someone with absolutely no military or foreign policy experience.”

The group warms to the exercise, and the brainstorms fly fast and furious.

“Someone with some political experience, but no real accomplishments.”

“Someone who just arrived on the national scene.”

“Someone who’s never won a tough election—no real political track record at all.”

“A minority.  An African American.  No black candidate has even come close to getting a nomination.”

“No, no, no!  That’s too easy.  Not just an African American.  Biracial.  No solid claim on black or white voters.”

“And one of his parents–his mother, or his father; either way—not an American.  And with a foreign-sounding name.”

“You mean like Pierre or Gerhard?”

No, more unfamiliar than that.  And a name that sounds like somebody everybody hates—you know, like, like, I don’t know, like Stalin or Hitler, or like Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.”

Everybody laughs, the first laugh they’ve shared in a long time.  But then there’s quiet.

“So…”  Everybody under forty starts almost everything they say with “so.”

“So could an ‘opposite’ strategy actually work?”

“Nah, probably not.  But maybe.  Lord knows, nothing else we’ve tried has.”

Comments

  1. Linda Christenson
    October 21st, 2008 | 10:13 pm

    Well, Louis, that seems reasonable, and I gather it happened more or less that way. But it kind of puts Obama in passive voice. I’d rather think of him in active voice.

    But then I know you and think I can see a virtual twinkle in your eye and a tongue in your cheek. Am I right?.

    L.

  2. October 22nd, 2008 | 1:47 pm

    A lovely put-on. The problem is, the Democratic politicos aren’t smart enough to have come up with this idea. And thank God the strategy doesn’t seem to have worked with the Palin nomination.

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