washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

You Gotta Get That Dirt Off Your Shoulder

Fortunately or unfortunately, Barack Obama has had to spend a lot of time this last month demonstrating his mastery of damage control:
–A controversial sermon by Jeremiah Wright goes viral on YouTube? Obama delivers a forceful, historic speech about race (which has now been viewed 4 million times).
–Obama describes small town voters as “bitter” and immediately catches flak for it? He responds with a relaxed and witty counter, clarifying his remarks and likening Hillary Clinton to Annie Oakley.
–Obama gets roughed up in a national debate televised by ABC? Again the response is impressive — but perhaps this time, it’s worth explaining why.
In Raleigh, Obama is smooth, charming, and funny. He’s critical of the debate yet ties his objections back to the campaign’s larger theme of change — it becomes an opportunity for Obama to talk about the problems with politics as they are currently practiced.
Then check out what he does at the 2:20 mark.
He acknowledges that he expects these kinds of attacks — he pauses, reaches up, brushes off his shoulders, and smiles for the camera. The crowd immediately reacts to it with cheers and a standing ovation.
The gesture is universally recognizable. But I’m going to guess that some older members of the press pool didn’t quite get the crowd’s enthusiasm — “Why would they cheer so loud for that?”
The answer is generational. For observers of a certain age, it’s just impossible to see that clip and not think of this song (a word of caution — some might find the lyrics profane). Among Obama’s young, multicultural base, it’s probably fair to say that Jay-Z is a universal touchstone. This, then, was a wink and a nod to his strongest supporters — a private gesture of encouragement. And it was effortless.
How much money do we think that Obama raised off of the perceived unfairness of this debate — $2 million? $3?
If I was a betting man, after this particular allusion, I’d say the sky was the limit.

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