Messages of, and to, Obama

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) has heard a message from America. He spent much of this past political season campaigning for other Democrats around the country and promoting his new book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) has heard a message from America. He spent much of this past political season campaigning for other Democrats around the country and promoting his new book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

While on the campaign trail, Obama heard people calling for “a different kind of politics,” as he put it in his Web announcement. “Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way,” Obama said in his Web video announcement. “Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve written here on several occasions about research showing support for both political parties at an all-time low. The midterm election was more than a repudiation of President George W. Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq, it was a repudiation of politics as usual.

I welcome Obama’s entry into the 2008 race. What political junkie could not? He’s teed up a contest for the Democratic nomination that will keep us all interested and busily writing for the next 22 months. With front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) all but officially in the race and an extremely well organized former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in the fray, Democrats now have three very strong horses and three to five other real contenders as well. I only wish Obama would have taken it one step further — although that chance still exists.

Just over six months ago I wrote in this column about a new movement being formed by some old political war horses. A cover story in this month’s edition of The Atlantic Monthly details the birth of Unity08. The brainchild of longtime Republican consultant Doug Bailey, Hamilton Jordan — who guided Jimmy Carter to the White House — and Gerald Rafshoon, Carter’s media adviser and pioneer television producer, was appropriately conceived in a Washington, D.C. restaurant in October 2005.  Since then the group has brought fundraiser Roger Craver on board and quietly recruited thousands of supporters ranging from college-age activists to graying political professionals intrigued by radically shaking up American politics.

Bailey and Craver, in particular, have been playing Internet politics since long before Howard Dean mainstreamed digital fundraising. They created The Hotline back when the only means of daily distribution was a fax machine and shepherded it into the Internet age before selling it to Atlantic Media. In 1999, a generation ago in the digital age, they launched the Freedom Channel, offering online clips of candidates speaking to issues and the following year held a Web-based presidential vote that attracted 1.3 million high school students.

Unity08 begins signing up delegates this month and hopes to have 10 million poised to vote in their digital nomination process in mid-2008. As I understand the process, which is still being refined, candidates can declare themselves or be the subject of a draft. A runoff balloting process will winnow the field to four candidates who must then select a running mate from the “other” party and delegates will nominate a bipartisan team for president and vice president.

Since the convention is conducted online it won’t require the $100 million war chest required to fight through the early caucus and primary states. That opens the field to a lot of good candidates who have held back and will be hard-pressed to raise the money to compete: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), for example, who has the knowledge and courage to be president but may lack the money and organization to win the Republican nomination. Pair him with Barack Obama, in either order, and you have my dream team for the Unity08 nomination.

With polls showing that 82 percent of voters think our political structure is too polarized to solve the nation’s problems and about 75 percent want some choice other than Democrat or Republican, 2008 could be the year of the Independent. With the Internet a powerful hammer to break down old barriers, we could really see history made next November. If that is where the nation is headed I can think of no better candidate to lead the charge than Obama. If things don’t work out in the exploration of a Democratic candidacy the Senator from Illinois might well consider listening to an even more dramatic message from voters. Nothing could be more on-message for American voters electing our first African-American president on a bipartisan ticket.

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.
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