If you haven’t yet seen it, here is the video that President Obama is using to launch his 2012 campaign.
Notice anything? Here’s what I saw:
1. The new slogan–“It begins with us”–is not a statement of fact. It is an aspiration, and it may yet be a reach. Presidential campaigns don’t begin collectively. They begin with the candidate, who hopes to excite people and usually fails. But Obama is determined to once-again sell his campaign as people-powered and bottom-up, even as he builds another classic top-down messaging operation that will rely heavily on high-dollar donors. In 2008, Obama largely succeeded in this sales pitch, rallying hundreds of thousands of volunteers to his cause. But since 2008, his self-described movement has gradually eroded, and the grassroots organization that Obama set up with his old email list, called Organizing for America, has struggled under the twin mission of serving the president’s interests and serving the interests of its members. (Most recently, the White House was forced to awkwardly deny that it was involved in OFA efforts to encourage union protests in Wisconsin.) Will Obama be able to remake the magic? Maybe, but organizing depends on rallying around a common foe, and many of the common foes that united independent and liberal voters in 2008–George W. Bush, the Iraq War, a sense that Republicans were to blame for government dysfunction and national decline–are not so evident today.
2. While Republicans worry about appeasing the base and winning the primaries, Obama will be running for the general election from the start. Look at the video’s opening montage: A corn-field, a small-town church, a row of middle class homes with the stars and stripes flying on the stoop. These are not the scenes of places where Obama will find most of his voters in 2012. (In 2008, he won urban voters, who made up 30% of the electorate, by 10 points, and lost rural voters, who made up 21% of the country, by about 2 points.) Obama knows that the 2012 election will swing on a whether he can perform well on the margins between rural and urban, so he will be doing everything he can to win back those parts of the country where folks fly the stars and bars at the front door. Let’s just pray he doesn’t start wearing a Carhartt jacket.
3. Obama is telegraphing his target demographics. Just look at the people who speak: A Hispanic woman from Nevada, a white guy from North Carolina, a peach-faced college kid, a white woman from Colorado, a black woman from Michigan. Notice the emphasis on women, who fill in just about every b-roll shot from the video. If you find yourself in one of these demographics, expect to be getting more junk mail than the rest of us over the next few years.
4. Obama will be running on his character. The most interesting quote of the video comes from the southern white guy. “I don’t agree with Obama on everything. But I respect him and I trust him.” Consider what an extraordinary line this is for a video meant to recruit volunteers to organize for a presidential campaign. Have you ever met a campaign organizer that goes door-to-door or works the phones for a candidate that they admit they don’t agree with? The reasoning behind this line can be found in a recent Associated Press poll. As of late March, 53% of the country approved of the way Obama was doing his job as president. But 59% said they had a favorable view of Obama, 59% said Obama “cares about people like” them, and 84% said he was a likable person. Obama would rather make his pitch to 84% of the country than from 53% of the country. That white guy from North Carolina represents the gap between.