Mark Naison: To Win the Presidency, Barack Obama Needs to Take a Page Out of the Book of Harry Truman and James Brown





[Mark Naison is Professor of African American Studies and History, Fordham University.]

The Obama Presidential campaign is off to a terrible start. The cerebral, thoughtful persona that Obama projects in his campaign advertisements, while it plays well with younger, educated voters, and leaders of foreign nations, has fallen flat with the main constituency Obama needs to win over to become
President- working class and middle class Americans battered by stagnant wages, rising gas prices, falling home values, and escalating credit card debt

Cool doesn't work with these voters.These people are frightened, angry and insecure and are looking for a sign that the next President understands their concerns. John McCain, despite his great personal wealth and support for tax breaks for corporate interests, has been much more effective than Barack Obama in making working class and middle class Americans the main audience from his message. Some of this is due to McCain's combative temperment; some of it due to his record of sacrifice for his country, but some of it is due to a campaign message that paints Barack Obama as an" international celebrity" and John McCain as a fighter for the common man.. When you couple this with the "race" factor which makes voting for a black man problematic for many whites, it is clear that Barack Obama and his handlers have dug deep hole that they need to get out of-- and fast

But the damage here is not irreversible. If the Obama campaign radically changes course, and paints their candidate as fighter for working class Americans who will spend every waking hour trying to improve their lives- Obama may be able to win over enough of these swing voters to carry states like Pennslyvania,Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, and maybe Florida and North Carolina too,that he needs to be elected
President.

Barack Obama's greatest advantage over John McCain is youth and stamina and he needs to use these to the fullest between now and November 3. Like Harry Truman did is his come from behind presidential victory in 1948, he has to outwork his opponent. If McCain stages five campaign stops a day, Obama must do ten. Wherever working class and middle class Americans congregate, Barack Obama must be there. He has to be at picnics and parades, union meetings and minor league baseball games, Four H Club fairs and rodeos. He has to kiss hundreds of babies, shake tens of thousands of hands, and make scores of impromptu speeches. People not only need to see him on television, they also need to see him face to face.

And they need to see him sweat! Here Barack Obama needs to take a page out of the book of the greatest entertainer in the history of American popular music , James Brown. Long before he became famous. James Brown built a following among working class black people by driving himself to exhaustion everywhere he performed, 250 nights a year, whether it was in major theaters or juke joints in small southern towns. Billing himself as the "hardest working man in show business" James Brown made every person who saw him feel that no matter how poor they were, no matter how hard their lives were, he cared enough about them to put every ounce of energy into his show

Barack Obama must create a similar persona on the campaign trail. He needs to be everywhere! Working class and middle class Americans need to see him face to face in hundres of campaign stops- tired, overwhelmed, sacrificing his sleep, even his health, to meet them, listen to them, and share with them his vision of how to make their lives better. To overcome John McCain's natural advantages as a white man and a former prisoner of war, he has to become "The Hardest Working Man in Politics" someone who, as President, will never stop working for the interests of America's common people.

Barack Obama has many traits that would make him a great President, but he won't have that opportunity unless he makes an heroic effort to get working class voters to trust him. And the only way to do that is to outwork his opponent on the campaign trail.

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