Obama in the Savior Trap

His reputation as political superstar is becoming a heavy burden for Obama. His campaign needs a new direction.

Barack Obama’s nomination at the Democratic national convention next week is a mere formality. Politically, however, the Democratic candidate has reached a critical point: the decisive phase of the campaign has begun and his poll ratings are disappointing.

While Democrats can hope for a solid 10 percent gain in congressional elections, their presidential candidate is running almost dead even with Republican John McCain. Obama has to use the Democratic convention to give his candidacy a new direction because, as it stands now, the momentum is not going his way.

Many Democrats passionately hoped the election would symbolically be between Obama and the hated warmonger George Bush, with Republican “McBush” struggling to keep his distance from the departing administration.

But this scenario has already been overcome by events. McCain has been able to cleverly distance himself from Bush and there have been no disastrous headlines from Iraq. In addition, the image of Obama as Savior has been so dominant in the media so far that he is in danger of falling victim to his own success.

Obama, because of his youth and comparatively short political career, has been given the benefit of the doubt by voters. But the more he stands in the spotlight and the more the decision narrows to “Obama or not Obama,” the easier it is for his opponent to come up with those weaknesses and overstatements that are naturally present in campaigning. Historically, the Republicans have done this brutally, with pleasure and success.

A simple “stay the course” is therefore very risky for Obama. The great rhetoric of “hope” and “change” that first so electrified his followers is too vague for the endgame. After a whole year, it has become increasingly less effective. Significant change in his platform is nearly impossible because he has already modified, weakened or even completely changed his stance on important subjects.

If he wants to rid himself of the fatal pop-star role into which he has been forced, then he has to have one or even several strong personalities at his side. The selection of a running mate offers him that chance: the ideal individual must be capable of bringing basic change to the campaign without damaging Obama’s authority. The most effective but simultaneously dangerous partner by a long shot would be his old opponent, Hillary Clinton.

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