It’s the Narrative, Stupid
Both the McCain and Obama campaigns understand, in ways that no campaigns since Reagan’s have, that elections are about narrative. Campaigns are stories. As I have written in this space before, the classic story is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in end (something I learned from Michael Goldman at Emerson College 20+years ago). In other words, hope, loss and redemption. Through these stories the candidates are able to demonstrate they are heroes and in so doing remind us all that this American story continues to be true.
This is a story America has heard from McCain and Obama for eight and four years respectively, and it is a story Americans will hear every night from Denver – and probably every night in Minneapolis, and every night until November.
A few days ago we started hearing this story about Obama’s running-mate, Joe Biden. We’ve learned that he is a working class kid from the hardscrabble streets of Scranton, PA who faced adversity and through diligence and hard work has achieved success. We know his first wife was killed in a car accident while shopping for a Christmas tree when Biden was in Washington right after his first election. We learned that Biden was persuaded to stay in the Senate and took the oath of office from his son’s hospital room. We know that after a failed run at the White House in 1988 he rededicated himself to working values he believes in, and has become a senior statesman.
Tonight we will hear the story from Michelle Obama, a working class kid whose parents wanted something more for her, and who went on to Harvard. According to an Obama campaign press release, “[Tonight] Michelle will also talk about her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. Her story is a great American story: modest means but big dreams—and encouragement from loving parents that she and her brother could accomplish whatever they put their minds to if they worked hard.”
Tomorrow we will (hopefully) hear this from Senator Clinton. On Wednesday we’ll hear the story again about, and from, Biden. Hopefully we will also hear it from President Clinton whose story of a belief in a place called hope helped elect him 16 years ago.
And on Thursday night we will again hear the story about a skinny kid with a funny name, with white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, whose story is only possible in America.
Through these stories we will be reminded that America was born to greatness (boy meets girl, hope), that we are in a mess not of our own making (boy loses girl, loss) and that by electing Obama and Biden we be great again (boy gets girl, redemption). By reminding us of this story Obama and Biden are not only telling us their story, they are telling us our story. We know this story. We like it and believe it. And if told well, we will vote for it.