"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." -?
Anannya and I were discussing a few articles we read regarding the recent debate between Obama and McCain. People polled and pundits tend to reach similar conclusions: that Obama is doing appreciably better than McCain. I think it's a fair statement that his entire campaign is doing better than McCain's, and the closeness of the race can be attributed to how polarized our politics are and, you know...Obama being an unlikely candidate (black, brief national exposure, no executive experience).
Why does he do well? There are as many answers to this question as there are people. Ezra Klein and others point to the economy and a lousy Republican presidency. Other people will say that his ideas are more representative of what most Americans want. Finally, polls show that people think he understands what they're going through more than McCain.
My own thought is that Obama is able to show he is a great mind that can talk with small ones.
I don't mean to say he's smarter (though he is) or that people aren't comparing each on their policy ideas (though I'm not sure they are) or that the state of the country is such that it favors massive democratic gains (true). I also don't want to imply that people uninterested in ideas or events are somehow dumb (people are at the center of things, in my worldview). What I mean to say is that Barack Obama, in the debates, has shown himself able to discuss people, events, and ideas with ease and can link the discussion of all three to one another.
There are moments where both Obama and McCain seem to be saying similar things, but somehow Obama comes off as more engaging. McCain will talk about the financial crisis (event) and greedy CEOs (people), but he doesn't have much to stand on as far as ideas are concerned. He isn't able to link his ideas regarding deregulation and taxation to the event and the people in a way that benefits him.
Obama, on the other hand, can talk about the crisis and its actors, but also link these to the role of government action (idea). He can talk about what the government should do, how it should do it, and who it should do it for.
He can frame the discussion, and he's been able to do this on several topics. Regarding the surge, both men admire our troops and commanders (people), both have talked about the surge (event), but Obama is able to explain the general idea of the surge in the first place...while McCain isn't able to show what context the surge fits into. The same applies to healthcare, though McCain doesn't seem to be able to talk well about...anything...as far as that topic goes.
The quote I led with isn't meant to be offensive. People that show an interest in other people aren't small-minded. However, when you listen to Barack Obama talk, he says things that encourage one to give thought to what he says. I'm sure there are many cynics that think this is a liability. Who wants a professor for a president? However, if the odds are stacked against him, then anyone that starts thinking more about what he says is more likely to reach a positive conclusion...or at least one based on its merits.
McCain isn't changing minds. You either accept his take on things or you don't. Obama is out to show you a different way of looking at the same problems, and that's the best strategy to pursue. Let's just hope he delivers!