I don’t want my skepticism about Barack Obama’s messaging strategy to totally obscure the point, driven home by Garance Franke-Ruta’s photo shown above and her post here, that these Obama mega-rallies are a hugely impressive phenomenon. They signify both the candidate’s considerable personal appeal, the strong appeal of his message has to a certain demographic (one that includes me), and also the broader re-engagement with politics and public life that’s been one of the few good consequences of the disaster of 21st century American governance.
One of the things that worries me about the prospect of Mark Penn once again becoming king of the political hill is that his approach to politics seems antithetical to this concept of mass engagement. Instead, it’s a model where you break the population down into the smallest possible groups, and assemble a winning coalition of stitched-together wedges of people each engaged through their own micro-initiative. That’s not all there is to Hillary Clinton or to the broader case of Clinton-style centrism. Indeed, it’s quite different from (in some ways the reverse of) the initial critique of interest-group liberalism with which the DLC launched itself. And in the best moments of her campaign — the health care plan, the day care plan — Clinton has completely gone beyond the inane politics of “are archery moms the new soccer moms?” but all that’s been in no small part responsive to the new new politics of John Edwards, Andy Stern, and Barack Obama.
Which comes back to the point, I guess, that a whole ton of people stood around a pretty long time yesterday evening in order to get a not necessarily very good view (some people had good views, but it looked like a lot of rally-goers had bad sightlines) of a man talking about politics. There’s got to be some significance to that.