The Politics of Hope vs. the Politics of Uncertainty

By Jared Wesley on Sep 24, 2008

I'm not sure whether many people noticed, but Barack Obama's speech this afternoon marked a major shift in the American presidential campaign:  It's become a little more like Canada's.

The second line in Obama's statement -- "This is a time of uncertainty" -- officially shifts his campaign from one emphasizing "hope" to one focusing on "ambiguity" and "instability" (at least for the time being).  It's the same theme Stephen Harper has been stressing for the past two weeks.

Obama's change is understandable (pardon the pun).  For one, it's difficult to preach expanded social spending in the face of a dramatic economic downturn.  Just ask Stephane Dion and Jack Layton.

Second, Obama knows that "uncertainty" is to his advantage, particularly if he's able to convice voters that the downturn is the fault of the Republican party (and John McCain).  This shouldn't be a tough sell:  For the first time since 1992, a Democrat is consistently polling double-digits ahead of a Republican on the question of who is best to handle the American economy.  Stephen Harper put the economy front-and-centre in Canada for precisely the same reason: the Tories own the issue this year.  Uncertainty benefits both the Democrat and the Conservative in 2008.

The shift from "Hope" to "Uncertainty" may seem like a giant leap.  In most years, it might be.  But Obama's overarching message of "Change" may provide a rhetorical bridge between the two concepts.  "Follow the Republicans on the current course, and we'll encounter even more uncertainty.  Change course, and we have the hope of a better future." 

Long story short:  Look for the Democrats to alter their rhetoric to talking about "Change" more and more this month.  Perhaps the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc would be wise to consider a similar course.

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