I hear Hillary Clinton speak on the eve of the West Virginia primary – and Barack Obama, too. There is little I can add to the oceans of punditry swelling and rolling over this primary campaign. Dare I call it endless? What a tired observation. Should I dissect and compare the “Hillary brand” with the “Barack brand”? I’ll spare my visitors all but the sparest of observations, which is this: The key to understanding this primary struggle and the ultimate victory of Obama over Clinton lies in the pronouns. Hillary is about I and you. I will do this for you. I want you to go to my website. You are in trouble and I will help you. I will fight on and on… for you. I – it’s very much about what I am, have been, will do – am here for you.
Barack Obama tapped into the secret of the better pronouns… He modestly eschews the first person in his style and bearing. He embodies the references to them, the ones America must care about and whose time has come. And of course, he vibrates with the most powerful of all political pronouns, we, the we who can finally make it into power and change how politics works.
I’m not speaking of the words themselves, not literally. Surely Hillary has said we and Barack has used I. I’m talking about what the two candidates stand for, what their respective stories embody. The Hillary brand is the story of a smart, dedicated individual climbing to the top. It is the essence of the assertive ego. Barack’s story – as perceived by the nation and world – is about a man who represents a community, a people, a turning point in American history, a we-ness that trumps the blatantly assertive ego in our political culture.
Barack is effortless, an empty vessel. We are asked to pour our feelings into Barack as he rallies us with calls to cast off the past. Hillary is pleading for us to help her… and in return Hillary promises that she will help you. Barack presumptively stands for moving us forward. She talks to you. He speaks of them. She is I. He is we. And therein lies the difference in their brands… and in their destinies.