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This is hardly a Dean-like stand. But then, there may not be many Dean-like stands to be had this year. Obama readily admits in his stump speech that the Democratic candidates are emphasizing the same issues this time. "Each of us is going to have a health plan," he says, sounding slightly bored. So what does the Senator have to sell? At the Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington a few weeks ago, he said his campaign was going to be more about "hope" than "specifics." Hope? For a generation, Democrats have been told to "keep hope alive" and to believe in "a place called Hope." The party is mildewed with hoping. In fact, Obama trying to sell "hope" through rhetoric is like Kerry trying to sell "strength" through résumé. You have to show it, not just sell it.
To be fair, "hope" is probably Obama's way of saying "leadership." But leadership doesn't come from the grass roots. It is about as "top down" as you can get. It is best demonstrated through courage. And despite all the rhetorical confusion, there were some early signs Obama might not do too badly in that department. At his very first Iowa town meeting, he showed the courage to tell his Democratic audience things it didn't want to hear. Asked if he would cut the Pentagon budget, he said, "Actually, you'll probably see an initial bump in military spending in an Obama Administration" in order to add troops and replace the equipment lost in Iraq. Then he told a teachers' union member that he supported higher pay for teachers but also--the union's anathema--greater accountability. The crowd was silent as he said these things. But there are different sorts of silence, and in this case, they were hanging on his every word. •